Greater Palm Springs offers a slice of sun-drenched, SoCal heaven served poolside with a retro twist. Thanks in part to the Coachella music festival, and the rising popularity of Joshua Tree National Park, Greater Palm Springs is now more popular than ever.
I’m thinking about this while having breakfast on a Saturday morning at the Pink Cabanas restaurant at the new Sands Hotel and Spa (44985 Province Way, Indian Wells. Tel: 760-321-3771. www.sandshotelandspa.com). If you’ve never heard of the low-key desert community of Indian Wells, know that it’s the ritzier (if you can believe it) sibling to Palm Springs. Located about 30 minutes southeast of downtown Palm Springs on Hwy 111 (the road basically follows the contours of the San Jacinto Mountains), this is where the millionaires and billionaires idyll in the winter while waiting for their yachts to be repaired.
The dining room at the Pink Cabana, a chef-driven eatery helmed by Jason Niederkorn (former Executive Chef at L’Horizon Resort and Spa in Palm Springs), spills right out onto the patio which includes a handful of alfresco tables with poolside views. Its menu pays tribute to the Mediterranean countries of both Europe and North Africa. Think country ham and gruyere quiche, Moroccan pancakes and quintessentially cool desert cocktails like a pink lemonade spiked with vodka and topped with a pinch of pink sea salt and herbs de Provence. This morning I am dipping slices of grilled bread into a skillet of Spanish chorizo, baked eggs, Yukon gold potatoes and tomatoes, and elegantly sipping thick Turkish coffee.
As much as breakfast and the attentive hostess (who has written out for me an inventory of local eateries) offer a perfect start to my morning, everything can’t help but pale in comparison to what first drew me to this desert retreat—the eye-popping design.
The Sands Hotel (no relation to the legendary Vegas Strip resort and Rat Pack hangout that was imploded in the ‘90s to make room for the Venetian) was designed by award-winning interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard.
At the Sands, Bullard gives Instagrammers a new reason to drool. Parts of the 46-room boutique hotel are bathed in bubble gum pink, while the hotel is punctuated throughout with wild bursts of color, zebra striping, undulating tile patterns, vintage photographs, and furnishings that offer a hat tip to both mid-century and Hollywood Regency. If you’re a fan of the Parker Palm Springs (Jonathan Adler’s madcap mid-century playground) book a room stat at the Sands.
The over-the-top design is as much on display at the Pink Cabanas restaurant as it is anywhere else on the property. The dining room, meant to invoke a tennis club, features green and white checkered tile floors, porthole mirrors, lush flora, and vintage photos, like the ones of Bjorn Borg and Farrah Fawcett that hang above the men and women’s restrooms.
For guests looking to explore this fascinating part of the USA, there are plenty of wonderful experiences just waiting to be had. Start at the Palm Springs Art Museum and sculpture garden in Palm Desert (www.psmuseum.org/visit/palm-desert). The museum is free and compact and the docents are fantastic. The rotating special collection the day I visit consists of photographic and sculptural renderings of the human body, and it’s terrific.
One of the most popular pastimes in this area is shopping. Indian Wells boasts upscale chain stores at El Paseo Village (www.thegardensonelpaseo.com), locally referred to as the Rodeo Drive of the desert (and this is no exaggeration). A half mile stretch along El Paseo that’s hemmed in on one side by Portola Avenue and on the other by Pines to Palms Highway is home to the likes of Burberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Lululemon, Sax Fifth Avenue, Ralph Lauren, Mr. Turk, an Apple Store, and may others.
About five minutes south of El Paseo Village on Portola Avenue is my favorite attraction in town, the Living Desert Zoo and Garden (www.livingdesert.org). Plan your visit accordingly, as afternoon temps can be very high depending on the season, but there’s plenty to see and do here. The recreation of desert landscapes including Sonoran, Mojave, Colorado, and Chihuahuan is impeccable; check out the agave garden and hike one of three desert loops (Trails are only open October 1 through May 30). The zoo portion of the park boasts more than 150 animals. I feed a giraffe (his tongue is enormous!), and play with African livestock in the petting zoo where I also witness excited children admiring a Nigerian dwarf goat.
If you happen to be spending a long weekend at the Sands, there’s also the Sunday Farmers Market in Old Town La Quinta (www.oldtownlaquinta.com). I visit farmers and artisans who are selling bunches of wildflowers, goats milk, soap, line-caught Alaskan salmon, cage-free eggs, and fresh fruit and vegetables, while a local cover band belts out Johnny Cash tunes.
There’s a ton of great restaurants in the area. Check out either Cork & Fork (www.corkandforwinebar.com) or Heirloom Craft Kitchen (www.heirloomcraftkitchen.com). Both are under the same ownership and offer up buzzy rooms for interesting fare like grown up grilled cheese (a braised short rib sandwich served with aged sharp cheddar, smoky tomato jam, and truffled arugula), or a bacon wrapped heirloom dog.
Il Corso (www.ilcorsocv.com) offers slick Italian fare right next to the Apple Store in El Paseo Village. Then there’s Wilma & Frieda (www.wilmafrieda.com), a popular brunch spot where items like churro waffles and a chile verde omelet with pork and brie compete for my attention.
If you are like me, sometimes you never want to leave your resort, and there are many compelling reasons to never leave the Sands Hotel. The mid-centurymeets-Morocco-inspired SPA (yes, all caps) offers a trio of treatment rooms and everything from body scrubs to a gentleman’s facial to couples massages.
Then there’s the hotel’s pièce de résistance, the stunning pool. The perfectly languid body of water offers steps on both sides and is lined with lounge chairs behind which sit zebra-striped cabanas and scattered day beds. Best of all? You’ll probably never get splashed on as the entire resort is adults only.
Each guestroom, meanwhile, is uniquely designed with playful color combinations and feature Acqua di Parma bath products, vintage crystal stemware, full minibars, Revival New York bed linens, and in-room entertainment systems that coordinate with your personal devices. Upgrade to a Superior King to get a balcony or patio or make the truly smart choice and snag a Deluxe King for a stand-alone deep-soaking tub.
The Sands Hotel is truly a looker and during my visit my eyes never want to stray too far from the pops of pink, the Rat Pack prints, the hypnotic tile patterns, or all the meticulous marble. But I also remember I’m in the Greater Palm Springs area, and there’s plenty of inspiring human eye candy lurking everywhere in this desert paradise.