Palm Springs conjures up many images in the popular imagination: California oasis, Old Hollywood hideaway, golf and tennis hot spot, mid-century modern pilgrimage site. But long before Richard Neutra’s airy, glassy Kaufmann House or John Lautner’s concrete-domed Elrod House, there was Welwood Murray’s frail wooden bathhouse.
This two-room cabin, built over a hot spring in the late 1880s, was one of the first tourist attractions in the Coachella Valley – newly accessible by rail for people with tuberculosis and other ailments who sought solace in the desert air and water. mineral. .
Mr. Murray, a Scottish farmer and businessman, got a lease for his bathhouse from the band of Cahuilla Indians in Agua Caliente. But, as the “Agua Caliente” in his name suggests, hot water was too important to his identity to be left in someone else’s hands for long, and in the early 1900s, control reverted to the tribe.
“The hot mineral spring is essentially our heart and soul,” said Reid Milanovich, who has served as tribal president since April 2022. “We have been using these waters for generations for both spiritual and physical healing purposes.”
The tradition of sharing springtime with visitors also spans generations: the tribe managed a succession of bathhouses, then opened the on-site Spa Resort Hotel in 1963. When this 131-room multimillion-dollar modernist complex debuted, it became up O place to take the local waters. In fact, it was the only place, because it had exclusive access to the Agua Caliente spring, the only option in the city. So when everything in the complex except the casino closed in 2014, anyone hoping for a hot mineral bath in Palm Springs was stuck on dry land.
The tribe determined that the 1950s water harvesting system needed enough repairs to require the spa’s demolition – a catalyst for rethinking the entire site. “We are talking about one of the most important sections of the reserve,” said Milanovich. “We had to make sure it was protected for future generations.” The best way to do this, members and tribal leaders concluded, was to create experiences that were both educational and celebrated the Cahuilla heritage.
After nearly a decade of work at the site and one of the most significant indigenous archaeological recoveries in the country – thousands of artifacts unearthed; thousands of years added to the local historical record – the new Spa in Séc-ele opened on April 4th. And in late 2023, a neighboring museum will delve into the excavation, as well as the tribe’s history, culture, language and more.
Though right in the heart of Palm Springs, Séc-he (pronounced SEH-hee, or SEH-khee) is just one of numerous spring-fed spas in the area. About 10 miles away, the town of Desert Hot Springs – with its own famous aquifers and soaking spots – is coming back to life after declaring bankruptcy in 2001 and narrowly avoiding a repeat in 2013. Since becoming the first first place in Southern California to legalize large-scale medical marijuana cultivation in 2014, however, the community is bouncing back, new retreats are opening, and old favorites are expanding.
Here’s a guide to total immersion in Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs.
This 73,000-square-foot site translates from Cahuilla to “the sound of boiling water.” Still audible, if not boiling, as it bubbles at 104 degrees through the spa’s signature soaking tubs, the spring produces deeply soothing audio. So do a number of other water features, from the fountain in the reception area to the waterfall wall in the inner garden of tranquility.
A day pass ($145) gets you a 15-minute soak in one of the 22 private indoor baths, where the mineral-rich water not only looks sublime — especially if you have the jets running — but also does a remarkable job of softening and coaxing out dead cells from your skin. (The tubs are drained and cleaned between each use.) And if you haven’t had enough of the spring water when your 15 minutes are up, you can continue your soak in an outdoor zero-edge mineral pool, where you’ll also find a pool with a waterfall, mist-cooled cabanas and oversized loungers.
Outdoor pools are included in the day pass, as are aromatherapy showers, salt caves, saunas, steam rooms and, for the more ambitious, gym equipment. They’re all free with any spa treatment, too — one of the highlights is the 90-minute Quartz and Poultice Massage ($325), with crushed quartz meant to evoke the hot sand of the desert.
The most venerable of Desert Hot Springs retreats, Two Bunch Palms served as an Al Capone hideout (or so the story goes) and a Hollywood set (in Robert Altman’s 1992 film “The Player”). Spanning 70 acres, the oasis sprawls out—its dominant palms dominate a landscape so lush that water turtles and birds seem as commonplace as spa-goers. (Rest assured: humans and animals take to the waters in separate spaces.)
Over the course of the pandemic, the property has added a vast spring-fed soaking area where newer tubs — all generally between 100 and 104 degrees — are meant to complement the beloved old Grotto. A large communal pool fed by a spring surrounded by Edenic vegetation and smaller tubs, the Grotto has a hot waterfall that works as a head, neck and shoulder massage. For an official treatment, however, you’ll need to visit the spa, where the 90-minute TBP Double Body Scrub, $245, is hard to beat. (Imagine a salt scrub followed by a cornmeal scrub and a dip in warm mineral water infused with sage.) There’s also an ever-growing menu of classes, with a schedule of 60 to 70 options a week, from classics like yoga to novelties such as the production of natural fragrances.
For those who prefer to keep things private, each of the four new Grove Villa Suites comes with its own spring-fed teak tub (as well as a fire pit, patio and oversized bedrooms). But whatever accommodations, classes and spa treatments you choose, one thing is a non-negotiable if you see it on the menu: the locally sourced caramel date cake. Rooms from $265.
An equally lush but much more intimate option, the Good House feels like your friend’s secret farm. You can’t help but feel like part of the family in this recently renovated seven-room retreat with a communal dining table where the chef serves plant-based specialties. And these pets are playing in the backyard? Yes, and feel free to bring your own.
Though an expansion underway on a neighboring lot will more or less double the resort’s footprint next year, the scale will remain small — good news for fans of the Good House’s cozy atmosphere. (Not that anyone would complain about having more space for massages and facials, which are already offered at a small spa.)
Then again, you could easily spend all of your time in the 94-degree pool and 104-degree hot tub—each swathed in lush greenery, surrounded by sun-yellow chaise longues, and illuminated by twinkling lights at night. You don’t have to stay overnight to take advantage of the facilities: you can choose from a variety of options, from a $40 Soak Pass (two hours) to a $210 Deluxe Chill Pass (day soak privileges and a free massage). 30 minutes, a 30-minute facial, and a stellar mocktail). Rooms from $250.
Though it opened in February, the Onsen Hotel and Spa harkens back to the region’s mid-century heyday, thanks to decades-old architectural bones, an oversaturated 1950s palette, and late-night happy hours. So for anyone looking for Technicolor desert vibes, here it is. “Think of Lucy and Ricky’s weekend cushion,” said general manager John Hopp.
Options for relaxing in this oasis – whose name is Japanese for “hot spring” – include a 98-degree spring-fed pool and 102-degree hot tub, spa treatments using the Osea eco line, yoga mats in all rooms and a mountain panorama that practically insists on serenity. Rooms from $143.
Recently acquired and renovated, the Azure Palm Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa Oasis is home to an enormous outdoor mineral pool (86 to 90 degrees), in-suite soaking tubs (106 degrees but adjustable with a cold faucet), a Himalayan salt and several saunas. Even so, the new Oasis – a sprawling wellness garden – is probably the hardest part to leave. Forming its own informal circuit, it contains a spring-powered reflexology walk and pebbled bottom; a self-filling hot bucket shower; and a series of 100- to 104-degree soaking tubs, each sufficiently enclosed that hummingbirds can be its only intruders.
This summer, the resort plans to introduce Midnight at the Oasis events, where guests will have nightly access to the pools. Later this year, there will also be private cabana tubs – which can be reserved for the day with fire pits and hammocks. The indoor spa has one of the most extensive menus in the area — the 60-minute Foot and Scalp Ritual ($145) being the best complement to the reflexology walks and bucket baths. Day passes, which include access to the resort’s pool, indoor and outdoor spas, sauna, cafe and yoga studio, from $56. Rooms from $169.
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