W Hotel, 515 15th St., NW; 202-661-2416
Bliss Spa is all chic sophistication: The decor is signature white and blue, low-key pop music plays throughout—no Enya here—and the spa lounge features its now-famous brownie tray (from Georgetown bakery Baked & Wired) as well as cheese and olives.
Located on a subterranean level of the W Hotel, the six-room spa offers a full menu of services. Relax in the small white lounge with tea or fruited water before indulging in such treatments as a Triple Oxygen Facial ($160), which left our skin dewy. We’re also fans of the Double Chocolate pedicure ($70), and the waxes ($70 for a full Brazilian) are among the least painful we’ve tried.
The changing room has only one toilet and a small shower that doubles as a steam chamber, but you’ll get to play with the Bliss toiletries to your heart’s content.
Bottom line: It isn’t for everyone—the vibe skews young. But the treatments are terrific and results-oriented.
Nectar Skin Bar
1633 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4332
A new sister “skin salon” to nearby Ipsa for Hair, this boutique spa and beauty store tends to face, nails, and body. The chandeliered, violet-accented rowhouse features a plush couch pedicure bar, a retail space filled with Paul & Joe makeup and Glamglow mud masks, and two cozy, well-lit treatment rooms upstairs for facials and waxing. We tried one of the $150 skin-infusion treatments—facials with targeted blasts of cool oxygen that are said to send vitamins and nutrients deep into your pores—and found it a refreshing summer treat. During the facial, aesthetician Adrian Avila’s smooth, controlled movements were so relaxing that we fell asleep. Spray-tanning, microdermabrasion, manicures, makeovers, and semi-permanent mascara treatments—the LashDip procedure is exclusive to Nectar—are also available. Bottom line: An all-in-one beauty stop befitting the poshest of Georgetown socialites.
Boutique Spa at the Ritz-Carlton
3100 South St., NW; 202-912-4175
Although the very intimate Boutique Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown has just four treatment rooms, it offers such amenities as a small steam room and changing area plus a relaxation nook where you can curl up with a magazine and enjoy a piece of chocolate or a glass of tea.
We liked the Blueberry facial ($225 for 80 minutes), done with extracts of blueberry, raspberry, and pineapple and said to tighten skin. Our favorite massage therapist, Yanick Malone, may be one of the area’s best. A 50-minute massage is $125.
Valet parking is free with any treatment.
Bottom line: Cozy and oh-so-relaxing, this might be our favorite below-the-radar spa.
Red Door Spa at the Willard InterContinental
1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-942-2700
This Red Door Spa by Elizabeth Arden is in one of Washington’s grande dame hotels, and it mixes Old World service with modern touches.
If you book the Signature Stress Melter Ritual ($220), a 110-minute massage and body scrub, you can rinse off in the spa room’s private multi-head shower, which adds an extra dose of luxury. In nice weather, you can relax between treatments by having lunch on the outdoor sun deck. Or spa with a loved one in one of the private saunas or steam rooms; Aqua Therapy baths range from soaks to longer treatments with exfoliation and moisturizing full-body masks ($50 to $200).
Bottom line: Perhaps the most upscale of all the local Red Door spas.
The Spa at the Four Seasons
2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-944-2022
The Four Seasons in Georgetown is a longtime favorite of visiting celebrities and diplomats. But you don’t need an entourage to enjoy A-list treatment at the boutique spa and newly revamped fitness center with its saline lap pool. This is the only area spa to offer facials designed by celebrity aesthetician Kate Somerville as well as Carita products, a cult-favorite French line—including $600-a-bottle Diamond Cream. You can live the high life if you book the spa’s Gold and Diamond facial ($450), featuring ultrasonic exfoliation, microcurrent therapy to lift and tone sagging muscles, and LED therapy to calm redness and stimulate collagen production. Care for something a little less luxe? The Basic Kate facial—a 50-minute, $140 treatment—leaves you with glowing skin. Valet parking is free with any treatment.
Bottom line: A favorite with local ladies-who-lunch and visiting A-listers, the spa lives up to its celebrity reputation.
The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental
1330 Maryland Ave., SW; 202-787-6100
The Mandarin Oriental hotel’s Asian-inspired spas are known for being luxurious and beautiful. The Washington outpost is no exception. The pampering starts in the men’s and women’s lounges, with their oversize lounge beds, hot- and cold-water “experiences” including showers and an ice fountain, and fantastical steam rooms. Guests are encouraged to arrive at least an hour early to enjoy the facilities. The Zen-like ambience doesn’t stop in the relaxation room. Our new favorite? The Bamboo Massage ($215 weekdays, $235 weekends), an 80-minute treatment that’s similar to a hot-stone massage but done with warmed bamboo rods about six inches long. Valet parking is free with any half- or full-day package.
Bottom line: With its relaxing spa lounge—and those unmatched water features—this ultra-luxe spa is the best in the area for an afternoon of pure bliss. It’s also the priciest.
999 Ninth St., NW; 202-742-1940
By summer’s end, Aura Spa will have four DC locations, all inside Vida Fitness centers—including one near Logan Circle, one on U Street, and one near Mount Vernon Square. This one, its flagship, is inside the Renaissance Hotel.
Having been to the small Logan Circle spa, which was noisy when we went—we could hear pumping music from the health club—we expected the “flagship” to be more different than it was. It wasn’t big, either: four treatment rooms and a two-chair sitting area. At least it was soundproof—this spa was peaceful and quiet.
Finding it was tricky. From the hotel lobby, you take an elevator to the third floor and follow signs down a hotel corridor.
