Thursday, April 5th, 2012


My Favorite Place to Spa: Burke Williams

I’m not a person who relaxes easily or often. I have to schedule relaxation, and for me, it’s even better when I’m able to kill two birds with one stone by getting a massage. It’s a set time, both when and for how long, where I have no choice but to lay there, breathe deep and slow, and enjoy.

A year or so after I had moved back to the Bay Area after having attended college in southern California, I started looking for a good place to get a massage. Naturally, I used Yelp! to kick off the search. The first place I tried was Burke Williams (San Jose location, on Santana Row), and I had a Relaxation massage. It was amazing. The facilities are immaculate–clean, relaxing, well-done–and the therapist was equally good. That was some three or four years ago. Burke Williams is, unsurprisingly, one of the more expensive places to get a massage in the area, so I wasn’t willing to commit quite yet. I worked my way through five or six additional facilities, but no experience came close to how I felt about Burke Williams–so the next time I needed a massage, I went back to Burke Williams to see if it was as good as I remembered. It was.

What sets Burke Williams apart, for me, is the facilities. It is a full spa; it’s not a small facility where there are one or two massage rooms where you go in, strip down, and lay down–and then you pop back into daylight right away. Burke Williams has a general lounge, but then they have separate facilities for men and women that include jacuzzi, steam room, dry sauna, cool misting room, showers, locker rooms, and quiet rooms. In the women’s locker room, they have several stations for you to doll yourself back up–blow dryers, brushes, and the like. All of these amenities are for you to use before or after your service. Ultimately, these are the extras that bump up the price tag, and if you use them, you’ll get your money’s worth.

But… become a member, and the prices per service are very comparable to the rest of the Bay Area and you get the truly luxurious experience of a fully-equipped spa. This is what I ended up doing, and I spent nearly two years as a member of Burke Williams. Membership is $79 or $109 per month (the latter allows you to access the spa whenever you want, so not just before/after a service). When I signed up, you needed to commit for a year. The monthly fee is actually applied to your first service of either a massage or facial, and you’re allowed to rollover the payment once, so I usually went every month and a half to two months. As a member, you also get member pricing on any additional services (about 20-30% off), except waxing. If you’re not ready to become a member–like my fiance, who very much enjoys a massage but refused to become a member–Burke Williams typically has a coupon for one of their services every other month or so that brings the price near member price.

I didn’t use all their services, but these were the ones I have indulged in: Pure Relaxation Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, Spa Style Facial, and Spa Pedi. I’ve also used massage enhancements in aromatherapy, hot stones, and detox. I will say that detox made me feel like I was being prepared for a Thanksgiving feast when they rubbed in the Himalayan salt, so that was not my favorite! Aromatherapy and the hot stones are both nice enhancements, but I don’t feel any less/more relaxed, so they usually weren’t something extra I’d spring for unless it was a member special.


I’m a deep tissue massage kind of gal. That’s my thing. When I first started going, I was all about the Pure Relaxation, because I love the long, fluid, relaxing strokes, but ultimately, I have far too many knots in my neck and shoulders. The lovely therapists are Burke Williams are very educated and knowledgeable, and what I liked was everyone had their own style. I went through many, many therapists before finding the one I really clicked with, but I never had a bad massage there–each one was good or great. Many therapists will help show and explain to you the different modalities so you can determine what makes sense for you.

As a now veteran spa-goer when it comes to massage, let me give you one piece advice: NEVER be afraid to tell your therapist that the pressure is too much or too little. The massage is for you, and frankly, you are likely paying a fair amount, so you should get an enjoyable experience out of it! We all have our own tolerance, and some of us want to be right up against that line of good pain and relaxation while others want just to relax. Communicate with your therapist–and I swear, every therapist has always appreciated me being more vocal about what is good/bad pressure.

If you’re able to visit the Burke Williams Spa in San Jose (they have locations all over California), I highly, highly recommend Nova as a massage therapist. She is absolutely amazing. As I mentioned earlier, it took me awhile to find the right person, but Nova is excellent. She’s knowledgeable, educated, and she is all about communication. If you like deep tissue massages, make an appointment with her! I was devastated that by moving, I wouldn’t be able to see her regularly any more. Ahh, so good! I felt like she really took the time to understand my needs.

Ironically, what really inspired me to write-up my experience with Burke Williams was that it was as good in the beginning as it was in the end. After we finished the move, I called Burke Williams last week to cancel my membership, and it took about two minutes. And in those two minutes, they put the remaining credit I had (which was two months of member fees) onto a gift card and had it sent overnight via FedEx, and cancelled my membership. It was such a pleasant experience, and I really appreciated having the credits onto a gift card, so I can use them when I am able to make the trek to the spa but don’t have to worry about when!  Just to put it into context, when I called my cable/internet provider to cancel because they did not provide service in my new area, it took me an hour to cancel and they kept trying to convince me to stay!

