Relaxation: Mineral Baths
It’s winter time in SonomaCounty, and even though the temperatures are considerably kinder here than in other areas of the country it still gets to feeling cold. The humidity of the region along with the relatively mild temperatures seems to feed the cold and flu season and can make this time of year feel long and bleak. But there is relief! If you’ve ever enjoyed a long soak in a bathtub on a cold winter night or after a hard day of work, you will love soaking in a mineral pool or hot springs.
When I was a child, my father took me to several mineral and hot springs. There was Orr, Grover, Wilbur, Harbin, Bergdoff among others. But perhaps my favorite memories were of swimming with my friends in Calistoga at that great old public swimming venue with arches and a great wide pool with a fountain in the middle for us kids to walk around. It was magical. We loved it so much. Sadly they tore it down years ago to make room for newer resort pools.
Recently I re-visited Calistoga, which is about a 40 minute drive from Santa Rosa (past the Petrified Forest). We visited the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, which had formerly been the site of my childhood fun. Inside were old photos of swimmers in the 1950s and perhaps earlier enjoying the water and lounging in the gracefully arched walkways. And best of all, outside was the fountain of my youth! We stood in line for day access (which was cold), the dressing rooms were small but clean, and once we slid into the hot pool (which was covered by a gazebo, lined with shimmering blue tiles, with a small fountain in the center—and very peaceful) our cares seemed to melt away in the warm water.
We spent the day soaking in the sun and dipping from pool to pool, especially enjoying the deep warm pool which was like swimming in a giant bathtub. Stopping to talk to a little merman with webbed toes, we spent most of our time enjoying the relative quiet and calm of the bubbling liquid. Everyone was relaxed and happy and soon we felt like noodles in a soup. After several hours we decided to get out and walk around town where we had lunch and enjoyed the shops and galleries. The weather was beautiful and about 10 degrees warmer than in SonomaCounty (even the mustard was starting). We then returned to our baths and each other. The experience was blissful. It took away any aches and pains in my joints. I felt refreshed inside and out. I returned home calmer, happier, and (at least mentally) healthier. I can’t think of a better way to break through the cold of winter than with a nice hot soak and swim in a mineral bath!
Some general advice: when visiting a hot spring it is important to observe the rules and decide what you feel comfortable with before you go. Some facilities allow for nudity, some have restrictions on children, food, pets, etc. Many require a reservation or an overnight stay, while others allow for day use. Prices and accessibility vary. I recommend calling ahead. Many provide spa treatments, while others are perfect for family outings. While you are there, enjoy dipping from pool to pool as many have multiple temperatures to try out. Don’t go in where it feels too hot for you, drink plenty of water, and take a break and sit out if you feel faint. It’s good to take breaks (eat, walk, meditate, nap—whatever feels good). Many people enjoy jumping into a cold pool after a hot soak or sauna and most facilities provide a cooler pool for this purpose. For centuries, people have been enjoying hot springs and mineral pools for their therapeutic healing qualities (think of the famous roman baths!). Hot springs are not for everyone. People with health conditions may want to consult their doctors before visiting them. For your health and that of those around you, I would not suggest going while you are sick. Depending on the minerals coming out in the waters, you can have different qualities including bubbles, varying water clarity, or a sulfur (old egg) smell. Don’t wear your best bathing suit. Some outdoor pools may ask you not to wear sunblock, so bring a hat and flip flops or other poolside shoes (as well as a towel, robe, and a water bottle).
Here are some hot springs/mineral baths to visit within a day’s drive of SonomaCounty:
- Calistoga Spa Hot Springs (the one we visited in Calistoga) http://www.calistogaspa.com/
- Harbin Hot Springs (bathing suits are optional so be prepared for some nudity, pools range from extremely hot to comfortable and a cool pool is on site) http://www.harbin.org/
- Baths at Roman Spa (also in Calistoga, they also have mud baths, massages, etc.) http://www.bathsromanspa.com/Welcome.html
- Indian Springs (also in Calistoga, they also have mud baths) http://www.indianspringscalistoga.com/
- Vichy Springs (visited by luminaries like Mark Twain, known for bubbling water in private bathtubs, has a great waterfall to hike to) http://www.vichysprings.com/
- Sonoma Aquatic Club (in Agua Caliente, about 15 minutes from Sonoma) http://www.acacswimming.com/
- Orr Hot Springs (bathing suits are optional, located up in Ukiah) http://www.visitmendocino.com/business/orr-hot-springs-resort
- Wilbur Hot Springs (about an hour and a half from SonomaCounty) http://www.wilburhotsprings.com/index.htm
- Grover Hot Springs (a state park four miles west of Markleeville, at the end of Hot Springs Road, the park is in an alpine meadow and pine forest at 5,900 feet) http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=508
Article by Nadja Masura