My home state of California is a virtual playground for hot springs enthusiasts thanks to an abundance of seismic activity. I’ve traveled up and down the coast and inland to the mountains and deserts to bathe in the mineral-rich waters. They are all my favorites for different reasons. Here are a few of my top picks for hot springs resorts in California.
WILBUR HOT SPRINGS
Wilbur Hot Springs is the closest I’ve come to a traditional onsen outside of Japan. Located in Wilbur, CA about 2 ½ hours northeast of San Francisco, it’s off the beaten path, but well worth the effort.
The baths are located in a central wooden structure that houses three flumes of varying temperatures. There’s a strict no talking rule inside the flumes, but there are a small hot pool and larger cool pool on the deck that allows quiet conversation. The small hot pool is my favorite as you can lie back, look at the stars and listen to the rush of water from the small creek below.
STAYING AT WILBUR HOT SPRINGS
After a 2014 fire destroyed the main Victorian-era lodge, the owners rebuilt, adding a number of simple but beautiful cabins. Wilbur Hot Springs also offers hotel rooms, bunk rooms and seasonal camping (April-October).
Rates: $118-$390 per night.
EAT AND DRINK
There is no restaurant on-site at Wilbur Hot Springs. Instead, guests have access to a fully equipped commercial kitchen – so bring all the food you think you’ll need for the entire stay. Meal prep time in the kitchen is a great social experience and most people like to share!
- There is no internet or cell service at Wilbur. You might panic for the first hour or so, but you’ll end up appreciating the digital detox in the end.
- Wilbur’s water is high in sulfur, a scent that not everyone appreciates. Trust me, you’ll get used to it the second you sink into the silky hot water.
- The flumes and pools are clothing optional, but you must be covered up outside the baths. Bring a towel and bathrobe for chilly evenings.
MERCEY HOT SPRINGS
Mercey Hot Springs in Fresno County, CA, roughly four hours north of LA, is set against a backdrop of rolling hills and blue skies. This simple rustic resort features individual tubs that guests fill with water piped in directly from the source. There are three bathing areas on the property; the clothing-optional baths tucked away at the end of the property, an indoor bathhouse and the main clothing-required tubs located next to the sauna and cool pool.
STAYING AT MERCEY HOT SPRINGS
Accommodations at Mercey Hot Springs are rustic, consisting of six simple one-room cabins, two fully equipped Airstreams, several camps and RV sites and a two-bedroom private house. Clean shared bathroom facilities are scattered throughout the property and some of the cabins and campsites have fire pits (winter season only).
Rates: Cabins start at $135 a night. RV and Camping sites start at $50 per person per night and the Airstreams start at $200 per night.
EAT AND DRINK
There is no restaurant on-site at Mercey Hot Springs. The front office has snack items and coffee/tea for purchase and there are a common barbecue and picnic area. The two Airstreams and cabin #6 have small but functional kitchens.
- Mercey does have internet but no cell service.
- Towels are not provided, so bring your own.
- If you don’t book cabin #6, an Airstream, the house or have cooking facilities in your RV, bring a portable cooler.
- It gets chilly at night even in the summer so bring a warm cover-up for running back and forth between baths.
ECOTOPIA HOT SPRINGS
Just 88 miles from Los Angeles, Ecotopia Natural Hot Springs, nestled in Ojai’s beautiful Matilija Canyon, are a dream. The natural pools snake their way through the property, separated by large boulders and heavy vegetation. These springs are truly natural with sandy bottoms and silky mineral water.
Ecotopia also doubles as a sustainable community farm and you’ll likely be offered a sampling of whatever is in season upon arrival. Guests are invited to reserve a two-hour time slot between 8 AM and 8 PM six days a week (closed on Tuesday), so book ahead on weekends. If you’re up for a late soak, you’ll be able to watch the stars come out overhead on a clear night.
Rates: $20 per person.
WHERE TO STAY
As Ecotopia doesn’t offer overnight accommodations, bathers will have to find a hotel or Airbnb in Ojai. The springs can be visited on a day trip from LA, or nearby Santa Barbara, but I highly recommend spending some time exploring the surrounding area.
