Editor’s note: Spa Guru and I have always been intrigued by the idea of “authentic” Asian spas in North America but were also too chicken to go. We just didn’t want to have a bad time in sub-par facilities with questionable products, and it’s hard to find reviews of these places from people who are like us — those who go to the spa for rest, relaxation and recuperation. So when we heard about Irvine Spa, a Korean spa with some interesting-looking facilities (and that was sort of nearby), we sent a male friend there to get a massage and scope it out for us. Kevin (not his real name) is a dude who knows good bodywork but isn’t a regular spa-goer. We figured he could tell us whether the treatments made it worth the trip. This is his take on his experience getting two treatments at the Irvine Spa.
Irvine Spa opened in the city of Irvine in early 2012 to try and establish itself as Southern California’s top Korean sauna and spa, featuring a Jjimjilbang theme. Wikipedia tells us that Jjimjilbang
is a large, gender-segregated public bathhouse in Korea, furnished with hot tubs, showers, Korean traditional kiln saunas and massage tables. Jjimjil is derived from the words meaning heating. In other areas of the building or on other floors there are unisex areas, usually with a snack bar, ondol-heated floor for lounging and sleeping, wide-screen TVs, exercise rooms, ice rooms, heated salt rooms, PC bang (a video gaming center), noraebang (Korea’s version of Karaoke), and sleeping quarters with bunk beds or sleeping mats. Many of the sleeping rooms have themes or elements to them. Usually jjimjilbangs will have various rooms with temperatures to suit guests’ preferred relaxing temperatures. The walls are decorated with woods, minerals, crystals, stones, and metals to make the ambient mood and smell more natural. The elements used have traditional Korean medicinal purposes in the rooms.
The entrepreneurs behind Southern California’s first ever jjimjilbang spa, Beach Spa (which apparently opened in 2005), came together to create Irvine Spa. Their intention was to provide a spa with a health-conscious, “well-being” concept. With the goal of mastering the ideal relaxing space where families and friends can come together to de-stress and rejuvenate, every detail was thoroughly considered to utilize quality, natural materials from the bottom up.
Kevin told us that Irvine Spa has “an attentive staff who takes excellent care of the facilities” and that for him,”the facilities were actually the most enjoyable part of the experience.” The day spa offers its guests five different specialized rooms that each target specific health concerns — the Fire Room, Red Clay Room, Salt Room, Forest Room, and Ice Room. In addition, there’s a “Four Seasons” themed room that can be reserved for meetings. Not sure why you’d want to work at the spa, but maybe that’s a Korean thing? Other amenities include a Play Room for children, a cafeteria featuring Korean cuisine, and a cafe popular for its various drinks and “Bing-Soo” desserts.
You can come into Irvine Spa just to enjoy the facilities by paying an admission fee. One Adult Sauna + Jjimjilbang admission is $25, one 2-hour sauna-only session for adults is $20 and kids under 12 cost $15, presumably for both the sauna and Jjimjilbang. Thankfully they don’t allow kids under 5-years-old in the spa. If you go over your time limit for the sauna, they charge you an extra five bucks.
In the services area, the spa says that “acupressure and massage technicians are available for a complete sauna and spa experience.” We weren’t sure what this meant. Do you get massages and scrubs out in the open in front of everyone? It doesn’t say anything about this on their website, hence why we sent Kevin there to find out.
Kevin didn’t know about the five different specialized rooms (he doesn’t geek out and research beforehand like we do), so he only visited the pool area. “I was extremely disappointed by the fact that the common area was not mentioned by any of the staff upon my arrival. It seems to be one of the main highlights of this spa, and it was not encouraged or even brought to my attention that there was a separate area that had five distinct rooms I could experience, as well as a café. I was told to wait in the pool area and never given the opportunity to explore the Fire, Ice, Salt, or Forest rooms.”
The locker room area was very clean and well organized, as well as the pool area. In the pool and sauna area for men, no clothes are permitted. For anyone uncomfortable with nudity, this experience may not be for you. “The language barrier was another issue in which I had difficulty communicating with some of the staff, who were overall pleasant towards the customers.”
