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America's Outstanding Day Spas

Ten Thousand Waves Japanese Health Spa 3451 Hyde Park Rd., Santa Fe; 505/982-9304. In 1980, an ex-hippie who lived in a van had a vision about creating a spa. "I'd always been a student of Japanese culture," says Duke Klauck, "and I liked their idea of a hot-spring resort in the mountains—a place to be surrounded by nature." Over the next decade, Klauck built his spa on a hillside near the spectacular Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and his message of simplicity and tranquillity proves that Asian minimalism can have a heart. Word of mouth and referrals from doctors bring people from all over the world for a simple soak, starting at $13 an hour; more than 100 massage therapists offer a dozen kinds of massage including hot stone, acupressure, shiatsu, and an in-water rubdown called Watsu. You can stay in one of the "Japanese-Southwestern-style" guesthouses ($125-$205 per night), but plan ahead. The cabins with private courtyards are in high demand.

Ummelina International Day Spa 1525 Fourth Ave., Seattle; 800/663-4772 or 206/624-1370. When a serene guide (they're not attendants here) led me to a cathedral-like antechamber called the Sanctuary, it was hard not to feel spiritual. Mandy, my guide, knelt to wash my feet while someone fetched tea. They then whisked me off to a Balinese bed—yes, I was actually tucked in to keep warm—for a manicure and pedicure ($95 for both services). Owner Nina Ummel, granddaughter of a Mennonite herbalist, has crisscrossed the globe in search of new remedies and new approaches to wellness. Her spa menu is presented like a passport, with treatments billed as "journeys." An absolute must on such a trip is Ummelina's Tea Spa & Apothecary, which has Seattle's largest selection of organic herbs, custom-blended by an herbalist for special health needs.

Aida Thibiant European Day Spa 449 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills; 310/278-7565. Remember how Gwyneth Paltrow shone the night she won her Academy Award?It may have been the Tahitian Body Scrub from Aida Thibiant ($145). The skin-care expert has created a line of tropical products that exfoliate, smooth, and condition to impart that Gwyneth Glow. I eagerly signed up for the mystical scrub with its blend of peach milk, avocado, coconut, Brazil nut, and Monoi oil (used by Tahitian women to protect their complexion). When I departed, I was a mess—hair wet from the Vichy shower and face slick with cream—but quite honestly, my skin looked fabulous. Product junkies will love the line, especially the Tahitian Bath Milk, which I now order by the gallon.

Billy Yamaguchi Salon & Coastal Day Spa 3260 Telegraph Rd., Ventura; 800/572-5661 or 805/658-7909. Yamaguchi's trendsetting hairstyles have appeared on runways and in fashion magazines, and a cut from this Tokyo-born globe-trotter is something to envy. My session started with a shoulder rub and a cup of Tranquillity Tea served by Billy's bowing mother, then a cut ($85 and worth every penny). Don't leave without the Trilogy (therapists armed with dried Chinese herbs and pure oils work on your scalp and feet to relieve stress) and a session with Vladimir, the masseur who had a 15-year gig with the Russian Olympic team.

Osmosis Enzyme Bath & Massage 209 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone; 707/823-8231. Fifteen years ago, Michael Stusser couldn't sit for meditation without his painful sciatica flaring up. But while studying Buddhism in Japan, he experienced something called an "enzyme bath," and so profound was his recovery that he later opened Osmosis. His five-acre day spa near Santa Rosa resembles a ghost-town country store, but once inside, all the images of old Japan snap into place: tatami mats, shoji screens, and tranquil Zen gardens that Stusser helped to create. His detoxifying bath mixes cedar powder, rice bran, and 600 enzymes from 25 plants; it's like being up to your neck in a sandbox full of mushy wood pulp. (Unlike many who claim an almost mystical experience, I was not transformed. But still, I was very calm afterward.) The wise won't leave without a massage in the creekside pagoda. A bath and massage is $155.

Tea Garden Springs 38 Miller Ave., Mill Valley; 415/389-7123. A third-generation herbal practitioner and feng shui consultant, Jacqueline Sa tends to her clients' health the Chinese way, examining how vital energy, or chi, passes through the body. "A Western doctor is like a mechanic fixing broken parts," she says. "The Eastern way is like a gardener, cultivating good health and caring for the body." The spa's natural concoctions and masks infused with aromatherapy oils are muscle-melting, but I was more interested in an energizing holistic consultation with Sa herself ($90).

Watercourse Way 165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto; 650/462-2000. After many pilgrimages to the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center near the Big Sur coast, John Roberts and Susan Nightingale decided to open a spa reminiscent of that spare Buddhist monastery. Watercourse Way possesses Tassajara's pervasive aura of peace, and although it gives every appearance of being mystically laid-back, it is extremely efficient. Silicon Valley tech-heads arrive with spinal kinks and request the beneficial water therapies that have made the place famous: polishing scrubs, chlorine-free soaks in wooden tubs, cold plunges, herbal steams. The two-hour "3-D" treatment—an exfoliation, wrap, and essential-oil massage for $130—lulled me to sleep.


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