The massage was nice but not relaxing—the therapist asked at least half a dozen times if the pressure was okay. What made the 60-minute, $105 massage a better value is that any service over $100 allows you use of the gym. All spa-goers can use the sauna and steam room as well as the luxe locker room. The rainfall showers, equipped with lemongrass body scrub, were a highlight. Another relaxing touch: Valet parking is just $4.
Bottom line: If you live or work close by and you like nice locker rooms, this is a good option.
2121 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-965-2121
Formerly called SomaFit, this spa and fitness center was bought by Balance Gym last spring. Despite the change of ownership, the contemporary orange-and-blue spa is still as sleek as ever.
An appointment at Soma Spa grants you access to the workout center and locker room, which means a plush robe and unlimited time in the steam room, sauna, and showers.
Away from the whir of treadmills and the clanking of weights, the low-lit spa area upstairs has a waiting area with orange chaises, orange-scented water, snacks, and magazines. Our tester had signed up for the 50-minute Swedish massage ($110). Massage therapist Rosanna Casu had an expert touch and was knowledgeable—after the massage, she showed our tester some useful lower-back stretches.
Bottom line: Stunning design and ritzy amenities make it worth the price.
The Spa at Mint
1724 California St., NW, 202-328-6468; 1001 16th St., NW, 202-638-6468
At the boutique gym Mint, health for the whole body is a focus. So it’s no wonder that it boasts an equally popular spa.
The chic relaxation room offers tea and a good selection of magazines. Spa-goers can also enjoy the gym’s steam and shower facilities (on California Street, there’s also a sauna). You have to pay $4 to $20, depending on the spa treatment, to use the gym itself.
We recommend booking one of Mint’s Tuesday specials: a half-hour massage or facial for only $49. Or try the sports massages ($105 for 50 minutes, $150 for 80 minutes), in which therapists who have worked with WNBA players work out all the knots.
Just remember that you’re in a gym—while the treatments are good, there’s some ambient noise. You might want to book during non-peak times for a more relaxing experience.
Bottom line: Tuesday specials are a good value.
The Spa at the Sports Club/LA
1170 22nd St., NW; 202-974-6601
Perhaps the poshest of all Washington gyms, the Sports Club/LA is also the area’s largest, at 100,000 square feet. Located just off the gym’s changing facilities, the spa offers a quiet and calm oasis. Spa-goers enjoy full access to the gym’s spa facilities, including a sauna, steam room, and pool. We suggest one of the spa’s reasonably priced seasonal specials, usually a 50-minute wrap or facial for $99. The specials change every few months and may involve peppermint in winter, cherry blossoms in spring.
Bottom line: Reasonably priced specials and that impressive fitness facility make this a winner.
1129 20th St., NW; 202-530-5700
Want to be green? Consider Nusta. The downtown DC spa is LEED-certified, meaning it has met certain eco-building requirements. It also uses recycled materials and renewable-energy sources wherever possible.
Boasting a sleek relaxation lounge with tea service as well as a changing room with showers and lockers, this spa offers more amenities than many larger suburban spas. What can you expect from a place whose name means “royalty” in the South American language Quechua? The Interpretive Touch massage ($120 and up) is a variation on deep-tissue treatments but uses a customized approach to tackle tough knots.
Bottom line: Treatments can be pricey but are effective.
3209 M St., NW; 202-333-4445
Decorated in a modern, spare, Swedish style, this skin-focused med spa offers some of the area’s best facials.
You can begin with an optional Visia skin scan ($100, or $50 with a facial for new clients only), a technology that uses a special camera to reveal your skin’s sun damage, wrinkles, oil production, and more. Warning: The results may scare you into wearing some serious SPF.
From there, the staff can determine which facial is best for you. We’re fans of a 75-minute treatment combining microdermabrasion, cleansing, and massage ($260). Botox, photorejuvenation, and laser hair removal are also offered in addition to massages and body wraps.
Bottom line: The med-spa environment doesn’t encourage you to linger, but the treatments are effective enough that they don’t feel like an unnecessary splurge.
Spa on the Hill
1013 E St., SE; 202-525-7684
You might feel as if you’re walking into someone’s home at this Capitol Hill spa inside a renovated rowhouse. The small waiting area doesn’t do much to soothe—a customer was gabbing on a cell phone there during a recent visit—but the homey treatment rooms make it easy to relax.
Although our room faced busy Pennsylvania Avenue, we couldn’t hear any street noise. Our therapist spent lots of time untangling knots and incorporating deep-tissue techniques during a relaxation massage. At $100, the one-hour treatment left us feeling light and loose.
Bottom line: In an area without much to offer in terms of spas, this one earns extra points for convenience.
TuSuva Body & Skincare
2701 Ontario Rd., NW; 202-299-9005
On the second story of a nondescript building in Adams Morgan, this spa, though far from fancy, is a respite from the city outside. The space is small—the reception area doubles as the lounge, and there’s no locker room or changing area.
Despite the busy street below, the treatment room was quiet. An iPod played soothing music while a noise machine created the sound of waves crashing on the beach.
The 60-minute signature massage—a good deal at $80—began with deep breathing and a soothing head rub. Massage therapist Jeanetta Joseph’s touch was firm enough to drive out kinks but not so strong that it was painful. The massage ended with a full back rub, in which she used hot rocks and her forearm to apply extra pressure to stubborn knots.
Bottom line: An affordable, bare-bones spa that’s a good choice if you live or work nearby.
This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.