By Greg Aragon
Palm Springs is not only an exciting desert resort community; but the city also offers a fascinating glimpse into the hip, Hollywood glam days of the 1960s when celebrities came to escape the limelight and relax by the pool in sleek, mid-century modern structures.
A friend and I began a recent getaway to the desert oasis at the 398-room Riviera Palm Springs, located in the heart of Old Town. Here, at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, we walked through a glitzy lobby sparkling with chandeliers and mirrored walls, and checked into a beautiful suite reminiscent an old Hollywood movie.
The room, like all Rivera rooms, was cool “retro chic,” replete with a king bed with giant, white leather headboard; luxurious marble bathroom with two sinks, walk-in shower and old-fashioned tub in the middle of the floor; large flat screen TV; office desk with wireless Internet; and a secluded patio overlooking a sprawling green lawn.
Once acquainted with the accommodations, I went swimming in the 80-degree heated pool and then explored the property. Nestled on 24 acres in the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountains, the resort originally opened in 1959 and quickly became a Hollywood retreat where celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Desi Arnaz, and countless other stars came to getaway and play in the desert sun.
And like many old stars, the resort has had some work done to keep things shiny. A few years ago, the property underwent a stunning $70 million facelift which included a new modern spa, two sparkling swimming pools, signature fine dining and entertainment, and the addition of meeting space.
Lush landscaped gardens, intimate courtyards, fire pits, and an array of meeting and event space was also added. But even though the resort features a myriad of fine modern amenities, it manages to keep that distinct late 1950s charm and allure that brought Hollywood’s biggest names out. In fact, everywhere you look the hotel is peppered with old photographs, saucy lounge areas, glitzy walls and hip decor.
After touring the grounds I visited the hotel’s renowned Azure Spa which boasts 11,000 square-feet of luxurious and relaxing space, including 18 treatment rooms, and a rare and expansive Watsu pool. At the spa I experienced a 50-minute chi massage. Based on Asian traditions, this therapy is a combination of acupressure, rolling motions and rhythmic strokes used to relieve muscle tension and promote total relaxation.
Other popular treatments at Azure Spa include the royal massage, a relaxing, hydrating back massage using honey ginger oils; the hot stone massage with heated river stones used to penetrate warmth into the deeper layers of the muscles; and the desert sage combo treatment, a mood-enhancing rub featuring a gentle exfoliating body polish followed by an aromatic massage.
After the massage I relaxed in the steam room and then my friend and I drove to the Palm Springs Air museum (palmspringsairmuseum.org), where I encountered one of the nation’s largest collections of real World War II flying aircraft, along with a massive library of 8,500 volumes related to aviation and American military history. The museum displays 59 flyable and static planes inside four climate-controlled hangars totaling 86,000 square-feet inside with more aircraft shown on the tarmac outside. Many of the museum docents actually flew these planes and served on the ships. The four hangars are organized by theme with related exhibits lining the walls.
Highlights of my visit included a Grumman F4F Wildcat, which was used aboard carriers for both the U.S. Navy and the British Royal Navy during the start of WWII; and a F-14A Tomcat, a supersonic, twin-engine fighter that became a standard aboard U.S. Navy carriers until it was retired in 2006.
Back at the Riviera, we had a fabulous dinner at Cantala, the hotel’s signature restaurant. Decorated with hues of forest green, rattan, cork and earth browns the restaurant has mood and charm to go with a seasonal and sustainable menu featuring local ingredients. Our meal at Cantala began with a memorable shrimp cocktail with avocado, cilantro, lime, shot of rosé código tequila. For the main course I enjoyed braised short ribs with buttery mashed potato, grilled asparagus and horseradish cream. My friend had delicious pappardelle pasta with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, garlic, white wine, arugula and lemon ricotta cheese,
For more information on staying at Riviera Palm Springs, visit: psriviera.com or call (760) 327-8311.