Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Olympic Spa

Stuff to do: Olympic Spa
3915 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Cost: $15

I first learned about this place from Alia, an old high school friend who recently moved to L.A. I've been here over 5 years, she's been here 2 months, and already she's showing me around. Figures.

For only $15, you are given access to hot and cold baths, the steam room and saunas. My sister and I made plans to meet Alia there one late Sunday afternoon.

Having only ever been to a spa for the occasional massage or facial, I was unsure how to prepare for one that was so focused on aquatic activities. Bathing suit, right? I stuffed a bikini and some flip flops into my purse (yeah, it's a big purse) and hit the road.

My first impression of the place was a good one. The lobby was tranquil and stylishly decorated -- but not obnoxiously so. I was pleasantly surprised. I'm not sure why, but I'd expected this place to have all the charm of a dentist's office and reek of chlorine. I think it was the $15 price tag that had me skeptical. But I soon realized this was a full on spa, with a menu of treatments --facials, waxing, massages --all reasonably priced.

Once Alia showed up, we paid our admission and were provided with a locker key, robes, towels, and a little yellow exfoliating mitt ($2 extra). It is during this stage of any spa experience when my brain shuts down and I have no idea how to proceed without careful instructions. There is something about delicate spa protocol that forces you to walk a fine line between cultured and stupid. And this place was no exception. While hugging my armful of spa supplies, an employee had to show me to the lockers where I store my shoes --and only my shoes --and then point me to the other lockers around the corner. "But wait! I have 2 towels. What's this little one for?" She sighed and explained it could be for my face or to wrap up my hair. "Do I carry it around with me the whole time? Miss...where are you going? I need answers!"

From that point on we were forced to rely on the help of seasoned Olympic Spa patrons. It was from one such woman, in the changing area, that I overheard "no bathing suits allowed." Well that's silly. If you can't wear bathing suits in the pools then what are you supposed to wea--

Oh. Oh, I see.

When I heard this, I was in the middle of changing my clothes, high school gym class locker room style-- magically maneuvering from one set of clothes to the next while revealing nothing. Clearly I was going to have to let my guard down a little if I was ever going to make this work. I found myself wishing I was European, raised in a land that puts topless women in breakfast cereal commercials. Then I could have just stripped down and strutted my stuff, casually striking up a conversation with a complete stranger by the drinking fountain.

But since I couldn't rewrite history, my only choices were to go home or get over it. Chalk it up to lessons learned. Before going to a new place, always check for mandatory nudity policies.

So, we made our way into the main spa area. Unclear if we were supposed to follow a specific system of moving from one treatment to the next, we chose first to enter the super hot, murky waters of the mugwort bath (yes, mugwort). If you've ever wondered what it's like to sit in a cup of tea, then this is the bath for you! Because, literally, you are sitting in tea. It's meant to extract toxins and relax your muscles...or something to that effect. I actually was having trouble reading the informational sign on the wall because I wasn't wearing my contacts. And also I was rapidly getting very dizzy. This older woman sitting across from me must have noticed I was going cross-eyed and suggested I always keep my body temperature regulated by taking a quick dip in the cold pool across the room.

The cold pool water was refreshing (if a little freaking freezing) and I became very grateful that it was there as I continued with my spa day because all of the other therapies involve ridiculously hot temperatures I wouldn't think would be suitable for humans.

The steam room had just the right amount of steam --if that makes any sense --and was scented with jasmine. And the sauna was more spacious than the ones I've previously been inside. I was glad it wasn't the sort of all-cedar, tiny closet ones that make me feel as though I've been trapped in a crate.

In addition to the traditional sauna, there was also an oxygen sauna. The floor was lined with a rug of rectangular oxygen stones, which reminded me of dominoes without dots. We all agreed that this room was the most relaxing because it wasn't oppressively hot.

By the time I'd finished cooking myself in various ovens and soups, exfoliated my skin to within an inch of its life, and used some of the complimentary unscented lotion, I felt relaxed, slippery and light-headed. It was time for the final portion of the spa day - the heated jade floor. For this, you put on your robe (yay!), spread out a super soft baby blanket and then just veg out on the stones for a while. I think you are meant to meditate or nap, but I was getting too antsy and also sort of hungry so I didn't spend much time here.

All in all, I'd say it was a fun experience. In addition to the treatments, the spa also offers little perks like free valet parking and complimentary herbal (unnamed) tea that tastes sort of starchy and fishy, but I like to think the bad taste is indicative of its healing powers.

There was also something unfamiliar and pleasant about being in a place occupied exclusively by women. Everyone just seemed comfortable and happy.

If you're interested in checking it out, but feeling a little unsure about baring all, fear not. You get used to it. And if you only use the steam room and saunas, you could stay in your robe the whole time.

I'd definitely go back. It cured me of my mild hangover and general feeling of blahness. Next time I'll take advantage of one of the other spa services as well.


  1. This sounds very cool! I've never done the whole nude thang before, but I GUESS I'd be willing to try it? I mean, you only live once. At least that's what I've heard...

  2. Yea looking back I almost forgot I was completely naked for the whole adventure. Plus there were people there of all shapes and pubic hair colors. So you weren't comparing yourself to anyone.

  3. I've heard a lot of cool things about spas in Koreatown where you strip naked and tiny Asian ladies scrub your skin raw and although it sounds horrifying and painful, it makes you glow like a tiny Asian lady. I guess this is one of those! Thanks for the recommendation!