No far-out treatments or long fee lists—in the West’s style of day spas, relaxation stems from one word: simple
Loren Mooney, Julie Chai, Julie Dugdale, Elizabeth Jenkins, Robin Jones, and Jess Thomson
December 3, 2012
| Updated January 23, 2019
Refuge, Carmel, CA. Refuge opened in 2012 as a sort of anti-spa—or anti-the type of spa that requires a long weekend and half a year’s salary to visit. It has no superfood cafe or body polish treatments, masks, wraps, esoteric peels, or facials, each with its own sub-tier of add-on pricing. “All those things are distractions to really relaxing,” owner Scot McKay says. Instead, Refuge is a kind of mini retreat, blending elements of Western Zen centers, natural hot springs, and European soaking traditions with modest pricing (and decorum—it’s always coed, with swimsuits required) to attract a mainstream crowd looking for an afternoon away from it all. “I call it a break-cation,” says McKay. Admission $39;refuge.com
Archimedes Banya, San Francisco. Archimedes Banya, which opened in a five-story building in India Basin in 2012, is a choose-your-own adventure of steam, sauna, soaking pools, whirlpool tub, TV and recliner room, clothing-optional rooftop deck with bay views, and surprisingly delicious Russian-style cafe. You even choose the level of modesty: The coed-all-the-time facility has clothing-optional and clothing-required areas. Admission $30/3 hours;banyasf.com
Watercourse Way, Palo Alto, CA. A pioneer in West Coast soaking spas, the Asian-style Watercourse Way doesn’t do communal baths. Instead, you rent a serenely private hot tub room (some also have a cold plunge, steam, or sauna) complete with your own sound system and three channels of spa tunes. Tub rooms from $18/hour;watercourseway.com
Voda Spa, West Hollywood. Voda Spa’s centerpieces are the three coed, piping-hot saunas with temperatures ranging from 120° to 200°. Cool-off options include the 50° plunge pool, a lap pool, and the colorful V Charge Juice Bar, decorated with orange and white mosaic tiles, should you want to refortify with a beet juice or protein smoothie. Birch-branch decor poolside and in the relaxation rooms adds organic atmosphere. Admission $50/4 hours;vodaspa.com
I-Spa, Irvine, CA. At I-Spa Korean spa, the coed section feels like a small village of saunas: You can sweat it out on the bamboo mats in the red-hot Fire Room, cool off on a chilled stone stool in the frozen pipe–lined Ice Room, or enjoy aromatherapy in the pine-scented Forest Room. Head to the women- or men-only areas, where you can soak or get the signature head-to-toe scrub ($30), which leaves your skin as soft as silk. Admission $25;ispaus.com
Courtesy of Scandinave Spa
The amazing outdoor soaking pools at Whistler’s Scandinave are the perfect antidote to snowy weather.
Scandinave Spa, Whistler, B.C. The outdoor Scandinave Spa is like a soaker’s amusement park, with pools terraced into a hill, a solarium, a steam room, and a fire-stoked cedar sauna. While the après-ski crowd can be loose with the silence rule, it’s hard not to be relaxed when looking at the mountain scenery from a deck lounger or hammock. Admission $58 U.S.;scandinave.com/whistler
Banya 5, Seattle. The coed Banya 5 (pictured at top), just a stone’s throw from downtown, is a convivial Russian-style urban bathhouse—no silence policy here—with brushed-metal decor that leans more industrial chic than organic. Options include the 240° dry sauna, 87° saltwater pool, and nap rooms upstairs. Those feeling particularly in the spirit after a visit can head to the vodka bar two doors down. Admission $40;banya5.com
Löyly, Portland. Nothing could be called “fancy” at Scandinavian-inspired Löyly, in Southeast Portland. The decor is modern but spare (wood, concrete, and stainless steel), lounge chairs aren’t abundant, and while treatments are available, you can buy DIY salt scrubs and masks at the front desk for use while there. But the locals find the cedar sauna, aromatic steam room, and cold pool a perfect place on a dank winter day. Admission $20/2 hours;loyly.net
Havana Family Health Spa, Aurora, CO. Sandwiched in a strip mall among Korean markets and restaurants, Havana Family Health Spa isn’t much on amenities (skip it if you can’t live without a plush robe and cucumber water). But what it lacks in luxury it makes up for in sauna options. There’s a room with crystal-insulated walls meant to improve your blood flow. The mud room’s red clay walls are said to be good for your skin. And a short wander away is the nude-only spa chamber, with soaking pools of various temps. Admission $18;havanahealthsauna.com
Find Zen at Ten Thousand Waves.
Ten Thousand Waves, Santa Fe. Ten Thousand Waves has been a Japanese Zen fixture here for decades, with serene teak, tile, and ceramic tubs. The outdoor tubs, both communal and private, are linked by stone paths through what feels like a forest oasis. Each area has sundecks, saunas, and cold plunges. The property also features a restaurant and teahouse. Admission from $23;tenthousandwaves.com
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