The Real Skinny on Health Spas, Day Spas & Anything Called a Spa

A Spa by Any other name is just a....

It's a new year and time to get in shape, rejuvenate and work on your inner/outer self. And there's lots of help out there in the way of facilities known as spas, day spas, health spas. Many tout themselves as the ulitmate, the best, "rated No 1". But do they live up to the hype and are all those accolades from real people who have actually visited said property? I don't think so. How many times do I read a magazine where the "readers" rated a spa as No. 1, the same place I wouldn't put in a top ten. There's one spa in Hawaii that has garnered much acclaim and it doesn't even have an adequat fitness center. Another barely has more than profit making treatment rooms.

A spa by any other name is not a spa. A true health spa offers nutrition, fitness, pampering, mind, body and spiritual uplifting, and education. A day spa is a place to plotz and have head to toe treatments. Before you go to a hotel or destination health resort check them out. Make sure they offer what you want.

My choice for top health spas in the country?

The Golden Door in Escondido, California; Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Baja, Mexico; Cal-A-Vie in Vista, California; Hualalai at the Four Seasons on Hawaii.

Patti's Top Day Spa Picks in Los Angeles
OleHenriksen in West Hollywood and his One Spa at Shutters Hotel in Santa Monica; Skin Spa, Encino; Spa at the Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills; Spa at the Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Hills; Spa at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills.
Day Spa Trek

 “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past,

Not to worry about the future or not to anticipate troubles

But to lie the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

Buddha (from Ona Spa)


(The O’s Have It) OleHenriksen

The Skin Care Guru

The first time I came face to face with Ole Henriksen was nearly two decades ago at his first salon in Beverly Hills.  I was impressed then. And I am even more so today with his newer 4,000 square foot Japanese-style facility in West Hollywood.  The healthy, handsome blond hair, blue-eyed guru of skin care has created a Yen-like sanctuary that spirits a warm, cozy feeling while offering a straightforward approach to skin and body care. Japanese shoji doors encase treatment rooms; candles flicker everywhere and aromatic scents permeate he air. Every treatment is yummy. But my favorite was a much-needed de-stressing Indulgence Body Treatment. The blissful session began with a comforting soak in a sunken whirlpool bath where I zoned out to the sounds of soothing music while dozens of candles glowed on the slate walls.  Then my therapist, Michael escorted me into another Zen-like room for an hour long hot stone massage. Angst, what’s that I thought as he led me into the wet room to begin a mineral body scrub that was preceded by yet another massage. Ooh, Ah. After exfoliating my entire body, he rinsed me off and then washed me with a silky herbal concoction. Then he wrapped me cocoon-style and massaged my scalp. I was lost in a reverie that continued when he turned on the overhead Vichy showers and I lay on the warm table while raindrops trickled away my woes. I also had one of Ole’s famous facials and left with a sack full of his signature creams and potions, developed by he Danish dynamo himself.

8622 A West Sunset Blvd.  West Hollywood 310/854.7700


East meets West and the Twain Do Meet

This transcendental, Balinese-style hideaway perched in the attic of the former Spanish Kitchen provides an edonistic escape from the maddening outside world. So serene you want to curl up and sleep in the inviting opium den bed that serves as the centerpiece for the relaxation room where you wait for treatments. The clever creation of Brentwood plastic surgeon, Dr. Stanley P. Frileck and celebrity hair stylist Laurent DuFourg, Ona, which translates from Basque as “all things good”, is actually three businesses in one. Downstairs from the spa sits DuFourg’s famous Prive salon, which relocated from its Melrose location, and the Buddha Café, an al fresco zed eatery. Treatments at Ona are exceptional. Everything they use on your face or body is a blend natural, organic ingredients made exclusively for the spa.  The spa menu offers a selection of natural, hands on—there’s even one that utilizes four hands of two therapists called the Onaaah) and machine operated (laser, microdermabrasian) face and body therapies. After a full analysis of my somewhat stressed out face, my French facialist Evelyne astutely chose the  heavy-duty Ona Laser Rejuvenation facial for me. Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen it really works. I must admit the laser pinched and prickled, but I left  her tranquil treatment room looking as though I just had plastic surgery. I also had a pretty good pedicure that included soaking my tootsies in a citrusy solution, exfoliation, foot massage and nail painting. Then back in my street clothes I paraded downstairs to Prive where Thomas turned my tresses into a work of art. I walked out of Ona feeling like all things good had happened to me.
 7373 Beverly Blvd, LA 323/931.9992

  Spa at the Four Seasons Hotel

It Smells So Good….

