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Best Bargain Day Spas

These Koreatown steam centers rise to the top

Photograph by Mindee Choi

If you’re desperate to unwind, but your budget is tight, head to a traditional Korean spa. About $20 allows you full access to an oasis of showers, pools, and saunas (bonus: The entrance fee is often waived when you buy a service). The price of a body treatment—including the sometimes painfully thorough scrubs guaranteed to slough off more epidermal layers than you knew you had—wouldn’t even get you in the door of most local spas. All you need is a willingness to strip bare; towels, robes, lockers, body products, and slippers are usually provided. Each spa has a separate men’s area, which is comparable in size to the women’s and stocked with similar amenities (Wi Spa has a coed floor, too), though we couldn’t fake our way in to confirm that every last detail is identical. No need to rush—these spots are open late or never close.

Heat of the Night
Wi Spa (2700 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown, 213-487-2700) is the Disneyland of Korean day spas. The immaculate 48,000-square-foot facility, which opened in November, has the requisite features (bathing halls, fitness center, restaurant), plus extras like a game room with Wii and PS3 consoles. Guests open lockers and charge meals with waterproof microchip-embedded bracelets. The body buff is a deal at $30 for 35 minutes; low partitions between each massage table afford a measure of privacy lacking at other establishments. Afterward stretch out in one of the saunas inlaid with toxin-purging minerals (salt, jade, clay, ice), then sprawl on the heated onyx stone floor, where families kick back (children 12 and older are typically welcome at Korean spas, but this one is the most kid friendly). If you fall asleep, don’t worry—the place is open 24 hours.

Quiet Time
Housed below the nondescript Wilshire Galleria shopping mall, the subterranean Natura Spa (3240 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. B, Koreatown, 213-381-2288) offers an escape in every sense. A cream-colored hallway redolent of lavender leads to the spa area, which is compact but features an array of amenities and treatments. Standout elements of the clean, well-appointed bathing area include a warm pool steeped with mugwort (an herb believed to promote healing) and a spacious dry sauna with a built-in TV (fans of Korean game shows, rejoice). The two deliciously toasty cavelike chambers—one lined with clay, the other with jade—are sure to put an end to sleepless nights.

Spring Forward
Long the granddaddy of day spas, Beverly Hot Springs (308 N. Oxford Ave., Koreatown, 323-734-7000) sits atop a geothermal well and draws its water from deep beneath the earth’s surface, so its pools are naturally infused with therapeutic minerals. That pumped-up aqua might explain the higher prices; entry costs up to $40. Still, thanks to a recent change in management, the fees are worth it. The afterglow from the sugar polish treatment, a vigorous 40-minute full-body scrub and massage followed by a face mask of freshly pureed cucumber ($80), lasts for days; visit during “happy hour”—9 to 3 Tuesdays and Wednesdays—to receive 15 percent off. Dim lighting throughout the bathing and dressing areas enhances the underground grotto vibe, as do faux-stone walls and a naturalistic waterfall, but a flashlight to read the locker combination would have been nice. 

Body Break
Just steps from the karaoke institution Caffe Brass Monkey is Wilshire Spa, women’s entrance: (3442 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 100, Koreatown, 213-387-9956; men’s entrance: 661 S. Mariposa Ave., 213-388-4111) Since it’s open around the clock, we’ll be returning for a late-night ritual we like to call the “post-crooning cleanse.” Like the newly revamped Century Sports Club & Day Spa (4120 W. Olympic Blvd., Koreatown, 323-954-1020), Wilshire Spa is roomy, gleaming, and serene. Traditional elements include saunas of mineral rock salt and charcoal-yellow ocher as well as the heated onyx room. In the lounge imitation Barcelona chairs and grass-colored walls help visitors chill out, and those too relaxed for the drive home can take a nap—or even bed down for the night—in the sleeping rooms.