The Golden Door Spa experience
The Golden Door is one of the world’s leading luxury destination spas, offering one of the most complete wellness experiences money can buy. They promise to make a significant impact in your life across various areas: your body, your nutrition, your beauty regime and your soul in return for a week of your life.
I visited the Golden Door as its guest with my husband in August 2018 and this is a detailed review of how my stay went.
What is the Golden Door?
The Golden Door is defined as a luxury destination spa where you book yourself in for a 7-night stay and come back feeling refreshed and recharged.
The programme is focused on nutrition (you can control your calories or chose not to) – where most of the food you will eat will be organic and come from as close to the estate as possible, fitness (with a personalised programme with a personal trainer as well as dozens of classes to try throughout your stay), beauty (daily body and massage treatments) and mindfulness (you can learn to meditate, go on walking guided meditation hikes or see a shaman, for example).
It ticks quite a few boxes and the most important thing is that you pick what you will want to do – you are not forced to partake in any activity (except for the one to one sessions you book and your pre-scheduled beauty treatments). I was told that ‘doing nothing’ was also ok – and I did schedule some ‘pool time’ which was much needed.
Where is the Golden Door?
The Golden Door is located in San Marcos, California. It’s about an hour’s drive from San Diego or Newport Beach and about 2-3 hours drive from Los Angeles, depending on traffic. Return private transfers are included in your package.
How does it work and how much does it cost?
The Golden Door offers its signature 7-night programme at a fixed cost of $9650 + tax + service per person and this week includes your room, all meals, all group exercise and fitness classes, daily in room massage and 5 skincare treatments, a mani + pedi and a hair blow dry, 4 personal training sessions, 2 herbal wraps, walks and pretty much everything else. You can see what is included in detail here.
You check in on a Sunday and each week caters for female guests and most go on their own. There are some weeks (4) which are for men only, and another 4 which are co-ed (unisex) and you can actually go as a couple or with a friend, meaning you can share your accommodation.
The week I went to was co-ed and also a sharing week, meaning that 2 guests can go for the price of one, provided they split the individual parts of the package. Priced at the same $9650 (but for two guests) + tax + service, I thought it offered clear value. On a personal note, I would prefer if they advertised the complete price with service and tax (as this may surprise some non North-American guests). As one of the guests (who was a ‘professional’ spa goer) said ‘just tell me how much it is and that is it’.
As an example, you would have 6 massages and 5 skincare treatments in a 7-night package – you would each would get 3 or you can just buy some more treatments. Instead of 4 personal training sessions, one would get 2 and the other would get 2.
The Golden Door is also now offering shorter stays (subject to availability) of 4 nights. The price is available on application.
Check-in and Arrival at The Golden Door
Check-in takes place on Sundays and ahead of your arrival, you have a call with a member of the concierge team whereby they will get a feel of what schedule works for you, what types of activities you will want to do, how many calories you’ll want to eat and also your first breakfast order.
They also double check your arrival time and you can arrive from 12pm and start doing some classes and have brunch. We chose to arrive at around 3pm (having had lunch before – this is where I confess my love for Inn-n-Out burgers) and hoped to have a room ready.
Our check-in was indeed super slick (because they know what time you arrive and car reg details) and all the paperwork will be there waiting for you.
Our accommodation at Golden Door
We were quickly escorted to our room, Bell 7, which was a suite located on the first floor – we had no private outdoor area, like all other rooms do because they are on ground level, but we had a living room and a luggage room (which came in quite handy), and worked very well for us.
Our bedroom area was ‘compact’ for two – but perfectly adequate. The obvious comment was that the bed was a double (as normally rooms are for single occupancy, and something that could be changed if the couple weeks are to be more regular events). It was cozy, but we were absolutely fine with it. Bedding was changed midweek except for pillowcases which were changed daily (and a touch that many luxury hotels around the world should follow).
I noticed small items like a flash light or a little bag to keep your mobile phone away at night – but they were just for 1 guest, which again seems like an overlooked detail.
We had a full wardrobe (with lots of hangers for a change – but a word of warning, pack as little as you think you need for a week, and then halve it. And then again). I will explain why in a bit.