Seasonally changing scented oils sets the mood at this salubrious sanctuary where winter focuses on maintenance andstrengthening through a combination of blue spruce, cedarwood and petitgrain (from California citrus trees). Spring ushers in revitalization and renewal. Fall focuses on nourishment and replenishment with cinnamon, pink pepper and vanilla and summer symbolizes pleasure and stress reduction with sweet orange, rose and jasmine.  The perfumed air follows you from the reception area to the changing and waiting rooms so that you’re relaxed even before your treatment begins. Massages and facials here are sensory delights and some of the best I’ve had.   Treatment rooms are equipped with DVD players strategically placed under the headrest where you can watch soothing videos while the therapist rubs away your stress. My favorite rub was a deep tissue massage of lavender, rose geranium and musk. The combination of a talented hands gliding sensually over my necks, shoulders, arms, legs, back and scalp, dreamy music and heady scents sent me adrift to never-never land. The signature treatment is the Punta Mita Tequila massage. The therapist rubs a blend of tequila and sage over your entire body with moderately firm, long deep circular motions that make you giddy with pleasure.  A manicure and pedicure by Julia Palmer, manicurist to the stars is the perfect way to polish off a day at this spa. The changing room forest showers, inviting steam and saunas and vanities stocked with aromatherapy toiletries.

At the Four Seasons Hotel, 300 S. Doheny, 310/786.2229


 The Spa at the Peninsula Hotel

  On The Cutting Edge

The spa at the Peninsula Hotel always surprises with cutting edge facial treatments designed to maintain the beautiful faces of its elite clientele. Thetiny spot is pleasant with a cordial staff and top-notch estheticians from around the world who really know their trade.   Spa director Pat Davis stays on top of the trends with offerings such as the

Ultimate Facial. The hour and a half treatment leaves you looking like you almost had a face lift. It begins with a machine free micro derm abrasion procedure that sluffs off dead skin and impurities and moves along with silver ion mask that helps restore elasticity. The finale is a divine oxygen treatment that completes the rejuvenation process.

Another is the Journey Down the Nile Body treatment, which Davis describes as “meditative and soulful.” The procedure opens with an exfoliating scrub of Dead Sea salts combined with ylang ylang and nutmeg, This is followed by a 20-minute clay wrap with sandalwood and ground lavender, during which time therapists does reflexology on your feet and scalp. Then comes a Vichy shower followed by an hour-long massage with more sandalwood (which has the meditative qualities that help reprogram negative energy on a cellular level) and lavender oil that aids in relaxation.

Ayurvedic treatments are the newest additions to the spa menu. Like the Tanleper Banana Leaf wrap—two hours of bliss with a footbath, hand treatment, and deep oil Abhyanga massage. Finish with a session in the steam room and you’ll feel the woes of world melt off your shoulders.

At the Peninsula Hotel.

9882 South Santa Monica Blvd. 310-551-2888 open daily


Spa Mystique at the Century Plaza
Pure Nirvana

Knock down gorgeous this free standing two story, 35,000 square foot pamper palace provides a great escape from the rigors of the outside world.  Once ensconced inside the architecturally correct feng shui designed facility you can’t help but feel the magic.

I arrived for my first visit in a state of total stress, over worked and well a little cranky.  After long sessions in the aromatic steam bath and whirlpools and soaking up the edonistic environment I was almost civil again. And when I was through with the Twin Tigers Massage I was completely transformed. As I relaxed supine on one of the most comfortable massage tables I ever experienced, two talented massage masters rubbed me simultaneously—the right way I might add. It was nirvana, pure bliss and any other platitude available. The facials are also super.  An extensive treatment menu zeros in on every body part through Shiatsu, Thai and Swedish massages, scrubs, wraps, facials, reflexology, couples massages and signature therapies.  To really get the most for your buck, go early and enjoy the Japanese furo pools, Swiss and Vichy showers, steam baths or And the newly added Yamaguchi Salon provides a stunning, transcendental setting for hair care, manicures, pedicures and makeup applications.  Operated by the spouses Billy and Melissa Yamaguchi, the spa raises the bar on beauty care with offerings such as the Empress Tea Manicure; Emperor’s Sake Soak (for feet), Centering Pedicure.

2025 Avenue of the Stars, Century City, 310/551.3290, email:

Thibiant Beverly Hills

Doyenne of Day Spas

This spiffy little spot is a longtime personal favorite. It just feels good.  You are greeted in the gracious reception area by a friendly staff, fresh cut flowers and a stunning water sculpture. Once checked in you can relax in a steam bath or enjoy snacks and beverages in a cozy sitting room while you await your treatment. Handcrafted by Aida Thibiant, the doyenne of day spas, each customized treatment is designed to relax and rejuvenate. Andthey do. Facials rule here and are consistently some of the best in the business.  A recent Anti-Age Line Smoother and Collagen treatment from Georgette left my face glowing.  During the hour and 15 minute session she left nothing out massaging my neck, shoulders, and décolleté. She also worked on my hands until the skin was soft as a baby’ butt. The extensive treatment menu targets every face and body part from eyes to feet.   You can be rubbed, waxed, scrubbed, de-cellulited, made up, manicured and pedicured and more. For a really top-notch massage ask for Juana, one of the few female therapists who goes deep enough for me.  To get the most from your visit set aside a few hours to soak up the tranquil ambiance created by Ms. Thibiant.  By the way Thibiant’s new Nutrition product line of cleansers, toners and moisturizers are superb.

