Onsen is a Japanese-inspired bathhouse located in San Francisco's Tenderloin. Photos courtesy of Onsen Facebook.
Sometimes in the face of tension, you’ve just got to brush your shoulders off. At Onsen, arching bamboo branches lightly brush your shoulders off as you simmer in a hot bath with hot tea at your fingertips. Tension, be gone.
It seems unlikely, but serene relaxation has a new dot on the map in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. It’s a curious marriage of high-end pampering and the gritty juncture where Eddy and Hyde Street meet, two blocks from Civic Center/UN Plaza BART Station. Here, owners Caroline Smith and Sunny Simmons are paying homage to Japanese traditions amidst sleek modern designs. Detailed craftsmanship is obvious upon entering a space where exposed brick walls and artistic woodwork are the backbone of a seductive setting.
It might be noisy outside, but Onsen’s wooden door leads to a winsome scene where quiet time in a bathhouse is tucked behind an intimate restaurant. The front room serves a seasonal menu of small plates matched with an array of teas and kombucha on tap; sake, shochu cocktails, wine and Japanese beers cater to the bar-minded.
And then there’s that separate rear spa section. The urban jungle steps away seems to dissipate when you walk through an indigo curtain doorway (noren) guarding a communal sitting pool (104 degrees), checker tiled steam room and redwood-laden dry sauna whose visual focal point is a window of inlaid Himalayan stone in calming hues of amber. Thirty dollars will get you a 1-hour 45-minute session ($10 each hour after) and includes use of a robe, towels, slippers and locker. (Check the schedule for coed and single-gender days.)
Self-serve tea and lemon water are available in the bathhouse, and an open cold plunge with spiraling showerheads is on hand when you need to cool down (alongside standard shower stalls). Overhead, a center skylight stretches wide and hanging planters rain down live greenery for a touch of the outdoors. An alternative to soaking, individual treatment rooms behind sliding shoji screens along the hallway to the communal area are being prepared to host massage and acupuncture sessions.
With its use of uncluttered open areas, Onsen calls on the magic of minimalism but retains an appreciation for intricate detailing that keeps the experience feeling indulgent. Take a sip in the restaurant or take a dip in the bathhouse—or really treat yourself and take time to do both.