Review of Harbin Hot Springs in Northern California

| January 23, 2014 | 9 Comments

Nude Hot Springs and Yoga Retreat at Harbin Hot Springs

Our Visit to Harbin Hot Springs:

Update, December 2015: Harbin Hot Springs is no longer open for business, as it was tragically destroyed by a wildfire this past September. The place was reduced to ashes, though the pools did reportedly survive. We don’t know if there are plans to ever rebuild it, but we are very much saddened by the loss of this beautiful place.

If you’re looking for recommendations for other clothing-optional resorts with hot springs in California, check out my review of Wilbur Hot Springs.

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Earlier this month Jordan and I wound up in California once again, on a last-minute mini-vacation. We flew into San Francisco and didn’t see the city again until our return flight. Our first destination was Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown, California, a little north of Napa Valley. It was about a 2.5 hour drive from the San Francisco airport.

When I think hot springs, I usually think of naturally formed hot wading pools in the outdoors, surrounded by nature, like Deep Creek Hot Springs. But now I’ve seen plenty of places with man-made, spring-fed pools, and I guess this is much more common. Harbin has a mineral water supply from local springs. And seems like most of these hot springs in California are clothing-optional.

Harbin is not only hot springs, but a retreat center. There are yoga classes every day, by donation. Other frequent activities include meditation, qi gong, tai chi and sweat lodge. Spa services and bodywork sessions are also available to book, such as massage and Watsu. At night they show free movies (recent releases) and have events like Kirtan with music and dance. There are all kinds of workshops going on every week as well, which are organized independently.

There is no WiFi and very little cell service, and that’s on purpose. The whole place is supposed to be a “technology-free zone,” and cell phone use is not allowed outside of the parking lot. (Of course this means photography is prohibited as well.) The idea is to leave your electronics behind to unplug and relax for a while. This appealed to me.

We arrived at night and checked in at their parking lot booth, open 24 / 7. There we were given a packet of information, a map and introduction before making our way to our lodging. We stayed in a Grove Cottage. It wasn’t cheap at $230, but it granted us a 24 hour visit. They have a variety of lodging options, from cottages to dormitories to “tent cabins” and just regular tenting. I didn’t get to see them in person, but their dome rooms look super cool. I had considered a tent cabin, which was the only other thing available, but I’m glad we didn’t choose that option. There is no heat besides a heated mattress, and you have to bring your own bedding. It got cold at night so room heat was good. Our cottage was cozy with a comfy bed, big bathroom and shower. We also had our own deck looking out onto the forest.

harbin hot springs dome rooms california

The Dome Rooms

After settling in we went to get dinner. It was a bit of hike from our cottage to the main area, but I didn’t mind it as it was a quiet walk through nature under a very starry sky. Their restaurant is like a semi self-serve, cafeteria style place. The menu was vegetarian-friendly, but not as vegan-friendly as I would’ve thought it’d be. The food was good, but came at NYC prices. As far as other options, there’s also a small cafe and a small grocery / health food store. The cafe sells snacks, cold lunches and coffee / drinks. The grocery store has a self-serve food bar with salad, soup, and a few hot entrees. They stock essential items like toiletries, some produce, cold foods, snacks, pantry staples, etc. And lastly there’s a kitchen for cooking your own meals. All the food was good, but cooking would be your most cost-effective option.

harbin hot springs warm pool meditation yna review

Silent Warm Pool at Harbin Hot Springs

After dinner we headed for the pools. We undressed in the changing room and stored our stuff in one of the cubbyholes, taking only our towels. The pools are basically all together in one area. There are 2 warm pools, a hot pool, a small cold plunge pool and a large cold pool. One of the warm pools is called a silent meditation pool, so no conversation. We started with that one. It’s a deep pool, and most people stand or squat a little, leaning against sides. There were maybe 15 other people in it. This is when things got awkward.

