Los Angeles' temperate climate means that it is manicure-pedicure season all year long. So it's no wonder that nail salons in Southern California are big business, peppering nearly every strip mall and street corner to rival the ubiquity of Starbucks.
The nail industry in the U.S. reached $7.47 billion from 2012-13, according to Nails Magazine, and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative says there are around 1,900 nail salons in Los Angeles County. Most offer a quick mani/pedi for the palatable price of around $25; another $12 will often buy a 15-minute shoulder massage.
"I go to the nail salon about three times a month," says fashion publicist Karen Bard Sayah. "Nail color is the easiest thing to change. It's no commitment and, by and large, an affordable luxury."
Sayah says she would like the option of a salon that offers a slightly more elevated level of service than the so-called "chop shops" — the inexpensive, no-frills spots that are so prevalent throughout Southern California.
"It's hard to find that mid-tier place," she says. "I think that that is sort of the holy grail for nails, a place where you feel pampered, but a mani-pedi is not going to run you $80."
But more mid-tier level nail salons have been popping up recently, offering boutique settings and elevated service with slightly higher prices to match.
"These more upscale nail salons are a great niche between the chop shops and high-priced day spas that offer minimal nail services," says April Foreman, manicurist to Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence and Drew Barrymore. "While I don't think chop shops are going to disappear from every corner anytime soon, there is definitely a demand for the new salons that are cropping up. Between the two, there is no excuse for a chipped nail in this city."
Here are a few of the new and notable places elevating the Los Angeles institution known as the nail salon:
Olive & June
While on a visit to Los Angeles from New York, Sarah Gibson Tuttle was in search of a chic nail salon where she could be pampered without paying the price of a high-end spa. She set out to fill the void, leaving her decade-long career as a finance trader and opening Olive & June in Beverly Hills last August.
Named for her maternal great grandmother and grandmother, respectively, the space is long and narrow and done in varying shades of blush, with natural wood accents. A towering, custom-built shelf houses an uncluttered array of nail polish colors from Butter London, Nars, Essie, RGB and Kure Bazaar. Beauty products from Earth Tu Face, Kai and Sarah Happ pepper the front counter.
The services on the nail menu are also named after women in Tuttle's family. The Dree is a manicure and pedicure without polish and is the least expensive, at $18 for a manicure and $26 for a pedicure. The Margot, an all-organic service using California beauty brands — even the foot bath is cleaned with eco-friendly products — is on the higher end, with a manicure running $35 and a pedicure $45.
There is also an additional menu of green juices and espresso you can sip while getting your cuticles pushed back or your heels exfoliated with an organic salt scrub. All clients' preferences (from favorite color to level of ticklishness) are kept on file and referred to by the technician at every visit.
430 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 247-0500; www.olivejune.com
The West Hollywood outpost of this Tokyo-based spa is steeped in the Japanese tradition of custom, high-quality customer service. The modern building is nestled on a shady block in West Hollywood and offers full spa treatments including massage and customized organic facials, but it's the manicures and pedicures that have been receiving attention from in-the-know fashion types.
The higher level of service comes with a noticeably steeper price tag than the typical nail salon. Two nail technicians attend to each client, offering a basic manicure for $50 and a basic pedicure for $60. A more in-depth mani/pedi that includes a 15-minute hand and foot massage, scrub, polish and extensive callus removal for the feet can be had for $60 and $100, respectively.
Mars is most famous for its gel nail service and technicians trained in creative nail design ranging from bows and anchors to a chic take on seasonal designs.
606 Westmount Drive, West Hollywood; (310) 652-0930; www.mars-salon.com
Silver Lake's answer to anyone searching for a chic nail salon, Kure offers a simple menu of nail services with a few fun add-ons like "Kiddie Polish" for younger clients.
The environment is understated and hip, with black-and-white decor and a neon sign on the wall that reads "Chill…" Polish colors from Essie, RGB, China Glaze, OPI and Zoya are displayed neatly on stark white shelves.
Like most salons, Kure offers gel service, a "Geli-Kure" starting at $40 for a manicure and $50 for a pedicure. Custom gel nail design goes for $5 per nail.
The "Refresher," a basic mani/pedi that offers a homemade sugar scrub, hot towel, massage and polish, is $20 and $25, respectively. For hands and feet that need some extra softening, the most expensive and extensive treatment is "The Kure All," which includes moisturizing paraffin treatment and an extra five-minute massage and costs $40 for a manicure and $55 for a pedicure.
2378 Glendale Blvd., Los Angeles; (323) 668-1234; www.kurespa.com
This Beverly Hills nail salon and spa boasts luxury nail care and organic spa services and aims to be an "energy-releasing respite" for clients.
Chi prides itself on paying extra attention to the cleanliness of tools and uses sterilized, medical-grade equipment. This extra care, along with a high-end selection of polish (Tom Ford, Chanel, Nars and a natural, water-based brand called Scotch), makes Chi a favorite among celebrities including Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Zooey Deschanel and Willow Smith.
Asian touches like crisp white and crimson colored paper lanterns, silk throw pillows and black and white cherry blossom wallpaper add to the Zen environment of the space. There is a semi-circle setup with mani/pedi stations that is ideal for spa parties with friends.
The Asian influence doesn't stop with the decor. The basic mani/pedi, called a Hand and Foot Refresher, includes green tea seed oil to soften skin and costs $25 for a manicure, $35 for a pedicure. On the higher end is a jade stone hand treatment, which features a massage with jade stones and an invigorating jade and ginseng scrub and goes for $80 for the hand treatment and $100 for the foot treatment.
Chi is also known for outrageous nail design, which ranges from free-form nail art with gel to 3-D looks using wires, charms, logos, decals and studs.
9390 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 858-8803; www.chi-nailbar.com