Words by Felicia Tomasko
Photography by David Young-Wolff
More than two thousand feet beneath the bedrock of the City of Angels, is a hot spring whose mineral-rich water is pumped to the surface on a continual basis, where it feeds the soaking pools of Beverly Hot Springs. While we may travel far while searching for the healing powers of warm mineral water, we may not dream that LA has its own source, accessible by merely a turn or two off of Beverly Boulevard just east of Western Avenue.
This family-owned Korean spa of Beverly Hot Springs was built in 1985, pioneering the present-day proliferation of Asian spas throughout the Southland. Upon walking in, spa-goers enter a quiet Asian sanctuary whose reception area features art, lounge chairs, and a boutique. Nondescript doors lead to the spa’s real treasure—the separate men’s and women’s areas. While the space is aboveground, the waterfalls and closed-in rooms create a cavernous aura, a secret chamber of rejuvenation. Separate from the roomy and well-equipped changing rooms, the spa contains a cold plunge pool, multiple showers, a steam room and dry sauna, and the main event—a large soaking pool with seats around the edge, a central fountain, and a waterfall. At Beverly Hot Springs, this isn’t just any water.
Rumor had it that a source of “wonder water” had been discovered here around the turn of the twentieth century by oil prospectors. Before city water installation, this was the neighborhood’s supply and bottles of it were sold as a natural remedy. Over time, the natural mineral spring was forgotten–and then rediscovered by aficionados of the Korean spa tradition.
The Pacific Rim region of Asia is known for their mineral hot springs, soaking pools, and spas, a byproduct of the volcanic activity beneath the surface. Since the water was in LA, the introduction of this traditional healing practice was not far behind.
Now Koreatown (and beyond) is full of spas where pools of water— accompanied by a plethora of spa treatments—are the main attraction. While the inner sanctum of the Korean spa features soaking pools (hot, cold, in between, and even herbal), Beverly Hot Springs is the only locale that sources their water from these springs. A notable component of this particular mineral water is its high bicarbonate content (purportedly higher than any other hot springs in sulfur-rich California), creating a measurable alkalinity. Alkaline water has long been touted for its positive therapeutic effect on balancing the body’s pH level as well as being generally beneficial for the skin, the immune system, and every other system. The spa owners suggest that this may account for the reports by customers that they feel energized after a trip to the waters. In addition, the fact that the water is continually pumped into the pools means there is a fresh supply; spa-goers bathe in water that has touched bodies for the first time. Every night, the pools at Beverly Hot Springs are drained and scrubbed and the gleam of the tiles is evidence of this.
Beyond Water—The Korean Body Scrub
The Korean spa experience is more than water: Every Korean grows up with the practice of body scrubs. When going to a spa for the group bathing experience, treatments are part of the routine, and at Beverly Hot Springs (like most Korean spas), body scrubs are one of the signature treatments.
During my trip to Beverly Hot Springs, I signed up for the singular experience with two of my friends, one of whom was entering a Korean spa (and receiving a body scrub) for the first time. Based on recommendations, we received the body scrub/body care combo: the exfoliation of the body scrub with a full-body conditioning treatment with milk, cucumber, yogurt, and other soothing ingredients. The spa’s team are as attentive with the products as they are with the healing waters.
Our outing was typical of a group of girlfriends gathering after work for a an alternative post-office happy hour. First we showered (spa attendants will remind spa-goers if they forget) before soaking in the respectful group environment (in the all-women’s spa, people soak in the hot mineral water without bathing suits). People soak in the subtly mineral water for anywhere from a few minutes to longer, even alternating between the pools and the sauna. Many people scrub themselves with rough washclothes in the showers before plunging in.
When called to the body scrub rooms, we entered an area resembling a row of showers with walls between the beds. Quietly, to maintain the quiet atmosphere, we shared laughter and camaraderie as our good-natured therapists worked with an enthusiastic vigor. My therapist sang a soft lullaby in Korean; it was a personalized take on the ambient music piped into many treatment rooms.
A person’s first body scrub (experienced by my friend and the spa’s mostly non-Korean clientele at first) can seem initially startling; it’s a unique feeling. Draped in damp towels, on a wet table, the therapist uses a rough exfoliation cloth to scrub layers of dead skin (watch the grey detritus slough off to your peril). The process stimulates general and lymphatic circulation as well as shedding all the stress from the day (and weeks prior). Next came the body care treatment where actual cucumber was used in the treatment; when my entire face was covered with mashed cucumber, I felt the cooling effect throughout my entire body, mind, and spirit. Upon completion, another shower and soak followed by a trip to the steam and the sauna, topped off the treatment. There was something powerful, I felt, to the fresh water that was more than just a good story. We all felt energized as we dried off and got dressed.
Even my friend, initially skeptical when she saw the treatment space and exfoliation cloth, is anticipating her next visit. We’re not the only repeat customers. The spa’s owners cite the regular clientele’s appreciation of the silence, the calm Asian vibe, its easy availability to any part of the city, and the water, one of the hidden treasures of Los Angeles.
Beverly Hot Springs Spa & Skin Care Clinic
308 North Oxford Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Open 7 days a week, regular hours 9:00 am – 9:00 pm. Hours adjusted for holidays.
Full spa and skincare treatments on site.