 449 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills 310/278.7565


Burke Williams Massage Maven

When Burke Williams first opened in Santa Monica a decade ago it took the town by storm. Word of mouth lured Westsiders to the sprawling salon in a quest for the perfect massage. And debatably the rubs were the best in town. Alas they’ve grown inconsistent over the years. Today there are six Burke Williams day spas spread out throughout the Southland. And to founder Bill Armour’s credit, all are equally spiffy and staffed with the best therapy teams available. Armour is particularly proud of the newer, glitzier Sherman Oaks facility. But each can do the job, if you go for a massage or body treatment. With few exceptions facials (of which there is a variety) are so-so. The Japanese Shiatsu massage and the deep tissue/sports rub are far more satisfactory as are the sea wraps, detox-calming wrap, mud baths, salt glows or body washes. The most popular treatment is the Hunter’s Retreat. It left me lukewarm, but lots of clients love it. The 40-minute session starts with an aggressive scrub (men, it still doesn’t hurt), and climaxes witha cleansing by essential oil soaked wheat stalks. Arrive early enough to soak in herb-laced whirlpool tubs or sweat sessions in the steam room or sauna. There’s also relaxing “quiet” rooms in which to contemplate whatever or simply snooze.  Chiropractic consultations are also available.

1460 Fourth St., Santa Monica 310/587.3366; 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood 323/822.2049; 39 Mills Place, Pasadena 626/440.1222; 27741 Crown Valley Pkwy., Mission Viejo, 949/367.9717; 20 City Blvd. West, Orange 714/769.1360 and 15301 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, 818/7789.3176.


Murad Day Spa

The Skin Doctor Is In

If anybody can fix problem faces (non surgically that is) it is Dr. Howard Murad, mastermind behind this eponymous skin care emporium.  The noted dermatologist created a complete line of efficacious skin care and nutritional products along with a variety of therapies to cater to various epidermal disorders from acne to sun damage, and, to put it bluntly, the removal of ugly cellulite (which guys, plagues men as well as women).  The six year old facility is more utilitarian than pampering although there is a full menu of massages from emphatic to Shiatsu, body scrubs and polishings, hydrotherapy, nail, makeup and hairstyling to enjoy. But even Murad maintains that the emphasis of his spa is skin care through nutrition and treatments. He is particularly proud of his recently developed Vitamin C Infusion line, which he claims has been tested and proven to help repair and rejuvenate the skin.  I just began using the product and can vouch for its merits. And get this, now you can tone your hips, thighs, abdomen and upper arms sans effort thanks to Murad’s Vitamin Cream and Body Treatment—a available at the spa or for take home.  There’s also an Elixir Tonic and Tea Bar stocked with herbal teas and restorative tonics to embellish your spa experience.

But the really big draw is the Murad trained estheticians, who really know what they are doing, and the no nonsense therapies.

2141 Rosecrans Ave., El Segundo 310/726.0470;


Skin Spa Valley High

Nestled on the third floor of Encino’s Courtyard Shops, this little sleeper emerged over the years as a major player on the spa scene. Credit Joelle Saxon, the savvy French founder/owner who transformed a formerly funky spot into a luxury facility. Since Saxon sold the property about five years ago some things just aren’t the same.  I am happy to report that the massages and facials remain unspoiled.  They are honest and effective. The most noticeable differences is the lackluster greeting received when you show up for your appointment. (The receptionist chatted on the phone then pointed the way to the dressing room). The other is the hard cosmetics’ sell during facials. But it’s easier to endure when the treatment is as outstanding as the Oxygen facial I had recently.   The heavenly hour-long process included an exfoliation, numerous applications of vitamin and mineral rich potions combined with heavenly face, neck, shoulder and scalp massages. Add to that an hour of pure bliss with an equally talent masseuse who’s adept deep tissue massage and technique brought me to happy tears. The spa menu is extensive with regular and exotic choices.  A personal favorite is The Couple’s Suite Synchronicity, which my husband and I have enjoyed on anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day. Talk about quality time together. You get to soak together in a Jacuzzi in a candle lit room before side-by-side synchronized massages by four therapists.  If you weren’t in love before, you will be after this. There is a steam bath in the changing rooms to use before or after, and a cabana terrace where you can relax in a chaise, order lunch or soak in yet another whirlpool pool.

17401 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 818/995.3888

New Day Spa Alert! I just sampled a charming little oasis nestled in the laconic little town of Los Feliz, just north of East Hollywood and South of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s called dtox with a small “d” --the brainchild of two enterprising partners Cary Mock and Ken King, who carved the alluring sanctuary out of a 1940s building  (for which interior designer Cary used a minimalist approach). The façade features glazed glass to enhance the feeling of privacy. The relaxation area, where you wait for treatments, calms the senses with its wall of water trickling down Mexican river rocks, comfy white chaises and eye pleasing design set under a wooden bow tree ceiling enhanced by a ductine and Asian style chandelier. The spa just happens to employ one of the best massage therapists in the business, Tayler, who pampered me with 80 minutes of pure bliss. Firm but relaxing pressure, restfully choreographed motion, nirvana!  The head to toe treatment menu includes custom packages along with a la carte facials, scrubs, wraps, waxing, nails and more. I’m about to sample their signature product line and will let you know how they rate. In the meantime check it out online at; or call 323-665-3869. Or stop by 3206 Los Feliz Blvd., LA, CA 90039.

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