People always say that Los Angeles changes you, but I’m not sure that’s completely true. I lived in L.A. for five years and, other than a few shots of Botox, I never drank the L.A. Kool-Aid.
Now, whenever I go back to Los Angeles, my first stop is an obscure, hidden gem: the Olympic Spa and Retreat. I’m using the term “spa” loosely, as it’s designed to resemble a traditional Korean bathhouse.
Before I discovered the Olympic Spa, I frequented the Burke Williams Spa, probably the most popular spa chain in Southern California. Their facilities are perfectly nice, yet indistinguishable from any other spa I’ve ever been to - and I’ve been many to spas.
While living there, my mother, a workaholic from the East Coast, came to visit me. I took her to Burke Williams Santa Monica location, and it did not go well.
Burke Williams is emblematic of everything my mom hates about L.A., from the lack of individuality, to the self-indulgent atmosphere. She feared giving into the allure of hedonism that, in her mind, would lead to a lifestyle of laziness or even worse… complacency.
A few months ago we found ourselves back in LaLa Land, and I decided to take mom to the Olympic Spa & Retreat in East L.A., thinking that it might be more to her liking. As we drove there, I assured her that this spa was completely different than Burke Williams and that she was going to receive two treatments; first their signature treatment, the “Akasuri Scrub,” followed by a warm “Citrus Milk Body Rinse.”
Like any place in L.A. worth going to, the Olympic Spa does not have a sign and is nearly impossible to find. If you do find it, however, you’ll be pleased to discover they offer free valet service, which is virtually unheard of in L.A.
We checked in at the front desk, and then headed to the dressing room, changed into our thin, green robes. I re-iterated to my mom that nudity was not optional here and that once we enter the large open spa area, the first thing we’d do was take off our robes and shower… naked. I told her that everyone else would also be naked so she didn’t need to feel self-conscious. She then informed me in a voice that was slightly louder than it needed to be that she didn’t care what anyone else wore or didn’t wear, that she would be keeping her underwear on and no one was going to stop her.
We entered the spa room and, as I predicted, there were 30 or so women of all shapes and sizes, each completely nude.
After showering, we moved to the hot “mugwart tea” pool - this amenity is my personal favorite. It’s a whirlpool filled with mugwart tea - basically hot, murky, dark green liquid. Mugwart acts as a remedy for sore muscles or arthritis and contains sedative properties that help quiet restlessness and anxiety. Mom liked it, though she was still wearing her underwear.