Wellness: Korean Spas Restore on a Different Level
It’s not just you. Summer days do feel far away. Why does this fall transition season seem tougher than years past? The answer? Not a spa day. A Korean spa day. What’s the difference? Well, a meal at a conventional restaurant or at a Vegas buffet are both meals out, right? Technically yes, but the experiences are worlds apart.
Rather than choosing between just a few pricey service options, Korean spas offer a bounty of wellness treatments and choices that will soak, plunge, steam, scrub, knead, then feed your stress away.
Instead of a waiting room between your massage and/or facial, Korean spas encourage patrons to luxuriate in specialty rooms dedicated to wellness (with heated floors or walls made of clay, jade or other crystals.) In addition, there are hot tubs, cold plunges, steam rooms and saunas. And most spas also feature a cafe with hearty soups, dumplings and Korean BBQ to help deeply nourish yourself on your day of rejuvenation.
The Nakedness Factor
That’s all well and good but what about the nakedness? It’s true that customarily, everyone is nude when using a Korean spa’s single-sex plunge pools and saunas. Most veterans will tell you that any shyness you feel will be gone in 30 seconds as nakedness is just the norm in these places. You can always use a towel for some strategic cover, and these days, some facilities allow bathing suits for more modest patrons. If, however, semi-public nudity really isn’t your thing, it’s a good idea to check the spa’s policy first. (Korean spas generally offer both conventional massages in private rooms and open-room massages combined with a scrub.)
The Famous Korean Scrub
It might feel a little awkward at first being naked and scrubbed down with exfoliating mits by a brusque ajuma or ahjussi. But it’s uniquely cathartic and a trademark service of the Korean spa experience. And there’s no arguing with the baby soft result when years of dead skin are expertly sloughed off.
Getting up on a plastic-covered hip height table is a slippery business, although I’ve been assured by more than one expert scrubber that no one’s fallen off yet. And the periodic rinses from a nearby bucket filled with warm water? Thoroughly cleansing. Your worries, along with mounds of brown dead skin, drain away. Do yourself a favor and build in a 30-minute, at minimum, soak/steam before a scrub. It’s essential. Removing many layers of dead skin is sticky work, even for a professional scrubber, and loosening those layers is key.
After the scrub, the cold plunge would be next must-do item on your Korean spa day. Koreans are not the only ones to recognize the rejuvenating act of submerging in an icy dip. Centuries of youthful Asian and Nordic faces and bodies should be proof enough of its regenerating effect. In fact, the installation of cold baths in high-end homes and spas are quite the trend these days. (Check out our deeper dive into the cold plunge craze.)
At most Korean spas, the entrance fee is waived if you book services. But if you’re pressed for time or aren’t in the mood for a massage or treatment, it’s completely fine to forgo services and just go for the hot tubs, cold baths, saunas, specialty rooms and delicious Korean food.
For a frame of reference, in Korea, frequent visits to a spa are much more of an everyday, and less of a special occasion, sort of thing.
What is a Jjimjilbang?
Traditionally, the term “jjimjilbang” referred to the shared coed spaces and specialty rooms that induce wellness through a variety of means. Jjimjil refers to a healing poultice that can be in the form of heat, cold, or other substance that reduces inflammation and cure illness. But now many Korean spas refer to the whole spa facility as a jjimjilbang. Seeing entire families napping on the heated floors is not uncommon at a Korean spa. And while the crystal, salt, volcanic rock, oxygen or clay rooms may seem a little hippie dippie, people swear by them.
Relish the Food at the Korean Spa
Cafes are generally not something you’d expect inside a conventional Western spa. But if there is one on the premises, a small and green menu comes to mind. Salads or pressed juices and the like could be what’s available at a Western spa. But jjimjilbangs opt for a heartier take on nourishment. There, savory Korean menus offer meals that will truly feed the body and soul. Think meaty soups, spicy “street food,” Korean BBQ, etc. You could opt for a smoothie or a small side dish but why would you want to? An exception to the go-big approach, however, is enjoying the popular Korean shaved ice dessert, patbingsu, between rounds in the hot and cold rooms/baths.
Next Level Korean Spas and Jjimjilbangs
Just to be a little extra, the evolution of the Korean spa in LA has ballooned to include gyms, lap pools and golf ranges in addition to the traditional spa services. (Century Day & Night Spa and Aroma Spa & Sports are popular examples of this trend.)
But for a truly immersive experience, staying overnight in a 24-hour Korean spa would be the next level. Opting to spend the night at a spa rather than go to a hotel on layovers or between parts of a multi-city vacation has long been a pro tip. An overnight spa night could be the ultimate staycation or it could be a deeply restorative way to start or end an urban adventure.
Here are some recommendations for the best Korean spas in the US:
Wi Spa (24 hour)
2700 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057
Crystal Spa (7am-10pm)
3500 W 6th St, Suite 321, Los Angeles, CA 90020
Century Day & Night Spa (6am-12a daily)
4120 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Aroma Spa & Sports (6am-10pm M-F, 7am-10pm Sat, Sun)
3680 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010
New York Metro Area
King Spa (9am-2am)
321 Commercial Ave, Palisades Park, NJ 07650
The SPA Club (24 hour) (No cold baths)
22 W 32nd St, Suite 4F, New York, NY 10001
Spa Castle (Temporarily closed for renovations)
13110 11th Ave, College Point, NY 11356
DC Metro Area
King Spa (Sun-Thurs 9am-11pm, Fri-Sat 9am-12am)
25330 Eastern Marketplace Plaza, Chantilly, VA 20152
Parkside Spa & Sauna (9am-10pm)
4371 John Marr Dr, Annandale, VA 22003
Jeju Sauna & Spa (24 hours)
3555 Gwinnett Pl Dr NW, Duluth, GA 30096
King Spa (9:30am-11:30pm)
809 Civic Ctr Dr, Niles, IL 60714
Pearl Spa & Sauna (Women only) (7am-7:45pm, By appointment only)
1654 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115