On many an afternoon, I stroll along the sandy shores of Butterfly Beach in Montecito and then drift across the street into the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore’s resplendent gardens. It’s active relaxation for me—going from the roar of the ocean to the trill of the garden birds.
Relaxation is most often discovered in nature…and in spas.
Rave reviews about the Biltmore’s Palm Nail Suite recently piqued my curiosity. After all, how different can one pedicure be from another?
I resolve to find out one afternoon. Instead of my dipping my toes into the warm waters off of Butterfly Beach, I decide to dip them into the Palm Nail Suite right across the street. My birthday is near and I deserve “star” treatment or at least “star” feet, I convince myself with a laugh.
I wind my way through The Biltmore’s lush 22-acre gardens. Birds trill. Palms sway. Flowers bloom in rich semi-tropical colors. A regal flow of Spanish-Colonial styled rooms and suites greet me.
The Biltmore is so quietly sophisticated and beautifully graceful that it’s like meeting royalty on a casual stroll. This quintessentially “old California” resort has always has been one of my favorites. It’s also local actress Katie Thatcher’s favorite. She says, “I like The Biltmore because of its old-world charm. I love the feel of walking into the building and thinking about when it was first built and who was there. Their spa is very lovely…it’s a class act.”
As the nail technician, Ute, opens the door into the Palm Nail Suite, expansive, unobstructed ocean views greet me. Open French doors invite in warm ocean breezes and the delicate scent of roses blooming in the garden below. I sit back on the soft spa bench, lower my feet into the water and close my eyes. Ute begins to work, gently massaging my feet. I am lulled into a trance-like calm. Truly, I’ve never had a more luxurious pedicure experience.
When Ute finishes, she hands me a brochure of The Biltmore’s vast menu of facials, massages, body scrubs and wraps. I’m tempted to try their signature detoxifying seaweed body wrap but I decide to wait.
Instead I marvel at how my toenails match the burnt orange of the setting sun over the Pacific. If a mere pedicure feels this good, what would a massage feel like?
For my next spa-hhh experience, I choose the Bacara Resort.
Wafts of fragrant eucalyptus greet me when I open the massive wooden doors into the spa. The last time I smelled such a heady fragrance was when I strolled through the Rivera’s Franceschi Park after a winter rainstorm.
I inhale, count to ten in my head and exhale. My shoulders fall away from my ears; my stomach starts to unknot. Cares? What cares do I have, I tell myself? I handed them over with my keys to the valet attendant.
Once inside the women’s lounge, I open my locker and remove a plush Frette robe. I wrap myself in it, slip on my spa sandals and shuffle upstairs to the waiting room, where I await my Swedish massage.
Bacara’s 42,000-square-foot luxury spa has so many amenities that if my get-up-and-go hadn’t got-up-and-went; I would have arrived earlier and indulged in its newly remodeled fitness room. Filled with brand new Precor machines, it’s the largest fitness room I’ve ever seen in a resort hotel.
My masseuse arrives with Swiss precision. Fifty-minutes later, I emerge, barely able to shuffle back to the woman’s lounge. The aromatherapy and seaweed pack, combined with a relaxing Swedish massage, have turned me into absolute putty.
I should get dressed and go home, but every ounce of me screams, “No.” Instead, I grab my swimsuit and head to the adult-only saline spa pool conveniently located outside the spa doors.
I sit on a lounger that’s still catching the late-day sun. “Good choice,” a twenty-something man several loungers away says to me. He’s visiting from New York, a copyright attorney on a trip with his father, a Broadway producer. I ask him how he’s enjoying his stay. He says, “It’s been awesome. Everything’s perfect. My dad and I had great massages yesterday.”
If it weren’t past lunchtime, I would order something from Chef Vincent Lesage’s inspired menu at the Spa Café. Instead, I step into the water and begin to talk to a woman who is floating effortlessly on her back. She’s here for a girlfriend getaway, she says, for a friend’s 50th. It’s the perfect birthday venue.
After 30 laps, I am back in the women’s lounge and ready to call it a night. A relaxing massage. A salt-water swim. What could possibly add to the experience?
As I grab a towel, I spot the Eucalyptus Steam Room. Okay, maybe there is one more thing.
I walk into the dense steam, take a deep breath, count to ten and exhale.
My next stop is the Belmond El Encanto luxury resort. Located on the tony Riviera and rated as Forbes’ only five-star resort in Santa Barbara, Belmond El Encanto has views over the city to the ocean and seven acres of lusciously landscaped gardens and Eucalyptus trees.
