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Fantasy Fitness Spa: The Ranch at Live Oak

Ranch at Live Oak
Don't fooled by this gentle looking hike: The Ranch has taken off as boot camp for those who love a challenge.


To banish the winter blues, we’re declaring this Fantasy Fitness Spas of the West week! What exactly does that mean? Are we sending flying you and a friend to Palm Springs? Not exactly.

Instead we’re kicking off a week of cubicle travel (cause who really sits in armchairs?), during which we whisk you away to our five favorite spas. (More precisely, the five spas we’ve visited recently and loved.) Given that our former life was dedicated to writing about spas, you can take our picks pretty seriously.

Something we’ve learned along the way: While luxe details like bedding thread count make for good living, they don’t necessarily make for good reading. So we’re focusing on the top three awesomely memorable experiences at each of our five fantasy spas. Here’s today’s…


The Ranch at Live Oak, in Malibu, California, is a five-star boot camp. It combines a seriously strict program of long hikes and workouts with a spartan (yet delicious) diet. There are 16 just guests at a time, and everyone stays in luxe private cottages.

Kettlebell workouts—after a 13 mile hike

The Ranch says the reason to visit is to detox and lose weight. (And you will—I lost 3.5 pounds, a lot for me percentage-wise.)

But we think the real reason to go—and why the Ranch has become so popular since it launched in October 2010—is to prove that you can, like climbing a mountain or running a marathon. That, and you feel INCREDIBLE when it’s done. Hence it appeals to the already somewhat fit and Type-A personalities galore.

You have to consent in advance to the Ranch terms, like no second helpings, cell phones, or watches. And absolutely all of the fitness experiences are mandatory, rain or shine.

But if you’re like the rest of us who got through a week here, you’ll be bragging for the rest of your life that you did. —Reporting by Ann Abel and Melisse Gelula

1. Tough-Love Workouts
The main part of every day is spent hiking a 10-to-13-miler, rain or shine, and in the gym (four hours or so). There’s no sleeping in, skipping a class, or bowing out early from a hike. You’ll feel like a bad-ass when you’re done. Or a stupid ass, if you didn’t take the program’s advice to begin to wean yourself from your vices 30 days in advance. Vomiting and migranes are common to those who don’t heed the Ranch’s instructions to cut out sugar and the like. And, no, getting sick doesn’t excuse you from a hike.

Napping ranch at live oaks cottage
Napping central: Your guest cottage

2. Massage and Napping
Hurray for daily therapeutic massage, which is included in the package price. You’ll need it badly after the back-to-back workouts, and never call massage “pampering” again. Because of the 5:30 a.m. wake-up calls (and grueling fitness regimen), afternoon napping is commonplace. And amazing.

3. Anytime They Feed You Anything
The dietary deprivations are as follows: no sugar, meat, dairy, wheat, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods. You’ll be served a beautifully presented vegetarian diet that’s 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day. A mid-hike snack? Four almonds and two cashews. So food becomes a highlight. And your palate adapts: a carrot—pulled straight from the garden!—was incredibly sweet.

The 6-night all-inclusive stay (including a massage per day) is $5,600,