There were three pools to choose from, but you could only enter the pools after you had rinsed off in the Korean-style sit-down showers. “There was a sign in the men’s pool entrance area that had a pair of swim trunks crossed off, which indicated to me that there were no shorts or clothing allowed in the pool area. The main concern for the spa was cleanliness. Before entering the spa pool area, guys are required to shower and rinse off thoroughly.
There was a hot, warm and cold tub from which you could choose, but the majority of people, including myself found the relaxation in the sauna. After the sauna, I cooled off in the cold tub and waited for my scrub. The services I signed up for were the men’s scrub (30 minutes, $35) and a full 90-minute acupressure massage (90 minutes, $110).”
“The scrub was done right near the pool area by one of the male staff and I found it difficult to relax laying face up completely nude while I was being scrubbed and rinsed off repeatedly for what seemed like 40 minutes. The scrub itself felt alright, but the quality of salts that were used were quite questionable. I didn’t bother to ask about the product considering the gentleman conducting the scrub knew hardly any English.
I thought the scrub was a bit rough on my skin, and my main concern was that the salt being used came from a bucket and some bags of salt on the floor. The location of the scrub was in a side room with no door, near the pool for all the other men to see. In order to be washed off, the person conducting the scrub would dump a large bowl of warm water to clean you off. The table resembled an old western massage table without a headrest and a waterproof coating. There was no towel or anything placed down between me and the surface of the table which probably meant that everyone who used that table today had skin to skin contact. The cleaning method for the table from what I saw was the bucket of water being dumped on the table to rinse it off.”
“I ran into a similar situation with the massage therapist. I stated a few times the trouble areas and she continued to work on other parts of my body. It seemed as though she had already had a plan of how to conduct the massage.
The massage took place in a back room where I waited a few minutes and then was escorted to the room by my therapist. Although there was a western style table, there were also bars hanging from the ceiling to help the therapist balance while stepping on my back. Normally, I love being stepped on and Thai massage is one of my favorite massage styles. However, this was a much different experience. Even though the therapist applied a great deal of pressure, her awareness of how to manipulate my muscles and move them in a way that released tension was less than desirable. Her movements did not seem intentional and I left with my muscles feeling more agitated than relaxed. It almost seemed as though she wanted to exert the least amount of energy and did very little of feeling through my body to where the troubled spots may have been.
If you are in search of a message therapist with a comprehensive understanding of the body, your time and money would be better spent at another spa.”
The staff overall was very cordial and although the services themselves were sub par, the attitude and manners of everyone was great. From the front desk staff to the massage therapist, everyone was polite and kind. Language was a barrier and something to be aware of as the potential for misunderstanding and miscommunication is likely. If you are someone who has difficulty speaking up, this spa is not the place to remain silent. The whole experience will simply build up anxiety and frustration if you are not clear on what you want, and you will leave feeling cheated and more agitated than when you walked in.
If you want good, therapeutic bodywork, go to another spa. If you are uncomfortable with getting body treatments fully nude in full view of others in your gender-specific spa lounge, then this place probably isn’t for you.
If you do find yourself venturing to Irvine Spa, be sure to spend more time exploring the amenities and make it clear to the front desk staff that this is something you are most interested in, otherwise you may leave feeling disappointed with a mediocre massage and salt scrub experience.
- Fire Room (FAR-infrared sauna)
- Ice Room
- Salt Room
- Forest Room (aromatic wood)
- Pool Area (3 pools ranging from hot to cold)
- Common Area (Jjimjilbang)
- Cafe and Cafeteria
- Lounge and Vanity Areas
$$$ = Mid-range
You can find the Irvine Spa at:
2332 Barranca Pkwy.
Irvine, CA 92606
HOURS OF OPERATION
Business hours are from 8:00 am- 12:00 am, and service hours are from 9:30 am – 9:00 pm, 7 days a week.
HOW TO BOOK AN APPOINTMENT
Call the spa at (949) 260-9988 to book a treatment.
About our guest reviewer:
Kevin has always been an athlete and has had many specialists work on his body. He has utilized a variety of modalities, including physical therapy, Thai massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and deep tissue work. As an experienced yoga instructor, he is very particular about the quality of bodywork that he receives. He believes that it is important that a body therapist is attuned to each individual’s anatomy and possesses the awareness to approach each body according to their various needs.