Some 25 years ago, my father and mother — pregnant with me at the time — drove the hour and a half from L.A. to visit Glen Ivy Hot Springs, a health and wellness day spa based around thermal pools. The trip had dual purpose: to give my mother some much-needed neonatal pampering (perhaps she had a feeling I’d be a miserably colicky infant) and to visit with her first cousin, a woman who had recently moved to California, changed her name to Gemma and joined the Emissaries of Divine Light at Glen Ivy. At the time, the hot springs were owned and operated by a nonprofit “spiritual network.” Gemma, as with other members of the organization, both lived and worked at the day spa.
But the almost 30 years Glen Ivy spent under the auspices of that controversial group is not the only — or even most interesting — chapter of the spa’s more than 155-year history. In fact, long before the Emissaries of Divine Light took over, the mineral hot springs and surrounding desert landscape were regarded as sacred spiritual grounds by local Native American tribes. And though the land would be developed into a day spa during the 19th-century period of westward migration and eventually grow into a leading example of ecotourism among in-the-know SoCal communities, the focus has remained on providing public access to the healing properties of the area’s unique natural geology.
It was the beginning of yet another new chapter that drew me and my mom back to Glen Ivy. In January, the property was acquired by GOCO Hospitality, a transition that’s ushered in an era of expansion, upgraded facilities and a boom in popularity. Today the spa feels a bit like an eco-friendly, adults-only, wellness-geared Disneyland, and it offers a range of programs and customizations depending on time of year, budget and desired experience. For example, those seeking a social, lively energy should visit during high season — especially if you go bad and bougie and splurge for a cabana, which allows access to a private deck with a dip pool, lounge chairs and drink and food service with designated attendants. Those looking for something a bit more meditative and relaxing may prefer to visit during the winter, as we did; of course, the pools are temperature-controlled.
Coming from L.A. and accounting for traffic, I’d suggest budgeting two hours for the drive — as long as you’re luckier than I was and don’t get a flat tire (yes, that really happened). I somehow still managed to arrive 15 minutes early, and stopped off at Tom’s Farms on Temescal Canyon Road, a farmers market and old-timey candy shop; just be aware that you won’t be able to bring outside food or drink into the spa itself. Once I made it up from the parking lot and met my mom, we checked in at the front desk, changed into bathing suits in the bath house — a well-equipped locker room and Roman bath — and donned robes; guests can either bring their own or rent one from the desk for $15 (cabana rentals include robes). There are plenty of towels and hair products to go around, including conditioner, combs and dryers, the holy trinity for hair.
Up next were Swedish massages in one of the stand-alone villas; guests are offered a choice of oils for the treatment (I opted for vanilla tangerine) and can opt in or out of the cold stone facial. In a post-massage daze my mom and I refer to as “spa head,” we sat down to lunch from the cafe menu, a typical selection of light dishes and cocktails. The second half of our day was spent exploring the various pools, hot and cold plunges, saunas and mineral baths across the property, as well as Club Mud, a red clay mud water park. Highlights included the saline pool, recently remodeled saunas and the historic mineral baths, sulfur smell and all.
Come late afternoon we headed underground to the Grotto, an add-on skin moisturizing experience across three rooms: Guests are painted with a green, lotionlike blend of natural butters and oils and then walk through the interconnected areas designated to lock in moisture, clean off and relax. We ended our day at the bath house and rode off into the sunset in opposite directions, my mom back to San Diego and I back to L.A. — each of us more relaxed than we’ve been in months. We definitely will not be waiting another 25 years to return.