What was once beautifully old-fashioned has been transformed into elegantly chic. Sculpture, glass and art add an elite sophistication. Behind the front desk on the wall is Yoshimoto Sarto’s 120 prayers, consisting of bronze coated pinecones. It’s worth a visit just to see this installation.
I descend a grand spiral staircase toward the boutique spa. Today I have an 80-minute You Are Beautiful treatment, which begins with an organic sugar, espresso and cacao with banana blossom exfoliation.
“Oops,” I say. “I didn’t realize it contains espresso. I’m allergic.” Massage therapist Kat deftly revises the treatment to one with a citrus and strawberry base and begins the exfoliation.
After exfoliation, Kat continues with the original You are Beautiful treatment by applying flower petal moisturizing milk mask (coconut milk). It draws out impurities. I am then wrapped in a foil blanket while Kat massages my scalp and feet. Once unwrapped and showered, Kat gives me an incredible massage with mimosa flower and honey oil with peony flower. The scent is intoxicating.
Afterward, I can’t find the women’s lounge because I am in an altered state. Kat smiles as she shows me the way and offers me a complimentary glass of Prosecco. I’m so blissed out; yet, I know, its time for me to get back to work.
Darn. Belmond El Encanto’s infinity-edged pool will have to wait, as will their signature seasonal body scrub, which is peppermint for winter.
While I wait for the valet to bring my car, I catch a scent of something I have smelled before. It is the faint scent of eucalyptus, the trees that dot the Riviera.
Rumor has it that Santa Barbara’s spa experience will soon be even more posh and plushy. San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito and Chumash Casino Resort & Spa in Santa Ynez Valley are both currently remodeling their spas into what will prove to be, I am sure, even more luxurious spas with more diverse menus. I can’t wait.
For my final spa experience in my Santa Barbara round robin, I visit Alchemy Wellness Spa, an independent spa and wellness center founded by healing specialist Emma Narachi, located downtown on the corner of Haley and Chapala streets.
I enter the spa through its café. Aromatic smells greet me along with authentic Moorish windows and arches. I swear I have just rubbed Aladdin’s lamp, and my wishes have been granted.
Alchemy is a spa with a commitment to wellness. The finest wellness techniques of the East and West have been combined into an interesting menu of services: Aurasoma color therapy, IsoPod flotation experience, adrenal restore, chakra wellbeing, reiki and oxygen facials.
When I ask Narachi why she founded the spa, she says, “I went on a retreat to Thailand . . . I had not experienced that kind of freedom since I was a child. And, I thought, why do I have to go all the way across the world why isn’t there anything like that here? My vision was that I was always going to be doing my healing work.”
Renowned yogi Siddhi Ellinghoven teaches classes and hold cleanses at Alchemy. And Alchemy Café chef Jose Nava integrates Chinese medicine, western herbalism, nutrition and scientific research into dynamic seasonal cuisine that makes the café a sumptuous experience. I indulged in some Alchemy rolls and shitake mushroom soup. Yum.
With a satiated body and spirit, my Santa Barbara spa odyssey is now complete. How grateful I am that I’ve been a spa star for not one, not two, but four days. Four full days of relaxation. Ah, life is good in Santa Barbara.
You too can be a Star for a Day
Alchemy Wellness Spa
35 W. Haley St., 805/899-8811
Facials: Gentlemen’s, oxygen infusion, stem cell, DNA natural facelift, holistic facelift, balancing 5-clay mask.
Massages: Lymphatic, deep tissue, sports, Swedish, prenatal, couples, reshaping and weight loss therapy.
Notable: Body polish/masque, IsoPod floatation. Check their local memberships that provide a multitude of options and packaged discounts, and check the website for monthly specials.
Bacara Resort & Spa
8301 Hollister Ave., 844/276-0955
Facials: Bacara signature, BABOR men, fountain of youth, ocean express, organic bliss.
Massages: Gaviota herbal therapy, classic, Bacara blend, east west fusion, sea stone therapy, prenatal, stress release, sole relief, soul to soul, Bacara sea breeze rooftop.
Notable: Body melts, exfoliation, sea mask. Year-round special—receive a 50-minute Swedish massage or a European facial for $125, Sundays–Fridays, including use of the adult-only saltwater pool.
Belmond El Encanto
800 Alvarado Pl., 805/845-5800
Facials: signature facials and oxygen treatments, body treatments and more.