Our bathroom at The Golden Door
Our bathroom was spacious, and the display of beauty products was second to none. Each guest gets a row to him/herself and it goes way beyond the usual shampoo/conditioner/shower gel + body lotion combo. I actually really liked the products and thought the facial cleanser was as good as my La Mer one (except that it smelled better). The peel-off mask is great and the bamboo face scrub was also very good. We brought everything home. The skincare items are not replaced throughout your stay (except for normal use toiletries – like shampoo and shower gel). The products I brought home lasted for well over a month (and you can buy full size ones at the gift shop or online).
The Golden Door reopened after a refurbishment in 2014 – and I did expect to see walk-in showers and better shower heads. I feel it can be improved and from comments from fellow guests, I wasn’t the only one surprised with it.
The living room
Our suite had a living room (with direct pool views) which I planned to use a bit more – but I didn’t. We used the table for breakfast (which is served in your room every day at 7.30am), but the sitting area whilst being very Japanese, wasn’t the most comfortable. During the day, one isn’t in the room at all, but as your retire to bed at 8pm, I felt I needed something more functional.
What to pack for The Golden Door
Almost nothing – and I didn’t believe it, but it is true. You are given workout clothes (t-shirts and shorts or trousers and sweatshirts) and of course you can wear your own gear. During our week, I would say it was 50-50. The Golden Door will wash and fold your workout clothes and underwear daily, which really means you only need to take, say, 3 outfits.
For dinner, you are given a Japanese Yukata, which is actually a beautiful robe. I thought it was weird to wear it on the first night (it is compulsory on the first and final dinner), and I carried on wearing it every night, like most guests did. That meant you could wear whatever you wanted underneath, as well as their slippers (or your own). I wore my shoes every day, just for a bit of variety.
I had ‘decided’ I wasn’t going to wear the robe daily and I am glad I changed my mind – this is a shared experience and the robe really made us be part of its entirety. 90% of people wore them.
The food at Golden Door
I thought the food was excellent – everything is organic and most vegetables (and eggs) come from the garden and I was never hungry. This isn’t a bootcamp, so you can start with a small portion (of 1200 calories) and you can then increase or decrease. I had some extra desserts some days, others I couldn’t finish. I really cannot fault it.
Breakfast is pre-ordered the day before and served in your room at around 7.30am. Lunch (1pm) and dinner (6.30pm) are in a group setting (but you are not forced to join) and take place outdoors and around the property for lunch, and at the dining room for dinner.
Dinner was preceded by canapés at 6.15pm and promptly served at 6.30pm. We were usually done by 7.30pm and then it was off to bed or to a lecture – and this was the most unusual part for me. I felt I needed a bit more socialising, but as the days went by, I actually enjoyed going to the room, reading or going for a little walk to the Golden Door, which takes place every night after dinner.
We went on a Vintner’s week, which means that wine is actually served every night (just a glass or two) and wine makers come to introduce it. On a regular week, you can have alcoholic drinks in your room (which you can bring or order via room service) and wine is served with your dinner only on Saturday night.
Also worth noting is the mid-morning potassium broth and veggies snacks (absolutely delicious) and the mid-afternoon juice and veggie/fruit snacks.
The only thing I would have ask for would have been better tea. In a place where everything was organic (and incredibly delicious), I would have expected more than supermarket-standard herbal teas (in this case from Bigelow). I think maybe some own-blends would be a great addition, and definitely less mass produced options.
The fitness programme at Golden Door
This past year, for many reasons, we have really kick started a fitness regime at home and this is why we accepted the invitation to go to the Golden Door – because it was right for us in so many ways, and because it promised to look after our bodies in a variety of ways, but also our minds – and that combination sold it for us.
One important thing to say: you do NOT have to do anything you do not want to do. Case in point: the day starts with a 5am hike. It isn’t my thing at all – but my husband (and pretty much everyone else), went every day and loved it. He clocked 12,000 steps by 7.30am and rubbed it in every day. Fine by me.
We have been doing reformer pilates for a few months, and whilst it wasn’t included in the schedule of activities, we were able to book 3 private classes during our stay ($180 for 2 plus tax per 45 minute class). There was no need to book any paid activities as you have over 15 class options a day – from yoga to matt pilates, TRX, zumba, everything….. I decided to do all water classes I could so I could get a little bit of a tan.
