Coming Soon to SF: A Japanese-Inspired Urban Bathhouse

Onsen's Caroline Smith and Sunny Simmons
Onsen’s Caroline Smith and Sunny Simmons

Photo Credit: Molly DeCoudreaux

Spa lovers, listen up! This Fall a new urban spa experience inspired by the traditional Japanese bathhouse is coming to San Francisco. Onsen, which means warm spring in Japanese, is a holistic spa, tea room, and sake house that is set to open in October in the Tenderloin. The new salon is from husband and wife duo Sunny Simmons and Caroline Smith. Simmons has over 15 years of experience in the construction industry while Smith is an acupuncturist who specializes in Chinese medicine. The couple has always loved and appreciated the Korean and Japanese social experience of visiting a bathhouse and it’s their mission to bring that tranquil service to San Franciscans.

The wooden sauna
The wooden sauna

Two years ago the pair took over the old City Automotive garage space on Eddy Street, between Leavenworth and Hyde. They’ve been transforming the building ever since. The entire 3,048-square foot space has been gutted and remodeled. All of the original brick is exposed elegantly. The auto body shop’s former mechanics pit has been remade into the relaxing warm soaking pool.

Simmons has collected wood for much of his career and he’s tapping into his large collection to outfit Onsen with handsome planter boxes and redwood paneling. All of the materials used in the space are 100% reclaimed. Crushed oyster shells are mixed into the cement walls and 100-year old chalkboards—from an elementary school in Ohio double as shower walls. Simmons has spent hours scouring Ebay for this sort of item. Lush green ferns and greenery hang from the ceiling and walls. A lofty skylight brings a natural glow to Onsen’s bathing room. If it sounds a little crafty that’s because it is, but in the most luxurious sort of way.

When Onsen opens it will have six treatment rooms for massage, facials, body work, and acupuncture. There is also a sauna, steam room, showers, and the soaking pool. The front area of the bathhouse, before the spa check-in, will be a small 20-seat cafe with a raw bar, tea, sake, and beer.

Although the project is not finished, it’s clear that once you step inside Onsen, the outside world and its pressures will fade away. The resulting communal space will be an urban oasis, a hidden gem in the depths of the Tenderloin.

Part of Simmon's wood collection
Part of Simmon’s wood collection

Photo Credit: Raquel Venancio