Sometimes when our souls crave a getaway, we can’t afford to skip off for an extended vacation. But here in the bay area there are beaches, redwoods, mountains, hot tubs and springs all within a short distance. It’s really worth getting away for the day and it’s doable on bike, bus, and even ride and car-sharing.
Whether you have a few hours in San Francisco, a day in Marin County, or a weekend down the coast, here are some favorites for short restorative retreats:
Baker Beach: With the Pacific spread in front of you and a strong salty sea breeze in the air, you can walk along the beach or climb the nearby stairs for a good workout, all while enjoying stunning view of the offers stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge to the north. (Note: the north end of the beach is clothing optional.) Biking through Golden Gate Park down to Lake Street is a pretty (and flat!) ride in itself, though going back is at first challenging. Otherwise take the 38 bus to 25th Ave. and transfer to the 29 bus).
Even though the city often seems noisy and frantic, it’s also home to quietly beautiful places where you’re surrounded by nature and feel far from the urban hustle. The public San Francisco Botanical Gardens in sprawling Golden Gate Park is one such sanctuary. Take the 5, 44, or 71 buses (visit 511.org for help planning your trip). Biking there through the Panhandle and the park is also a great way to go. You’ll find 55 acres of landscaped gardens and open spaces, and over 8000 varieties of plants from around the world. The garden is open April-October 9am-6pm and November-March 10am-5pm; admission is $7.
Half-day or Full-Day Getaways in Marin County
Once over the Golden Gate Bridge, the possibilities widen to day spas like quaint and rustic Shibui Gardens in San Anselmo. It offers two massage rooms, a sauna, cold and hot showers, plus two outdoor hot tubs. You can enjoy a long soak surrounded by evergreen trees and wisteria. Monday thru Thursdays there’s a happy hour, offering 2 for 1 hot tubs, and 10% off massage between 2 and 4 p.m. on weekdays. The mexican food next door is great at Taco Jane’s.
Another Marin County retreat is Frogs, a public spa facility in Fairfax with two private hot tubs, and a community hot tub where you can stay for an extended time enjoying the refreshing cold plunge, a sauna, and a clothing-optional sundeck.
With rocky headlands, sandy beaches, forested hills, hiking trails and a historic lighthouse, the Point Reyes National Seashore is a stunning natural destination with something for everyone. To stay overnight, the Point Reyes Hostel starts at $22 for bunk-style beds, and offers a large private family room. There are also many hike-in campgrounds.
Full Day or Weekend Trips
If you’re ready to get out of town for a whole day or weekend, a hot springs visit can be relaxing, rejuvenating, while still affordable on a small budget. Harbin Hot Springs and Wilbur Hot Springs are both longer trips, but so worth it! Located an hour and a half north of the Bay Area, Harbin features outdoor pools under shady trees, hot and cold plunge pools, swimming pools, and tent cabins. One can also just camp. A six-hour visit for an adult costs $20 Mon-Thur, $25 Fri-Sun and weekends. Also, at least one person in your group must have a membership. Don’t let going on your own stop you. Harbin is more than a retreat, it’s a community with workshops, a ride board, and nightly activities like weekly dances.
Wilbur Hot Springs is about 2.5 hours northeast of San Francisco, on 1,800 acres of nature preserve in the Coastal Range foothills. Great for a fall getaway (since the pools are Sheltered by a Japanese-style “Fluminarium”) the facilities feature three long “flumes”, a large cool-water spring-fed pool, an outdoor hot mineral sitting flume, and a dry sauna. Bonus: complimentary yoga on weekends! A day-pass for the facilities costs $47. With no outdoor swimming pool, save this for colder seasons.
If you have a whole weekend, the Esalen baths in Big Sur and the Sierra Hot Springs are both up there as awesome retreat options. Sitting on a rocky ledge 50 feet above the Pacific, the Esalen baths are fed by natural hot springs (119 degrees) that have been flowing for centuries. In addition to indoor and outdoor baths, there are massage rooms, hot tubs, a living roof with native coastal grasses, and changing rooms. The baths are open the general public by reservation from 1 am–3 am, for a cost of $20 per person (Call 831-667-3047; maximum group size of 4). A guide will meet and escort you to the baths. Go when the moon is full, it’s a truly magical experience.
Sierra Hot Springs – though hard to access in the winter – is another option for a weekend trip. In the main pool area, a hot, sand-bottomed pool is enclosed in a large geodesic dome with stained glass and skylights. You can also enjoy the faux-natural meditation pool – a seasonal outdoor pool with a sandy bottom and an open view above of the stars—and the indoor private pools that are drained and refilled between each user. A 3-hour visit costs $15; a day pass is $20.
If you get a group together and you like oysters, check out Tomales Bay for good food, hiking, and kayaking!