Massages: Swedish, deep tissue, aromastone and Thai.
Notable: bronzing packages, hair, nails, waxing. Local special: 20% discount on all spa services, except for hair, Mondays–Thursdays.
The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore
1260 Channel Dr., 805/969-2261
Facials: Hydra, hydro peptide (anti-wrinkle, brightening), pure rejuvenating, rejuvenating stone, Four Seasons custom, beauty flash.
Massages: Stone therapy, Ty fitness, Swedish, deep tissue, shiatsu, maternity, reflexology, raindrop essential oil, pure breathing, aromatherapy, true relaxation, clear mind, natural rest.
Notable: Local special: 20% discount on spa services Mondays–Thursdays.
A Bounty of Bliss
If you’re ready to relax and be pampered, you’ve come to the right place, because Santa Barbara County is a wellspring of spas. Here are a few of our other favorites.
Open the door and take time to rest your mind and relax your body. Just as your eyes are mirrors of your soul, your skin is a reflection of your health. At Cielo Spa Boutique in Santa Barbara, you’ll discover customized skin care with results and embark on a routine of balance and renewal.
Facials: Vitamin C, O2 lift, custom, all natural.
Massages: Swedish, deep tissue, pregnancy, couples.
Notable: Salt scrub body treatment, eifelfango mud treatment, wild lime hair treatment, waxing, lash tinting.
1725 State St., Suite C
This medical spa offers a fusion of clinical and luxurious. Whether you are looking for state-of-the-art medical treatments or a relaxing getaway from life’s stresses, they have everything you need in their 6,000-square-foot facility. Their highly trained medical staff help you achieve the results you desire for issues such as acne, wrinkles, sun
damage, stretch marks, hair removal and more, plus full-service day spa.
Facials: A wide range of facials, from anti-acne to age-defying oxygen and more.
Massages: Swedish, sports, deep tissue, Shiatsu, hot stone, warm oil.
Notable: Medical treatments as well as spa treatments.
350 Chapala St., Suite 103
This beautifully designed space inspires renewal. Featuring a coastal modern design, Float is light and airy, modern but comfortable, simple yet luxurious. Come in for a quick fix or stay for the day and enjoy all of the facilities, from their beautifully appointed locker rooms to Sky Lounge or the private garden with reflecting pool and fountains.
Facials: The works, tune-up, clarifying, fire and ice, champagne fizz, collagen boost, crystal clear, skinceuticals gel peel, coconut scalp treatment.
Massages: Revive, light, float signature, deep, sea stone, Thai, couples, mellow mama, dry body brushing, arnica.
Notable: Acu-massage, rituals, waxing.
18 E. Canon Perdido St.
Enjoy a variety of spa treatments at Goodland Hotel.
Facials: Pro intense contouring and lifting, tri-enzyme, visible brilliance.
Massages: Wahini-to-be massage, aroma ocean stone, beachcomber sole soother, custom deep muscle, signature GoodSpa.
Notable: If desired, most treatments can be enjoyed poolside.
5650 Calle Real, Goleta
Promoting the natural connections between personal well being, economic sustainability and the health of our planet.
Facials: Mini refresher, deep clarifying, age-defying/antioxidant, “The Dream,” mind and body.
Massages: Herbal body polish, “The Dream” back treatment, blueberry body slimming wrap, total body bliss.
Notable: Sunless tanning, makeup, waxing/tinting, mani/pedi.
21 W. Gutierrez St.
“Let us inspire your senses and renew your spirit. Our highly skilled professionals will relax, refresh and re-energize you in our luxurious, eco-friendly sanctuary of tranquility,” say the professionals at Qui Si Bella.
Facials: Mediterranean, rainforest herbs anti-aging, age intervention, organic balancing, balancing yin and yang, acne, jade stone, bella express, back, enzyme peel, herbal recovery neck treatment, herbal recovery eye intensive.
Massages: Swedish, sports/deep tissue, hot stone, ayurvedic, prenatal, Thai, Shirodhara, cranial sacral, Indian ayurvedic scalp, hand/foot reflexology.
Notable: Serenity rituals, scrubs and wraps.
3311 State St.
SALT is certainly Santa Barbara’s most unique spa experience. Let your shoulders drop, relax in zero-gravity chairs and breathe in pink Himalayan salt, known for its healing properties and calming effects. SALT boasts two caves—the larger one fits up to 18 people and runs on the hour, the smaller cave seats six and can be rented for private sessions. Enter the dimly lit space, recline—clothed—into comfortable lounges, relax to soft music and breathe in the salt as Halo generators pump dry aerosol microparticles of salt into the air to improve respiratory and immune systems.
