The Golden Door in Escondido, Calif., has been rated the No. 1 spa in America by the Zagat U.S. Hotel, Resort and Spa Guide every year since the survey began in 1988.
It is popular among affluent movers and shakers, especially Hollywood types. At $5,000 per week, the term "affluent" is highly relevant.
If you don't have $5,000 to shell out for a week at the Golden Door, armed with The Golden Door Cookbook and Chef Michel Stroot's recipes, you can eat like a spa visitor.
Unfortunately, the book can't cook for you, put on your socks, give you a massage, do your laundry, attend to your spiritual needs or provide any of the other extras the spa offers.
But the book does have tips on how to translate the spa philosophy into your home life. As you cook your way through the book, at least a little of its health-giving advice may rub off. Scattered through the pages is information on Mr. Stroot's fat- and calorie-cutting techniques and on healthful eating.
For instance, each day guests at the spa takes a predawn walk, followed by a simple breakfast of foods with clean, fresh flavors.
At the Golden Door, breakfast is served on a tray so guests can enjoy a quiet time before they start the exercise and beauty regimens of the day. A walk and time for quiet at the beginning of the day are practices you can incorporate in your own life.
Rancho La Puerta, the Golden Door's parent spa in Baja California, Mexico, was founded in 1940 by Edmond and Deborah Szekely as a summer camp for a select group of friends from around the world.
They gathered to study exercise, nutrition and other principles of a sound, simple, healthy way of life. They paid $17.50 per week and gladly pitched their own tents. There was no running water and no electricity; the group was dedicated to eating nutritiously and in harmony with the Earth with an organic, vegetarian lifestyle. There was a nearby mountain to climb and a river for swimming.
The gardens were developed, and today most of the organic food served at the resort is grown on the premises. As Rancho La Puerta became more sophisticated and the benefits of fitness became better known, increasing numbers of Hollywood types frequented the spa.
The Szekelys founded the Golden Door, with even more pampering, in 1958. It can accommodate 39 guests, and Rancho La Puerta up to 150. Depending on the size of the room and the time of year, a week at Rancho La Puerta can cost between $1,380 and $2,495. Classes and meals are included in the cost but, unlike at the Golden Door, you pay for additional services such as massages.
The Golden Door is usually all women with some weeks for men and some weeks that are coed. Rancho La Puerta is always coed. Food writer Mary Goodbody says that Rancho La Puerta has a more resortlike feeling to it, with more groups of people who return regularly. It's described in the brochure as having a Spanish-Colonial style. Each guest accommodation is one of a kind, and each has its own garden. Some of the instructors switch between the two spas.
Given the choice, Ms. Goodbody would chose to go back to Rancho La Puerta because she likes its luxurious casualness for the price. While it is not as plush as the Golden Door, she likes its vibrant quality of fun.
The Golden Door, P.O. Box 463077, Escondido, CA 92046-3077 (760)744-5777; (800)424-0777.
Rancho La Puerta, P.O. Box 463057, Escondido, CA 92046-3057 (760)744-4222; (800)443-7565.