Even the Tech Guy agrees…

Tech guy here!  I will have to concur with what the Christine-ator has to say about Burke Williams. The price is truly the one sticky issue and I could only indulge myself once in a while. I would generally need to view the receipt while standing in front of a bed so I could faint without cracking my skull.  Here are some guy tips for all the men who read Temptalia:

First, there’s total nudity allowed so keep your gaze towards the ceiling at all times. Don’t worry, they cushioned all the wall corners so if you run into one while you’re admiring the ceiling you won’t hurt yourself. If you can get off work early or go in the afternoon, you literally have the men’s area all to yourself. I rarely ran into anybody while attending the facility so I was left without permanent brain scarring due to unfortunate nudity.  They give you some sweet moccasins to walk around in, but apparently they think one size fits all because my feet were pushing the limits of their expandability.  To really get the full experience, make sure to take advantage of the spa, hot tub, and crazy cold water room. This room has a seat where you pull a chain and have a torrent of cold water land on top of you. You know, just in case you want to have a heart attack at an expensive spa. I wanted to use it once just to see my life flash before my eyes, but it wasn’t functioning at the time. Lastly, if you think massages are for wimps, then try a deep tissue massage. If you ever wondered what your spleen tastes like then this is a good way to find out because they can press so hard that your organs tend to jump into your mouth!

Bottom line:  Burke Williams Spa offers not just an excellent service but an excellent experience from the minute you walk in the door. You’ll never feel rushed or stressed.  It’s calming, inviting, and relaxing.  You can stay awhile and enjoy their spa facilities (love the sauna).  There are only a few places I really miss since moving, and this place is one of them.  (The other is our favorite sushi restaurant–Sen Dai Sushi in Milpitas.)

Disclaimer: Every single service at Burke Williams was paid for by me. I never volunteered information that I was a beauty blogger or that I had any intentions of writing about them on the blog (and as far as I know, nobody knew!). Only recently (as in, this past week) did I actually receive an email from their PR team about a Mother’s Day special–go figure it’s after I’ve moved!

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37 thoughts on “My Favorite Place to Spa: Burke Williams

  1. My condolences on your move requiring you to sever ties with you beloved spa. I know the pain of searching for the perfect place and I really appreciate this review. I don’t live in California, but the next time I visit, I will definitely keep this on my list of stops.

    That said, if you are ever in Santa Fe, check out Ten Thousand Waves (http://www.tenthousandwaves.com/). I am not from Santa Fe – a fact for which my checkbook is eternally grateful – but I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Ten Thousand Waves for my 10th wedding anniversary last year. It was one of those transformative spa experiences.

    • Definitely keep it in mind! They have locations all over California, and though I’ve only been to this one, I’ve seen Yelp! reviews for some of the other locations and those seem pretty high as well.

      Noted! What treatments did you have?

  2. Ashley Tatton

    This place sounds amazing! Great write up. My favourite part was, “just to see my life flash before my eyes,”. Hahaha. I hope you guys find a great place where you live now.

  3. linnea

    hi christine! this is a very very random question but ive been searching and searching and i dont know who but you to help me out.

    ive been searching for a nail polish in the colour of laura mercier’s lilac packeging. to me its a warm lilac colour with tiny sparkles. i dont know where to look for a polish like that… do you have any suggestions? would be so incredible happy if you would answer me on this one :)

    have a great day!

    xx

  4. Rengirl

    I love going to Burke Williams. My husband sent me there quite a few times while I was pregnant and I never felt so relaxed. The spa facials are the best. But yah – the price is a bit steep so I can only splurge on it once in a whlie.

  5. NeenaJ

    This post has me salivating! I love deep tissue massage and treat myself when I can. Totally agree that communication is KEY to a good experience. It’s not the time to be timid. You must tell the therapist when the pressure is not right for you or prepare to waste your money. Also, when the therapist tells you to drink a lot of water – it’s not a suggestion. After a massage – especially deep tissue – you must drink plenty of water to flush all the lactic acid out of your system. Otherwise, you’ll be very sore afterward.

    Shaun’s comments are always so much fun to read. Too bad the cold water room wasn’t working. He could have had a Flashdance moment! Hope you find a great therapist where you are now.

    • Another deep tissue massage fan! :) I aim for every 6-8 weeks myself, usually timed against more stressful moments in life… or anniversaries, birthdays, etc.!

      Good advice, too, about the water!

