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From the vast arid deserts of Palm Springs to the lush mountain landscapes north of San Francisco, California is blessed with some exceptional hot springs. While many of these gems are primitive and rugged, some are full-fledged resorts that boast spa treatments, mud baths, meditation workshops, and yoga. No matter which option you choose, exploring one (or all) of California’s hot springs is an excellent idea for an afternoon away from it all.
Wilbur Hot Springs
Northern California’s Wilbur Hot Springs is a fully-fledged resort and a sanctuary for anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of society. The indoor and outdoor thermal mineral water is definitely the main attraction, but Wilbur also boasts a handful of extra plush services like spa treatments, massages, guided meditations, tai chi, and guest chef weekends where you can pair your relaxation with some delicious cooking. Feel free to book a room overnight or visit for the day.
Deep Creek Hot Springs
Located right en route of the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail, Deep Creek Hot Springs is a perfect escape into nature and an excellent stopping point for thru-hikers. It’s just about two hours from Los Angeles and down a steep two-mile canyon in the San Bernardino National Forest. Visitors can choose between any of the 6-7 natural soaking pools and opt to strip off as the area is certifiably clothing-optional. Deep Creek is easily one of the best rugged options in Southern California. Clothing-Optional Palm Springs: Where to Bare it All has some other great options for dropping trou in the desert.
Sierra Hot Springs
Surrounded by 700 acres of pristine forest and woodlands, Sierra Hot Springs is exactly as it’s billed — a beautiful retreat in the heart of the California wilderness. The Temple Dome swimming pool is truly one of the most unique hot spring experiences a person could have. The floor is a rugged stone and the high ceilings are built with worn wood to give it an authentic sweat lodge-type vibe. Accommodations range from visiting for day use to pitching a tent and booking a room in the Main Lodge. The other unique pull of Sierra Hot Springs is the frequent workshops that are held by leaders in the fields of yoga, meditation, and natural health.
Avila Hot Springs
Avila takes the mineral pool idea and advances it one step further towards a water park. Here you’ll find a large outdoor heated pool with a slide and plenty of open spaces to sprawl out and get your bronze on. It’s located just two miles from the beaches of Central California and day passes start as low as $10 for children and seniors. Avila also hosts movie nights and offers bike rentals on the nearby Bob Jones Trail.
Calistoga Hot Springs
Before even diving into any hot springs, the town of Calistoga is certainly worth a visit. Located at the northern end of Napa Valley, Calistoga has an excellent small-town vibe with tons of winery shops, bookstores, galleries, and boutiques. The town calls itself the “Spa Capital of Northern California” in large part due to the facilities at Calistoga Hot Springs. The healing mineral waters are kept at a perfect 104 degrees, and they also offer soothing volcanic ash and mud baths. If things are getting a little too relaxing, make use of the fitness center with aerobics classes, yoga classes, pilates, free weights, and treadmills.
Esalen Hot Springs
Located on the dramatic cliffs near Central California’s Big Sur, Esalen Hot Springs is one of the most stunning spots in the entire world. The place has been used by the Esselen people and others for over 6,000 years, and it’s easy to see why. The springs are operated by Esalen Institute, a non-profit educational retreat center, but they’re actually open to the public. You still need to make a reservation, but it’s hard to beat Esalen on a clear night perched above the Pacific Ocean.
Crowley Hot Springs (Wild Willy’s)
For a more mountain-themed hot spring experience, head to Wild Willy’s public bathing areas, just off the 395 highway (which is famous for road trips) and outside of Mammoth Lakes. The pools are totally free and the only way to get there is via a two-mile hike. In the background, you’ll have incredible views of the white-capped Sierras and some friendly company to enjoy a warm beverage. Visiting during the winter is a great option here and makes the natural hot springs feel that much better.
El Morocco Inn & Spa
The tradition of a hot spring as a gathering place dates back centuries to the Roman Empire and the Hammams of Arabic countries. El Morocco Inn & Spa takes a page out of the history books to replicate a traditional Moroccan spa right here in California. It’s located in the Palm Springs area and offers deluxe bed and breakfast accommodations, lux spa treatments, and a traditional Moroccan courtyard where you can enjoy whiling away the time.
Hacienda Hot Springs
Hacienda Hot Springs, like the name suggests, is a rustic Spanish colonial spot in Southern California that caters to the state’s pre-American roots. Hang out in one of their seven guest rooms for the weekend and gaze out into the garden patio and mineral springs. Although it’s a bit pricey, Hacienda is consistently rated as one of the top hot springs resorts in California.
Sycamore Springs Resort and Spa
When two gold hunters came up short near San Luis Obispo, they inadvertently stumbled across what they would turn into a stunning hot springs resort and spa. Today, in addition to the waters, you’ll find aromatherapy, deep tissue massages, facials, and body scrubs to go along with the healing mineral pools. Sycamore offers all kinds of packages to make your trip special including wine weekends, seniors discounts, and eco-tours around the local wildlife.
Sespe Hot Springs
In the mood for a 16-mile trek that ends in California’s hottest hot springs? Try your hand at Sespe Hot Springs in the Sespe Wilderness outside of Santa Barbara. The hike doesn’t gain too much elevation so it’s not particularly grueling, but it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. The summers here get unbearably hot, so consider visiting in the fall, spring, or winter. If you can’t make it the full 16 miles in a single day, consider staying overnight at the 9.5-mile mark where you will find Willet Hot Springs. For some more off-the-beaten-path options, check out these 11 Hot Springs in New Mexico You Need to Visit.
Orr Hot Springs
Tucked away in the lush forests of Northern California between Ukiah and Mendocino, Orr Hot Springs is the most established clothing-optional hot spring resort in the state. Slip into an intimate spot in one of their wooden cabin spas that date back to the 1930s. Reservations are required for both day use and overnight stays, so make sure to plan your trip accordingly. If we haven’t yet satisfied your hot spring research, here are the 7 Best Hot Springs in the U.S.