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Band of Brothers
By Jimmy Im | Photo: John Russo | December 3, 2015
Men of consequence and power are shedding stress and finding holistic healing, spiritual enlightenment and a bit of bromance at Golden Door, the legendary wellness mecca in Southern California.
Plato once said, “The love of man to woman is a thing common and of course, and at first partakes more of instinct and passion than of choice, but true friendship between man and man is infinite and immortal.” If Plato were alive today, man, he’d love Golden Door.
Just an hour outside San Diego and deep in the valleys of San Marcos, Calif., Golden Door is a respected wellness resort that was recently acquired by the Conway family, billionaire philanthropists who (with the help of interior designer Victoria Hagan) pumped $15 million in renovations into the lobby, dining room, lounges and guest rooms last year. While the remote sanctuary has been around since 1958, the makeover injected modern flair—though Golden Door continues to feel timeless.
Spanning 600 acres with quiet meadows, citrus groves, bamboo forests and perfectly manicured Japanese-inspired gardens, Golden Door evokes a sense of tranquility so infectious you feel completely transcendent within hours. It’s soulful, charismatic and grounding. Like many high-end wellness resorts, expect dozens of fitness class options, a sensible meal plan, insightful lectures and pampering spa treatments, all included in the rate. But what rings special for male wellness-seekers is that Golden Door provides six men-only weeks throughout the year.
“Men-only exclusive weeks are a unique chance for high-powered male executives and leaders to stop and bring back vitality and health in a place that is much like an exclusive boys’ summer camp—mountain biking, hiking, private trainers, daily private massages—all surrounded by 600 acres of lands, gardens and trails that are hiked and explored daily,” says Kathy Van Ness, COO and general manager of the resort. “This makes for a lifetime of building a well body and mind, and why so many Golden Door men’s-week guests return year after year to reconnect with the friends they have made,” she continues.
No other resort in the world offers this kind of program strictly for male clients, and therein lies the allure. The camaraderie among guests is unmistakably deep. Initially, like most first-time guests, I was a bit intimidated upon arrival, considering the resort’s famously successful clientele, from entrepreneurs and executives to star chefs and celebrities. But each guest leaves his ego (as well as his family ties and powerful title) at the door—everyone is equal in this company of men. While achieving fitness and wellness goals is the intention at this 40-room sanctuary, male bonding, fraternalism and even bromance is undeniably the biggest takeaway.
Upon check-in, the friendly, down-to-earth staff instantly calmed me, and I received a thorough one-on-one consultation to determine my goal—strength training in my case—and establish daily itineraries to achieve that goal. But with every intention to bulk up, my muscle-building program was, predictably, only a sliver of the experience.
Golden Door has all the bells and whistles high-profile and wealthy guests expect from a four- or seven-night stay: inclusive of the rate are daily sessions with personal trainers, an eclectic range of fitness and wellness classes, homegrown organic meals (capped at 1,600 calories a day), daily massages and facials, well-appointed guest rooms, meditation and more. All the boxes are checked. In addition, Golden Door truly has a knack for hand-picking staff extraordinary in their field of expertise. My masseuse, Kit Kuhlman, a meek and friendly therapist, had encyclopedic knowledge of myofascial release, focusing on trigger points that caused tightness rather than on pounding out kinks. I was astounded by how loose and limber I felt afterward, and his verbal anatomy lesson during my session was fascinating to boot. Josh Lawrence, a fitness phenom and my personal trainer, drilled me in an effective results-driven workout, even more impressive than my trainer back home.
Golden Door’s holistic approach provides a reboot into a more wholesome lifestyle. Cellphones are banned from public areas to encourage unplugged journeys. Susan, my nutritionist, helped me identify dietary blunders specific to my frequent travels for work. The incredibly dapper chef Greg Frey Jr. created imaginative and nutritious farm-fresh meals with ingredients straight from the resort’s biodynamic garden. His passion for cooking was obvious: Dishes were prepared as if for family rather than guests. Unlike most chefs, he didn’t hide behind the kitchen. In fact, all of the staff were generally visible and eagerly interacted, mixing with guests during pool volleyball and positioned around the lounge and public areas so we never had to hunt them down.
At Golden Door, guests can be as active or passive as they like. While the whole idea is to detox, lose weight, find spiritual enlightenment and conquer physical challenges (from hiking and boxing to yoga and cardio circuits), you can simply lie by the pool, fill your days with spa treatments and participate in leisurely classes like archery and meditation. You can even have your meals delivered straight to your room. After all, it is a resort. Golden Door also provides program add-ons like smoking cessation, pain empowerment and astrology on request. It was a joy to have my birth chart read by Alex Bunshaft, an astrologer for 17 years, who gave me insight into my personality and life situations. It was a unique opportunity to be able to experience a more spiritual benefit guests might never seek out in their busy schedules back home.
After my stay, I have no question that I achieved a keen state of holistic alignment—stressors and pressures in life were stripped away, inspiring awareness and leaving me with a genuine understanding of bonding in the most platonic sense. And that’s the irony of this wellness resort with its wholesome meals, sunrise hikes and personal trainers: Science says male bonding lowers a man’s stress levels and allows him to gain happiness. The activities and amenities offered at Golden Door may simply be supplemental to the actual incentive, but they are an astounding kick-start. Quality time in the company of men is the whole point, and Golden Door is the catalyst, offering the perfect outlet where gents can be gents—with a dash of wellness on the side. $8,850 for seven-day all-inclusive programs
American Airlines and United Airlines offer direct flights from Chicago to San Diego. (Typical American business-class round-trip flight $760; typical United business-class round-trip flight $760). From San Diego International Airport, a Golden Door host will meet you for a 45-minute transfer to the resort.
What to Bring
Golden Door provides complimentary workout clothes, though you’re free to bring and wear your own. Most guests pack sneakers, sunscreen and plenty of reading material.
Tipping is at your discretion. At the end of the visit, guests have the opportunity to tip housekeeping, personal trainers, masseuses and others.
While travelers can bring their own skincare products, Golden Door provides its own branded high-end organic skincare line in the rooms.