Friday, October 09, 2015 • 04:53

The Golden Door is transforming into luxury spa

The Golden Door Spa in Escondido is being treated to a series of dramatic upgrades to bring it back to its roots.
April 30, 2014
Nestled in the hills north of Escondido, the Golden Door Spa is being treated to a series of dramatic upgrades. Founded in 1958 by Deborah Szekely, the Golden Door gained notoriety as a haven for celebrities and anyone who could afford being pampered for thousands of dollars a week. Hollywood starlets visited the spa to lose a few pounds before a film shoot.

To regain recognition lost from 1998 to 2012 due to corporate ownership, the spa is staffed with an innovative new management team. The new owner is Joanne Conway, wife of billionaire Bill Conway.

The 56-year-old property is now situated on 600 acres, doubling its size. Kate McCoy, spa spokeswoman, said the recently added acreage will allow hiking experiences for guests as well as the opportunity to focus on a redirection toward holistic growing of organic food.

"All the food from our garden goes to our kitchen and it's on the dinner plates that night," said McCoy.

The Golden Door is redirecting farming methods incorporating biodynamic agriculture, which is the ecological introduction of caring for livestock with growing produce.

"It's the understanding of the land from its original days," said Kathy Van Ness, the spa's chief operating officer. "Guests get a super healthy diet when they're here. It's literally farm to table."

According to Van Ness, healthy eating is just as vital to physical wellbeing as fitness classes, massages, and facials.

Leafy vegetables are grown in a 3,000-square-foot computer-controlled greenhouse. Farm-fresh eggs are provided by 30 chickens. In addition, wine and olive oil will be marketed by the spa. The goal is to make Golden Door a well-known food brand. Marketing profits will be donated to charities and philanthropic causes.

Plans for renovation of the spa include revamping the lobby and guest rooms. During the spa's changes, guests are still offered services such as daily in-room massages, and anti-aging facials. Two pools feature water aerobics. Six gyms offer 40 different fitness classes. Guests are treated to soothing experiences focused on better health, self-discovery, and inner peace.

The Japanese-style inn surrounded by koi ponds and expansive gardens provides an ideal venue for meditation. The understated architecture creates a sense of order and compliments the Asian art collection worth millions.

In 2012, Conway purchased Golden Door for $24.8 million after visiting the spa 22 times. The spa was purchased for restoration and not for investment purposes.

Aside from the five all-male weeks, the clients are mostly female business executives escaping the stress of high-powered professional careers juggled with raising a family.

The spa has space for 40 guests each week. According to Van Ness, the occupancy rate is 70 percent. A week's stay at the spa has increased slightly to $8,250.

County Supervisor Dave Roberts recently visited the Golden Door for a tour.

"It's nice to see the new owners returning it to its glory days," Roberts said. "It wasn't nearly kept up to these standards when it was under corporate ownership."

He views the biggest benefit of the luxury spa's expansion as protecting local land.

"They're preserving one of the few areas of tranquility left in our county," said Roberts. "It truly is a special place."

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