Despite the sign above stating sexual activity was forbidden, there was definitely some sexual stuff happening. Some couples were hugging, their legs and arms entwined. It was difficult to see in the dark, but it was pretty clear that some were fooling around. I can’t remember the last time I felt so uncomfortable in a naked pool. I’d seen mention of incidents and weirdos on TripAdvisor, but I wasn’t prepared for this. A reviewer had said the management was very good at taking care of inappropriate behavior. Apparently they’re not very good at preventing such behavior. We got out soon after to try out the other facilities.

Jordan got into the hot pool, which ranges from 110-115 degrees. I tried to get in a few times during our stay, but it was too intense for me! I soaked in the other warm pool and also tried the dry sauna and steam room. Both were nice enough.

At this point we were ready to hit the hay so we made our way back up to the cottage.

harbin hot springs california nude clothing optional yna

Harbin Hot Springs View From Our Cottage

Upon stepping out onto our deck in the morning, we were happy to spot a little family of deer walking up along the road, and the sun coming up over the trees was a beautiful view.

We had breakfast at the restaurant and this time we were able to enjoy the deck outside, which was lovely. Afterward I went for a yoga class in the round temple. I loved that it’s round and that the floor is heated! The class was fun.

harbin hot springs yoga temple retreat yna review

Yoga Temple [Image courtesy of www.harbin.org]

The grounds overall are beautiful and very nature-oriented. Next to the temple is a large garden, a bit sparse at this time of year, but still had some vegetation. At this point it had warmed up a bit, and I took a moment to enjoy the sunshine. I was dressed because clothes are required for yoga and because it wasn’t that warm. I’m not sure why they don’t offer naked yoga at a place like this. Clothes are required for most of the indoor areas, but technically everywhere else is clothing-optional. However they seem to want to discourage nudity beyond the pool area. On their website they state that Harbin is “not a nudist organization,” and that nudity is just the norm around the pools and sundecks. For winter, nudity is definitely confined to the pool area, but I can’t speak for the warmer seasons. And people seem to like the option because I don’t recall seeing any swimsuitst.

As far as the people, there were all kinds and all ages, with a significant number of young adults and 20-somethings. They allow kids, but there were very few. There had to be at least 100 other people there, and the main areas were always buzzing with activity. We met some interesting, nice people.

While I did yoga, Jordan went to the pools and also sunbathed on one of the sundecks. There the sun was strong enough to be nude outside and even warrant some sunscreen! These decks overlook the grounds, and at night you can even lay out your sleeping bag and sleep there. As far as the pools, there was definitely a different vibe during the day. Obviously it’s a bit harder to try sexy time in broad daylight. Still, I stayed away from that warm pool.

Hiking trail overlook at Harbin Nude Hot Springs

Hiking trail overlook at Harbin Nude Hot Springs

That day we also took a hike into the woodland. The Manzanita trees along the trail were great to see, and we saw more of our deer friends. After hiking up 1-1.5 miles we reached a gorgeous overlook.

So to sum up my review, I’d say it’s a nice place, but…there’s that uncomfortable sexual atmosphere at night. I think this could be rectified if the staff were a bit more forthcoming about the behavioral rules. One of the papers we received upon arrival had a list of rules, but funnily enough none of them mentioned sexual behavior. They could also do better by informing everyone at check-in that sexual behavior is not allowed and that they are to keep their hands off each other in the pools. I mean, since when does meditation require sitting on top of your partner?? I think these people could learn something from how nudists run things.

So I’d say it’s a cool place to visit, but avoid the pools at nighttime. I really liked the grounds, the yoga, and the sense of peace I got from both.

Learn more about Harbin Hot Springs at www.harbin.org.

Review of Harbin Hot Springs in Northern California was published by – Young Naturists and Young Nudists America YNA

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Category: Felicity's Nudist Blog, Nudism and Naturism, Nudist Blogs, Nudist Resorts, Social Nudity Blogs

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Author of Felicity's Blog. Co-founder of Young Naturists America. 3rd-generation nudie. Avid reader. Feminist. 70% vegan, 30% vegetarian. When I'm not busy eating, I'm writing about naturism, censorship, topfree equality, body image and other fun topics. I like feedback, so plz leave a comment when you've got something to say!