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Three NorCal Retreats That Want You to Unplug (but Not Too Hard)
Andy Wright | Photo: Courtesy of 1440 Multiversity | August 23, 2017
New wellness getaways made for the mystical millennial.
There was a point at which the founders of the Land—a wellness retreat on 162 bucolic acres in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley that opened in April—considered setting up shop in Bali. They also mulled over the idea of purchasing an entire town in Georgia. But there was something about the forested riverside swath 150 miles north of San Francisco that called to them. For instance, says Maya Block, president of the Land, there is the “epic” bridge that you drive across to enter the grounds. “A million-dollar bridge,” agrees project manager Bob Wilms. “The moment we set foot here, we were like, OK, this is home,” Block says.
They certainly weren’t the first to hear the call. Northern California has a rich tradition of wellness and spiritual retreats, from Big Sur’s Esalen Institute, famous for its clothing-optional cliffside hot tubs, to the San Francisco Zen Center’s Tassajara, funded in part by a “Zenefit” hosted by the Grateful Dead. The Land is one of a new generation of retreats for people the founders call “modern-day seekers”—generally millennial professionals whom Wilms dubs the “tired and wired.” The Land and other newly opened rustic outposts, conveniently located a few hours away from the mindful (and moneyed) workforce of Silicon Valley, offer educational and wellness programs alongside luxurious amenities, with a particular eye on the harried tech worker—the mystical millennial, if you will.
“We really wanted to find the things that were most inspiring to us, and also to younger people that are ready for the next thing,” says Wilms, who has a background in interior design. To that end, the Land has offered traditional fare such as yoga retreats, but it’s also in talks about a potential movement workshop led by dancer Lil Buck, who rose to fame thanks in part to a cell phone video shot by Spike Jonze.
Purchased with the help of investors for $4.5 million in December of 2016, the Land had once been used as a resort: It came with 13 cabins, eight houses, a barn, and a lodge. The team moved quickly to wipe out the “beige green,” salmon, and purple paint jobs on several structures. “Our basic aesthetic is very minimalist,” Block says. “Simple. White walls, wood, metal tables. Exposed Edison lights for the interiors of the cabins.”
A similar property catering to those in need of a spiritual reboot is 1440 Multiversity. Founder Scott Kriens updated the existing grounds of a former Bible college near Santa Cruz, transforming them into a 75-acre retreat that opened in May. Following the death of his father in 2004, Kriens, chairman of Sunnyvale’s Juniper Networks, embarked on a spiritual quest that led him to journaling, meditation, and eventually creating the 1440 Foundation (1,440 is the number of minutes in a day). A grant-making organization, the foundation supports several wellness initiatives, from delivering healthier school lunches to providing support services for cancer patients. The multidisciplinary retreat is the most recent addition to the 1440 world: Among other offerings, there are professional development seminars, classes on living with Lyme disease, and workshops led by lifestyle luminaries and authors like Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert. Classes cost around $350, while lodging ranges from $160 to $340 a night. Unless guests opt to pay more for single accommodations, they are matched with a roommate, a practice borrowed from Esalen.
The 1440 clientele “are looking for more than just a place to vacation and to sit,” Kriens says. “They’re looking for things they can bring back with them.” But when you do sit at 1440 Multiversity, it will be in comfort. The revamped campus has been made over in the Craftsman style, with exposed timbers, slate roofs, copper appointments, and stone floors. More than 400 tons of granite boulders were imported from the Sierra Nevada to help create a dramatic waterfall that greets guests upon arrival, and after meditation at a former chapel overlooking the redwoods, guests can avail themselves of a 250-square-foot infinity-edge hot tub.
While the Land and 1440 Multiversity launched with individuals in mind, an earlier foray into the modern retreat, Mendocino’s Camp Navarro, has operated since 2013 as a private event facility frequently used by tech companies for employee retreats. Camp Navarro’s founder, Dan Braun, was an early adopter of the back-to-nature-sans-roughing-it model; he also owns an upscale resort, Evergreen Lodge, in Yosemite. Camp Navarro, which he calls “a platform for authentic nature-based experiences,” gained fame its first year for Camp Grounded, a no-tech summer camp for adults. It “kind of started the digital detox movement,” Braun says. The retreat resides on the site of an old Boy Scout camp and retains many of the original features, such as cabins, signage, and wooden logs rubbed smooth by “50 years of butts.” Upgrades include Tempur-Pedic mattresses and a pizza oven.
The success of such retreats depends on the belief that there is connectedness to be found in unplugging and marinating in the redwoods. Of course, you never have to be too unplugged; each location promises that, yes, there is Wi-Fi available for those who really need it. And no one will be crashing on cots or in sleeping bags. “We want that camp innocence and simplicity,” Braun says. “But I’m old enough now that I want to wake up in the morning and feel like I slept well, and not on a rock.”
Originally published in the September issue of San Francisco