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Inviting Indian Wells, Southern California’s Desert Oasis

Southern California’s greater Palm Springs region is a haven for cold weather refugees, vacation home purchasers, and for those of you with real estate commitment phobias, great resorts. A trifecta of majestic mountains – Little San Bernardino, Santa Rosa, and San Jacinto – provide the area’s renowned dry, warm climate. Towering plentiful palm trees add to the desert’s distinct visual backdrop. There are restaurants for every taste and a storied history to boot. With more than 300-days a year of sunshine, over 100 golf courses, tennis galore and plenty of shopping, boredom will not be an option. For those in need of serious retail therapy, the desert may in fact become your new best friend.

The bed

The Renaissance in Indian Wells originally opened with great fanfare in 1989. Legendary Bob Hope provided the entertainment and donated those proceeds to a local hospital for a new emergency annex. Reborn as the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa, Indian Wells, its public areas, rooms, and suites have been tastefully renovated as part of a $25M remodel while maintaining its sense of place. Period photographs and colorful canvasses reflect both the region’s history, those who shaped the genesis of its historical social fabric, and the desert’s contributions to modernism.

The Esmeralda’s spacious 550-rooms and suites range from 420 to 2,879 square feet. My suite’s sizable foyer and living room could be completely closed off from the bedroom. Insomniacs – and their partners – will appreciate the living room’s additional 55-inch flat screen television and dining table doubling as a workspace for deals that won’t wait. Large bathrooms have dual sinks, Aveda amenities and walk-in showers while a separate coffee bar area makes mornings acceptable. A lovely touch: Esmeralda sends a short questionnaire to reserved guests requesting their “faves and craves.” Shortly after check-in, cold Prosecco, macadamia nuts and chocolates appeared. My personal vices are now public.

The meals

In Esmeralda’s lower lobby live music ensembles rotate on weekends. “Fun with Dick & Jane” went down memory lane last weekend talentedly crooning 70’s and 80’s hits at perfect volume to also enjoy conversation. It was a pleasant spot to relax, unwind and dine.

Two Esmeralda restaurants vied for attention. GLO Sushi had delectable rolls such as the Dragon Breath Roll with freshwater eel and shrimp tempura that had me cheerfully returning to my Tokyo days. Being truly terrible with culinary choices, I also dined at The Place with a good selection of shareable plates and handheld items. However, unless you really, truly love your dining partner or spouse, you probably won’t want to share the shrimp or chicken tacos. Frankly, true taco love is generally more intense than that, especially years into a lengthy marriage.


If seeking classic food and some historical flash, Wally's Desert Turtle is the place. Locals-in-the-know, celebrities, A-listers, political bigwigs and visitors to the area who’ve listened to good advice, have all been coming here for nearly 40 years. And for good reason. Now run by the founder Wally Botello’s offspring, they’ve followed his lead. The freshest ingredients make their classic dishes timeless. Most at our table ordered the Dover sole amandine and it was plated perfection. One happy holdout instead revisited childhood memories, enjoying classic calves’ liver under an applewood bacon wide-brimmed chapeau. Blissfully satiated, still we each ordered one of Wally’s divine signature soufflés.

Those who know me even marginally, are aware of my coffee addiction. Hard to please on this front and often disappointed, both Esmeralda’s Café Biscotti and Cava serve HC Valentine artisan organic coffees, providing those who appreciate fine brews some of the world’s best coffees. A post workout cappuccino was perfectly paired with Cava’s lemon ricotta raspberry pancakes.

In Palm Spring’s Uptown Design District the Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge has two large exterior patios and multiple internal rooms. Each designed differently with bright art and features, it completely camouflages its capacity to serve nearly 300 people. Try the Mediterranean Shakshuka or time-honored eggs Benedict.

The finds

If channeling your inner Arthur Ashe is on your list, head to Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Owned since 2009 by Oracle co-founder and tennis aficionado Larry Ellison, it’s also home to the PNB Paribas Open. This enormous complex has 29 world class courts, and IWTG Stadium 1 holds over 16,000 spectators making it the second largest tennis-specific stadium in the world after Arthur Ashe stadium in Queens, NY, while IWTG Stadium 2 has 8,000 seats. Though surrounded by all this excellence was at first slightly intimidating, I had one of the best tennis coaching experiences I can recall with the talented and amiable Pro Jai Nettimi.

For those who pine for the Pacific, the eastern edge of the Esmeralda’s pool has a sandy beach-style entry. Professional relaxers should rent a cabana for the day. Enveloping outdoor furniture, ceiling fans and designated waitstaff make relaxing easy. Those designated servers also deliver H20 Pool Bar & Lounge items throughout the day. Additionally, most cabanas have 36-inch flat screen televisions so keeping up with the stock market or news won’t disturb cabana mates snoozing several feet away on dedicated sun loungers. Win win.

If in need of serious retail therapy head to El Paseo. While all the big brands are there: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany, etc., there are also several wallet-lightening art galleries and eclectic boutiques. Elena Bulatova Fine Art has some whimsical pieces on offer and her Israeli-born husband Efi Mashiah has several classically modern images on large canvasses utilizing multi-colored Phillips’ screws as the medium.

If seeking something even more exotic, Desert Wolff Gallery has an interesting collection of Ghanian Ashanti Bronze jars and mammoth Malian gold painted Fulani earrings. Buying adornments in one of the many jewelry stores is a desert favorite pastime, but if unusual artisan pieces are desired, pop into The Jewelry Bar.

In Palm Springs’ Uptown Design District, those interested in curated vintage items can have their fill and several modern design stores and galleries will also vie for your attention. Artist Shag née Josh Agle has a storefront with large, limited edition prints that will move you with color and humor to a seemingly simpler, if not happier era. There are also several excellent Adam Henderson oils at Christopher Anthony Ltd.

After all that retail therapy it was time for massage therapy. In the calming Zen-inspired Spa Esmeralda with 11-indoor treatment rooms, including couples’ rooms, and four outdoor cabana treatment rooms, an excellent therapist put me into my own Nirvana state.

The lesson learned

With dramatic desert landscapes at every turn, many good restaurants, great shopping and plenty to keep you as busy as you’d like, not to mention perfecting your tennis or golf game, you will want your next desert weekend sojourn to be far longer. In fact, you may decide it’s time to buy your own second home desert oasis.

Julie L. Kessler

Written by Julie L. Kessler

Julie L. Kessler is Money Inc's Senior Travel & Luxury Editor and writes for several major media outlets in the U.S. and overseas. She is also an attorney and legal columnist and the author of the award-winning book "Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight." She can be reached at

Read more posts by Julie L. Kessler

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