A day at the spa doesn’t have to cost you hundreds. For an entry fee, spend a day relaxing at these Seattle-area day spas.
A spa is one of the rare places left in the world where there are no screens to distract you from your thoughts. (Not even planes and trains can claim that anymore). The extreme heat — and, in some cases, extreme cold — forces you to be entirely present in the Now. Buddha would have approved.
Most people associate day spas with luxury, something only the rich can afford to do. But a day at the spa doesn’t have to be a $300 affair. In fact, many spas allow women (yes, it’s mostly women) to pay an entry fee and spend hours unwinding. I did the difficult work of visiting many of the Seattle area’s most relaxing spas and lived to tell you about it. I know, you are playing a tiny violin for me.
Bella Luna Spa & Sauna
A coed spa with both common areas and gender-separated areas, Bella Luna has hot rooms galore, including rock salt, clay, jade, charcoal and Elvan stone. Each one had signs above the door announcing the room’s temperature — “126,” “130” and the less-intense seeming “110.” After a few rounds in each, I visited “the Snow Room,” kept at a comparatively freezing 60 degrees, with neat, frosty, exposed pipes to better underscore the brrr factor. A man and a woman entered, and within a few seconds the man quickly thought better of it and danced out.
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In the open lobby, a few couples lounged on the couches wearing the two-piece pajama-like outfits provided by the spa. Though it has a restaurant, it was closed. In the women-only area, there was a dry sauna and steam room, a whirlpool, a cold pool and a warm pool.
Patrons receiving Korean-style scrubs were tucked away in corner areas, hidden from view. You could hear a mix of languages and as younger women arrived, the room went from hushed to chatty. The wet area of Bella Luna was big, but it had probably seen better days, with some peeling paint in places. Like the patrons, a few walls could have used a good scrub. But for the price, it was right.
$25 entry; coed; open Sunday-Thursday 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-midnight; 17420 Highway 99, Lynnwood; 425-741-1004 or bellalunaspa.com.
Hothouse Spa & Sauna
Tucked away from the Friday-night boozing at Pike and 11th on Capitol Hill, next to the lesbian bar Wildrose, is Hothouse, the tiniest day spa that ever could. Only 14 ladies at a time can enjoy this womblike escape. There they are greeted by a friendly woman with a long Mohawk, given a towel and a locker, and escorted into the locker room. The walls are painted in warm lush colors: cherry red, light green and sage green, and golds and yellows; the ceiling in the spa is a royal blue, contributing to the sense that you are very far away from the world.
There’s a tiny dry sauna and a tiny steam room, a bracing cold plunge shower and a hot tub. Head from sauna to steam room to shower to hot tub, and rinse and repeat. At the end, if there is space, you can lie down in the foyer and meditate, read or fall asleep. Indeed, many regulars come prepared for slumber and arrive wearing pajamas. For others, this is the start of a night out — when the spa closes at midnight, they can go next door and join the revelry.
$18 entry; women only; nude; open noon-midnight. Closed Tuesdays. Last check-in at 11 p.m.; 1019 E. Pike St., Seattle; 206-568-3240 or hothousespa.com
What Seattle Freeze? The Parilka (dry sauna) of the trendy coed Russian-style bathhouse in South Lake Union could melt the coldest countenance of any passive-aggressive Seattleite. Or maybe it was the patrons, a boisterous bunch, who were both garrulous and serene. In the Parilka, instead of sitting in silence, the bathers chatted across from each other on the cascading stairs, like high-school students on bleachers.
Many of the patrons were regulars who came multiple nights a week. One, a man with a beard and handlebar mustache, proclaimed Banya 5 to be “the greatest place on Earth.” He did so while standing chest-deep in the cold-plunge pool — 45 degrees — without flinching.
He was also the same man who advised me to “just breathe” and explained, “This is sort of like forced meditation,” after my first ever-public beating — or rather, a massage (or “platza” with a Venik, a soaked oak branch) in the Parilka administered by a burly Viking type.
I laid on the top bench of the smoking hot sauna, while the big man slapped my back and legs with the leaves, which were wet and steamy from the heat. An intense feeling of claustrophobia took over and I felt dizzy. I can’t say it was pleasant but it was certainly memorable.
