Executive Time at the Golden Door

Mental health is just as important as physical health at The Golden Door.

From a distance, the Golden Door, the famed destination spa located on 600 acres in Escondido, surrounded by olive trees and hills that overlook the ocean, might seem like many of the other destination spas sprinkled throughout California’s mountains and coastline. The difference is a retreat here not only promises a healthy escape but a total mind-body reset, specifically geared toward busy CEOs.

“Most places you visit, you’re responsible for taking the time to figure out your activities, your spa treatments, your car service transportation…Even when a lot of that can fall on an assistant, there are still the instances when you finally arrive and get around to booking a massage, but the only time they have available is not at all convenient for you,” says the spa’s COO and general manager, Kathy Van Ness. “But the reality is that when you’re looking to get away and invest in yourself, no one is going to know your needs better than you.”


The Golden Door features all the trappings of a typical destination spa: clean cuisine, daily morning hikes, a range of fitness classes, a full-service spa, daily meditation, an array of wellness programming. But it’s what goes on behind the scenes that makes a lasting impact on guests, many of whom have been coming for decades. (In fact, many guests have been well over 100 times.) The process begins with guests filling out a detailed questionnaire prior to arrival about their habits and lifestyles—everything from dietary restrictions to athletic habits. From there, the team (there is a four-to-one staff-to-guest ratio) coordinates week-long programming specifically geared toward each guest’s preferences. Many of the activities, such as the morning hikes and fitness classes, are done in groups, but daily private training, massages, and other customized activities are scheduled based on each individual’s preferences and needs.

“We have seven days to make a difference in someone’s life. And every single week, people change. They are either losing weight, alleviating back pain caused by stress, or just taking a mental break from their typical responsibilities,” says Van Ness, the former President of fashion brand Diane von Furstenberg.  “Our biggest audience is working executives who need to find a way to get away from themselves.”


Experiencing the Golden Door typically requires a week, a Sunday-to-Sunday experience, with men’s weeks, women’s weeks, and co-ed weeks offered throughout the year. With just 38 guest rooms (no more than one person per room) and two cottages, the idea is to alleviate the distractions that often keep executives from focusing on themselves. For instance, Wi-Fi is plentiful, but cell phone use is limited and discouraged, as are laptops. Guest rooms, most recently renovated in 2014 by Victoria Hagan (who has designed homes for Bob Iger, David Zaslav, and Conan O’Brien) are intentionally minimalist, decorated in a ryokan style with original artwork and no televisions (there are TVs located in group areas, but guests rarely find the urge to turn them on).

Because many guests come solo, the property is mindful about helping people get to know one another. For instance, dining arrangements at dinner are choreographed by the spa, seating people at larger tables earlier in the week and in smaller groups as the week goes on. “Everyone comes to dinner in a robe,” says Van Ness. “No one is wearing jewelry or a watch, and there’s a good chance they still have oil in their hair from a massage. It’s not about impressing anyone while you’re here. It’s just about you.”


Indeed, the judgment-free environment helps create a truly level playing field. Everything from the Golden Door’s own line of natural luxury skin care products to workout clothing is provided by the spa, taking every decision out of the equation so that guests can focus on their well-being and learn how to find balance in their lives long after their week ends. The goal after the week is to feel a complete reset. “There’s a bridge at our entrance, and we ask that when you enter, you leave everything outside. When you leave, we ask that you take us with you.” From $9,850/week, all-inclusive; goldendoor.com


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