Refuge's Thermal Cycle Spa in Relaxing Carmel-by-the-Sea

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Refuge is no ordinary spa. Located in the ever so relaxing town of Carmel, California, a lovely relaxing getaway option around an hour and a half from San Francisco, it is focused on what they refer to as Thermal Cycle: a hot and cold water process mixed with relaxation in between. While they do offer massages, don’t expect pedicures, facials or other traditional spa treatments at this fabulous discovery, a must visit for anyone interested in wellness and mindfulness. First of all, it’s a quiet sanctuary, which means no cell phones or talking – YAY! Secondly, it’s co-ed, so you can experience it with your significant other if you wish.  While it’s all about relaxation and shutting your mind down for awhile, there are apparently significant health benefits to the process. The Refuge experience helps to eliminate toxins from the body and improve your circulation, something I definitely need. (I’m always cold!). If you have high blood pressure, a heart condition, are pregnant or are under the care of a physician for any condition, they suggest checking with your physician first before going to Refuge.

The Process

Here’s what they recommend to take full advantage of the benefits that thermal cycle can provide. First, they suggest you heat up for about 6-10 minutes — there’s a cedar sauna overlooking the waterfalls and a spacious Eucalyptus steam room with a soothing light show (both are co-ed). Next is cool down for only 10-60 seconds — I oped for the 10 second cycle. There’s two cold plunge pools which are about as cold as the ocean (forewarning) and two Nordic cold plunge pools with waterfalls and yup, that’s pretty icy as well….roughly the temperature of a cold river. All the pools are identified by suns and snowflakes, a quirky fun fact worth noting.

One sun means that it’s a warm pool, two suns a hot pool, one snowflake is a cool pool and of course, two snowflakes symbolize a cold pool. Brrrr! My favorite of course was the warm pool and frankly, I felt like I could stay in it all day.   Next up is relaxation time for around 10-15 minutes. There are a bunch of options here on the premises, from a silent relaxation area with Adirondack chairs and fire pits that overlook the Santa Lucia Preserve to three indoor relaxation sanctuaries with zero gravity recliners and serene music. In between cycles, they suggest taking in some of the other options available: 3 sparkling UV cleansed, warm pools with thermal (YES) waterfalls, and 3 sparkling UV cleansed hot pools with thermal waterfalls. Skipping any one of these steps apparently lessens the overall experience and the benefits. Relaxation time can be either outside or in btw — your preference. I would recommend doing both!!


Refuge says that there are many health benefits to the process. It is meant to improve cardiovascular performance by opening the body’s vascular system, flush the body of toxins, relax your muscles and enhance muscle recuperation, soothe aches and pains, release endorphines which allow your mind and body to settle into a euphorically relaxed state, regulate body temperature and relieves sinus congestion. The process can also help to burn more calories and increase your metabolism. And, overall, it is designed to boost your immune system and reinforce your natural defenses, helping you to better ward off illness and disease in your body.

They suggest repeating these steps 3-5 times and allocating a few hours for a visit. We spent the better part of an entire afternoon here and I wished we had more time. The steam room was one of the better steam rooms I’ve experienced in years — if you have a cold, allergies or suffer from seasonal sinus issues, a strong steam room with Eucalyptus is the way to go and this one was top notch!  So many steam rooms just don’t use Eucalyptus and it’s such a great remedy for so many ailments. Steam inhalation is helpful to ease symptoms such as nasal congestion in people with upper respiratory tract infections. Besides clearing congestion and mucus, the heat supposedly helps to kill off the cold virus an d Eucalyptus oil is thought to help loosen mucus.

A Summary of the Process



27300 Rancho San Carlos Road

Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923


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