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I’m driving into Desert Hot Springs after dark, and even Blanche — my GPS — is confused.
It’s a clear night and there’s a gorgeous blanket of twinkling stars that one doesn’t normally associate with Southern California, so I’ve opted to put the top down on my convertible.
Still, all the darkness is unnerving for a die-hard city girl like me, and the lack of anything even slightly resembling civilization does not bode well for my weekend retreat in what is touted as “California’s Spa City.”
“Exit right, here,” Blanche tells me.
But even though I’ve slowed down to 40 miles per hour, I do not see the nearly hidden exit until I’m already past it. Even then I’m not quite sure if that really was my freeway exit or just a service road.
Finally Blanche and I find the next exit, and I make my way through Desert Hot Springs’ main strip.
I’ve somewhat erroneously expected a Palm Springs getaway, whatever that might mean, but the discernable landmarks I pass are largely comprised of one roadside bar, a couple of restaurants and a Kmart, so I’m starting to mentally recalculate what I should be expecting of this weekend.
Although Blanche insists that my “destination is on your left,” I appear to be in a residential neighborhood and I see nothing at all resembling a resort.
Eventually, I realize that the walled enclosure, not much bigger than a large country estate, is indeed my home for the night.
After being shown to my room, I take advantage of Desert Hot Springs’ main attraction, its famed mineral waters, and I’m soon enjoying a relaxing soak in the resort’s sparkling mineral pool.
All fears are laid to rest some 10 minutes after I check in, as I take my first dip into one of the area’s famous hot springs.
Desert Hot Springs is built over one of the world’s finest natural hot mineral water aquifers, and the thermal spring is known to many as the "The Miracle Waters.” The water is here is pristine, has no sulfuric odor or taste and has even won awards for its drinkability.
The much lauded healing effects seem to be working on me, as by the time I call it a night I’m relaxed and my skin is satiny smooth.
By day, the experience is even more transformative, and I’m transfixed by the shimmering desert that spreads out in a seemingly never-ending landscape with a snow-capped San Gorgonio Mountain standing sentinel beyond.
In reality, Desert Hot Springs is like no other destination in Southern California. Located two hours from Los Angeles and only 15 minutes from Palm Springs, the destination isn’t about dining or nightlife, or even sightseeing, although its proximity to Joshua Tree National Park makes the park well worth exploring.
What makes this an unforgettable destination are the vast open spaces, so infinite that it’s hard to imagine that one of the world’s largest populations lives just on the other side of the mountain.
Moreover, the area is home to some two dozen intimate resort spas, each sporting a unique aesthetic ranging from mid-century Modern to Moroccan, restored Hacienda to sleek resort, clothing optional establishment to dog spa.
And the common denominator is the resorts’ famed mineral pools and accompanying spa services, all of which provide a detoxifying and yet intoxicating experience.
Desert Hot Springs Spa Tour
Clients interested in getting a wholesale glimpse of the diverse personalities that make up the spas of Desert Hot Spring might consider participating in the city’s annual Spa Tour, an open house of participating area resorts.
In 2013, the program takes place Feb. 7 with visits to up to 12 area resorts. VIP tickets, which start at $150, include a welcome reception at Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa, a gift bag with a luxury bathrobe, an assigned bus with tour guide and a private after party at Aqua Soleil Hotel & Mineral Water Spa. Self-guided tickets ($30), which include a map of participating hotels, are also still available.
While most spas provide day experiences, they are best experienced with an overnight stay. Some excellent choices include:
Miracle Springs Hotel
The AAA, three-diamond-rated, 110-room Miracle Hot Springs, which was completely refurbished in 2008, is one of Desert Hot Springs’ larger hotels.
The property boasts a whopping eight pools, all sourced from local mineral waters, ranging in temperature from 90-105 degrees. Here, the water comes out of the ground at 140 degrees and must be cooled before it is streamed into the pools.
This is one of the few properties in the area to have an on-site restaurant, making it an excellent option for clients who don’t want to hassle with cooking for themselves.
A full-service spa is located on property and a 50-minute massage starts at $65. Numerous treatment packages are available, such as the thee-hour Sassy Sapphire, priced at $180, which includes a 50-minute Swedish massage, a Sothys specialty facial and an aromatherapy mineral scrub.
Some rooms enjoy a pool view, while others take in the dramatic mountainous setting surrounding Desert Hot Springs. Rates start at $99 per night in the low (summer) season.
Through May 31, the property is featuring a special two-night package, including one $30 spa service for just $199 plus tax.
Miracle Springs Hotelwww.miraclesprings.com
The Spring Hotel
For a considerably more luxurious experience, the 12-room Spring Hotel is one of Desert Hot Springs’ most lauded properties. The beautifully landscaped facility, which offers stunning, unobstructed views of Mt. San Gorgonio, has earned a place on numerous Top 10 lists, including Spa Finder’s “Top 10 Worldwide Best for Mineral Springs.”
At the resort, the aquifer’s waters emerge at 170 degrees and are cooled down before feeding into the resort’s three pools, including one indoor facility.
The property features nine beautiful Poolside King Rooms (some include a Cafe Kitchen), as well as a Courtyard Suite and a Mountain View Suite, all of which are just steps from the pools. For a VIP weekend, clients should consider the Desert View Villa, a 1,100-square-foot villa with unrivaled views of Mt. San Gorgonio.
With the exception of a continental breakfast, food service is not provided. With advance notice, the resort can arrange to have groceries delivered, so guests will arrive to a fully stocked refrigerator.
An on-site spa includes a Finnish sauna, and an extensive treatment menu. A 60-minute Swedish massage starts at $95, but there are plenty of extended packages worth exploring. The two and a half hour Desert Cleanse package, which includes a deep tissue massage, a sauna session and an immune-boosting buff, starts at $275.
Through June, the resort is offering special two-night packages, including four spa treatments, starting at $795 ($1,075 for the Desert View Villa.)
The Spring Hotelwww.the-spring.com
More Desert Hot Springs PropertiesRead more about Hacienda Hot Springs, another excellent property located in Desert Hot Springs