Weekend Getaways


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We’re already west—so we went north, south and east to explore locales suitable for getting away from it all. No, really, isn’t it about time you put down the newspaper, set aside the workload and kicked back a spell? You bet it is.

Our intrepid explorers lived it up in Laguna Beach, perused Palm Springs and played a round—literally—in Punta Mita, Mexico. Read these tales of respite—then plan your own.

Inside the Estrella villaPalm Springs

The desert combines the wonders of nature with the man-made spectacles of urbanity.
By Ron Donoho

That a cheetah can run at speeds up to 70 miles per hour is fairly common knowledge.Lesser-known fact: After a 30-second burst of such speed—used to trap and kill prey—a cheetah often needs up to a half-hour to regain its cardio composure. Even lesser-known fact: You can discover a plethora of such information at the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens in Palm Desert.

Yes, there is a zoo filled with animals in steamy Palm Springs. The denizens are, of course, animals (and plants) native to worldwide desert ecosystems. There are zebras, meerkats and warthogs. Sorry, polarbears and penguins wouldn’t quite feel athome in triple-digit summer-afternoon temps.

Thermometer notwithstanding, what’s going on outside your air-conditioned hotel room is a sometimes-overlooked aspect of the city. There is, for example, a fascinating tour offered in Indian Canyons. A short distance from downtown Palm Springs, the canyons (Palm, Murray, Andreas and Tahquitz) are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians.

A guided tour of a streambed oasis in Andreas Canyon reveals a wealth of facts you can take home to impress family and friends. True or false: What we commonly call a palm tree is actually a tree. False; it’s a member of the grass family—albeit a super-size offshoot of the clan.

One other canyon-gleaned tidbit: Despite what John Wayne showed us in one of his empty-canteen, desert-set movies, it’s not wise to drink the water contained inside most cacti. There is indeed liquid inside. But it’s salty, and induces not-so-desert-friendly headaches and diarrhea.

As at the zoo, canyon tours run only until early afternoon. That’s the best time to retreat to your climate-controlled, man-made oasis.

One of the latest hotels on the Palm Springs scene is Estrella. Actually, the property, once popular during Hollywood’s golden age, has been around since the 1930s. Three adjacent land tracts were recently merged and combined into one 77-room collection.

I stayed at Estrella in early April. A renovation and redesign was not yet complete. By late fall it’s expected the finishing touches will be made on a new restaurant and bar, lobby and spa.

My room was one of the property’s one-bedroom villas. It was literally a dozen paces from one of three pools, and about another 20 feet from a poolside cabaña. A white porcelain pooch stands guard at each villa door. I liked the way soft music was piped through speakers around the pool area.

Villa interiors are striking. Everything is black and white—wallpaper, couches—with just a splash of lemon yellow in the form of high-backed cushioned chairs. The intended look is contemporary Hollywood Regency style. Imagine Truman Capote, martini in hand, lounging in a white robe and noshing on chocolate-covered strawberries.

Set at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, Estrella is a short walk from the action that is downtown Palm Springs—and home to a spectrum of activities. On the fine-dining end, Le Vallauris offers Mediterranean French/California fare in a restored historical landmark decorated with tapestries and Louis XV furniture. On the spring-break end of the scale, I was treated to an “expose your breasts and garner a T-shirt” contest at an English pub called Hair of the Dog. Somewhere in the middle of all that fun was my favorite nightspot: The Falls, a main-strip steakhouse with a cigar-friendly martini bar.

I’d be remiss in not making a pitch for one of the best Swedish masseuses working in the area. Sherri Lynn of Relaxful Massage Moments will come to your hotel room and knead you into a human version of Kobe beef. She’s the perfect end—or beginning—to a nature-filled, nightlife-brimming respite in the desert.

IF YOU GO: It’s roughly a two-hour drive to Palm Springs. Rooms at Estrella start at $195. A one-room villa is $385 a night; a two-bedroom villa is $485. For hotel reservations, call 800-237-3687. For information on Palm Springs attractions, call the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, 760-778-8415. Masseuse Sherri Lynn’s phone number is 760-778-1115.

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