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Recession Obsession: The $15 Massage

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December is The Official Recession’s first birthday month and there’s no need to deny it. We dined for next to nothing last week, and today we’ll enjoy this milestone on the cheap with my latest Recession Obsession: The $15 Massage.

Los Angeles' saturated spa culture makes for great variety and consumer-friendly pricing. For only $50 ($40 + tip) you can get a Thai massage which will stretch, crack and humble you into great comfort. Echo Park’s lauded Thai massage megaspot Pho Siam does this as well as any. If you desire an hour of pristine serenity where a master masseuse’s skilled hands glide over your recession-worn body like drops of water from the Dalai Llama’s private spring, you can have it. That hour will cost you near as much as a trip to Tibet, but at least these sort of massages are available around LA. Too bad these versions of ecstasy are off the table --

Recession Rule #357: Don’t Get Massages. Seriously. Don’t!

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Unless...

I know we’re trying to pad our emergency fund (you have one right?) and do things of that sort but it turns out there is a massage that can be had for about $20 (including tip.) This massage is an hour-long, legitimate (everyone is clothed) and parking is free. Your deal can be found sandwiched between 10 Freeway and Pasadena, east of Downtown LA, in the San Gabriel Valley. Good thing gas has dipped to turn-of-the-millennium cheap.

The San Gabriel Valley has earned the slick moniker, Chinatown 2.0, and this model is a significant upgrade. Unlike Downtown's 1.0, San Gabriel features many great slices of Chinese life as there is a sizable Chinese population. My heart, stomach, and wallet are often delighted by the many unique recession-friendly culinary treats (topic for another time) available here. You can also find everything from Hello Kitty fannypacks to too-much-fun-for-adults photo machine places to boba cafes to Hello Kitty stuff that goes in your new Hello Kitty fannypacks.

Chinatown 2.0 also features a lively “foot massage” scene. This can best be seen along East Valley Boulevard where blinking signs and colorful banners cry out that not only can “foot massages” be had, but you won’t be, as an hour is a paltry $15. Intuition alone won’t explain the term “foot massage.” Only one-quarter of the hour will be spent directly on your feet. However, as your back, neck and shoulders receive some probably-needed attention, your nude feet will soak in a bucket of warm water. “Foot-centric massage” tells the story.

The foot-centric massage experience is more communal than you’re probably used to. As you slide into your big comfy lounge chair you’ll note the room is full of other people receiving massages. You’ll also note the ambiance has a touch of “nail salon” as a television plays something like a 1998 Cher concert and the masseuses talk amongst themselves. Your options are ear plugs, an iPod, or toughing out this recession-buster.

The Rub

Your masseuse will pull, shake, rap, and rub you into eventual delight. Chinese massages can be pretty firm, so if it is too rigorous feel free to speak up (perhaps you’ll be understood.) If weary you could try for an English safe word (mine is “avocado.”) By the time the hour is up you may be thrilled enough to utter “another round” in Chinese (I’m not sure how one might say that -- or avocado.) But you won’t say it because of The Official Recession's grip.

I’ve tried a few of these places and I’ve not been disappointed. If you need to calibrate your expectations then don’t hope for a Beverly Hills massage when not in Beverly Hills. All it costs to ride the ride is a $20 bill -- these places don’t take credit cards.

When you finally smush back into your shoes you’ll realize that you do feel better, and looser. Go ahead, pat your wallet. It probably doesn’t feel much lighter than when you walked in.

The Recession Obsession $15 Massage

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I recommend The Main San Gabriel Foot Massage Drag: E. Valley Blvd. between New Ave (to the West) and Walnut Grove Ave (to the East), San Gabriel. If wander around The SGV you’ll find some more.