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Desert Thanksgiving Features Heaping Helping of Relaxation

Fed up with the stress of the traditional celebration, Southern Californians flock to the Palm Springs area for a laid-back holiday.

November 25, 2005|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

Ruth Lanphere was sick and tired of turkey day. Year after year since the 1950s, she had prepared an elaborate Thanksgiving feast. Not this time. She was done with holiday cooking. Or so this Burbank grandmother announced to the family.

Lanphere wasn't just mounting an idle protest from the kitchen. She had a plan -- one that has become increasingly popular in Southern California this time of year. She offered to take her daughter and grandsons to Palm Springs.

"Grandma's got 50 Thanksgivings under her belt. This time, someone's going to bring it to me," she said Thursday, sitting on a lounge chair at the Spa Resort Casino, sipping a vodka and tonic.

She spent the afternoon relaxing at the pool and planned to eat a traditional Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant, topping the day off at the casino.

Lanphere isn't alone. More Southern Californians booked trips to Palm Springs this Thanksgiving, according to a new survey by the Automobile Club of Southern California.

In a club survey of AAA travel agents, the getaway spot about 100 miles east of Los Angeles edged out Las Vegas and Mexico as top Thanksgiving holiday destinations for Southern Californians.

"People figure, 'Oh, OK, I can come out on Thanksgiving, I can lounge by the pool, get a tan and still have my holiday feeling and not be too far away from home,' " said Mark Graves, a spokesman for the Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Authority.

Southern Californians make up 60% of visitors to the Coachella Valley, he said.

Some say a trip to Palm Springs offers a stress-free alternative.

"It doesn't have to be a dinner with a lot of screaming relatives and listening to family politics," said Darlene Manick, a 43-year-old West Hills resident.

A plus for her husband, Steve, is that eating out offers a variety of choices.

"People on Thanksgiving eat turkey whether they like it or not. But I'd rather have a meal of my own choice," he said, while he waited for a steakhouse to open.

Several cities away, La Quinta Resort and Club offers a holiday of pampering: Morning lessons with tennis champ Tracy Austin, turkey sandwiches by the pool, an elaborate Thanksgiving buffet featuring not only turkey and garlic whipped potatoes, but king crab legs, sushi, sashimi and sauteed Norwegian salmon with saffron couscous.

After paying $67 per adult and $36 per child, guests arrive at an elaborate entrance, walking between two ranch-style fences lined with hay.

The buffet, with decorations two stories high, is topped off with two fountains. There's a petting zoo for children and a live jazz band.

The dessert area features a life-size tepee with a statue of an Indian. In all, the resort planned to serve 2,200 Thanksgiving dinners Thursday.

Children have the option of their own toddler-sized buffet: mashed potatoes, chicken fingers, even chocolate fondue, all set up in a wooden corral.

A clown on stilts made the rounds Thursday, as did a person costumed as a kangaroo and one as a mouse.

The resort is a traditional destination for Lisa Rosenzweig, a 34-year-old Mission Viejo interior designer who brings her daughters, Riley, 6, and Avery, 3, every year for Thanksgiving lunch.

"It's a feast for the eyes," she said. "Where else can you go [for Thanksgiving and] get turkey, salmon and sushi?"

But the food wasn't the most important thing for Avery.

"I get to swim in the pool," she said.

The resort's operators welcome the increased business. This was the first year that Wednesday through Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend had been sold out, said Michael Islava, director of sales marketing.

For Nancy McFarland, a 45-year-old Manhattan Beach resident who owns retail businesses, escaping to Palm Springs is a needed antidote to her family's busy lifestyle.

"You're usually trying to keep up with your day-to-day grind. Here, that's all gone," she said.

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