California has long been known for its beaches, and we get the hype. The warm sand, crashing waves, and blue ocean all seem to beckon, especially during cold and dreary East Coast winters. It's enticing, but, dare we say it, predictable. One of the best things about this state is its varied geography, and tucked within its landscape is something that far fewer beachgoers ever enjoy: hot springs.
As a foil to some of California's most famous beaches, equally picturesque hot springs show off another side of the state's natural beauty. We uncovered five of the best hot springs in California, from Big Sur to Los Angeles, and they're all a bit of an adventure (in fact, a few make swimsuits optional). So go ahead and leave the beach behind for a dip that's more on the wild side.
Ecotopia Natural Hot Springs
Set 90 minutes from Los Angeles, Ojai is a sleepy city that's best known for the healing powers of its mountains. Ecotopia Natural Hot Springs is located in Ojai Valley's Matilija Canyon on a lush property that features community gardens. Swimsuits are optional, so be prepared to let loose if you dare.
Esalen Hot Springs
Just off the winding Highway 1 in Big Sur, Esalen Hot Springs overlooks the Pacific Ocean on a cliff high above the waves. It's been welcoming clothing-optional swimmers for centuries. In fact, it's part of a healing institute of the same name, and once you see the sunset view, you'll understand why. But in case you'd like to experience what the springs are like by moonlight, there are also evening hours from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. by reservation.
Deep Creek Hot Springs
Surrounded by the northern Mojave Desert in the San Bernardino National Forest, Deep Creek Hot Springs feels like an oasis upon arrival. As you slink your way into one of them and find a seat, you'll get a unique view of the sandy mountains under bright blue skies.
It's about a 2-mile trek to get to the springs, so proper shoes are necessary. But the journey is worth it—the pools don't disappoint.
Travertine Hot Springs
Not far from the Nevada border in Northern California, Travertine Hot Springs has the best of both worlds: a secluded location that's also easily accessible from the main road. These hot springs provide breathtaking views of the surrounding Sierra mountains, which can be blanketed in snow depending on the time of year.
Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and Hot Springs
All of these hot springs feel separated from everyday life, but this one might be the most removed. As the first teaching monastery founded outside of Japan, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is a place of reflection and seclusion deep within the wilderness of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. The hot springs take on that kind of vibe, so come here if you're looking to reconnect with your inner self.