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I don’t associate the Inland Empire with serenity.

I went to college in the area, which sits about 45 minutes to an hour east of Los Angeles. It’s known more for its mini mall sprawl and drive-thru Chinese food and donut shops (ostensibly deep-fried together) than for anything escapist.

The town where I went to school, Claremont, is as quaint as any place in the world, so I do know there to be beautiful pockets. But I was still surprised when, recently, I arrived at The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in nearby Riverside for a stay.

At the end of a whirlwind trip to Southern California, I was giving a reading of my new novel on campus and wanted to stay close by. I had always wanted to check out the property, which is about 30 minutes from Claremont—partially because I had heard good things and partially because the location still seemed random. This was the perfect opportunity.

The truth is that the trip to California had been fun, but also a comedy of errors. And by “comedy,” I don’t mean funny. My husband and I used to live in LA, so naturally we had a lot we wanted to see and do. And we were moving from place to place: Malibu, Hollywood, Ojai (with a group of friends) and then finally to the Inland Empire before heading back to New York.

From the onset, there were issues: The airline misplaced our luggage, the refrigerator broke at the house where we staying, my husband, Andrew, and I both came down with the stomach flu back-to-back and one of the many small children in the Ojai house hid our rental car keys in a closed candy dish. It took us two days to find them; thank goodness we finally did. My husband and I both took meetings, saw tons of beloved old friends, ate at delicious favorite restaurants. But, suffice it to say, by the end, we weren’t exactly relaxed. My fingers were crossed for this final chapter of the journey.

The moment my husband, daughter and I climbed out of the car, it was obvious that we were in a special place. The building itself, an historical landmark and the largest Mission Revival Building in the U.S. with turrets and domes, looks like some kind of Spanish-style castle, frozen in time. Electric pink flowers bloom all over, twisting between intricate carvings and hidden nooks. As my daughter looked up and around, she sighed, “Whoa.”

At first, I wasn’t sure if the vibe was more kitschy or authentic, but the reality is that this type of architecture feels very true to the area with its relatively close proximity to Mexico. Also, this is one of those super interesting properties developed with artifacts all over the world mostly by Frank Augustus Miller, a contemporary of Henry Huntington and the like. Whatever other questions were put to rest when the sun went down and I saw the property at night, arresting and enchanted and sparkling with lights.

Since I’m a huge lover of spas, I made sure to book a treatment at their retreat, Kelly’s Spa, helmed by hotel co-owner Kelly Roberts. After all, “spa” is in the property’s name. That suggests a real emphasis.

For me, there’s something special about discovering a gem in an unexpected location. Wellness is so pervasive these days; you never know when you might happen upon something spectacular or at least unique. And Kelly’s Spa is award-winning for a reason:

I followed the scent of eucalyptus to the spa doors. (I’m only partially joking; the entrance is discreet and the lovely smell was a good clue that I was headed in the right direction.) Upon entering, I was checked in for my Fountain of Youth Body Treatment and handed a super delicious fruit elixir to drink. In a plush robe (which I always think is really key—none of that rough terrycloth), my therapist led me down a sweet path to a private treatment villa. Inside, a hydrotherapy grape bath had been drawn complete with bubbles, yes, but also a nearby tray of snacks from dried fruit to nuts. Let me just say that a hot bath with snacks is basically my idea of the good life. I was pretty pleased.

Just when I’d had my fill (everything was perfectly timed), my therapist beckoned me. I climbed from the bath back into my cozy robe and was led to heavenly heated massage table. Really, what’s better than that? There, I received a 30-minute Chardonnay Grape Seed brown sugar-based body polish. I showered that off in my private bathroom, then lay down for a 50-minute Swedish massage with warm grape seed oil. Ultimately, the treatment ended with a 20-minute “Temple Tension Release” head massage as my hands and feet hydrated inside warm paraffin wax pouches. I mean, it was heaven.

To say that I left relaxed is an understatement. I basically oozed back to my hotel room. This is why self-care is so important: A “time out” is such a welcome respite from the stress of traveling. Even when a trip is recreational, it can take a lot out of you to manage everything from airports to itineraries to jet-lag. I know I went into my reading with a whole different level of calm and focus.

The pìece de résistance? Since, I didn’t have time to stick around and nibble, the spa sent an entire plate of chocolate-covered strawberries to my room. As you can imagine, my husband and daughter were pretty psyched too.

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