Escape to Palm Springs Riviera


It's located in one of America's top foreclosure counties, and as you drive down the streets of Palm Springs, you see that not everything is bright lights and tinsel.

A shuttered mega-mall still stands at the city center, now lined with mom-and-pop boutiques, a lonely outpost of CPK and a Hamburger Hamlet long since gone to heaven. The main theater still advertises January's Palm Springs Film Festival, opposite a Starbucks, with a line often out the door and a defunct Jamba Juice no longer juicing.

However, the town is still unveiling new hotel offerings that include a nearby Ritz Carlton, an outpost of Portland's Ace Hotel and the newly renovated Riviera Resort.

What to expect: There are two ways to arrive in Palm Springs, by air and by car. The latter leads you down a zippy stretch of Highway 111 in the shade of the snowcapped San Jacinto Mountains and arid landscape abruptly interrupted by bright-green sod grass and endless strip malls that have seen better and busier days.

The Riviera Resort is located in North Palm Springs in an area still waving in the banners of new homebuilders and half-built mega-developments. It's one of the town's most famous resorts, rooted in the grandeur of the late '50s and '60s Hollywood, when architect Irwin Schuman aimed to recreate the magic of hotel hotspots like The Sands, The Flamingo and The Stardust.

The first impression: A semi-circular motor court is busy with valeting Rovers and rented Malibus arriving to a glass-enclosed atrium. What on first sight appears to be a two-person concierge or valet desk is actually the main check-in reception, operated by two overwhelmed attendants dealing with checkout overcharges and women inquiring about booking a room in April.

Dark hand-carved wood floors are laid in a herringbone pattern with pretty circular banquettes surrounded by baggage and no bellman to be found. The front lobby is home to a cocktail bar overlooking the front valet with a stylish collection of L.A. weekenders in oversize black sunglasses and designer cargo shorts.

Finding your room: Once you've endured check-in, the best of the Riviera is yet to come. The center resort area is connected by a long hallway lined in tufted sofas, leather lounge chairs and rococo-mirrored pool tables with no balls or cue sticks in sight.

At the end of the hallway is the Circa 69 restaurant, intersected by double glass doors leading to the main pool deck. Guest rooms are located in a series of fingerling buildings that surround the main pool as well as an additional rear building with a separate pool at the rear of the resort.

Not much has been done to the exterior of the resort. It maintains its funky 1959 design with a fresh coat of paint and fledgling landscaping still in its brown infancy. Rooms are accessed though dark corridors in rich red wall fabrics leading to dark wood doors.

In-room amenities: A credit card entry key unlocks a whimsical design space completely exorcized of its '60s and '80s remodeled past. Bold brown and cream-colored patterned carpet extends throughout the living area with tufted-white leather king-size bed next to a full-size sofa and two plaid-patterned lounge chairs with flared back.

A long and stylish working desk is next to metal sliding glass doors that require a good tug to reveal a small balcony or patio overlooking the mountain or parking lot. A decadent 42-inch plasma-screen TV offers current movies, and there is a concealed mini-bar of Patron tequila, Godiva chocolate and high-end tea bath salts.

Bathrooms and details: As with most Palm Springs hotel remodels, the owners could have simply resigned themselves to new tile and granite countertops. Instead, the hotel embarked on an impressive overhaul that resulted in some of the best bathrooms in town. Sand-colored marble floors offer a main-room vanity with a countertop holding two sink bowls and wall-mounted fixtures with Spa Terra brand toiletries and ultra-fluffy white linens.

At opposite ends of the bathroom are a freestanding white bathtub next to a wall of fabric and a large rain shower with well-positioned controls that don't require you to get a cold shower before getting the perfect water temperature.

Hit the pool: The pool is fabulous. This free-form, crystal-clear body of resort water is surrounded by strategically placed rattan loungers and oversized wooden canopies conducive to an afternoon dance or evening snuggle. The pool is surrounded by endless terraces connecting to the in-house restaurant, Side Bar lounge and a separate pool bar serving frozen vacation drinks to a late-afternoon singles scene.

Additionally, several upgraded suites surround the main pool, enclosed in walls of glass with private Jacuzzis, furnished lounges and even gas fireplaces that make for perfect weekend soirees, not to mention prime poolside people watching.

Circa 69: We were invited to the in-house restaurant located at the edge of the pool deck. A semi-circular space is lined in red-patterned booths and tables surrounded in high-back leather chairs. The room is lit by oversize black Murano glass chandeliers opposite an outdoor terrace that feels a lot like a Dolce & Gabbana store.

The menu is a surf 'n' turf mix of filets, rib eye and seafood dishes with decadent sides like truffle French fries, lobster mac 'n' cheese and creamed spinach. An affordably priced wine list includes a lengthy selection of California wines.

Spa and fitness: Despite the city's modest size, there is no shortage of top-quality day spas. Add to the mix Spa Terra, the signature guest spa of the hotel.

Located on the outer edge of the main resort pool, the spa is divided between men's and women's lounge areas with individual treatment rooms offering massage, facials and body soaks. A large fitness area is well-equipped with four treadmills, multiple elliptical machines and stationary bikes with personal LCD monitors. The resort fee of $19 leveraged on all rooms includes free access to the gym as well as the in-house spa facility.

What's the real deal? With specials ranging from $160 per night for an entry-level room to $479-$1,195 for premium suites, the price point is on par with local resorts like the Viceroy and Parker Palm Springs. Visitors arriving with their canine friends should expect a $100 surcharge. Those looking for a true bargain should book during the summer season when the desert sizzles and room prices sink to $129 a night and even lower if you catch the right special.



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