Massages: Himalayan salt scrub, Swedish, hot stone, deep tissue, lymphatic.
Notable: Detoxyfying infrared dome treatment. Himalayan Salt Cave classes include: mat Pilates and foundation training; core, flow, stretch and gentle yoga; yoga Nidra and Tai Chi, and special ceremonies that include sound healing, conscious breathing, Reiki cleansing, and more.
740 State St.
The spa services at San Ysidro Ranch are always private, always personal, always about you. Experience the luxury of their in-cottage spa program, which transforms your room into your very own spa suite. You can relax and enjoy the lasting effects of your spa treatments in the beautiful surroundings of your own cottage long after the therapist leaves.
Massages: Swedish, deep tissue,
prenatal, east-west, shiatsu, Thai table, floor-mat treatments, ranch signature, ranch romance, nirvana, arnica therapeutic, pure bliss scalp, healer.
Facials: Traditional European, eternal youth.
Notable: Japanese skin brushing.
900 San Ysidro Ln.
Nestled within the 360-room oceanfront Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort is Spa del Mar, a unique and intimate day spa. Adjacent to the resort’s beautiful pool and Jacuzzi, Spa del Mar boasts four luxurious treatment rooms, including a couple’s room for a special experience. Spa del Mar has a private sun-drenched outdoor patio with a tranquil setting of beautiful ferns surrounding a fountain where you can take in the refreshing ocean breeze before or after your spa treatments.
Facials: Classic European, free and clear, anti-aging, VIP teen, time management tune-up, organic rose petal.
Massages: Swedish, deep tissue, sea rock, lemon drop martini, acai wrap, anti-stress back treatment, Cleopatra’s gold, aroma
Notable: French seaweed wraps, almond glow, Channel Islands indulgence, lavender bliss, signature sugar scrub, chocolate paradise.
633 E. Cabrillo Blvd.
Freshly harvested, resort-grown produce and blossoming flowers entice the senses in Spa Ojai’s sought-after seasonal treatments. The signature indigenous Kuyam treatment offers a unique cleansing and rejuvenating sauna experience that honors our Native American ancestors. Zero-gravity pedicure chairs provide the ultimate relaxation.
Massages: Essence in balance, oncology, warm Himalayan salt stone, among others.
Facials: Oxygen, young adult, sensitive skin, moisturizing, hydra facial, deep cleansing, age defying, and more.
905 Country Club Rd., Ojai
The town of Ojai is known as a Mecca for body workers and healers, and many of them work at The Oaks. Indulge in an Ojai pixie tangerine scrub, an eye rejuvenation treatment with your facial, a Thai table massage, or get poolside ready with a mani/pedi in the Spa Salon.
Facials: Cleansing, back, Ojai olive oil body soufflé, aromatherapy body salt glow, seasonal sugar scrub, skin authority fit and firm treatments and more.
Massages: Hot Himalayan salt stone, joint health arnica, sports, Swedish, aromatherapy, among others.
Notable: Warm water, shiatsu, watsu, reiki.
122 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
Chumash Casino Resort features the largest full-service spa in Santa Ynez Valley. Come let them pamper you with a comprehensive selection of relaxing and restorative health and beauty treatments. Their 4,500-square-foot facility is complete with steam rooms, fitness center, outdoor Jacuzzi and heated pool, seven treatment rooms, nail salon and relaxation area.
Facials: Essential, microdermabrasion, custom enzyme, facial peel, skin resurfacing, oxygen treatment, mini peel, back purification.
Massages: Swedish, deep tissue, sage and stone, maternity, herbal scalp, hand and foot, stress reliever, foot reflexology, lavender scrub, restore, indulge.
Notable: Nail services, wine therapy.
3400 E. Highway 246, Santa Ynez
Whether it’s a bit of serenity or relaxation you’re after or a rejuvenating, therapeutic massage or perhaps make-up, hair styling and waxing, you’ll find a full assortment of day spa services available.
Facials: Elemis product facials, including pro-intensive lift effect, tri-enzyme, urban cleanse for men.
Massages: Signature Swedish, hot stone therapy, mommy-to-be, deep tissue, Elemis rhythmic pressure, sports
2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos
This story originally appeared in the winter 2015/16 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.