Catharina Hedberg was ahead of her time. In 1974, fresh off the boat from Sweden, the 29-year-old fell in love with the Santa Monica Mountains and created the Ashram, which at the time was a new idea for Southern California: the wellness retreat. She started out charging $500 for a weeklong, mountaintop program of yoga, meditation and hiking — activities that Swedes did regularly back home but were largely unknown here.
“Back then, fitness and nature and wellness were new for Americans,” Hedberg says. “Today we do four-hour hikes, but back then people could barely hike an hour.” Jane Fonda and a steady trickle of celebrities showed up in Calabasas at the Ashram, but it wasn’t until 1990 that all 12 rooms started to book up regularly.
Today millions do yoga, Pilates and meditation, and “wellness travel” to far-flung resorts from Costa Rica to Bali is booming, with women the primary clients. Closer to home, unique spins on wellness retreats are combining yoga and meditation with surfing, swimming, boot camps and even writing in outdoorsy settings ranging from luxury hotels to dedicated retreats to Yosemite National Park.
“I’m glad it’s caught on,” says Hedberg, now 72, who owns two more Ashrams in Spain and now charges $5,200 a week. “People need a place that stops time, gets them re-centered.”
Here are six unique California wellness programs to help you return from vacation healthier than when you started.