      We’re definitely looking, and the best news is that out here, the price is about half as much as Burke Williams. I don’t think there are *any* places that have similar accommodations – so far we’ve been to two, and they’re very small operations – not quite as sound-proof/soothing overall. The therapists have been good, but still going to check out a few more places to see if we can find the total experience!

  6. Avatar of nancy nancy y.

    wow, awesome review! Love how this is in San jose, my hometown! Too bad i recently moved to Arizona! Will def check out when i come to vist tho!

  7. Amy

    Oh! I didn’t realize you were moving from San Jose. I’ve been debating hitting up that same Burke Williams for Ages, so this is definitely another thing to add to my ‘Pro’ column to justify the cost. Shame to lose you, I’d love to hear other local recommendations!

    • I can’t recommend them enough. We went through several various massage places (and took advantage of some of the Groupon et al deals for other places) – when they have a coupon or if you’re a member, the pricing gets pretty close at least.

      I don’t have too many local recs, but if there is something you need, feel free to ask :) Now that I don’t live there, I feel better about recommending things!

  8. IVe been to the one in LA – its pricey, but it is really nice! Great when someone else (my mom) is paying!

  9. Michelle

    Next time I’m back home in SJ, I think I might check this place out. :D Oh and by the way, Sen Dai is my ULTIMATE FAVORITE sushi place ever! I’m currently posted in LA now, but I don’t think I’ve found a sushi place that had bigger portions and better prices than Sen Dai! Thanks for the spa review, Christine! :)

    • Ughhhh, tell me about it. We miss Sen Dai DESPERATELY! Overall quality, price, quantity, and selection have yet to be beat by any place we’ve gone. Anddddd Sen Dai does no rice on ALL of their rolls and doesn’t give me grief (actually, it was where I discovered it was possible). Everywhere else gives me these odd looks and stares and acts like it’s a big deal :(

      • Avatar of Alison Alison

        I know! I have a horrible experience requesting no rice at sushi places, and I’m on a low-carb diet. :(

        • Most places give you such funny places :( That’s why I really LOVED Sen Dai, because they were the ones who suggested it and they never have a problem doing it! I wish other places would understand that it’s OK if it’s not 100% perfectly wrapped or if it doesn’t look as big/good as with rice… I simply do not want the rice!! And I don’t like hand rolls at all or sashimi/nigiri – it’s not the same as a roll with no rice, haha!

  10. evangelia

    i didn’t know you moved from SJ! i’ll have to check out sen dai

  11. Liz

    Ooooh~ How perfect! I’m from Europe but coincidentally engaged to someone from the Bay area and we’re looking for a place to buy in San Jose right now! I’ll definitely check this place out, thanks so much for mentioning it!

  12. Avatar of Emily emily o

    I am glad to hear there is something worthwhile @ Santana Row- I just find the atmosphere disagreeable in general. I didn’t mean for that to sound snarky- no emotional texture in my typed word :) There is a place in Mill Valley I love and a number of great places in both Calistoga and Santa Cruz. However- like finding the right hairdresser- it all comes down to the individual who works on you.

    • Really! We’ve always really liked walking around Santana Row. And there’s Pinkberry! Haven’t walked around Calistoga or Santa Cruz in years, though. Any recs?

  13. Emeline

    Dang! That looks like a taste of the high life! I don’t think we even have such facilities around where I live! Props to the tech guy for trying it out! I can’t help but think it fairly weird that they would allow full nudity, I can’t really seem to justify it in a spa setting. In a pool’s locker room sure, but a spa? I love your skincare/services reviews! If possible, I’d love to read more!

    On a side note Christine, are you planning on reviewing the Sephora color of the year collection of the Tarina Tarantino Magical Palette? I am contemplating both but wouldn’t commit without your insiight.

  14. OMG I love Sen Dai! Perfect timing for the post… I was just about to make an appt. to try Burke Williams w/ the bf for our anniversary, so I’ll def be checking out Nova!

  15. Avatar of Alison Alison

    What a cute review! Its beautifully written and very informative, but I have to admit I laughed at the “crazy cold water room” description. I’m a huge bath and spa person, and that sounds like some frivolous fun to me!

    If I’m ever in the Bay area (Probably when I eventually visit rellies over in the States) I must check this out, along with that sushi place! If you’re ever in Australia, Christine (or anyone else here for that matter) I highly recommend Ju-Rin Sushi in Sydney!

  16. Marine

    Any recommendations for a good looking woman therapist? I want to send my boyfriend to the one in santa monica but i want a nice looking woman giving him a massage…..help?

  17. Carrie Robertson

    Good customer service gets me every time!

  18. Liz Miller-Kaseno

    One if my faves as well. I’ve been going since before it was a chain. Its huge now but they do still know how to pamper.