I Tried Pearl Spa, a women-only Korean spa in Japantown – here are my thoughts
So as you can imagine, I was happier than a french fries bird when I saw the positive reviews of Pearl Spa, a Korean-style spa in San Francisco that opened in Japantown in late 2016. At the time, owner Tracy Lee told Hoodline she hoped Pearl would appeal to all crowds as well as the Asian community familiar with its concept.
The rave reviews, from the friendliness of the staff to the “baby-soft” skin they get from the scrubs provided by Pearl Spa – the holy grail of Korean spa treatments, have been practiced for over a thousand years.
Red Mud Room Therapy – Pro Tip: Ask for a face mask when entering the room. The mask is free and the experience is even better.
The Himalayan Salt Room is very real.
I found Pearl Spa to be a whole new experience and a fun twist on the Asian beauty routine. By now, many of us are familiar with the extensive rituals Korean women perform every day to look their best. This is similar to an Olympic track and field event as a morning run. Reports about the 10-step beauty regimen have appeared on the Internet and in beauty magazines. Korea is also the country that gave us BB creams and exfoliating powders. Most of us in the Bay Area struggle to wash their faces consistently. We’re a city that loves hoodies, and athleisure can almost be swapped out for office attire. We are the king and queen to keep it.
Well, the only casual thing about K-spa is that you’ll be completely naked. You mostly accept this policy when you book. If you try to sneak in a swimsuit, you’ll stand out even more. My advice: remember no one is watching because they are not. They’re either Pearl Spa veterans who’ve seen more naked women than Gold Club bartenders, or newbies, too busy worrying about whether they’re in a state of obsession and unable to take another look at your body.
Some may find this instructive. Others may be so surprised by the practice that they can no longer try Pearl Spa. It was eye-opening to see how indifferent some visitors were stripping naked with colleagues after get off work. Ladies come here for bridal showers and birthday outings. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a women’s-only spa. Some K-spas have co-ed areas, but these areas naturally require clothing.
One thing that is definitely worth a visit is that it takes you out of your comfort zone and exposes you (sorry for the pun) to a different cultural approach to spa experience. In a city that prides itself on its cultural diversity and unique experiences, isn’t it worth trying something like this? I think so.
Now, into the treatment phase. For $35, you can get a day pass that gives you full access to the hot tub, cold pool, sauna, steam room, clay room and salt room, plus lockers for your belongings. Alternatively, you can indulge in a seaweed wrap, massage or scrub (braveer than me) and enjoy the spa amenities included.
The bathroom comes with a hairdryer and other amenities.
Cold diving room, you’re going to bathe naked with your woman.
Sweat profusely in the steam room.
Massages and scrubs are not for the faint of heart. Spa attendants use more pressure during massages than many are used to. In short, they’re kind, but more fierce than Coachella’s Beyonce. Those who have had an authentic Thai massage may relate to the feeling of being chapped or even slightly bruised by the massage therapists in Chiang Mai. With a scrub, you’ll be exfoliating parts of your body that you haven’t considered in a while. Check your modesty at the door and consider the end result, as there are no candles or Enya tunes in the treatment rooms here.
I arrived at the jacuzzi and steam room about 45 minutes early. Parking is easy across the street from Japantown Plaza. I was assigned a locker number which temporarily became my name when my spa attendant came to pick me up for a massage. Slippers and bathrobes are provided at the spa. Your locker key is worn on your wrist for easy portability and access. Next to the locker room is a common area where you can style and dry your hair in preparation for your return to the outside world (it feels a bit like being kicked out of Disneyland at midnight). The best part about this area? snack. Tea, biscuits and fruit can be enjoyed during your stay.
After treatment, go upstairs to check out the salt and clay sauna. They are basically saunas filled with pink Himalayan sea salt and red clay balls. Pink Himalayan Sea Salt helps flush out toxins and clear sinus congestion. The red clay room relaxes muscles and joints, relieves rheumatism, and increases blood flow. On your way out, you’ll get a parting gift of a Korean face mask so you can keep enjoying Netflix at home on Friday night.
Next time you get the chance, try Pearl Spa or another K-spa. At best, you’ll add a new routine to your beauty regimen. Worst of all, knowing that Conan O’Brien went through exactly the same thing makes you laugh. Just kidding, he must be worse than you.
// Treatment prices range from $60 to $150. The Pearl Spa is located at 1654 Post Street in Japantown, San Francisco. Photography courtesy of Pearl Spa.