During the spring break from my wine class at Fairleigh Dickinson University, I decided to spend a week in Southern California. Using some of my Delta miles I flew into Los Angeles. A former Columbia College colleague and a good friend picked me up at the airport and allowed me to stay at his home in Laguna Hills. I rented a car and drove the two-plus hours to stay at the winter home of Sally Jessy Raphael in Palm Desert.
A brief tour of the Laguna area reminded me that I had fallen in love with it when I last visited several years ago. It is almost halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego and located in Orange County with an eight-mile vista along the Pacific Ocean. There are over 70 art galleries and 400 artists and studios within the city limits. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is free to visit and I was lucky to view dolphins twice during my stay. There is a bird sanctuary and marine wildlife refuge and the Laguna Playhouse and Laguna Art Museum are other worthwhile attractions. This is, however, a story about the Palm Desert area.
Much of the following information came from conversations with Sally Jessy Raphael who resides in Palm Desert during the winter along with her husband Karl Soderlund. It is meant to reflect her love for the area. I have added a few basic facts to her information.
Greater Palm Springs consists of 9 cities: Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Coachella, Indio, Palm Desert, Indian Wells and La Quinta. Some of the celebrities who live in the area include Leonardo DiCaprio, Barbra Streisand, Robert Downey Jr, James Brolin and Bill Gates. Many of the streets are named after past Hollywood elite: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Monty Hall, Fred Waring, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, and former president Gerald Ford.
I stayed in the Marrakesh Country Club that was built between 1968-1978 by developer John W. Dawson, a 5-time national golf champion. In 1967 he leased 155 acres of land but it wasn’t until 2015 that the company purchased the land that now houses 364 pink and white villas and 14 pink and white pool houses. The architects were John Elgin Woolf and Richard A. Harrison who was inspired by Morocco’s Marrakesh. The homes, in the Hollywood Regency Style, are a blend of English and French Regency (mid-Century modern) with movie-set glamour added. The Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains surround the area, with lots of hikers and rock climbers visiting year round.
Sally spoke about attractions that are worth visiting. They include the Living Desert and Gardens (been there) that are only ½ mile from Marrakesh. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (done that) is a few miles outside of town and travels more than 8,500 feet up Mount San Jacinto State Park. It is the largest rotating tram in the world. I have also spent some time at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Desert Hills Premium Outlets and Cabazon Outlet Mall are 35 miles west of Palm Desert next to the Morongo Casino. I drove Sally & Karl there for a few hours of shopping.
Not being shy with her opinions Sally told me there are too many restaurants for the population. They did take me to Eureka for dinner. It calls itself a full-service hamburger joint. Founded in 2009 by Paul Frederick and Justin Nedelman there are now 22 locations in California, Washington, Idaho, and Texas. So why write about a hamburger place? It calls itself “EATertainment” Eat, Drink American. Locally sourced fresh ingredients, craft beer, artisanal spirits and wines ALL are from America. Nothing imported. Everything is made on-site. There is even a beer cicerone at every location (think beer sommelier).
Lots of visitors from the Canadian Pacific and Chicago areas come down to the area for the winter, with 10 airlines serving Greater Palm Springs. There are non-stop flights on both Jet Blue and Alaska Airline from NYC as well as from Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and 15 more cities. The local area also has excellent bus service between the cities. Sally estimated that 40% of the residents are permanent with many traveling for the weekend from the Los Angeles area.
The one area that amazed me was the prices of homes in the Marrakesh Country Club complex (golf membership extra). A four-bedroom home can be had for under $200,000 and outside maintenance is included (grass, plants, trees etc.). There are 14 outdoor pools and spas in the complex. I never saw one person using the pools the three days I was there.
Route 111 is a major street with lots of business including Rolls, Bentley, Maserati, Porsche and Lamborghini dealerships. El Paseo Shopping Avenue has over 250 shops and reminded me of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Of course, they have a fashion week there. Palm Desert also has a wine & food festival.
A few attractions I did not have time to visit include the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert that seats 1,127 for theater and concert events. Sunnylands that includes the historic estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg and the Sunnylands Center and Gardens in Rancho Mirage has free access to the cactus gardens, bird walks and concerts on their 200 acres estate. The house tour costs $48 and the 90-minute tour is limited to 7 participants. It sells out every day it is available (but it's closed during the summer). For sporting fans, there are polo matches as well the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells that many consider the fifth major tennis tournament in the world. The ANA Inspiration LPGA golf tournament in Rancho Mirage takes place on the Dinah Shore Golf Course.
If you want to see everything that the area offers www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com