Thermal pool at Willow Stream Spa

Thermal pool at Willow Stream Spa

By Eileen Ogintz

SONOMA, CA (Day one) — AAAH… I’m soaking in a natural thermal pool that’s heated to more than 90 degrees.

Even better, the setting couldn’t be more bucolic—flowering shrubs all around. We’re at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn Willow Stream Spa, one of the few in the country to feature natural thermal mineral waters, which flow 1,100 feet directly beneath the resort at 135 degrees.

Outside, there are two thermal pools and a hot tub. Indoors there is a signature Bathing Ritual that includes an herbal steam room, mineral soaking baths and my favorite,  a “water tunnel” with  a shower that includes a cascade of rain and water shooting up from your feet and if you dare, a bucket of cold water over your head.

If you do the bathing ritual correctly, you start with exfoliating in an oversize shower, easing into a 92 degree Roman bath, dipping into a 102 degree hot pool and then your choice of herbal steam or sauna, or both. And that’s just the indoor portion!

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

Three years ago, when my daughter Reggie, who lives in San Francisco, invited me to scout wedding venues, we planned a girlfriends’ getaway here at the Fairmont  Sonoma Mission Inn. The inn was built in 1927 after the famous Boye Hot Springs Hotel burned down. It was modeled on the historic background of the last of the Missions on El Camino Real—built in the California Mission style complete with bell tower. In 1993, the Inn brought the legendary underground hot springs back to the surface and since then, the 40,000 square foot spa was finished. Fairmont took over in 2002.

My husband and I decided to visit to share Reggie’s birthday. Her request—a stay and massage at the Mission Inn. Ever since we visited, she said, she has wanted to return with her husband Dan. So here we are. After some nibbles—and even more important excellent wine last night—all of us enjoyed the pools and Reggie and Dan a couples massage. Even my husband, who rarely indulges in spa treatments, opted for a massage while I had one of the best facials I’ve experienced in recent memory.

If only we had more time here, because this resort is on 13 acres in the heart of the 17-mile long Sonoma Valley. But we have two more inns to check out and activities—of course including wine tasting–over the next two days.

Sonoma—the town of Sonoma–we learn is the birthplace of California’ wine industry and the northernmost and last Spanish/Mexican Mission on which the Mission inn is modeled.

Today, Sonoma County includes 425 wineries in 17 distinctive wine regions and over 50 state and regional parks just 45 minutes from San Francisco. The area is a foodie paradise with artisan cheeses, fresh vegetables, seafood and more—all dished up in some 500 restaurants.

There are more than 45 state parks with hiking, biking, cycling riding, birding—the giant redwoods Pacific Ocean and kayaking along the Russian River.

That’s why Sonoma County is just as good for families with younger kids as those like us traveling with grown kids.

On to the wineries!