My friend did better with the “50 Shades of Veniks” than I: After her “massage” and cold plunge, she went to the tepid pool where a perfect stranger held her aloft like a baby as she floated on her back. After three exhilarating hours there, I could agree with the mustachioed man’s assessment of Banya 5’s greatness.
$40 entry; $25 early-bird special Wednesdays and Thursdays before 2 p.m.; coed; open Tuesdays 4 p.m.-11 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-11 p.m., closed Mondays; 217 Ninth Ave. N., Seattle; 206-262-1234 or banya5.com.
Forced relaxation was the modus operandi at Float. A journal in the lobby was filled with Zen koans from other customers: “It is what it is,” read one, while the word “be” was painted in big letters on a wall.
Float is not a day spa, but its aim is the same, achieved via sensory-deprivation tanks filled with saltwater. I was shown to my white, egg-shaped tank, which, with its glowing interior, looked like something out of a science-fiction movie (shades of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,”“Cocoon” and “The Matrix”) and an inner voice screamed a silent scream. “Don’t drown,” texted my editor when I sent her a picture of my claustrophobic chamber of bliss.
Can you hack Zen? My hyperactive brain was thwarting me: I argued with myself, I went over all the bills I owed and thought about the emails I needed to answer. And then, at some point, it happened. I started writing a long story in my head, its shape taking place in my mind’s eye. That was an achievement, but also one that might be accomplished for free in a warm bath at home.
The initial float session is $39, but floats thereafter are $79, a pretty high-class solution for a modern-day problem. (Though my story remains unwritten, so I might have to go back).
Coed; daily, 7 a.m.-11 p.m.; 11101 N.E. 12th St., No. 101, Bellevue; 206-673-5132 ext. 2 or floatbellevue.com.
The poshest of all the spas I visited, this Bellevue oasis has all the hydrotherapy amenities one expects, but little details set it apart. The steam sauna had a dark ceiling that glittered with sparkly lights, giving it a Studio 54 disco feel. The spa provided helpful instructions on the order in which to partake in the saunas and baths, and included a salt-scrub bar to exfoliate your skin with in the steam room, refrigerated cold towels to place on your head and cold cucumber slices for your eyes. The coed spa also has lounge chairs so you can sit and read in between steam sessions.
This being Bellevue, a bevy of beauties arrived perfectly made up with fancy bikinis. (One woman soon learned the error of her ways when her mascara ran.) Attendants kept the place meticulously clean, and inside the ladies lounge were more amenities, including a magical machine that squeezed the water from your swimsuit. At $45 it is slightly more expensive than others, but you know what they say: You get what you pay for.
$45 entry; coed; daily, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; 1032 106th Ave. N.E., Suite 125, Bellevue; 425-449-8788 or yuanspa.com.
I took the loudest person to the quietest place. Amber, the most gregarious of my friends, stood in the 60-degree cold pool in the women-only Korean spa and stifled a scream. It didn’t quite work — a piercing shriek escaped from her self-muffled mouth as a waterfall of frigid water unexpectedly crashed down on her head.
The entire spa of women (it was nearly full that Saturday morning) turned toward her and giggled. Despite attendants walking around holding signs urging us to use our “spa voice,” the sound level remained a low roar. “What do you expect?” Amber said. “You put a bunch of women together, they are gonna want to gab.”
If you wanted quiet, that could be found in one of the many hot, dry rooms, including the jade and mud, salt, sand and oak charcoal rooms. Olympus’ chill room was less visually cool than Bella Luna’s and instead seemed more like a very cold, very small waiting room for a dentist’s office. Still, it felt nice.
Exhausted and hungry from all that sweating, bathing and freezing, we ventured for some bibimbap and a tofu salad from the tiny, serviceable restaurant (there’s also a formal tea room, which looked adorable, but we didn’t try it). In the restaurant, the women sat in their robes and matching pink shower caps and ate their food. Back inside, we decided to take one more lap of luxury. We didn’t use our spa voices.
$40 entry; $20 birthday special; women only; Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 9 a.m.-midnight, Closed Sundays; 3815 196th St. S.W., Suite 160, Lynnwood; 425-697-3000 or olympusspa.com.