New big city, old rainy day? Relax, feel like a native

By Bonnie Tsui
Globe Correspondent / February 28, 2010

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Wherever travelers are heading in the overcast, slop-filled mess that is late winter across much of the country, some of them are probably pondering a getaway from their getaway. What to do on an ice-cold afternoon in Chicago, or over a sleet-filled weekend in New York? Even sunny Los Angeles gets its share of rainy days this time of year. It’s time to go where the locals go. Here are a handful of insider suggestions for day-spa escapes in four big cities. All are small boutique establishments that are urban favorites for their service and value.

International Orange, San Francisco In the tony Pacific Heights neighborhood, this spa and yoga studio is a minimalist space located just upstairs from shop-lined Fillmore Street. It offers a unique combination of spa services and a full schedule of yoga classes. No froufrou frills in the compact white treatment rooms - just experienced massage therapists and all-organic blends of body oils: golden jojoba, safflower, geranium, and honey-scented beeswax. The warm and attentive staff leaves personalized notes for clients after each treatment.

The most popular offerings are being dictated by monthly online specials, says Kendra Romer, a spa manager. They range from facial and yoga-spa combos to hot-stone add-ons and scalp treatments.

“We really try to keep a quiet atmosphere that is great for body and mind, whether it’s the yoga classes or the spa,’’ said Romer. The outdoor redwood deck with a tranquil, bamboo-lined space with wooden lounge chairs is a favorite with guests. On a recent rainy afternoon the mood inside was relaxed: Calm, berobed clients sipped tea in the indoor lounge, while yogis arrived in the locker room for a class in Vinyasa.

“It definitely removes you from the grind of the city,’’ said Kim Bulkley of Los Angeles, who was visiting her family during a cold, rainy spell. She is a longtime fan of International Orange and has recently become obsessed with the spa’s facials, which use products like sweet basil and lavender hydrosol mists from an organic farm in New Mexico. “After being around for as long as it has, the service has only gotten better, which is a lot to say since I feel like most spas lose their ‘specialness’ soon after opening.’’

Great Jones Spa, New York Downtown locals will point you to Great Jones Spa, a contemporary, calm oasis in NoHo that specializes in water treatments, uses plant and marine-based products (think algae and salts extracted from the Dead Sea), and has an amazing three-story “water cure’’ solarium filled with lush green plants. Complete with cascading waterfall, river-rock dry sauna, thermal hot tub, steam room, cold plunge pool, and an endless supply of juices, teas, and fruit, the 15,000-square-foot wet lounge has established itself as a main attraction for its warm, inviting tropical atmosphere (it was modeled on the historic Roman baths of Caracalla). And access here is a steal: Customers who spend $100 or more on treatments can spend the day, and guests who simply want to use the water lounge can buy a pass for $50.

“It’s really a three-hour tropical getaway in the middle of Manhattan,’’ said Inga Zapara, general manager.

The spa’s newest offering is its Pure Fiji Coconut Sugar Glow, a 60-minute body treatment that uses sugarcane harvested from Fiji and a combination of macadamia, coconut, and kukui oils to massage and revitalize skin. Amid the scent of tropical nut oils and coconut milk - plus a few hours spent taking the waters - you could feel nearly transported to a warm-weather paradise.

Lincoln Park Massage Spa, Chicago Tucked away in a leafy residential neighborhood across from Oz Park, this small spa has an intimate, cottage-like feel. Guests are welcomed in the front lounge with warm neck wraps and herbal teas. Trendy and minimalist this is not, but the extensive menu includes the full array of massages - from Swedish and deep-tissue to hot-stone and couples - as well as scrubs, facials, and paraffin/wrap treatments.

Five thematic treatment rooms evoke different places, so customers can choose their ideal settings. Want a beachy environment? Try Island Breeze, which creates a Caribbean seascape for your viewing pleasure. If Zen is more your thing, ask for Cherry Blossom, which conjures up a waterfall-filled Oriental garden. And there’s always the New England color of Morning Forest, which recalls Vermont in the fall. Three aromatherapy options customized especially for the spa - ginger lemongrass, mountain mint, and lavender rose - and music help complete the sensory escape.

The spa is a neighborhood favorite and often has monthly promotions. Through the end of March, the Lavender Rose special gets guests a 45-minute massage for $59 (ask for it by name when you book).

Le Petite Retreat Day Spa, Los Angeles Far from the city’s hubbub, this boutique indoor-outdoor spa is housed in a 1924 red-tile-roofed Spanish bungalow. Inside fresh orchids, a fireplace, bubbling fish tank, and stone fountains create a hybrid Eurasian aesthetic. The entire enterprise was designed with the guidance of a feng shui master; if that weren’t enough, it was also blessed by nine Tibetan monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in Mundgod, India.

In keeping with the spa’s style, the signature treatment is the Zen jade stone massage, which incorporates shiatsu and Thai techniques. Unlike basalt stones, jade holds both heat and cold well, to help flush out toxins and reduce inflammation in the body. Hydrotherapy bath treatments - including a peppermint ginger plunge and lavender aromatherapy - are given in a dedicated treatment room with a customized ergonomic copper tub. For those seeking more specialized services, Le Petite Retreat also offers lash extensions, water dermabrasion, and enzyme facials.

After you’ve been pounded and exfoliated into submission, take a bake in the cedar sauna, or head to the outdoor lanai and wooden deck to soak up the warm Southern California air. If it’s not raining, of course.

Bonnie Tsui can be reached at

If You Go

International Orange

2044 Fillmore St., 2d floor

San Francisco


Yoga class, $18; 60-minute four-handed massage, $250.

Great Jones Spa

29 Great Jones St.

New York


Spa manicure, $25; 90-minute hammam treatment, $230.

Lincoln Park Massage Spa

630 West Webster Ave.



Revitalizing eye treatment, $20; 90-minute couples massage, $270.

Le Petite Retreat Day Spa

331 North Larchmont Blvd.

Los Angeles


Green-tea escape aromatherapy bath, $45; 90-minute jade stone massage, $225.