Flanked by towering rows of electricity-generating windmills in the desert bowl of the Coachella Valley lies the small town of Desert Hot Springs. Unlike its flashy neighbor Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs (DHS) is unspectacular and quiet. Although you won’t find hip eateries and high-end shopping there, the town does have a hidden gem—it sits atop mineral hot springs that have been drawing folks to the area for nearly a century to “take the waters.”
In June, I visited DHS for the first time after accepting an invitation for a two-night stay at Hacienda Hot Springs Inn. Owned by William Dailey, a rare and antique book dealer, Hacienda is one of many revitalized “spa-lets”—small motels built in the 1950s during DHS’s heyday. Dailey bought the property in 2003 and then spent the next several years remodeling the old motel into a charming, aesthetically pleasing retreat that gives a nod to old California style.
When I arrived, I was greeted by Dailey, who showed me to my room, which was quaint and comfy, with a king-sized Tempur-Pedic bed (which was the most fabulous bed I’ve ever slept in), a small kitchen, a bathroom, and French doors that opened to a private back patio. I quickly changed into my bathing suit and headed for the hot tub. The mineral water, which bubbles up from an underground aquifer, was soft and clean, and soon eased my stiff, sore muscles.
Hacienda Hot Springs is surrounded by a high adobe wall that makes impossible any glimpse of the inner oasis. Once inside the compound, there isn’t much reason to leave. Dailey has created a sanctuary that includes gorgeous landscaping—jacaranda trees, lavender, succulents, and other drought-tolerant plants—a barbecue and outdoor eating area (where delicious homemade granola and fresh fruit are provided each morning), a fire pit, grassy space for playing horseshoes and croquet, a library of vintage books, and old records to play on the retro phonograph in the common sitting room.
If the mineral waters, tranquil garden, and striking views of the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio mountains aren’t enough to put you into a relaxed stupor, Hacienda Hot Springs also has a massage menu with myriad choices—Swedish, Thai, hot stone, shiatsu, etc. I had a deep-tissue treatment that was seriously amazing; my limbs and muscles were loose and pliable by the massage’s end. Afterward, I lay for a spell in the Finnish rock sauna with soothing herbal tea bags on my eyes and a cool towel under my neck. Heaven.
Then there is the swimming pool (kept at a balmy 90 degrees) and aforementioned hot tub (which hovers around 105 degrees). The odorless water contains sulfate, bicarbonate, silica, calcium, and magnesium, among other minerals, that combine into a restorative cocktail for your skin and body.
Desert Hot Springs is only 204 miles from Santa Barbara, but it took me nearly five hours to get there thanks to L.A.’s beastly freeways clogged by too many cars. Needless to say, by the time I arrived at Hacienda Hot Springs, relaxation and rejuvenation were exactly what I needed—and exactly what I received.