One morning this spring, I joined in a circle with a handful of others around a ceremonialist named Antonio and his many jars and bowls of cacao, among other ritualistic knickknacks.
Antonio explained the sacred history of cacao, which has been an important part of Native Mesoamerican cultures for at least 4,000 years, believed by many there to be an ingredient used in the creation of humanity, a bloodline of sorts.
Cacao has been used in a wide variety of rituals and practices such as weddings, births, and baptisms due to its strong ties to fertility, and was even employed as a way to uplift a spirit before sacrifice (yes, as in human sacrifice to the gods). Overall, cacao was believed to strengthen people's connection to the divine, whether in life or in death.
By the sound of it, you might think I've joined this ceremony in someplace like Tulum, the wellness-centric resort town within day trip's distance to the ancient Mayan ruin of Chichen Itza. But, in fact, I'm much closer to home and in a place you would not expect: the Flamingo, Santa Rosa's iconic midcentury stay—once a favorite retreat for celebrities including Jayne Mansfield—which has received a recent glow-up and a spate of new wellness offerings.
Antonio served us all a cup, which we stirred and sipped as we set intentions. As he talked about cacao, he encouraged us to go within and connect with ourselves during the one-hour ceremony, which ended with a singalong (not as cringe-y as you might think) and group sharing. I can't say that I experienced anything as profound as visions or voices of my ancestors, but in the end I did feel a sense of connection to myself and gratitude for the time taken to go inward. I left the ceremony with a little jolt of energy (cacao is a stimulant, after all), but also with the calming feeling of being grounded.
The central pool remains the Flamingo Resort's number-one draw.(Courtesy of Flamingo Resort)
Recognizable by the neon pink flamingo-topped tower that marks the resort's entrance—which was designated as a historical landmark by the City of Santa Rosa in 1997—the Flamingo is well-known as a destination for tropical cocktails by the pool and a bit of midcentury flair.
The 10-acre property, originally designed by Homer Rissman, was the beneficiary of sweeping renovations that debuted last June. Scottsdale's Weddle Gilmore and San Francisco's BAR Architects honored the original natural materials and style of the place.
A garden sculpture by Hybycozo marks entrance into the grand porte cochere with vertical wood paneling, a fire pit and lounge seating, and floor-to-ceiling windows that give you a peek out to the pool, the centerpiece of the resort. A mural and a funky fish tank terrarium by SF-based Serge Gay Jr. bring color to the lobby. Five two-story buildings with guest rooms jutting out in star-like formation revolve around the pool and common area.
Now run by the lifestyle experience brand Spoken by Point Group, the revamped Flamingo has a number of modern offerings for travelers looking for a little more than pool time. In addition to cacao ceremonies, free daily activities range from morning meditation, yoga and sound baths to wine and watercolor nights and stargazing—all in collaboration with local artists, practitioners, and musicians. And since there's no need to sign up in advance, you're free to plan your days with a bit of spontaneity.
In addition to these guest-exclusive activities there are a slew of fitness classes offered throughout the day at the adjoining health club, which is free for hotel guests but also open to the public. Here you'll also find the usual gym equipment plus tennis courts, a lap pool, steam rooms, and saunas. You can even book a massage or facial while you're at it.
"We aim to create an environment where our guests have access to discover and engage with a variety of wellbeing activities that they may or may not have a history with," says coordinator Jasmin Breidenbach, who came to Santa Rosa from Sky Rock in Sedona. "We want to make it easy for our guests to open their door and walk right into a yoga class or attend a full moon ceremony without having to get into a car."
After getting bendy or reflecting over a hot cup of cacao, head to the Lazeaway Club for an adult beverage and a travel-inspired menu of Cal-Pacific eats created in collaboration with Benson Wang and Anderson Pugash of SF's Palm House Hospitality (Palm House, The Dorian, and Bergerac). The dishes suit all dietary preferences, from ahi poke and buffalo cauliflower wings to their signature shaking steak frites and coconut green curry (plus, you can add avocado to anything, which is very California).
Fifty-five miles north of San Francisco, the resort may be in Sonoma County, but the Flamingo is still a cocktail scene. You may start your day deep in meditation and end it with mai tais by the pool. How's that for a healthy balance?
// Flamingo Resort, 2777 Fourth St. (Santa Rosa), flamingoresort.com
Traveling with friends? Check into a stylish double room.(Courtesy of Flamingo Resort)