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Lonely Planet Writer

How to unplug in Southern California

With 284 days of sunshine every year, clinquant deserts, scintillating pools, natural hot springs, organic workouts and unwinds fit for the stars, Southern California is the ideal place to unplug.

Even the LA urban megalopolis has wellness weaved into its municipal veins; there is rugged hiking just miles from downtown as well as plenty of oases inside the city (think legendary Korean spas and rock star-level pampering). Southern California is the paradigmatic place to rest and reset. Here are our top picks for SoCal places where you can escape the grind.

A woman mediates on a cliff over looking the pacific ocean near San Diego © Brad Wilson / Getty Images
With miles of coastline and stunning cliffs, San Diego is the perfect place to unplug in Southern California © Brad Wilson / Getty Images

San Diego

With an average temperature of 72 degrees, San Diego is a year-round outdoor haven well-known for its spectacular beaches and world-famous zoo. The surrounding quaint mountain towns, historic mining districts and stunning desert resort communities will surprise you. It’s an ideal destination for those who want out of the rat race.

Tucked away in Escondido, The Golden Door Spa has been pampering celebrities from Elizabeth Taylor to Rooney Mara since 1963. This uber-luxury yoga, fitness, health retreat and spa with a Japanese theme is set on 600 acres organized around the nearby forest, a labyrinth, four courtyards and a sand garden. Programs that include art therapy, forest bathing, and dance will challenge your body and spirit. Meals are prepared with produce from the five acres of gardens and are chosen for calorie count. New ownership brought a radical new business model, and the Golden Door now donates 100 percent of its net profit to select charities across the US.

The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, founded by guru Dr Deepak Chopra offers spiritual and meditation classes as well as Ayurveda and holistic massage.  Ayurveda, the 5000-year-old study of the mind/body connection, is used to create customized relaxation and balance using herbal-infused oils, aromas, and massage techniques. You can choose a three-day Rest and Restore program that includes yoga, Ayurveda and spiritual lectures designed to revitalize, balance and restore you at the deepest level.

Horizontal swimming pool with a view of the mountains © jodie johnson / getty images
Pristine desert, waving palms and calming mid-century modern architecture makes Palm Springs the ideal place to unplug © Jodie Johnson / Getty Images

Palm Springs

De-stressing is particularly easy in Palm Springs. It’s only 100 miles from Los Angeles but the desert wonderland boasts an entirely different climate. Add the soul-soothing symmetry of mid-century modern design and a Hollywood star-studded history and you have bliss.

Dip into 600-year-old natural mineral-rich hot springs, which are a perfect 99 degrees at Two Bunch Palms. The spa and chic resort are sheltered by ancient palms and giant tamarisk trees and offer wellness programs and holistic dining. It’s the first carbon neutral wellness resort in the country and in addition to hydrotherapy it offers shaman journey sessions, Watsu water sessions, hypnotherapy and spiritual counseling classes.

Try fasting at We Care Spa in Desert Hot Springs, a mother-daughter run spiritual fasting retreat. Teas, supplements, scrubs and wraps leave you feeling fresh, clean and light.

Woman slides down the Skyslide, a 45-foot outdoor glass slide 70 floors up on the outside of the US Bank Tower Woman slides down the Skyslide, a 45-foot outdoor glass slide 70 floors up on the outside of the US Bank Tower © David Mcnew / Getty Images
Sliding down the Skyslide brings a jolt of adrenaline after a centering yoga session © David Mcnew / Getty Images

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a wellness city. Healthy, organic, raw and vegan food is found easily, fitness is everywhere from iron pumping on Venice Beach to the latest bespoke fitness fusion trends. The Pacific Ocean is an instant zen fix and a perfect place for jogging, surfing or yoga. Trails and hiking nearby provide much-needed nature refuge.

As always, insanely innovative fitness classes are offered for your wellness needs. Check out OUE Skyspace L.A. which hosts R&B yoga, Pilates and spiritual meditation with 360-degree views and a fully transparent “Skyslide” where yogis can propel 1,000 feet above the city as a thrilling adrenaline filled finale to the class.     

Thinking about getting centered have you up all night? Korean spas have been calming and comforting Angelenos for years and Wi Spa is one of the best for round-the-clock comfort. There are four levels and five sauna rooms open 24/7. Stay a few hours or all day and get an acupressure, mineral and salt massage. Must tries are their Korean treatments like a slimming massage which uses exfoliating pads and cloths and a milk body scrub to remove dead skin. This is followed by a Swedish massage with aromatherapy oils and topped with a gold powder and serum wrap. After the wrap, a hydro-comfort cream is applied and finally, a firming facial mask is set while your hair is shampooed and conditioned, which sounds like a pretty pleasant way to lose weight, even if all your shedding is the day's grime.

Woman in multicolored pants performs tree pose while on Lower Gibralter Rock in Santa Barbara, California © Kyle Sparks / Getty Images
Perfect your tree pose from the rolling hills outside Santa Barbara © Kyle Sparks / Getty Images

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is called the American Riviera for a reason, it's mediterraneanesque climate, world-class wine country and stunning gardens lend themselves to a relaxed coastal lifestyle for a population dedicated to yoga, organic living and getting its zen on.

The White Lotus Foundation is a mountain retreat center located in a steep canyon overlooking the city of Santa Barbara, the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands. Master yogis Ganga White and Tracey Rich started the foundation in 1967 and still lead the yoga teacher training. On campus, participants can choose to stay in yurts, private cabins or pitch a tent on a plateau overlooking the ocean. Retreats are offered throughout the year to deepen your pranayama, asana and meditation. A retreat includes gourmet vegetarian meals, hikes, dance, ceremonies and yoga philosophy classes. There are hot tubs and Western and Eastern bodywork available as well as an underground Hopi-style Kiva temple.

If you only have a day or even a few hours to search for calm, Salt is the largest underground salt cave in North America and it is stunning. Caves filled with pink Himalayan salt imported from Pakistan offer instant relaxation to visitors and also serve as venues for drop-in yoga and shamanic sound healing among other calming rituals. Salt is also famous for their boutique with take-home crystals, edible salts and homemade essential oils

Monarch butterflies cluster together on a tree branch @ Danita Delimont / Getty Images
Try a calming walk through the coastal butterfly sanctuary in San Luis Obispo © Danita Delimont / Getty Images

San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo – nicknamed SLOtown – is more Central than Southern California but it offers so much to wellness seekers we'll consider it SLOCal. 

Immerse yourself in “butterfly therapy” at  Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach. An average of 25,000 butterflies a year come to spend the winter at this sanctuary – one of the largest in the nation. Volunteer docents provide twice-daily talks to introduce the science and beauty of the ocean-side butterfly grove where the black and orange Monarchs cluster in the limbs of Eucalyptus trees.

To soak your worries away, try the naturally warm mineral waters of the legendary Sycamore Springs Resort & Spa located on over 100 wooded acres nestled in the pristine Avila Valley. There are 23 open-air mineral hot tubs hidden along the hillside and rentable by the hour. If you want to stay overnight and we think you should, each room has its own soaking tub. Take yoga, Pilates or tai chi in the Healing Arts dome, relax under the oasis waterfall lagoon and book a white algae body mask, hydrating pear sugar scrub or deep sea custom facial at the spa.

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