Janis Clapoff, managing partner of San Ysidro Ranch (recently purchased by Beanie Baby tycoon Ty Warner, who bought the Four Seasons Biltmore here in May), says a menu of spa treatments (averaging $135 each), performed in guest cottages, was introduced more than a dozen years ago. In the next two years, however, a small spa treatment building and a new workout center will be added.
My spa package massage was delivered late that first afternoon by a freelance masseur who carried his scented oils in a backpack and brought a fold-up table. Even in front of a crackling fire, I found that massages are delicate things, easily disturbed by the hilarity of wedding guests.
I had dinner at the Plow & Angel, the resort pub, which offers some menu entrees from the protein-rich Atkins and Zone diets. I ordered Atkins beef medallions and an off-diet Ketel One vodka martini, because a place like the ranch should know how to make them (and it did). The next morning I wallowed for a while in my fancy sheets, had a room-service egg-white omelet for breakfast, went for a run in the fog, then called my body worker back to give me an Indian Shirodhara treatment. I was surprised to see it on the menu of spa services because it is one of the more esoteric and least portable treatments, best performed in a room lined with tile. He gave me a joyful massage and dripped a little bottle of warm oil on my forehead and through my hair.
It wasn't as authentic as the Shirodhara I had in New Delhi. But it left my hair amazingly bouncy and, most of all, it felt good.
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa
When I reached the 220-acre, 206-room Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, set on an emerald green PGA golf course rimmed by tall eucalyptus trees and the Topa Topa Mountains, I went straight to the 31,000-square-foot spa. It sits at the base of the hillside over which the resort buildings are scattered and has all the obligatory Spanish Colonial flourishes, including a courtyard, fountain and 50-foot bell tower. Within the whitewashed walls of the complex there's a little cafe called the Acorn, a salon, a basement exercise room (with such high-tech machines as virtual reality bikes), a wood-lined studio where classes are held, a lap pool and 28 treatment rooms.
The women's locker room on the first floor, lined with bright hand-painted tile, is the sort of place where you'd happily spend hours alternating between the sauna, steam room, indoor and outdoor hot tubs and a spot on a sun-drenched chaise.
I started with the spa's signature "Kuyam" ($50, although treatments average $100). It was performed in a special room that looks like something out of a harem, accommodating up to eight people, with narrow blue glass windows, tiled banquettes and an urn of water scented with lemon grass steaming on the central heater. (Inhaling the scented air while meditating is supposed to be therapeutic, though the guided meditation was taped, not live, and that struck me as tacky.) As the temperature in the chamber rose to 108 degrees, an attendant passed a pot of black Hungarian mud to me and two other women, and we slathered it on ourselves. Then we cooked for 30 minutes to promote detoxification and finally cleaned the mud off under Swiss showers. As any child knows, getting muddy is fun, and afterward I felt soft and warm all over.
The more time I spent at the spa--taking yoga, using the machines, swimming laps, getting another massage, eating healthful low-calorie lunches of soup and veggie wraps at the Acorn, and just lolling--the more I came to like it.
Before the spa was added three years ago, the resort was favored by older, mostly male golfers. Now the demographics have changed, says Thad Hyland, the general manager. The resort is attracting women, families, couples and conferences. While one person spends time at the spa, other members of a party can shop in downtown Ojai, play golf, go sightseeing or read by the pool. Moreover, the prices are a little lower than at Bacara and San Ysidro Ranch, particularly if you book a package.
My "Best of Ojai" package cost $335 (single occupancy), including tax, one treatment or activity a day and a "vista" room in a building near the spa, with a balcony that yielded views of passing golf carts. It was spacious, although not as handsomely decorated as the others I stayed in, and the bathroom wasn't special at all. Nevertheless, by the time I polished off the pretzels, I felt like one happy baby.
A Soothing Time in Santa Barbara
Getting there: From Los Angeles, it's a 90-minute drive to Santa Barbara on U.S. 101. You also can fly from LAX on Skywest (United) and American Eagle (American). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $128.
Getting pampered: Bacara Resort & Spa, 8301 Hollister Ave., Goleta, CA 93117; telephone (877) 422-4245 or (805) 968-0100, fax (805) 968-1800, Internet http://www.bacararesort.com. There are 311 guest rooms and 49 suites, priced from $395 to $5,000. The resort has three restaurants and 24-hour room service.