My favorite is the Ojai Rancho Inn, a rustic former motel developed by the Shelter Social Club with beautifully renovated rooms that are an Instagrammer’s dream. There are jacuzzi and kitchen rooms available, and the cottage rooms have fireplaces. Chief’s Peak, the onsite bar looks out on the backyard and pool and serves up a good variety of beer and wine. The bar also hosts bands and DJs on weekends.
Rates: $170 and up.
There are multiple Airbnb properties in and around Ojai. I stayed in a beautifully appointed one-bedroom guest cottage in Meiners Oaks – walking distance to a few restaurants and shops and just about three miles from downtown. It’s the perfect size for one or two people, and the French doors open up to a shared garden.
Rates: $95 and up.
If you want an upscale, full-service experience, there’s always the grand dame of Ojai hotels – The Ojai Valley Inn. The 220-acre property features a massive spa facility, several pools, golf, multiple restaurants and exclusive culinary classes at The Farmhouse. As you can imagine, you’ll pay handsomely for this. If you’re like me, you just stop in for a pre-dinner drink and daydream.
FOOD AND DRINK
Main street in Downtown Ojai is lined with restaurants, so take your pick – there’s something for everyone. Nocciola serves great high-end Italian food and homey atmosphere in a beautiful historic building. Farmer and the Cook, an organic market and café in nearby Meiners Oaks, specializes in vegetarian and vegan Mexican fare. It’s a great place to grab breakfast or lunch and relax on the patio.
The Ojai Ranch House, also in the Meiners Oaks neighborhood is stunning. They serve up award-winning cuisine in a beautiful garden setting.
Ojai and the surrounding area are also home to a number of vineyards. You can sample some of the wines at The Ojai Vineyard Tasting Room downtown.
- Ecotopia is located on a winding, narrow road with few if any places to pull over or turn around. Map out the route carefully so you don’t accidentally pass it. Coming from Ojai, it will be on your left.
- Showering is required of every guest before they enter the pools and towels are not provided, so bring your own.
- It’s also not a bad idea to bring along some drinking water.
- There is little to no cell service at Ecotopia and a no photos policy at the pools since they are clothing optional. Of course, people end up taking them anyway but be respectful of others privacy.
TWO BUNCH PALMS
Two Bunch Palms, rumored to have been Al Capone’s hideout, is located on 72 acres of desert landscape in Desert Hot Springs, CA. Guests are drawn to the massive hot springs pool surrounded by the namesake trees. The property also features individual teak baths with adjustable temperature as well as three additional concrete soaking pools.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation is comprised of recently renovated rooms and suites. Some are conveniently located next to the springs and others are set a bit further back on the property offering more privacy. Or, you can spend the night in the Al Capone Suite – a 1920s inspired two-bedroom suite with a stone fireplace.
Rates: $200 and (way) up per night.
FOOD AND DRINK
Essense, the resort’s full-service restaurant and bar serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. The mountain views from the dining room are gorgeous but the food is relatively pricey. There are however a number of restaurants in the immediate area as well as in nearby Palm Springs.
- Two Bunch Palms is without a doubt a very special place, but it’s not a budget getaway. However, if you’re after a relaxing hot springs experience with a spa and luxury amenities, it doesn’t get much better than this.
- Cell service and internet are available, but guests are encouraged to unplug and relax.
- The main hot springs pool is open throughout the night, but they are pretty strict about their no “talking above a whisper” policy.
- It’s also worth noting that thanks to its own solar field, Two Bunch Palms was the first carbon-neutral resort in the U.S.
CALIFORNIA HOT SPRINGS WRAP UP
There is nothing quite like soaking in a California hot spring to relieve stress and relax, and I highly recommend visiting some of these spots. I hope this guide is helpful to plan your next California hot springs getaway!
We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit California’s best hot springs. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Our Top Places To Stay In Ojai, California:
- The Ojai Valley Inn
- Ojai Rancho Inn
- Su Nido Inn
- Find the best price on hotels in Ojai, California
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