"There is no way to do this wrong.” So intones our forest bathing instructor Erin Bowman as we sit in a mossy ravine on the Oregon Coast; this loose practice of nature meditation is supposed to be intuitive. Still, we fidget as we sit on hand towels atop the springy soil of forest floor, five participants on our first foray into what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku. The sound of a leaf blower punctures the calm of the narrow green belt.
For more than half a century Salishan Spa and Golf Resort has straddled Highway 101 where the road traces the Oregon coast: manicured fairways on the beach side, a complex of guest rooms on the woodsy one. After 52 years of tee times and indoor tennis, the fading property sold at auction last year for a measly $16.1 million. The California firm that bought it acquired a dated idea of a resort, 250 acres outside ramshackle Lincoln City. Salishan’s sizeable guest rooms got recent (and spiffy) renovations, but how do you reinvent a region best known for outlet malls and saltwater taffy? The answer: Forest bathing.
Though that’s the direct translation for shinrin-yoku, there is no soaking, no bubbles, and no rubber duckies. “It’s better to think of it as ‘forest basking,’” explains Bowman. The practice, developed by Japan’s forest ministry in the 1980s, is basically extended reflection and measured breathing in a natural setting. Scientific studies suggest forest bathing lowers stress and boosts the immune system. In practice, it’s hiking without actually walking, or foraging for mindfulness instead of fungi.
“Notice what you’re noticing,” says Bowman, instructing us to peer at the tree trunks five or 10 feet wide, their roots woven among filigrees of ferns. It’s a narrow stretch of forest, but it’s novel to engage with anything for this long, especially without snapping a photo. By the hour’s end all five forest bathing newbies are pointing out the crinkle of tree bark, the sheen of a puddle—and congratulating each other on how serene we feel.
Forest bathing is only the trendiest of activities on the Salishan calendar, which kicks off on Saturday mornings with a 7am jog with the general manager, Ryan McCarthy. He takes an easy pace past golf carts and past the resort’s own complex of market and art studios, to the classic Oregon coast beach where crashing waves achieve a boom like the bass of a car stereo. A cruise industry veteran, McCarthy brought the concept of nonstop recreation to Salishan: Wine tasting, free s’mores campfires, rock painting, and art walks dot the schedule. There are so many things to do that the front desk staff often can’t keep them straight.
And every day, there’s yoga. Sunrise yoga, sunset yoga, yoga with craft beer tastings. The hotel launched their first organized mindfulness event in September, but daily yoga classes are like a DIY retreat. Even at the luxury spa, Salishan delivers a vacation where pampering doesn’t feel like excess. After all, the spa isn’t different from forest bathing; as you recline in the infinity soaking pool facing the scenic mudflats of Siletz Bay, you notice that you blissfully don’t notice anything at all.
If Salishan is a sheltered forest escape, the brand-new Headlands Coastal Lodge and Spa, about 45 minutes up the coast, has direct exposure to the sea. Built into the hillside of the tiny hamlet of Pacific City, the hotel walls reach right up to the dunes, every guest room window buffeted by ocean winds.
The Pelican Brewing Company defined this stretch of the coast for two decades, but everything at the Headlands—opened earlier this year from the same owners—is fresh and modern. Here adventure concierges whisk guests towards invigorating exercise like moonlight kayaks or twice-daily hikes up one of the highest sand dunes in Oregon. (Much is free, some is not; in their enthusiasm the concierges aren’t always clear.) There’s no trail up the sculpted sand of the Cape Kiwanda dune, piled higher than a 20-story building; climbers hoof it anywhere they like, knowing the footprints will be scoured clean by the Pacific winds.
Even seven months after opening, the hotel still seems to carry the fresh aroma of sawdust, as if construction finished yesterday. Pendleton blankets and ironwork decor are squarely Pacific Northwest chic, and the main level of the lodge has no walls, from front desk to restaurant to open kitchen to lobby fireplace. The wellness calendar has the same easy flow: daily vinyasa or hatha yoga, punctuated by occasional deep dives into esoteric movements like qigong.
Chef Andrew Garrison cooked at Salishan before opening restaurant Meridian, and he admits that the menu’s largely gluten-free bent wasn’t particularly purposeful. Allergic to a few grains himself, it’s more that gluten-y foods are less appealing than the uber-fresh seafood he can see coming off dory boats from his open kitchen. The razor clams that dominate his reworked Caesar salad—milder than the usual anchovy—are fresh from the Pacific sand.
Wellness is an active pursuit at Headlands; inside the Tidepools spa, the signature Headlands Cure treatment is as bracing as the sea air. Acupressure and eucalyptus aromatherapy precede an unusual series of abdominal massage: a fancy belly rub, basically. It seems like it should tickle (it doesn’t) but it’s meant to stimulate digestion and relieve stress.
Headlands is not quite the cleansing bath of wellness that Salishan offers, but somehow it delivers the same tranquility; call it getting sandblasted clean. When there’s no right way to do something, it’s hard to do it wrong.