California has hot springs scattered about the state, but if you are traveling the California Coast then your options are limited. The central coast between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area has a bunch to choose from, but they are quite diverse. See the map above and the descriptions below.
Few of these hot springs are a simple day-hike to a pool in a natural setting. Gaviota Hot Springs north of Santa Barbara is probably the best one on the list below that fits that description. Gaviota State Beach and Campground is nearby if you want to camp and see the beach before or after your soak.
Gaviota Hot Springs
If the weather has been dry and the forest roads are not wet, Big Caliente and Little Caliente Hot Springs in the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara can be driven to – or at least close to them. High clearance and/or four wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Set aside a couple hours for the long drive and bring hiking shoes in case the road gets too difficult or gates are closed. UPDATE: Recent wild fires have burned the area around these hot springs but they are open and in good shape. Rains on the exposed hillsides have caused landslides and unfortunately the roads are currently closed to vehicles and must be hiked or mountain biked but this is not easy. Call Los Padres National Forest for updates.
Slates Hot Springs is located at Hot Springs Creek Beach at the private Esalen Institute in the Big Sur area. You must be a guest of the institute to soak in their tubs.
Paso Robles has two privately owned and operated hot springs facilities. Franklin Hotsprings and River Oaks Hot Springs Spa are both open for day-use and offer natural mineral springs for soaking. These establishments state unproven claims of medicinal and therapeutic values, but how can you go wrong with a hot soak?
Avila Beach has a couple more options for hot springs. Both are privately owned and have accommodations onsite. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa has many hotel rooms with mineral filled tubs. They also have day-use private hillside hot tubs and a waterfall lagoon that can be reserved by the hour. Avila Hot Springs is more rustic with cabins and tent camping areas to choose from. The swimming pool and hot mineral pool are both open for day use but hours vary seasonally.
Want more of a challenge? Sykes Hot Springs near Big Sur has hot spring pools that require a ten mile backpacking trip to find. The hike starts at the Big Sur Ranger Station and climbs up the Pine Ridge Trail to the hot springs next to Sykes Camp, a wilderness tent camping site.
Finally, the Hot Springs Canyon Trail leads up to a former hot springs resort in Santa Barbara. The lavish resort built in the mid-1800’s was consumed by wildfires several times in its history. The fire of 1964 was the last and the resort was not rebuilt, but remnants of the structure remains. A multi-use trail that begins 0.2 miles west of Hot Springs Road on Mountain Drive ascends up to the former spot where a small mineral spring can be found by following the smell. There are no pools to soak in, but you can soak in the sun on a hike up to this spot.
There is a hot spring seeping up in the sand at Steep Ravine Beach in Marin, but it’s only exposed at minus tides and we have heard they are not as reliable as in previous years. If you find Steep Ravine Hot Springs when the conditions are right, let us know.