The Osmosis Day Spa and Sanctuary in Freestone isn’t your typical luxury spa. There’s no sauna, no steam room, no sign of an infinity pool. The decor is minimalist and simple; the changing rooms modest and small. Despite this lack of extravagance and standard spa amenities, the West County sanctuary has earned worldwide acclaim. This year, it celebrates 30 years in business.
So what’s the secret to Osmosis’s longtime success? As it turns out, it’s the focus on simplicity, rather than opulence, that keeps attracting stressed out souls to this hidden gem.
The pièce de résistance of the Osmosis Day Spa is its cedar enzyme bath, a 1940s Japanese tradition imported by the spa’s founder, Michael Stusser, who discovered the healing treatment during a sojourn in Japan in the mid 1980s. Upon his return to Sonoma County, Stusser, then a student of Zen meditation and traditional gardening practices, constructed his first bath prototype out of recycled wood from a chicken coop. He found a home for his cedar enzyme bath on a friend’s ranch in Sebastopol, where he treated clients for years until requiring the Freestone property.
Today, the cedar enzyme bath experience at Osmosis – the only one of its kind in North America – starts with a tea ceremony. Guests then climb into large wooden tubs filled with a warm mixture of finely ground evergreens and rice bran, which swaddles the body like a weighted blanket. The guests relax in the bath for twenty minutes as their bodies absorb the heat, generated through fermentation. Among a long list of health benefits, Osmosis guests report experiencing reduced tension and stress, pain relief, clearer skin and a sense of elation (cedar oil is commonly used as a calming agent and to elevate the mood).
“It’s true healing medicine at the highest order,” says Stusser of the cedar enzyme bath. “It’s so transformative to the body’s many, many metabolic functions.”
When the Osmosis founder first stumbled upon the five-acre Freestone property alongside Salmon Creek it was a junkyard with a dilapidated building. An old truck in the zen garden now serves as a nod to those humble beginnings, and as a symbol of sustainability – a main focus at the spa.
As a founding member of the Green Spa Network, Osmosis implements a number of environmentally-friendly practices. They’ve constructed their own wetlands, which now allow the spa to save nearly 1,000 gallons of water each day, and installed solar showers that absorb the sun’s heat to raise the temperature of the water – they even donate the used enzyme bath mix, reused as mulch by locals, saving approximately 18 cubic yards of landfill space per month. The spa is now in the process of planting hundreds of redwood trees on the property in an attempt to bring back what early settlers cleared out.
While the cedar enzyme bath ritual takes place inside Osmosis’s spa facilities, the true magic can be found in the surrounding landscape. Guests can book sound therapy treatments in outdoor hammocks, eat lunch at the creekside bistro (proceeds are donated to local nonprofit Ceres Community Project), enjoy a 75-minute massage in a forest pagoda, wander through a bamboo forest, and relax post-treatment in one of several tranquil garden areas, including the crown jewel: the Meditation Garden.
Representing the “sanctuary” part of the property’s name, the Kyoto-style meditation garden was created by British landscape artist Robert Ketchell, a renowned designer of Japanese gardens. Over the past three decades, Ketchell has weaved a ten-stage narrative or a “living sculpture” into the terrain – each plant, rock and water feature is part of “an ancient tale of the liberation from the everyday concerns of the world.” Meandering through the carefully designed symbolic garden, guests are invited to find moments for quiet contemplation.
Just like the spa’s simplicity, those simple moments outdoors is what makes Osmosis special. “It’s the healing power of communion with nature,” says Stusser.
209 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, 707-823-8231, osmosis.com
Don’t let your self care day end at Osmosis…
Before your treatment, visit locally-famous Wild Flour Bread, located just across the street from Osmosis. The bakery specializes in hard-crust breads, baked in a wood-fired oven, and offers up to a dozen different kinds of breads daily. Get there early to snatch up one of five flavors of whipping cream scones, like white chocolate or ginger; they sell out fast. Open Friday-Monday, 8am to 6pm. 140 Bohemian Highway, Freestone, 707-874-2938.
Stop in at Freestone Artisan Cheese to stock up on locally-crafted cheeses, as well as nuts, olive oils, honey, and all the other deliciousness found between these 1880’s redwood walls. Pro tip: If they have the uber-creamy water buffalo gelato, get it. Open Thursday, 12pm to 6pm and Friday-Monday, 10am to 6pm. 380 Bohemian Highway, Freestone, 707-874-1030.
During the summer months, Worker Bee Farm sells the freshest, organically-farmed veggies around at their painfully-adorable farm stand. Open Friday-Monday, 9am to 6pm, mid-July through October. 12983 Bodega Highway, Freestone.
Freestone is at the south end of the 10-mile, two-lane Bohemian Highway. Make the quick scenic drive north to check out two equally-quaint West County towns, Monte Rio and Occidental.
Sebastopol is a 10-minute drive from Freestone. Peruse the many shops, galleries, and wine tasting rooms, like MacPhail (currently closed due to flooding) and Kosta Browne’s newly-opened The Gallery (by appointment) at The Barlow. Enjoy Happy Hour cocktails and bites at the newly-opened Fern Bar and a proper farm-to-fork dinner at Lowell’s. The Barlow, 6770 McKinley St, Sebastopol, 707-824-5600
Just outside of Sebastopol, Balletto Vineyards has its own “Field of Dreams” baseball field in the middle of the vineyards. Before getting into the wine business, the Ballettos had a ran a popular vegetable farm, but with the changing times, transitioned into growing wine grapes. They now save a small amount of fruit for themselves to craft Russian River pinot noir and chardonnay, plus make a Brut Rosé sparkling, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, and rosé of pinot. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. 5700 Occidental Rd, Santa Rosa, 707-568-2455
Make it a getaway and book a room at the incredibly romantic Inn at Occidental, which Osmosis has partnered with to offer the Spring Into Summer Spa and Stay Special. This package includes a cedar enzyme bath treatment for two, a one night stay at the Inn at Occidental and complimentary wine tastings at select wineries. Special starts at $379, available Sunday-Thursday, through June 27, 2019. 3657 Church St, Occidental, 707-874-1047