What It’s Like to Stay at the World’s First Ever WELL-Certified Hotel

Photo: Getty Images/Yew Images
San Diego offers no shortage of vegan restaurants, boutique fitness options, and crystal shops, but if those offerings aren't enough of an enticement to the city for wellness-minded travelers, perhaps this sustainable-hospitality win will sway opinions: As of July 2019, Encinitas—a beach town within San Diego—became the first-ever locale to boast a WELL-certified hotel. The Inn at Moonlight Beach is the five-suite wellness destination that achieved the highest certification honor possible—the WELL Platinum level. And though it's certainly impressive that the property snagged this designation for satisfying the WELL Building Standard criteria—which, per the Inn's website, "focuses on enhancing people’s health and wellness through the buildings where we live, work, and play"—I couldn't tell you what exactly that means in practice. So I decided to experience the newest standard in sustainable hospitality for myself in order to find out.

I pulled up to the property with a friend just before golden hour on a Thursday. The building is small and inviting, emanating literal and figurative warmth from the cozy outdoor firepit and patio where guests gather to watch the sunset. Rhys, the property’s general manager greeted us with a steaming cup of the Inn's detoxifying tea, available at all times in the Inn’s communal living space. Mug in hand, we followed him along a tour through a series of unique spaces on-site, each designed to help guests work on their well-being in whatever way they see fit. For some, this means spending time in a lounge equipped with a Tibetan singing bowl for impromptu sound baths; for others, it's making use of a DIY herb-bundle station, using plants from the property’s biodynamic garden. There's also a snack station with nothing but whole, natural foods, like jars of nuts, cheese, and dried and fresh fruit. I knew at first sight, though, that my favorite feature would be the dreamy meditation garden tucked in the back of the building.

While the spate of offerings at the Inn makes clear that venue supports the notion of wellness meaning different things to different people, some aspects are universal—like access to clean water and nutrient-rich foods. It's these universal features that qualify the destination for the WELL Building Standard, a distinction created by the International Well Building Institute (IWBI). The WELL Building Standard is concerned with features of a space that improve the comfort, choices, and overall health of its occupants.

The WELL Building Standard certification rests upon seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind—and the Inn is committed to optimizing each. Think: top-of-the-line air-filtration and water-purification systems, produce harvested from the on-site biodynamic garden, ample natural light and fitness offerings, and, well, the comfort and mind pieces don't need much explaining.

At the Inn, where rates start at $289 per night, my friend and I found everything we could possibly need for a restful night's sleep. Our room was outfitted with freshly brewed herbal tea, plush bathrobes, and a selenite crystal orb for clearing negative energy, which, thankfully included instructions explaining how and why to use it. This was something I most appreciated about the Inn, that feature focused on well-being included the necessary information for guests to contextualize why it's there, meaning no matter where you are on your wellness journey, there's an in for you. Through this subtle education, the Inn at Moonlight creates a positive ripple of wellness for every guest it serves, leading to take-home wellness gains.

The next morning when I returned from my run to Moonlight Beach, I visited the communal kitchen to make some tea. The DIY tea-making station features jars of loose-leaf superfoods like ashwagandha, red ginseng, and licorice root, as well as reusable tea bags for immediate or take-home brewing. In the shower—which features large-format product dispensers in alignment with and effort to avoid single-use plastics—I found a eucalyptus spray bottle with instructions to spray it into the shower steam as a means for opening airways and improving breathing. I never would have thought to try that before, but it worked, and I was into it.

After my friend showered, we spent time in the Inn's meditation garden, and then we met Shangwen Kennedy, who bought the Inn with her husband, Mike, in 2016. Shangwen, a Harvard-educated architect, tells me the Inn is designed not just to support guests’ well-being, but to bring like-minded people together from across the globe and create connections that promote positive change within communities. There’s that ripple effect again; a way of learning from your surroundings and peers to bring change to your own life at home.

Upon checking out, we thanked Shangwen for the amazing experience, but it wasn’t until later on when we were reflecting on our visit that my friend and I realized how intensely the Inn actually affected us: It subtly encouraged us to explore a more conscious and communal way of living, ostensibly improving the quality of our choices long after checkout—and it seems that the Inn's focus on the seven categories of the WELL Building Standard facilitated this.

Currently, several other hospitality destinations are pursuing the WELL certification, including the Zem Wellness Retreat in Spain, the Keihan Kyoto Hotel in Japan and Stanly Ranch in California, but none have completed the process yet. And after my experience at Moonlight, I can’t help but feel optimistic this standard of wellness-focused hospitality in one we can expect to see more of.

No matter where you're headed, these travel tips will help you stay sustainable on the road. Plus, what you should know about regenerative agriculture, the future of sustainable food.

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