I first fell in love with Korean Day Spas when I lived in New York. A girlfriend suggested we go to Spa Castle. I like spas, and I like castles. Sounded great. “But,” she said, “you have to be naked.” Now I’m no prude (that’s a lie, I’m a total prude…mostly), but this sounded daunting. I agreed to go anyway, and my adoration for this one-of-a-kind spa experience began.
The smallest Korean spas will have separate mens and women areas with tubs of various temperatures, and wet and dry saunas. The largest have massive co-ed areas with buffets, cafeterias, themed saunas, gyms, and rooftop pools and hot tubs. They are family friendly, and typically open 24-hours, making it less zen and more of a gathering place. There is an entry fee of $10-$40 just to enjoy the amenities. At check in you are given a numbered wristband with either a key or a fancy electronic gadget that you scan to access your locker and make any purchases throughout your visit. You’re also given a towel and a t-shirt and shorts you must wear in any coed areas. Many spas will waive the entry fee if you book any services. At this point don’t be afraid to ask for a tour if this is your first time!
My go to spa here in LA is Wi Spa, a more modest facility, but still several stories of various treatment rooms and saunas. One Yelp reviewer mentioned looking over during a scrub and seeing Kate Moss on the next table. I visit at least once a season to scrub and soak and unwind.
This is my typical visit:
I take my shoes off as soon as I get to the women’s locker area. I always wear flip flops so I can slip them on and off easily. I find my locker, put my things away, and take all of my clothes off. Oh, because everyone at this point is buck naked. It’s actually a wonderful scene. Toddlers, pre-teens, women in their prime, women who look utterly ancient, all completely unselfconscious. It’s always unnerving for me for a few minutes to just whip everything off and join in, but as in most scenarios, no one really cares what I’m doing anyway. This is not a library quiet, relaxing spa. There’s a cacophony of women’s voices chattering away and children shrieking. If you need quiet, I recommend you come early on a weekday when kids are in school.
The first thing I do is head straight for the showers. It’s extremely important that you are completely clean before you enter the tubs and saunas. I have a system for the hot tubs where I do the warm tub first, then the one that is so hot I can barely stand it, then I jump into the cold plunge that makes me feel like my heart will stop. Then back in the warm tub. I’ve decided this is therapeutic, so I make at least 4 rounds.
I’m waiting for a middle-aged woman in black lace bra and panties to call my wristband number. I’ve scheduled a scrub, which requires at least 30 minutes of soaking. My number is finally called, and a no-nonsense therapist orders me onto a table, one of many lined up in a wet room. She scrubs me down with a rough loofah mitt, ordering me on my back, then on my side, then the other side. If it wasn't for her firm grip there are several moments when I'm sure I would slide right off the table. I'm scrubbed literally everywhere. It’s so intense, but if I wince she will only point out how sensitive my skin is and carry on. My dead skin comes on off in thick gray clumps covering the table. Buckets of warm water are sloshed over me, then I’m doused in oil and kneaded all over. My hair is washed and my face is covered in cucumber. I’m rinsed off, and then I’m done! In the middle of my last scrub I thought, “I feel safe, like a baby.” And it was true! I am a 6 foot tall 31-year-old woman, and I don’t know where else I will have the experience of being handled in such a deliberate and nurturing way.
I've booked myself a 90 minute massage in a private room where another woman walks on my back and forcefully breaks up all of my knots and tension in what is the deep-tissue massage of my dreams. I have lunch in the Jimjilbang, or co-ed area, and enjoy some of the themed dry saunas. Then I pad back down to the women’s area to have a seated shower and do hair and face masks before I go home an absolute puddle.
- Schedule your services in advance, and remember to factor in if/when you want to lunch.
- This is a great time to pack all of those samples you’ve been meaning to try. I bring tiny bottles of shampoo, face wash, face oils, body oil, and any face masks I have on hand. You aren’t allowed to do masks while in the tubs or saunas, so save them for your shower. Sheet masks are allowed in the relaxing areas and dry saunas.
- Take advantage of the little shop in the women’s area full of Korean cosmetics, lashes, and of course, Korean sheet masks! Definitely not “green”, but fun for a one-off treatment while you relax and watch Korean soap operas in the quiet room. Bonus: Sheet masks make you look like you've just had extensive facial surgery requiring a face full of bandages. Highly entertaining.
- Bring cash to tip your therapists. They’ll give you a little envelope with their name on it at the end of your service. You can drop it at the front desk when you check out.
I love how rejuvenated I feel after a day at a Korean Day spa. Mentally and physically! I'm already planning my next spa day!