The first time I went to Hope Springs--a girlfriend had booked the entire Desert Hot Springs spa for a birthday party--I got lost. There's no sign visible from the street, except for one from some previous incarnation that says, with rusted mid-century charm, Cactus Springs. Right street number, wrong name. I circled around and around. Finally, walking up to the entrance, I saw something proclaiming Hope Springs' existence--a paper card, all of 5 inches by 5 inches, taped next to the door.
That's part of the low-key air of the place, which, like Desert Hot Springs itself, is an antidote to the studied richness of Palm Desert. An artfully restored 1958 motel, it's built around a garden with three pools into which is pumping some of the hottest (as in temperature) mineral-rich water in Southern California. Rooms have been stripped to a Japanese-like austerity that is liberating--no furniture except for a bed and chair. No TV or phone.
Everyone at Hope Springs seems slightly giddy to have found this place, so reasonably priced and so restful. They share favorite restaurants and the best places to hike in the canyons to the west of Palm Springs. "The people who come there make the place as special as the place itself," says Steve Samiof, who discovered the motel six years ago, "painted with about 30 colors, like a Mexican hacienda."
After buying the motel, Samiof and business partner Mick Haggerty, a graphic designer, changed the color scheme to a more period-appropriate hemp green and mimosa yellow. It was when they were figuring out where to put the TVs that they had an epiphany: gut the rooms of everything, including closets. Floating shelves and steel rods with metal hangers are the only storage, unless you count the wood ledge around the simple platform bed. An incentive to pack light.
Although all 10 rooms face the courtyard, they are recessed in such a way that there's no loss of privacy. Circulating continually into the traditional lap pool and two jacuzzis is water from the hot springs that give this quasi-resort town a reason for being. I have to pry my partner out of their soothing caresses, especially the jacuzzi enclosed by the original gazebo, the hottest of the three pools at 105 degrees. I spend most of my time relaxing amid a grove of chaise lounges in midcentury colors, transfixed by the view of the flowering desert plants in the garden.
The spa is run with great skill by Chloe Peppas, who prepares the healthful breakfast that's part of the $135 midweek room rate. Four of the rooms are $10 more because they have kitchens.
Samiof is now ensconced in Costa Rica, where he has 16 rooms to play with at his most recent purchase, the El Sueno Tropical Hotel at Playa Carrillo. He plans the same sort of hands-on remodel that he did at Hope Springs, a place, he says, where "we really achieved something."
Hope Springs, 68075 Club Circle Drive, Desert Hot Springs, (760) 329-4003.