What's the only town in California to be named after a hotel? It's La Quinta, which celebrates its fourth year as an incorporated city on May 1.
More notable is the 60th birthday of the town's namesake, which opened its doors as a 20-room hostelry in 1926. A visit in those days meant an arduous drive through the desert to reach the hotel and its six cottages in the Coachella Valley.
Owner Walter Morgan envisioned a retreat with plenty of privacy and pampering for his guests, and gave his hideaway the Spanish name for "country home." La Quinta (la keen -ta) caught on, and today it's a prestigious tennis-and-golf resort with 268 rooms and suites.
On an excursion there you also can enjoy the rugged beauty of the western Colorado Desert and Santa Rosa Mountains.
Another attraction at La Quinta is the impressive new St. Francis of Assisi Parish Church, with 14 murals depicting the saint's life that are being painted on the sanctuary walls. You'll also see the Eldorado Polo Club, which climaxed this winter's season with an appearance of avid player Prince Charles.
Outdoor enthusiasts will want to visit Lake Cahuilla, a county park that's popular for fishing, swimming and sunbathing. Campers can pitch tents and park their RVs around the lake, too.
Start your excursion from Los Angeles by heading east on Interstate 10 to the Washington Street exit just before Indio. Drive south to La Quinta, passing through some of the open desert of the Coachella Valley, now dotted with landscaped oases of new residential developments.
Soon after crossing California 111, the highway between Palm Springs and Indio, look to the right for the church of St. Francis of Assisi. Visitors are welcome to tour the 2-year-old parish church, as well as attend daily Masses.
Inside you may see 85-year-old artist Alexander Rosenfeld at work on the 12th of 14 frescoes he is re-creating from the work of 13th-Century painter Giotto in Florence. Also look at the stained-glass windows made in Ireland, and the altar piece hand-carved in Italy.
Continue south on Washington Street, then turn right on Eisenhower Drive and go a mile more to La Quinta Hotel, Golf and Tennis Resort. Its entrance is flanked by Italian cypress trees standing like sentinels.
Head to a dining room named for longtime hotel resident, writer-director Frank Capra, for the lavish Sunday champagne brunch. There's everything from fresh seafood, roast beef and Oriental dishes to Belgian waffles and made-to-order omelets. The tab including tax and tip is $22; children younger than 12, $11.
La Quinta is well-known for its tennis club where 30 grass, clay and hard courts are set in groves of olive trees and date palms. Also impressive are the resort's two championship golf courses, each with 18 challenging holes designed by Pete Dye.
Focal points for relaxation are the resort's nine swimming pools and nearly an equal number of Jacuzzi spas. From the main building, paths lead to the guest lodgings, 64 Spanish-style cottages spread throughout the secluded property amid flowers and trees.
To spend a night at the hotel during this spring season (through May), rates begin at $90 in the original 1920s rooms. Newer accommodations (with fireplaces) start at $135.
Last year La Quinta remained open in the summer for the first time, and will do so again this season. Higher temperatures mean lower rates; from July 6-Sept. 12 all rooms will be $60. Summer golf and tennis packages are available, too.
Reservations or information: (800) 472-4316 in California or (619) 564-4111.
From the hotel entrance, turn right on Eisenhower Drive, then turn left on Avenue 50 and head east past orchards and date gardens to Madison Street. Turn right, then go left at the sign to the Eldorado Polo Club.
Glimpse of Horses
Tournament play ended two weeks ago and will resume next winter, but you can drive on the dirt road past the club's seven polo fields and glimpse a few horses that are quartered on adjacent property.
During the November-to-mid-April season, visitors can watch practice sessions daily or see weekend matches at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Admission is charged for tournaments.
At Home on the Range
When the dirt road reaches Monroe Street, turn right and continue south to Avenue 58, then go right again toward the mountains. A sign will direct you over a half-mile washboard road to the Ranch of the 7th Range.
Until mid-May (and beginning again in October) you can saddle up for a scenic ride in the foothills. Trails climb past a prehistoric lake bed that's left its mark on rocky cliffs. Riders can dismount to collect ancient seashells lying on the ground.
Horses are available from early morning until dusk for $14 an hour; a trail guide will go along for $12 more. Reservations: (619) 564-1414.
Continue west on Avenue 58, then jog left and turn right to the elevated entrance to Lake Cahuilla County Park. Fishing fans use it for striped bass and channel catfish, while windsurfers often sail around the 135-acre lake with the afternoon breeze. In summer the lake's swimming beach is especially refreshing.
Entry to the park costs $1.50 for day use. Hours are 6 a.m. until dusk. For fishing there's an extra fee of $3 ($2 for ages 10 to 18); California fishing license also required. Campsites are $5-$6 a night, $8 with electrical hookup.
Return to Los Angeles by going back on Avenue 58 to Monroe Street and turning left to head north through Indio to Interstate 10.
Round trip from Los Angeles to La Quinta and its desert attractions is 274 miles.
Readers are advised to confirm the hours of attractions, restaurants, etc., before embarking on any trip.