Hollywood Nostalgia

The distinctive style of Palm Springs' Estrella hotel puts a modern spin on silver screen glamour.

By: Kenneth Shapiro

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. In a city where the streets are named for Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore, old-style glitz and glamour comes with the territory.

In Palm Springs, the Estrella the area’s largest and certainly most stylish boutique hotel stands out in true Hollywood fashion.

“The look tries to capture the golden age of Hollywood,” Steven Cenicola, Estrella’s general manager, said on a recent hosted visit. “I don’t think you’ll find anything like us anywhere else.”

Since its opening in the 1930s, stars such as Elvis and Marilyn Monroe have sampled Estrella’s hospitality. When the Kor Hotel Group purchased the property in 2001, it launched an extensive renovation to recapture the glamour of the hotel’s past, redoing it in what is described as “contemporary Hollywood Regency style.”

A jaded eye might expect style over substance, for comfort to be sacrificed on the altar of cool. It’s a pleasant surprise, however, to discover that the Estrella is not just a fashion plate the hotel provides exceptional service and comfortable rooms with modern amenities and many fine touches, including in-room DVD players, Frette linens and robes and bath products by Molton Brown of London.

Rooms feature bold black and white wallpaper and upholstery, with splashes of lemon yellow throughout. All over the grounds, guests find theatrical touches such as manicured shrubbery, statues of whippets and flowing formal drapes that seem to spill out of rooms and into the outdoor spaces.

With 74 rooms, studios, suites and private villas and three pools on three acres, the Estrella is indeed large for a boutique hotel. Nearly all the guestrooms come with some private terrace space, and all the villas have a private outdoor “living room,” perfect for lounging, reading or dining. The villas also have fireplaces and full kitchens and are ideal for small groups.

Estrella’s location a block from downtown Palm Springs is a huge plus.

“You drive here from L.A. and park your car on a Friday and forget about it until you leave on Sunday,” said Cenicola. “Everything you need cafes, shopping, entertainment is within walking distance. That’s hard to find elsewhere in the [Coachella] Valley.”

The Estrella’s clientele is mostly of hip couples from Los Angeles (110 miles away) who are looking for a relaxing getaway. While Cenicola described the hotel as family friendly, it definitely seemed better suited to couples who can leave the kids at grandma’s house.

Not surprisingly, Estrella has frequent celebrity guests. While Cenicola insisted on remaining mum about celebs who have stayed there, Kate Hudson did a recent photo shoot at the hotel for InStyle magazine.

Regardless of who they are, guests will find themselves well pampered at Estrella’s recently renovated spa. It has an experienced staff, and a menu featuring a wide selection of facials, body treatments and aromatherapy. There are a variety of massage rooms, as well as a lovely outdoor massage area under a draped canopy, next to the bougainvillea.

Clients can try a Sacred Stone Massage, which uses heated rocks from the San Jacinto Mountains. Other treatments use Dr. Hauschka and Yon-Ka Paris products, which are exclusive to Estrella in the valley. There is also a 24-hour fitness center equipped with cardio machines and free weights.

After a massage and a day by the pool, many guests opt to wander over to Citron, Estrella’s elegant California-French restaurant. Menu highlights here include the braised rabbit pastilla and the terrifically decadent Valrhona chocolate souffle.

The Kor Hotel Group also owns several other boutique hotels in Southern California, including the Viceroy in Santa Monica and the Avalon Hotel and Maison 140, both in Beverly Hills.

The group recently purchased the La Serena Hotel, next door to the Estrella, which it plans to renovate and add to the Estrella. The move will add 17 units, including a few three-bedroom villas; more than an acre of grounds and two pools. The acquisition also will enable the hotel to add a ballroom and more meeting space.

For now, however, Estrella is focusing on what it does best. “The bigger resorts tend to have a corporate and impersonal feel. Here, we actually care about who you are,” Cenicola said. “We can afford to spend more energy and creativity on the guests.”

And look good while doing it too.

Hotel Checklist


415 South Belardo Road

Palm Springs, Calif. 92262

800-237-3687, 760-320-4117

fax, 760-323-3303


Hits: In easy walking distance of Palm Springs’ main drag, but still manages to feel secluded. Despite the hotel’s hip factor, the staff is friendly, down-to-earth and welcoming.

Misses: In the intense summer heat, it may take the air conditioner a while to cool down the rooms. Villa parking is on the street, which some clients may find inconvenient.

Be Aware: If clients are arriving at night, be sure to warn them that the grounds can be dark. There are no desks in the rooms, which will make it hard for business travelers. There is no golf course on the property, but the hotel can arrange tee times at several area courses.

Plugging In: Rooms and villas have a second phone line for dial-up Internet access, but I had some difficulty getting it to work properly. There are an adequate number of conveniently located electrical outlets.

Clientele: Ninety percent of Estrella’s guests are leisure travelers but there are plans for new meeting space and amenities for small-business groups.

Commission: 8-10 percent

Rates: In season (January through June), rooms start at $159 weekdays and $199 weekends.