For those seeking a retreat, the definition of a hidden gem goes something like this: “I live twenty-five minutes away, and I didn’t know this place existed until a friend told me about it,” exclaimed a high-powered, 30-something techie now lingering over breakfast at Canyon Ranch Woodside. “These have been the most relaxing four days of my life.”
The 38-room retreat is nestled on 16 acres of redwood forest on Skyline Boulevard in Woodside, California—perhaps the most expensive forest land on earth. My husband and I overpacked the car and drove six hours from southern Oregon. But for Bay Area residents, this is an easy drive into a completely different world. For those seeking a retreat, Woodside checks all the boxes—coastal air, majestic redwoods, magical trails, truly innovative farm-to-table food, luxury “treehouses,” deep tubs, and just enough classes to keep your body and mind occupied—if you so desire.
At the helm is General Manager, Kristi Dickinson, a veteran of five-star luxury resorts, who defines a retreat as “an opportunity for introspection and perspective.” For Dickinson, a retreat is all about “taking a meaningful step back from your daily life to re-connect with yourself and reflect.” The facility is a sanctuary she says, “but the experience is about just being and allowing the answers to come.”
“The common thread at all Canyon Ranch locations is integral answers, personal guidance, lifetime impact, and evidence-based progress.”
Shares Dickinson, “There are two groups we feel Woodside will resonate well with: Emerging Seekers—these guests have a growing, general sense that life could be better, improved, more optimal, and enhanced. Examples would be those in a transition stage, burning out, caregivers, or those looking to build resiliency. The second group is what we call Wellness Lifers. These guests have a way of life rooted in healthy rituals and pursuit of optimal wellness. Examples would be athletes and passionate special interest groups like hikers, meditators, spa-goers, and providers/practitioners.”
The Lay of the Land
There is a five-room spa, complete with salt-water pool, whirlpool, steam and sauna, and two vibrating zero-gravity chairs. The staff is wonderful, and the limited treatment menu is well-curated. Bear in mind, this is an amenity spa—space is minimal and consists of a single dressing room, a shower room, and a handful of lockers (with luxurious Mansfield robes and Oka B spa sandals). The spa is also home to the resident spiritual advisor, Laurel Kidd, who trained as a pastor and found her true calling as a first-rate spiritual advisor for a transient population. My husband was quite moved by a private guided meditation. If you go, check out her Soul Journey and guided Labyrinth walks.
Across the lobby is the fitness room with a handful of machines; you can expect yoga, mat Pilates, and assorted fitness classes—but the real magic is the Roll & Release class with fitness instructor David Soriano who joined Woodside from Canyon Ranch Las Vegas. The 30-minute class, where you learn to use vibrating massage balls from Hypersphere just may replace your physical therapist. With that said, most of the exercise takes place outdoors on various hikes on and off property.
The Hearth really is the heart of the place, with a beat set by a 31-year-old self-taught executive chef with a touch of genius. Take note of this name: Isabelle Jackson Nunes. She earned her stripes at places like Apple and Pinterest, and found her passion in the regenerative farms in the Santa Cruz mountains. Her creations sound unlikely, are indescribable, remarkably delicious—and unquestionably healthy, whatever your dietary restrictions. Nunes takes spa cuisine to a heavenly new level, and unlike other Canyon Ranch properties, she will pair her food with the perfect local wine, sold only by the bottle. This food is truly made with passion, and with a staff of five, she prides herself as running “the kindest kitchen” in the biz.
On our four-night retreat, we stayed in one of 24 Treehouses, a few steep (but not so steep) stairways from the main lodge. These “treehouses” are steel and glass buildings perched in a steep ravine where the view is into the thick of the redwoods. At first the floor-to-ceiling windows without any drapery were disconcerting, but the result is completely intentional—you quickly adjust to natural light and also realize that no one is looking in—except for the odd Red Headed Woodpecker or Steller’s Jay. A nice touch: Ask for a bag of complimentary bath salts before you retire for the evening.
The Common Thread of Canyon Ranch
This is new territory for Canyon Ranch, and guests and members from other Canyon Ranch properties may not get it at first go. Woodside doesn’t have the medical and resort components—because this boutique property is different—this is a luxury minimalist retreat with expert guides for transitions, transformations, or just letting go. What you’re paying for—and it’s a lot—is for complete relaxation and quiet in a beautiful natural setting with heartfelt service and none of the baggage of a religious, “spiritual,” or hippie camp. Unlike Canyon Ranch Tucson, you don’t have to sneak out to the 7/11 to buy cheap wine to drink in private. At Woodside, you can sit on your deck and drink very good local wine all afternoon if you want to, and nobody will judge you—or you can fill your schedule with therapies for whatever is weighing on your mind. I packed a bottle of my local southern Oregon favorite into my suitcase, and it remained there unopened during our stay. To our surprise, the water and tea were all that called to us.
“The common thread at all Canyon Ranch locations is integral answers, personal guidance, lifetime impact, and evidence-based progress,” affirms Dickinson. “With Woodside, our aim is to provide a focused retreat experience. We make it simple and easy to take time to replenish your well. The deep immersion in nature, soul-nourishing food, and passionately caring team enhance the guest’s intention. With connection with spirit and a feeling of belonging to something greater, major shifts happen in just a weekend.”
Note to self: A four-night retreat is ideal—if done correctly—and the Woodside retreat experience is a good substitute for the traditional spa journey. In other words, the ideal retreat experience—if done correctly—is one model of what I refer to as a true destination spa experience.
What does Dickinson hope guests take away from their retreat experience? “We obviously want our guests to learn some things that can create lasting change in their life, but we also hope they discover that retreat should be a regular, essential practice.”
If You Go . . .
On the Trails
Don’t miss the morning Forest Bathing session led by Tim Murray, Senior Outdoor Sports Guide, who hails from Canyon Ranch Lenox. There are plenty of good group hikes, but give yourself time to grab a map and meander the one-and-a-half-mile Nature Trail. Make sure to spend some time in the Fairy Ring of redwoods and on a bench at the Forgiveness Sanctuary. If you appreciate art, don’t miss the Saturday Djerassi Resident Artist Program Sculpture Hike. In a special partnership, Djerassi has invited Canyon Ranch Woodside to host private hikes where you’ll enjoy all sorts of art installations at home in the redwood forest and along the coastal grasslands.
In the Spa
Book the relaxing Forest Aromatherapy Massage with therapist Melissa Haley. She uses a combo of massage modalities, including acupressure, lymphatic drainage, and reflex points to get the kinks out. The 90-minute massage uses aromatic essential oils from Tara Spa Therapy. I always opt for the Canyon Ranch Custom Facial, and this 60-minute service with Nadia Kafaipour did not disappoint. She chose a little Luzern and a lot of Environ skincare for my facial, and gave me some good take-home tips to add to my routine.
Of Special Note
Book a Private Mind-Body Practice to enhance your self-care routines and rituals. I spent 45 minutes with Ben Dineen, Mind Body Instructor, practicing various breathwork techniques. If you’re at Woodside on the first or third Friday of the month, make time for The Markegard Farms Visit. Led by Doniga Markegard, a regenerative rancher and wildlife tracker, you’ll learn why Community Supported Agriculture is so vital—and how you can champion small farms in your own community.
Before You Head Home
Make sure you attend Sunday’s Fireside Chat, Committing to Me: Take Home Strategies. Led by Gillian Hood, Wellness Coach, this 45-minute session will give you good straightforward strategies to help you take home all that you’ve gleaned from your retreat at Canyon Ranch Woodside.