Thursday, March 4, 2021

Desert hotel offers boutique hideaway, mid-Century modern retreat

It's 5 p.m. and the sun is setting over the pool at The Palms at Indian Head. Diners are beginning
to gather at distanced tables on the welcoming patio for gourmet fare at Coyote Steakhouse. 

The inviting lobby, reception and bar area reflect the desert's
soothing colors and inviting shapes. You'll hear recordings
of Frank Sinatra or on weekends, excellent live piano music.


STEP BACK in time at the Palms at Indian Head and imagine Clark Gable, Lon Chaney, Will Rogers, Bing Crosby and Marilyn Monroe lounging by the pool. It's 1950. Crosby is relaxing after a round of golf. Monroe orders her favorite champagne -- "make it a double," she winks at the poolside waiter.
Gable yawns and dives into the Olympic size pool, to do laps in its 25-yard lanes. Marlon Brando wanders off by himself, engrossed in a detective novel. Raymond Burr studies a script over a beer.
EVERYONE is relaxed and laid back at the 20-acre resort, built in 1947.
Mature trees and landscaping welcome the eye and offer
habitat for rabbits and other desert critters.
Thanks to an enterprising couple with a love of nature and an impeccable artistic vision, you can relax here, too.  Seventy-plus years after the property was conceived, owners David Leibert and Cindy Wood are patiently restoring it to its glory days -- with their own spin and some architectural changes. (The original bungalows -- lost to fire --are mostly replaced by a charming boutique hotel over the lobby and lounge.)
The two were inspired by the beautiful trees on the property -- California's famous fan palms, Mexican palms and date producing palms near the pool. Thus the name, which also reflects the inn's location -- at the base of Indian Head Mountain,  a stately summit in the gorgeous San Ysidro Mountains.
A delightful opener -- ahi tartare with
 wasabi --  is artfully presented. (One
wonton tasted by the hungry writer.)

THE OWNERS have worked hard to make the place welcoming, with a wonderful restaurant, The Coyote Steakhouse, chirping birds and desert pleasures as the property's main draws.  A lovely gallery offers artfully presented desert landscapes, appealing pottery and imaginative paintings. On weekends, gifted pianist Joe Ross offers a range of beautifully played classics, '50s and '60s pop and occasional Scott Joplin ragtime. A genius at mixing and segue, he plays his inventive medleys with hypnotic force in a repertoire ranging from French impressionists to Frank Sinatra.  
Framed by a soon-to-bloom
ocotillo on a Palms bike ride.

at the Steakhouse is superbly chosen, with entrees including steaks, chops, seafood and chicken  -- all artfully prepared.  An early-bird special -- a true bargain at $21 -- includes a generous three courses. We began with the tasty ahi tartare and ended with cheesecake, delighted with our leisurely served meal.
The property rests on land once occupied by the Cahuilla Indians and the mountain profile of a reclining Indian frames the property and inspires a closer look during a stroll at dawn or dusk. 

Gifted pianist Joe Ross plays weekends at the
Palms, here with musician Cookie enjoying.

Borrego is less known than its nearby neighbor Palm Springs, but it is only three hours from Hollywood.  As Palm Springs was "discovered," Borrego became a quieter get-away for privacy-seeking stars, who could ride horseback, swim, drink, dine and play tennis between movie shoots, escape publicity and return to the studios in a few hours. 

THE BUILDING that now houses most of the rooms was constructed in 1958 in the famous California "Mid-Century Modern" style -- with Mondrian influences. The architect is unknown but David and Cindy narrowed the field to Joseph Eickler, Cliff May and Albert Frey, all known for their flair in the style of the day.

IN THE DAY it was called Hoberg's Desert Resort, and guests reveled in the star-studded night sky. We did the same last week, after hiking and biking the 20-acre retreat and exploring nearby Palm Canyon.

We parked our bikes outside the Palms' gallery, which offers
a nicely displayed and tasteful mix of paintings and sculpture.
What we loved most about our four peaceful days at the resort was the quiet, laid back calm the place offers. We truly soaked up the ambience, with the inn's amiable "Girl Friday" Marcy always on call for ice or directions.

Keller and Cookie enjoyed 
dinner at the inn's delightful
restaurant, Coyote Steakhouse.

I TOOK a swim in the once largest privately owned pool in San Diego county. The owners plan to solar heat the pool, but it's currently "natural" and it will wake you up, guaranteed, even after a glass of champagne! Marcy said that the place is packed in the summer, as guests enjoy the cooling waters when desert temperatures soar!

Don't miss a meal at the Red Ocotillo, the owners' other enterprise, just off Christmas Circle with a fabulous all-day menu, popular with locals and tourists alike.;

The glorious pinks of desert cactus await as spring arrives.

UP NEXT: While we're in the desert, we'll take in the blooms. If you don't associate desert landscape with blossoms, you're in for a treat. Depending on the winter moisture, there are plenty of blooms on cactus and flowers to greet the plant lover. So we're off on our bikes to continue our exploration of Borrego Springs, a quieter, more laid back alternative to Palm Springs, and a welcoming place to recharge. Remember to explore, learn and live, and join us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, the arts, family and more: Please share the links and tell like minded friends.


  1. Fun story, lovely photos. We know this delightful place!

  2. We go way back with this fun place. Thanks for sharing its beauty!

  3. A wonderful restful get-away. We love it!