1. Wi Spa
I decided to hit up Wi Spa first because it has a reputation for being the nicest of all LA Korean spas. The locker room was severely swanky and felt like a country club.
Opening the door to the sauna I saw about thirty nude dudes lazing about, showering or treading water in hot tubs. I’d been warned that it would take a second to get used to the concept of extreme exposure, a warning which was only truly processed when facing that much schlong. I pulled it together, took a very public shower, and then headed for the steam room. When appropriately pickled, I eased into the hottest Jacuzzi and then sweated out last night’s caipirinha in the sauna.
After re-clothing in the supplied shorts and robe, I headed upstairs to the common area, known as the Jimjilbang. The wood-floored room had the vibe of a family picnic, with camps of friends grouped together on mats. A child with a Spiderman mask ran around with abandon that would surely find him in the emergency room by dusk. Some people watched a confusing Korean TV show where belly fat was measured for comedic effect, while others read books and mellowed out.
Four co-ed treatment rooms lined the Jimjilbang. I tried them all. The jade room had a Fortress of Solitude feel and was very calming. Next door was the salt room — lying on the white crystals smelled and felt great. I felt like a pizza in the extra-hot clay Bulgama room and a cube in the ice room, which had a layer of frost covering the walls. Definitely chill.
I grabbed a green iced tea at the full-menu restaurant and brought a book to the rooftop deck, which contained smoking Koreans and furniture that swallowed me whole. After about three hours at Wi, I was properly relaxed.
2. Century Spa
I arrived at Century Spa around 9pm and found easy parking. The male spa was massive and aside from housing a gigantic Jacuzzi, it also contained a marble room, a sauna, and a eucalyptus steam. The mist room is definitely unique, with a warm spray descending from the ceiling.
Century was very clean and well maintained. It felt like a cross between a high-class community pool and a solarium. Although there were about fifty guys in the building, it didn’t feel crowded at all. The Jimjilbang was closed for the night but is allegedly quite nice (and kid-free).
Here’s the elephant in the room: Word on the street is that this place is popular with gay guys. As an ardent homosexual, I was curious if this was true, and just what it meant. My gaydar was off the charts with about half of the men there. This left a bunch of straight men being largely naked around a bunch of gay men. Were they affected? Not in the least. Why? Because they weren’t homophobes. Century provides an environment that even steadfast heterosexuals can feel comfortable in.
3. Natura Spa
Natura Spa has two completely separated complexes, one for men and one for women. I accidently went into the women’s spa and was beaten out with a broom. By all accounts online, the men’s is much smaller, but as I entered I found it way more charming than the behemoth spas I’d been to previously.
The main spa area is tiny in comparison, but its compact nature makes it feel much less intimidating. It contained all of the requisite pools, a sauna, and a hot tub. As I showered a man was getting a scrub (the sound of a giant hairbrush being scraped against granite), very much out in the open.
This clean facility had a dedicated clientele of Korean guys, all quiet and seemingly reflective. The small restaurant had full-course meals that were gobbled. The little touches here made it feel more regal — whereas other spas had paper funnels at the water cooler, Natura had a huge vat of water mixed with fresh fruit.
4. Wilshire Spa
Wilshire Spa is deep in downtown. I arrived at about 9:30pm and was told I’d have to pay an exit fee after 11pm, when rates increase. I hustled my buns into the locker area and put on a robe, only to take it off as I entered a room with three pools (hot, cold, some kind of warm cave surrounded by stalactites). The sauna and steam room were both severely refreshing.
Wilshire’s sleeping room was the least regal of all spas that I visited; basically a darkened room with floor mats. Instead of feeling like someplace to rest up, it seemed more like hanging out in a yoga room during a power outage. A little creeped out, I decided instead to watch Korean soap operas in the locker room’s big leather chairs.
Overall Wilshire is serviceable enough, but lacks character. If it’s a quick refresh you’re looking for, you’ll do fine here. If it’s more of a lackadaisical lounge, you might try another.
5. Grand Spa
My last stop was Grand Spa, which had the easiest parking of all. Unfortunately, it also had a prickly staff and a more worn-in feel than the other places.
The spa area itself had a TV that could be watched from the pools and sauna. It seemed like a lot of people here came to watch television while sitting in something scorching. I managed to get a bit serene in the sleeping room, but that was about it.
Grand is a compact, give-em-what-they-need place, which would probably feel friendlier if you were a regular. If I came back, I’d pick a non-peak time where I might be able to unplug a bit more.
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Tom is a wayward writer based in Los Angeles. He has served as Editor for both Matador Nights and Life. He loves to go far, far away whenever possible. He is also pretending to be a third person right now and is obviously writing his own bio. He knows that you knew that, despite the deft maneuvering of pronouns. Tom's new book 'Wayward: Fetching Tales from a Year On The Road' is available for download on Amazon and iTunes.