By Kim Westerman
At the base of the Bohemian Highway, within a stone’s throw of California’s best coastal vineyards, is the tiny town of Freestone, tucked between the redwoods and the ocean. Blink your eyes and you’ll miss it—but consider it a destination for deep relaxation. Osmosis Day Spa & Sanctuary, founded by Michael Stusser in 1985, is a Zen meditation retreat here, at the center of which is a cedar enzyme bath experience.
A day at Osmosis begins with a welcoming cup of hot tea and a walk through the Kyoto-style meditation garden, whose labyrinthine paths are designed to bring you into the present moment. Based on the Zen parable of The Ox and the Herder, a metaphor for the experience of enlightenment, the ten-stage journey carries you through various elements of earth and water with opportunities to stop and reflect for as long as you’d like.
Zen Garden meditation space at Osmosis Day Spa. Photo by Kim Westerman
Designed by British horticulturist Robert Ketchell and built by the late Steve Stucky, once the Abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, the garden is lovingly tended by unobtrusive staff who will come find you if you lose track of time. After all, that’s the point.
The lovingly tended rock garden at Osmosis Day Spa. Photo by Kim Westerman
When it’s time, you’ll be led back to the main building for a tea service in a private room overlooking a beautiful tea garden that you’re also welcome to stroll in. The tea is infused with enzymes designed to aid digestion and mirror the experience your skin will have in the forthcoming cedar enzyme bath.
Next, we had massages in the couples room, a quiet space where two therapists work in harmony on your respective sore muscles, tailoring the treatment to your specific needs. There are also outdoor pagodas available for massage therapy, a good option on warmer days. Our massage therapists were especially attuned not only to what we reported our bodies needed, but also what they sensed through their own intuitive assessment.
After the deeply relaxing massage, we took a break for lunch, which was a generous salad of local greens and an egg, served at a picnic table by the creek.
Lunch by the creek at Osmosis Day Spa. Photo by Kim Westerman
At last, the main event: the cedar enzyme bath, a therapeutic treatment from Japan that is the only one of its kind in North America. Wooden boxes hold the deeply aromatic mixture of ground cedar and rice bran, infused with enzymes created by a biological catalyst imported from Japan that triggers fermentation, hence the steam rising from the “bath,” which is, actually, not wet, but rather humid from perpetual fermentation. And warm. Perfectly, relaxingly warm.
The cedar enzyme bath is the only one of its kind in North America. Photo by Kim Westerman
The cedar enzyme bath takes about 30 minutes, all told, and an attendant walks you through the process, coming in periodically to wipe your face with a cool cloth and give you a sip of water (as your hands are buried in the mixture). Then, she brushes your skin off with a little broom—yes, a broom!—before leading you into the adjacent shower.
So relaxing was our time at Osmosis that it seemed like a crime to get in the car and drive back to reality. But it’s a comfort to know that this sanctuary is always there.
by Katie Chang
While most people flock to Sonoma County for its world-class wines, low-key vibes, and exquisite natural backdrop – it encompasses more than 1,600 square miles, with seemingly endless lush, rolling hills and stretches of clear sky – there’s more to chilling out in wine country than, well, wine.
The area also happens to be home to a bevy of exceptional spas, and other surprising sources of well-being and health. So here, I share
Pools and Cabines at Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Plan in advance to score a reservation (especially during weekends) at this sparkling, 3,600 square-foot swimming pool, located at one of Sonoma’s most celebrated wineries. Why? For starters, it’s among the few truly family-friendly spots in the area. Plus, the European-inspired Cabines – there’s 28 available – offer private changing rooms and showers, towels, shaded lounge chairs, and 4 complimentary Sofia Mini singles. If you’re in the mood to burn some calories, try your hand at bocce ball at one of the adjacent regulation-sized courts. And when the pool closes in the evening, beeline to RUSTIC, Francis’s Favorites for dinner. The winery’s bustling restaurant features the celebrated director’s favorite dishes, including Habit-Forming Ribs, Marrakesh Lamb, and Mrs. Scorsese’s Lemon Chicken. If you can snag a table outdoors when the weather’s fine, you’ll be rewarded with some pretty breathtaking views, too.
Sonoma Golf Club and Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn
This storied Sonoma property is practically faultless on all counts, and its spa and neighboring golf club are no exception. The Willow Stream is a spacious and airy oasis offering an extensive list of specialty treatments, which fall into three categories: relieve,restore, and results. No matter what you select, though, arrive at least an hour early to take advantage of the signature bathing ritual, which includes use of an exfoliating shower, mineral water soaking pools, herbal steam, dry sauna, and cool down showers. In a more active mood? Set up a tee time at the Sonoma Golf Club. The scenic course is lush and immaculately maintained, very walkable, offers water – so you don’t have to lug around your own bottle – at each hole, and plays fast. (It’s mostly local players who know the course well).
The Spa at Farmhouse Inn
Understated yet luxurious, this spa is totally one of a kind. The space has a rustic design – think whitewashed wood, paintings of horses by artist Tina Wainwright, and sliding barn doors. Naturally, the treatments also draw inspiration from the farm, and many of the ingredients used are sourced from the inn’s gardens and neighboring purveyors. Seeking a custom-tailored experience? Try The Personal Apothecary, so you can select your favorite blend of oils for a wrap, scrub, or massage. I opted for the house best seller, Catherine’s Favorite. It’s a blissful duo combining a lavender-orange hair and scalp treatment with a lavender-tangerine body massage and foot treatment. I was lulled into such a deep state of relaxation, I snoozed off mid-session more than once.
Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary
Founded by Michael Stusser in 1985, Osmosis is so much more than a spa. Over the years, it’s evolved into a true haven of well-being, complete with meditation gardens, a Japanese tea garden, Field of Hammocks, and even pagodas – where you can experience bodywork in true privacy and peace. But Osmosis’ claim to fame is the Japanese-inspired Cedar Enzyme Bath Experience. Exclusive to the spa, it involves being submerged in a tub filled with a finely ground mixture of fermented evergreens and rice bran. An attendant periodically checks in with cool water and towels for your forehead – the fermentation process naturally creates heat, so you’ll start sweating quickly. After 20 minutes, you shower off and can continue with a massage, sound therapy (music intended to lower brain wave activity for a calming effect), or a light, healthful lunch.
The Spa at Hotel Healdsburg
They aren’t the first to pioneer the farm-to-spa movement, but the spa at Hotel Healdsburg is certainly raising the bar when it comes to using the natural bounty of Sonoma – like wine grapes, meyer lemon, lavender, and honey – to nourish your skin and soothe your soul. In the Meyer Lemon Massage, for example, your therapist works out even the toughest, most stubborn knots with a whipped, lightly fragranced body cream – as opposed to oil, which can leave you feeling uncomfortably slick. While the facilities themselves are fairly fuss-free and standard, the care and technique delivered is top notch. And when the weather’s warm, retreat to the charming courtyard to unwind even further post-treatment, or take a dip in the pool and jacuzzi.