Inside the Golden Door in San Marcos, California

The luxurious health spa costs tens of thousands of dollars for a weeklong stay—and donates 100 percent of its proceeds to nonprofits.

Golden Door
(Image credit: Tanveer Badal)

Tucked into the hillside of San Marcos, California, is the Golden Door, a Japanese-inspired oasis. On 600 acres of land between San Diego and Los Angeles, the secluded wellness enclave is replete with hiking trails, fitness classes, and mindfulness exercises. While the destination is expensive and exclusive—guests range from celebrities like Oprah and Julia Roberts to business tycoons—the resort donates 100 percent of its profits to charity. Whether you go for reflection or physical transformation, the customizable experience at the Golden Door has made it one of the top health spas in the country for more than 50 years. 

Stay in ryokan-style accommodations

The Golden Door is designed like a Japanese ryokan (inn) and the 40 rooms are uncluttered but luxe. Antique silk prints adorn the walls instead of televisions and shoji doors open onto peaceful gardens. In the closet are Golden Door t-shirts and sweats that are laundered daily along with a tote bag, water bottle, hat, and more— nearly everything you need for the fitness-focused resort. 

Relax in a hidden oasis

Tucked away from public view, the resort is laid around courtyards, each with a distinct Japanese style. A koi pond near a 300-year-old bronze bell from the Josen-ji Buddhist temple, a bamboo forest, and a perfectly manicured karesansui garden are just some of the landscapes that await you. 

Unwind at the Bath House

The newly renovated bath house is home to a stunning hot tub in the visual therapy healing room with slow-moving art by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg. Partake in a variety of body treatments like a yuzu lemon scrub or cold plunge then sink into a heated robe. 

Eat garden-to-table

The gardens aren’t only beautiful, tranquil spaces, but also supply a talented team of chefs with produce to cook delicious, healthy meals. Dress in the provided blue-and-white yukata robe and follow the sound of the Edo bell to dinner each evening. 

Explore area hikes

With more than 30 miles of hiking trails, there are length and difficulty options for every level of hiker. Take an easy stroll around the meadow or climb up the hill to a blooming lake with a stone labyrinth. 

Pampering with purpose

At the Golden Door, you can rest easy knowing your stay is doing good—100 percent of profits go to nonprofit organizations that help end child abuse and transform young lives. 

Michelle Stansbury

Michelle Stansbury is a San Diego-based freelance writer who writes about travel, food, and relationships. Misuse of the word "literally" drives her figuratively insane.