First up: the new Ciel Spa at the Philippe Starck-designed SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. While the SLS is the hot hotel of the moment, with a daunting waiting list for its Bazaar restaurant and a crowd that, in my opinion, had far too many smokers (this is California, people -- you're supposed to know better!), Ciel, only one flight above the scene, feels worlds away.
The spa is ultra-modern, mostly white (white curtains, white carpeting), and very serene, with the exception of the disembodied ceramic hands sprouting from the walls. In the waiting lounge the expected healthy almonds and berries are on offer, as well as a refreshing agua fresca, whose flavor changes daily. (On my day, it was peach).
The treatment I tried is one of its signature offerings, called Revive. The 90-minute session includes a body scrub, body massage, mini facial and scalp massage ($375), and it left me feeling deliciously relaxed and limber. If I have any criticism at all, it would be that I left feeling less "revived" than ready for a good, long nap.
Next up: Cal-a-Vie in Vista (left), about 90 miles south of LA. A destination spa, Cal-a-Vie has been around since the late 80s, but it somehow doesn't feel dated. The whole resort feels like a little bit of Provence, with stucco and terracotta architecture, lavender fields and an imported 17th century chapel on the grounds.
The rooms are decorated in chintz, with reclaimed gray wood floorboards and four-foot high cushiony beds. After a virtuous (but delicious) lunch of unsweetened lemonade and chicken salad, I had an aromatherapy massage that was so good, I started fantasizing about winning the jackpot and hiring the therapist, Julia, full-time.
We also took an aquatic class that was the first one I've seen that wasn't geared toward the 65-and-over-crowd. Called Hydro Rider, it's basically spinning under water, using a bike specifically designed for pool use. The resistance from the water obviously makes the pedaling somewhat slow going, but it was a great workout and I definitely felt it in my legs the next day.
The minimum stay at Cal-a-Vie is a half-week "La Petite Session," which starts at $3,795. Weekly rates start at $7,295.