Destination of the Week: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley
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For today's Destination of the Week, TPG contributor Kathy McDonald takes us on a tour of a true desert oasis: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, California. Her recent travels have taken her to Seattle, London, France (and a bucket list visit to Reims, the capital of Champagne), Florida and most recently, California’s Central Coast.
WHAT TO DO
Year-round, Palm Springs and the surrounding desert cities of the Coachella Valley attract visitors who come for the laid-back resort vibe, generally slower pace and 95% probability of sunshine with zero precipitation. Yes, there are dance clubs, Indian gaming casinos and late-night spots but the main attractions are the fine, sunshine-filled days and endless outdoor activities from golf (there are more than 40 golf courses) to tennis, biking, hiking and just chilling out by a heated pool.
Though the summers are blazing hot (average temperatures are above 100 degrees), it’s an ideal time for discount rates at hotels and golf deals. During the high season (roughly November through April) the weather is mostly warm in the day with clear skies and brisk nights, ideal for seeing stars while kicking back next to an outdoor fire pit - a desert resort must-have fixture.
For design and architecture aficionados, the area’s many well-kept, mid-century buildings are a thrill. A new branch of the Palm Springs Art museum will open in 2014 devoted to the art and architecture of the era. Book tickets online to visit the Sunnylands Center & Gardens, one the area’s finest mid-century estates (built by publishing magnate Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore), now a house museum and a center for international relations in Rancho Mirage. One way to get orientated: the Palm Springs Visitors Center has tour maps and guides to the area’s many architectural high points.
Take a ride up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – from station to 8,516’ elevation in just 10 minutes. From the top, view the entire sun-kissed valley. Seasonal festivals are another huge draw and boost occupancy through the roof at local hotels (book in advance during these times). Among the popular events: January’s International Film Festival, February’s Modernism Week, March’s BNP Paribas Tennis Tournament in Indian Wells and the two weekend-long Coachella music festival in April.
Despite the arid environment, the Coachella Valley is famed for its water, fed from a massive underground aquifer. Desert Hot Springs, on the Valley’s north side, is dotted with more than 20 boutique hotels and spas and an abundance of hot mineral water. Soaking in the naturally warm mineral waters of the Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa’s grotto will take any edge off. And that’s the appeal of Palm Springs and environs: a place where visitors can easily dive into rest and relaxation.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
The Palm Springs International Airport is easily navigable; at its center is a bright, mid-century-style pavilion, plus free Wi-Fi and a concourse named in honor of former mayor Sonny Bono. A new control tower is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2013. Major airlines serving the airport include: Alaska, American, Delta, United, U.S. Airways and Virgin America. The international cities with non-stop service are all Canadian: Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg – not surprising as Palms Springs has long lured snow birds.
WHERE TO STAY
Hilton Palm Springs Hotel: Only one mile from the airport, downtown’s Hilton Palm Springs Hotel has San Jacinto Mountain view and rooms have either balconies or patios. Diversions include a sprawling pool area and an Elements Spa. Unlike many hotels in California, there is a smoking room option; pets are welcome – not unusual in one of California’s most dog friendly cities. A free shuttle is available to-and-from the airport. Rates in March start at $225. A category 7 HHonors property, 50,000 points* are required for one free night.
La Quinta Resort & Club: At the eastern end of the Valley, tucked into the scenic Santa Rosa Mountains, La Quinta Resort & Club (A Waldorf Astoria Resort) is one of the most storied resorts in California. A Hollywood hideaway since the 1920s, numerous famed guests from Frank Capra to Clint Eastwood have enjoyed the 45-acre resort’s many attributes. Close to PGA West, there’s also 23 perfectly maintained tennis courts, 53 hot spas, 41 pools (most are saline) and ultra-private casitas, which come with their own in-ground hot tubs. The spa is top notch and has a quiet courtyard at its center. A $27 resort fee (plus tax) is tacked on to any stay. Rates in March start at $179. 50,000 HHonors points* are needed for a free one night, standard room stay.
Also in the Valley, there are two Embassy Suites (one in La Quinta, the other in Palm Desert), two Homewood Suites, a Hilton Garden Inn, and a Hampton Inn.
*Points figures are quoted in Hilton pre-change category requirements.
Hyatt Regency Suites Palm Springs: The 197-room Hyatt Regency Suites Palm Springs is set right on Palm Canyon Drive, the city’s main thoroughfare. West facing rooms (ask for one with a balcony) look out over a 9-hole golf course set against the rocky San Jacinto Mountains; east-facing rooms look over the Valley (ask for an upper floor to avoid street noise). Set around a six-story interior atrium, the hotel is busy with corporate events weekdays. A redo of the rooms (42-inch flatscreen TVs and fast Wi-Fi) and outdoor pool deck means the hotel has an updated feel, though the food rarely earns high marks – better to walk to one of downtown’s many restaurants. One bonus: a free shuttle to-and-from the Palm Springs airport. Rates in March start at $160.65 plus an additional $15 resort fee. 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points are required for a one-night stay.
Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa: 17 miles east of downtown Palm Springs (and a minimum 30-minute drive), the 530-room Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa is a full-service resort complete with two 18-hole golf courses, spa and kids’ pool, all on 45 acres. Rates in March start at $279 plus a $23 daily resort fee. 18,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points are needed for a free one-night stay.
Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel: Close to downtown, the Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel was renovated in 2011 and has a welcoming outdoor pool deck. There’s also a complimentary shuttle to-and-from the airport. In March, rates start at $209. A Marriott Rewards Category 5 hotel, 25,000 points are needed for a free one night stay.
JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa: In Palm Desert, the 833-room, 52-suite JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa has just about everything: an 18-hole golf course, a fleet of electric boats that ply the resort’s lagoon, tennis courts (including Wimbledon-like grass courts), an expansive spa with its own pool area and an in-house Starbucks. The newly redone lobby, which has views of the lagoon, pool and golf course beyond, is always busy. There’s a popular sushi bar and lounge in the lobby; the recently opened Rockwood Grill is the hotel’s main restaurant and now has an inviting outdoor terrace. Also on site, the Mikado Japanese Steakhouse & Bar is quite good and a favorite with locals. Dinner reservations are necessary for weekend nights. Rates in March start at $284; there is $27 daily resort fee. The hotel is a Marriott Rewards Category 6 property so 30,000 points must be redeemed for a free one-night stay.
Five miles east just off highway 111, the Renaissance Esmeralda Indian Wells Resort & Spa has two 18-hole golf courses in its ample portfolio of resort activities and fire-pits (of course). A Marriott Rewards Category 6 property, 30,000 points are needed for a free one night stay.
For families and long-term stay, the Marriott Shadow Ridge I – The Villages is a good choice as generous-sized villas have full kitchens. There’s a resort-style pool with water slide and golf course as well. A Marriott Rewards Category 6 property, 30,000 points are needed for a free one night stay.
Palm Desert’s Marriott Desert Springs Villas II have one and two-bedroom villas, also with full kitchens. There are seven pools on the property; guests have use of the resort amenities of the nearby JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa for a fee. A Marriott Rewards Category 6 property, 30,000 points are needed for a free one night stay.
Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa: In posh Rancho Mirage, the Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa is another standout desert resort with all the extras. Make sure to book tee times early for rounds on one of the resort’s two championship 18-hole courses, one by Pete Dye, the other by Gary Player. As with all Westin hotels, the super-comfy Heavenly Bed is a big plus (Heavenly cribs are also available for tykes; and there’s a Westin Kids Club on site). A 14,000-square-foot spa with Jacuzzi, steam and an almost unlimited menu of body treatments and massages offers relaxation. (Here are details from The Points Guy on Starwood’s Power Up promotion; multi-night stays at the Westin earn extra points through March 2013). Rates in March start at $269 plus the $27 per room per night resort fee. SPG members need 10,000 Starpoints for a free night stay, as the hotel is a SPG Category 4 property.
The Westin Mission Hill Resort Villas in Rancho Mirage is undergoing an exterior renovation through April 2013. During this time, the resort will remain fully operational. SPG members should review special conditions that apply to this Category 5 property where 12,000 Starpoints gets you a free night. An all-villa resort in Palm Desert, the Westin Desert Willow Villas is surrounded by links. Special SPG conditions apply here as well for free night awards at the Category 5 Starpoints property.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a loyalty program for Amex Platinum cardholders who receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late check-out, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks.
Miramonte Resort & Spa: The 215-room Miramonte recalls a Mediterranean-style village: there are numerous fountains, olive trees planted throughout and quiet courtyards. The Miramonte is close to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden that hosts the annual BNP Paribas Open. Nestled amongst the olive and citrus trees is an expansive spa; the resort overlooks three separate golf courses and there’s an on-site golf academy. Rooms are plush with luxe bedding, an earth tone color scheme and have bathrooms finished in marble. Several packages are available via Amex and perks can include a room upgrade, $40 breakfast credit, $100 resort credit, 4 p.m. checkout – all dependent on the package booked directly through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. Rates in March start at $399; some dates require a two-night stay.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, US Bank FlexPerks, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Participating properties in the Coachella Valley include the Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn, the Colony Palms Hotel, the Miramonte Resort & Spa, the Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa, the Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa, the Parker Palm Springs and the Riviera Palm Springs.
Parker Palm Springs: Here’s where it’s fun in the sun. The cheeky and artfully designed 144-room Parker Palm Springs (interiors are by Jonathan Adler) mixes high style and a scene-y vibe with some great mid-century buildings and lush landscaping. Numerous fashion spreads have used the hotel and grounds for backdrop; there’s also lots of eye candy by the hotel’s four pools. Standard rooms have patios or balconies and have a residential look. Gene Autry once owned the 13-acre property, his two-bedroom, former house is available for stays and is decorated in glam 1960s style. The spa, called the PSYC or Palm Springs Yacht Club, has an indoor pool. Book dinner reservations in advance at Mister Parker’s the hotel’s clubby steakhouse. Rates in March begin at $309 with a $30 per night resort fee. Although formerly called Le Parker Meridien Palm Springs, as of posting, SPG points can still be used at this property. 16,000 SPG points are required for a free night.
Riviera Palm Springs: On 24-acres, the sprawling 406-room Riviera Palm Springs received a major $70 million facelift a few years back. The curvy driveway, glass walled entrance and Pop Art decorated lobby feel more Las Vegas than Palm Springs. At the center of the property is a huge resort pool, surrounded by colorful lounge chairs, daybeds and private cabanas; at night, guests get cozy by the popular fire pits. Rooms have been updated too with zebra-print wallpaper, flatscreen TVs and marble bathrooms. The hotel’s former nightclub is now the Spa Terre. Happy hour at the hotel’s Sidebar is a local favorite – lounges and fire pits add to the relaxed atmosphere. The hotel is also pet friendly. Rates in March begin at $189 with a $28 per night resort fee.