My only comment was that some of the classes were ‘too easy’ – and I mean the aqua classes. I don’t know what the age range is normally (but I would think between 40-65), but it was higher I felt that week.
Our personal training sessions were really good – we had different trainers and I felt that my trainer Lynne really cared about what I wanted to do and not want to do, and for that I am grateful.
I kind of overscheduled myself – and despite saving an hour a day to hang by the pool, I felt I could have done with more.. but I really had major FOMO.
Mindfullness and Wellness
Our stay at The Golden Door marked the end of our 2018 California Summer roadtrip (which was over 20 days) and was key to our return home and my preparation for my 4th round of IVF (which sadly did not end well).
One of the things I wanted to do was learn how to meditate and I loved the daily guided mediation sessions. I did, however, feel rushed as it took place at 6pm for 15 mins, then we had appetisers at 6.15pm and dinner at 6.30pm and I felt I lost all the benefit by rushing around (and of course we didn’t want to be late). I would have loved a post-dinner meditation session.
We tried some of the ‘different sessions’ – wasn’t very impressed with the Astrology taster (where the lady focused on one person during the 45 minutes, leaving the other 3 with 5 minutes each), but I loved my session with my Shaman. Google it as it is quite ‘out there’. We paid an extra $250 for the 45-minute session and I felt it was extraordinary. I won’t tell you any more about this.
There is something quite magical about the whole place – I felt really alive and really proud of ‘doing so well’. I did lots of exercise because I wanted to – and I enjoyed it. And the California weather didn’t hurt either.
Beauty and Pampering
I did not mean to scare you with the first photo – but that is why I love hydrafacials so much. If you look at my face, see how lifted one side is. I had a normal facial one day, and was able to upgrade to this signature treatment on my last day (and absolutely worth the extra $150). The standard of the beauty treatments was really extraordinary and I enjoyed both my facials and my body polish, which I had scheduled at 12pm every day.
At 3pm, I had my daily in-room massage which was also incredibly relaxing. My husband had the same treatments at different times, so we didn’t really cross paths, which was also good as we were not on each other’s toes and had our own time.
The service at Golden Door
Anything we needed, we got. There was also a concierge team available until 9pm (quite late) to help with scheduling changes and every time we needed anything, it was easily solved. The only thing I would mention is that we all got different prices for the shaman experience – and I am grateful that one other guest overheard what we were being quoted and when we queried it, it went back to the ‘original price’.
I thought everyone was very knowledgeable – the fitness instructors did kick my [email protected] when I needed it, Claire was an awesome reformer Pilates instructor and the dining room team couldn’t be more efficient.
My final thoughts
We stayed for 4 nights at Golden Door, because we couldn’t extend our stay to a week as we had our plane tickets booked and couldn’t change them. I feel we have actually missed out – things were getting pretty perfect and we stayed in touch with 4 or 5 other guests and they have confirmed out fears, so to speak. And with live social media, we knew it there and then.
Would I go back? On the 2-for-1 regime I absolutely would – the price has actually increased since we have been, so it tells you how popular it is.
And many of my readers have asked about the ‘service charge’, which I would hope they had included in the price – but it isn’t, so $120/day is the norm and is what we tipped. This was a widely discussed point amongst guests and was interesting how the younger guests (which the Golden Door is now targeting) felt about it – not too happy.
It takes a day or two to de-stress, and the team at The Golden Door know what they are doing really well. As my friend who has been a few times said ‘you have to drink the Cool-aid’ – but even after 4 days, I felt much better. I discovered quite a bit about myself (the journey wasn’t just physical) and I felt more peaceful than I have in many years.
The return rate to The Golden Door is incredibly high – and I honestly think a week is necessary to take advantage of everything it offers. And that doesn’t mean one being 100% fully booked – I took some walks by myself and it was lovely.
It took me a while to understand what it was all about – but there is something about going through that Door and leaving the whole world behind. I am very grateful to have been given that opportunity.
Until the next time
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If you would like to say what 24 hours at The Golden Door Spa in California look like, click here to see my Instagram Story.