By Marlena Chavira-Medford/Staff Writer
In the rolling countryside just outside Escondido sits Golden Door, a pristine sanctuary dotted with koi ponds, sand gardens and avocado groves. Here, less than an hour from the bickering car horns of rush hour traffic, you’ll find a hushed place, a sanctuary some have said brings about “a quieting of the soul.”
“First time guests usually comment on the peaceful and calming feeling that comes over them as they approach our entrance across a curved bridge,” said general manager Rachel Caldwell.
Crossing that bridge is symbolic of leaving the outside world — and all its stress — behind. Golden Door is a 377-acre retreat inspired by ancient Japanese Honjin inns. Guests spend a week learning how the body, mind and spirit are intertwined. This complete health philosophy belongs to founder Deborah Szekely, who opened Golden Door in the late 1950s when it was a haunt for Hollywood stars who wanted to shed a few pounds. Today, Golden Door, which turns 52 this month, has evolved into the golden standard of the resort world. It’s the kind of place guests enjoy pre-dawn hikes in the back hills, followed by yoga in the garden. After that, they may enjoy a massage and a poolside lunch.
“Our staff is also trained to look for little clues as to what each guest likes and provide those special touches in the future so they never have to ask again – in other words, we want to anticipate and fulfill needs before there is a request,” Caldwell said. “No cookie cutter approach to guest service here.”
Part of that tailored approach, Caldwell said, is about hiring people “with the skill and experience we need in a package that includes, above all, a happy disposition, a genuine smile that goes beyond facial muscles to reside in the eyes – those smiles don’t lie.
“I always tell our managers that you can train just about any skill, but you can’t train ‘happy.’ Happy has to be hired,” she said and added that at least 25 staff members have worked there more than 20 years, many for more than 35 years—all the way to Caldwell herself, who has worked at Golden Door for 50 years.
Guests are drawn here admittedly for the pampering afforded by a tentative staff, but many also see it as “a premium on their life insurance policy,” as they’re given the tools to live better out in the real world. That comes in the form of fitness classes, cooking and nutrition classes, meditation sessions, spa treatments, and a series of discussions and lectures by leading scientists, writers and other luminaries.
“[Golden Door guests] have learned that staying physically fit, eating well and taking time to relax and reflect really does make a difference in their level of vitality and they are determined to do what it takes to live a younger, longer life,” Caldwell said. “It is the quality of those extra years that really matters.”
For more information about Golden Door Spa, please visit