The North American Spa Grows Up

From fat farms to transformational centers, these three classic North American spas are coming of age. Here’s why.

> Rancho La Puerta (Tecate, Mexico) 

Claim to fame: Located just south of Mexico’s border with the United States and turning 75 in June, it’s North America’s oldest destination spa.

Then: “$17.50 a week, bring your own tent.” Burt Lancaster joined other health buffs in the desert south of San Diego and baked bread in an outdoor oven.

Now: A loyal clientele books casitas adorned with Mexican tile and art, most with fireplaces, and takes classes such as “Hot Latin Cardio.” They hike boulder-strewn Mount Kuchumaa and stroll 150 acres of organic gardens.

What’s new: A lounge pouring local wines; body treatments using herbs from the garden. Mexican cooking lessons are on the menu, followed by salsa dancing under the stars.

> Golden Door (Escondido, California)

Claim to fame: The U.S.’s first pampering spa retreat, opened in 1958.

Then: Celebrities dropped weight for roles in a cosseting California hideaway, styled like a Japanese inn and entered through a gleaming bronze portal.

Now: Repeaters and newbies stay in 40 refurbished rooms with shoji screens, set in meticulously landscaped courtyards with paths lit by antique lanterns. They enjoy fragrant citrus-and-herb body wraps and daily in-room massages.

What’s new: Paddleboard yoga, mountaintop tai chi, plus classes to enhance sleep quality. More male-only weeks as men discover spa-going benefits.

> Canyon Ranch (Tucson, Arizona)

Claim to fame: A spot to hit your reset button via medical assessments, alternative therapies, and spa treatments.

Book your next trip with Peace of Mind
Search Trips

Then: In 1979, a health convert transformed a cattle ranch in the desert at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains into a fitness resort serving 800-calorie-a-day meals.

Now: A 158-room center for wellness and optimal aging, it dishes up heftier meals including grass-fed beef and potato pancakes in Southwest-flavored surroundings. A Life Enhancement Center hosts themed weeks—“brain health” is one.

What’s new: “He stays free” promos targeting men; wilderness survival classes teaching animal tracking.

This piece, reported by Kitty Bean Yancey, first appeared in the April 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Read This Next

The most ancient galaxies in the universe are coming into view
‘Microclots’ could help solve the long COVID puzzle
How Spain’s lust for gold doomed the Inca Empire

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet