Wednesday, December 28, 2016

5 Cool Hideaways in Palm Springs to Warm Up this Winter

Courtyard pool at Orbit In in Palm Springs, California
Frank Sinatra may have been dreaming of a white Christmas, but with snowflakes swirling furiously outside my window, I’ve been dreaming of Palm Springs. It’s been cold outside for weeks now, and I’d much rather be lounging in the warm sun by a shimmering pool, drinking cocktails, and listening to the voice of Sinatra crooning softly above the rustling palms. But since I’m currently stuck in the land of snow, I’ll just share five, cool Palm Springs hideaways where you can warm up this winter.

Courtyard pool at Orbit In


Orbit In

Bertoia's Den at Orbit In
Bertoia's Den at Orbit In
Sputnik was launched into orbit the same year modernist architect Herbert Burns designed the Orbit In. With a time-capsule quality, the ultra-chic boutique hotel transports guests to its swanky mid-century milieu at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. The nine-room inn features the owners’ personal collection of mid-century designer furnishings such as Harry Bertoia chairs, Eero Saarinen tables, and Charles and Ray Eames textiles. Room 108, the Frey Lounge, pays homage to Palm Springs architect Albert Frey. The room’s private rear patio has an outdoor shower and offers great views of Frey House II, which sits on a ridge just above the hotel.

In addition to the designer furnishings and private patios, the rooms also feature original and impeccably-maintained pastel-tiled bathrooms, vintage white steel kitchenettes, floating wall clocks, melamine tableware, and retro record players with a stash of Rat Pack albums. If you’re looking for a particular tune, you can peruse the lobby’s extensive collection of vintage vinyl ranging from big band to bossa nova.

Hot tub and lava rock fire pit at Orbit In
In classic desert modernist style, the rooms are arranged around a private courtyard with a saltwater pool and retro patio umbrellas and lounge chairs. Each evening, owners Kevin Miller and Jinny Park shake things up with their signature “Orbitini” cocktails served poolside around a boomerang-shaped bar. Tucked in a private corner, away from the rooms, you can soak under the stars in a saltwater hot tub next to the glow of a lava rock fire pit.

Located in Palm Springs’ historic Tennis Club district, the hotel is a short walk to a multitude of downtown cafes, shops, and galleries. You can also hop on one of the complimentary cruiser bikes for a spin around the neighborhood.

Orbit In
562 W Arenas Rd
Palm Springs, CA 92262-6348

Courtyard pool at the Avanti Hotel


Avanti Hotel

Entrance to the Avanti Hotel
Step inside the frosted glass doors of the Avanti Hotel, and you’ll find a stylish, intimate hideaway. Inside the foyer, a white chandelier dangles overhead while soft strains of Sinatra float over the waters of a sparkling pool.

Hot tub at the Avanti Hotel
Avanti is located off the main drag in a quiet section of Palm Springs’ historic Movie Colony neighborhood. The hotel features 10 rooms and suites encircling a relaxing central courtyard with a kidney-shaped pool and sublime views of the mountains. The courtyard pool is ringed with lounge chairs, patio umbrellas, a glass rock fire pit, and showy displays of Mexican birds of paradise. Through a breezeway in the far back corner of the hotel, there’s another, smaller courtyard with intimate outdoor seating and a hot tub for soaking under the stars.

Room 10 at the Avanti Hotel
The hotel was built in 1954, but has been thoroughly updated. Furnishings include comfortable beds with upholstered headboards, crisp white linens, and modern lamps and side chairs. Room 10 is a hip, cozy studio with a queen platform bed, a zebra print throw pillow, a bright orange full-length mirror, and a private back patio. The contemporary bath features a glass vessel sink and a tiled shower with a rain showerhead.

Avanti’s amiable hosts, Jim and Boxley, serve complimentary wine, beer, and mixed drinks poolside each evening from 5-6 p.m. The hotel’s orange and pink retro Huffy bikes are a great way to cruise into downtown for dinner, but if you want to grab carry-out and eat dinner by the pool or on your own private back patio, the hotel offers a picnic basket filled with melamine plates, utensils, and an acrylic wine decanter just for that purpose.

Avanti Hotel
354 E Stevens Rd
Palm Springs, CA 92262-4736

Courtyard pool at POSH Palm Springs


POSH Palm Springs

Entrance to POSH Palm Springs
Also located in the historic Movie Colony neighborhood, the equally intimate and tranquil POSH Palm Springs has a lineage that dates back to Palm Springs’ earliest days as a playground for Hollywood stars. Just one block away from the former El Mirador Hotel--which was Palm Springs’ first resort—POSH Palm Springs was built in the 1930s as an overflow hotel for the resort.

Room #5 at POSH Palm Springs
The boutique hotel features an Art Deco design with arched white colonnades lining either side of the courtyard pool. Pale striped cabana sheers billow in the breeze. Bright blue accent walls and desert succulents lend a Mediterranean flair. The courtyard features views of the mountains, a fire pit, an inviting hot tub at the far end, and offers many more lounge chairs than the hotel will ever have guests. At night, the courtyard is lit with cool blue string lights. In the mornings, the only sounds are the hollow whistle of doves in the trees.

Homemade frittata and danish with veggie sausage
The rooms are impeccably maintained and artfully furnished. Room #5 is a cheery king room decorated in shades of cream and green with ochre-colored walls. The updated bath features a porcelain sink and a shower with two shower heads. A walk-in closet offers closet organizers and baskets. The closet also holds a refrigerator, coffeemaker, wet bar, and a stash of complimentary jelly beans.

For happy hour each evening, owner Tony Gangloff serves up complimentary hors d’oeuvres and his signature POSH Martini. In the mornings, Tony treats his guests to full gourmet breakfasts that are always homemade and always vegetarian. One of his most requested specialties is his Mexican Egg Torta, which is a delicious combination of Southwest flavors baked in a lovely petal-shaped tortilla bowl.

POSH Palm Springs
530 E Mel Ave
Palm Springs, CA 92262-4831

Courtyard hot tub and pool at the Skylark Hotel


Skylark Hotel

Skylar Hotel entrance
The Skylark Hotel is a fabulously-restored, classic mid-century motor lodge with a young, playful vibe. Beach umbrellas and lounge chairs in vivid technicolors line the hotel’s original 9-foot-deep swimming pool and clover-shaped hot tub. Grab a lounge chair by the pool with a view of the mountains and watch colorful beach balls drift across the water’s surface as big, white, puffy clouds drift across the bright blue skies.

Courtyard pool at the Skylark Hotel
The hotel was originally built in 1955 and had fallen into disrepair before it was restored and re-opened in 2013. The 29-room hotel features spacious rooms with modern appeal: Danish teak furniture, crisp white linens, and framed black-and-white photographs of lush forests that serve as a counterpoint to the arid, palm-fringed landscapes outside. All of the rooms have refrigerators, coffeemakers, and 40” televisions. Some rooms also offer wet bars, microwaves, and pull-out couches.

Double Queen room at the Skylark Hotel
In addition to the large courtyard pool and hot tub, the hotel features a grand piano in the lobby, a large tiled sauna tucked into a back corner of the courtyard, and a lounge where a complimentary continental breakfast is served each morning. The lounge also a good spot to enjoy take-out and play an old-school board game.

The hotel straddles Palm Springs’ two main streets just north of the uptown design district and affords easy access to downtown.

Skylark Hotel
1466 N Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92262-4412

Interior of the suite at Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens


Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens

Exterior of Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens
Southwest of downtown Palm Springs, the Araby Cove neighborhood is a quiet enclave of residential homes nestled against a backdrop of scenic mountains. Though it’s less than a 10-minute drive from downtown, it feels as though it’s a world away. It also affords easy access to several golf courses and the beautiful oasis hiking trails of Indian Canyons inside the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. For a taste of the good life in Araby Cove, consider a stay at Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens.

Private patio outside the suite
The inn is a single-suite bed and breakfast housed inside a private home at the end of a cul-de-sac with a private entrance and a long list of amenities. Outside, you’ll find a heated, 60-foot saltwater lap pool surrounded by desert gardens, trickling water fountains, spectacular night lighting, a badminton court, and a shaded patio for lounging. The garden blooms around the pool and the private patio outside the suite’s entrance attract a number of hummingbirds.

Lap pool at Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens
Inside, the suite is furnished in a contemporary Southwest style with modern Native American art. The artwork includes owner Don Karvelis’ collections of black pottery from the San Ildefonso and Santa Clara pueblos in New Mexico, Oaxacan pottery, Navajo baskets, a painted gourd by Robert Rivera, and an original watercolor, “Sunset over Santa Fe” by Evelyne Boren. The suite also features vaulted ceilings, recessed, dimmer-controlled lighting, a gas fireplace, an etched-glass enclosed steam shower with a bench and both rain and hand-held showerheads, a tiled soaking tub, a separate spa tub, an extensive library of books and DVDs, a harpsichord, and more.

Each morning, Don prepares a fresh breakfast served in two courses with choices of fruit or yogurt, breads, scones, or muffins, a hot entrée, and beverages. Breakfast can be delivered to the privacy of your suite or enjoyed poolside under the shade of the patio.

Las Fuentes Inn & Gardens
2990 Araby Circle
Palm Springs, CA 92264-4850

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Morning Hangover Cure: POSH Palm Springs’ Mexican Egg Torta

POSH Palm Springs' Mexican Egg Torta

While evening cocktail hours are the highlight of many boutique hotels in downtown Palm Springs, breakfasts are often just continental affairs. One notable exception is POSH Palm Springs, where owner Tony Gangloff whips up impressive vegetarian breakfasts every morning. One of his most requested specialties is his Mexican Egg Torta, which is a delicious combination of Southwest flavors baked in a lovely petal-shaped tortilla bowl. The dish is the perfect cure for a morning hangover.

Make four, one-inch slits in the tortillas

Mexican Egg Torta

Courtesy of POSH Palm Springs

Serves 8

8 corn tortillas (6”)
1 can refried beans
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 red pepper, diced
Fold the tortillas to form a bowl and add the beans and cheese
½ yellow onion, diced
9 oz soy chorizo
2 tablespoons butter
12 large eggs
½ cup half and half


1. Grease eight ramekins (4.5” diameter) with spray oil.

Sauté the bell pepper, onion, and chorizo in a skillet
2. Using a small knife, make a one-inch cut into each corn tortilla at the three, six, nine, and 12 o’clock positions. Place the tortilla into the greased ramekin folding over the edges of the cut tortilla to form a bowl in the ramekin.

3. Place a generous one tablespoon dollop of refried beans into the bottom of each tortilla bowl. Sprinkle the shredded cheese into the tortilla bowl (about ¼ cup).

4. In a skillet, add the butter, diced red pepper, and diced onion. Sauté until the onion is clear. Add the chorizo and mix thoroughly in the pan. Remove from heat.
Add the chorizo, pepper, onion mixture to each tortilla bowl

5. Add a generous one tablespoon dollop of the chorizo/pepper/onion mixture to each tortilla bowl.

6. Mix the eggs and half and half in a blender for 20 seconds on low speed. Pour the egg mixture into each tortilla bowl until it reaches the top of the bowl.

7. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake at 375°F for 30 minutes.

Pour the egg mixture into each bowl and then bake
8. Use a pair of tongs to remove the baked tortilla bowl from the ramekin. Use a sharp knife along the edge if the sides are sticking to the ramekin.

9. Enjoy!

POSH Palm Springs
530 E Mel Ave
Palm Springs, CA 92262-4831

Monday, November 21, 2016

Eclectic Art, Conversation, and History Converge at the Swan Levine House in Grass Valley

Swan Levine House in Grass Valley
I have fond memories of Thanksgivings spent visiting family in Grass Valley. The streets of this Northern California Gold Rush town is steeped in history, which comes alive each holiday season with its Cornish Christmas celebration. A tradition for nearly 50 years, Cornish Christmas started as a way to preserve Grass Valley’s Cornish heritage and holiday traditions. Beginning the day after Thanksgiving and running each Friday night through Christmas, the streets of downtown Grass Valley are filled with the sights and sounds of an old-fashioned Christmas: carolers dressed in Victorian garb singing from the steps of historic buildings, chestnuts roasting over an open fire, and all of downtown trimmed in twinkling lights and holiday splendor.

For my family’s part, we always went to Cornish Christmas the night after Thanksgiving. We’d bundle up—and despite some eye rolling and mutterings of “Corny Christmas” from certain family members—we all went: the aunts, the uncles, the nieces, and the grandparents. We’d buy traditional Cornish pasties and cups of Mexican hot chocolate and wander through the streets and the crisp night air. We’d hum along to the music and peruse the multitude of crafts and gifts made by local artisans. When my nieces were small, we would keep our eye out for Santa.

Deer sculptures in the front yard
Afterwards, walking back to the car, a grand Victorian home on Church Street would sometimes catch my eye. I noticed it at other times, too, when I was visiting Grass Valley for various holidays and events. The Victorian was painted cream with red, brown, and white trim and was among of the largest homes in town. It had a turret, an inviting porch, and a comical collection of deer sculptures in the front yard. One deer was painted with black and white splotches like a Holstein cow; another had a bike wheel for its hind leg.

I no longer have family in Grass Valley, and almost a decade had passed since I last visited the town, but I had the chance to return this fall and meet the owners of that eye-catching Victorian: the Swan Levine House.

In the mid-1970s, two printmaking artists from San Francisco were looking for a place to build a printmaking studio, show their work, and accommodate guests. Friends had told them about the old Jones Hospital in Grass Valley, so Howard and Peggy Levine drove up in their orange Volkswagen Bus to take a look. Sharing a passion for history and historical preservation, they saw potential in the shuttered hospital with an eclectic past.

The house had originally been built in 1867 by John and Catherine Fahey, who were partners in the Alison Ranch Mine. They sold it to William Campbell, a local merchant who made his fortune selling general merchandise mining equipment. After a damaging fire in 1895, Campbell remodeled the house to its current Queen Anne style. Following Campbell’s death, two doctors who were also brothers, Doctors Carl and John Jones, acquired the house in 1906 and turned it into a hospital named for their father, Dr. W.C. Jones.

The Surgery Room
Howard and Peggy purchased the house in 1974 and began the work of renovating it—taking up linoleum, sanding floors, repairing plaster, and painting walls—before opening to guests as the Swan Levine House.

The Suite
The former hospital surgery room was converted into a spacious, sunny guest room with enormous turret windows, bright fuchsia walls, white hexagon tile floors, white wicker antiques, a king-size bed, and cabinets filled with curiosities from the house. The private bath features the original surgical scrub sinks and a claw foot tub with a shower.

The original master bedroom of the house, called the Suite, is decorated in traditional Victorian style in soothing hues of pale blue and cream. Light streams in from the large turret windows surrounding an intimate seating area—perfect for curling up with a book. A separate sitting room features a beautiful antique-tiled fireplace trimmed with oak. The private bath offers an inviting claw foot tub with a shower.

The Green Suite
The Green Suite pays homage to the hospital colors of the period with pale green and yellow walls, an antique four poster bed, a comfy seating area with a pull-out sofa, and a large private bath with a claw foot tub and shower. The inn’s fourth room, the Apartment, was part of an addition the hospital built in the 1930s and it has a time capsule quality. The Apartment has kitchenette, a queen and two single beds, and is furnished with kitschy 1940s and 50s antiques and memorabilia.

All through the house, the rooms and halls are brimming with art and antiques that reflect Howard and Peggy’s humor and eclectic tastes. “We don’t do the Hilton look,” said Peggy as she gave me the tour.

In addition to renovating the former hospital into a guesthouse, Howard and Peggy also converted the home’s former carriage house into their printmaking studio. The studio is equipped with one litho press and three etching presses. They also have silk screens, tools for wood engraving, and plates for monotype and monoprint. The studio can be rented for $50 per day plus materials; instruction is available by arrangement.

Parlor and gallery of the Swan Levine House
The parlor of the Swan Levine House serves as a gallery for Howard and Peggy’s fine art prints spanning five decades. In addition to creating art and hosting guests, they also raised three children in the house. One son was a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. Another is a infographic journalist with the Sacramento Bee. Their daughter teaches high school in Sacramento.

Howard and Peggy’s involvement in the local community runs deep. Howard is the vice mayor of Grass Valley and teaches drawing and printmaking at Sierra College. Peggy is on the Board for the Center for the Arts and is active in the restoration of The North Star House, which was designed by Julia Morgan. Both have volunteered or served on the boards for a number of local fine and performing arts organizations.

Kitchen of the Swan Levine House
Chatting with them in their cheery kitchen with its rich, cobalt blue-painted cabinets, the conversation ranges from family to art to history to architecture. As innkeepers, this is what they enjoy most: talking with their guests. Each morning, Howard cooks breakfast over a vintage stove and guests gather to indulge in the conversation. Sometimes, Howard and Peggy find it difficult to shoo their guests out of the kitchen long enough to enjoy their breakfasts in the dining room.

Wrap-around porch at the Swan Levine House
Over the past 40 years of hosting guests, about a hundred former guests have since moved and made Grass Valley their home. With Howard and Peggy as their introduction to this historic, arts-infused town in the Sierra Foothills, it’s easy to understand why.

Swan Levine House
328 S Church Street
Grass Valley, CA 94945