I’d never heard of Anza Borrego until a few months ago. After visiting, I genuinely believe it’s one of California’s most beautiful hidden gems. I’m here to let you in on the secret.
During the earlier part of our California road trip we spending time in LA, San Diego, Newport Beach – all places I felt comfortable with because of the busy hustle and bustle. I like noises, people, the option to get a pint of milk at midnight at a nearby corner shop if needs be. In London I’m used to sirens going past my apartment every five minutes. I find that each city reminds you of another city and things can soon start to feel a little bit like home, or at least an environment you’re used to. So I was SO excited about driving to and staying in Anza Borrego, a desert state park located within the Colorado Desert of southern California, which was a two-hour drive (ish) from San Diego. Because, ladies and gents, I was going to get well and truly out of my comfort zone, and I COULDN’T WAIT! We loaded our car up with bottles of water and set the Sat Nav to our new exciting destination, slowly making our way into the humidity of the desert, cruising around bends and hills and uneven roads.
We took the scenic route and weren’t quite prepared for what we saw. We were hit with the absolutely breathtaking views. The panoramic views were out of this world, and I’d never seen anything like it before. Photographs almost don’t do it justice. Driving along a straight road with nothing but desert mountains around you was one of the coolest things ever. It helped that our car was amazing too, we were test-driving the brand-new-fresh-out-of-the-factory Alfa Romeo Giulia, and we became very attached to it by the end of the trip.
Serenity and Solitude
We pulled in to the hotel we were staying at called La Casa Del Zorro. Well, it’s not really a hotel, it’s a whole beautiful resort. A member of staff immediately spotted us with our dusty cases and drove us on his buggie (fun!) to reception so we checked in, and had a tour of the grounds. Each rooms had it’s own private pool so there was no danger of not getting a sun lounger, you had your own outside your bedroom balcony door. It was perfect for having peace and quiet, and dipping into a book in the sunshine. The rooms were incredibly spacious and luxurious. You could hire a complimentary bike to cycle around the grounds, sit by the fire pit, or relax by the main family pool. There’s a large tennis court, “pickle ball” (we never actually figured out what this was). At night there was incredible live music, so at night you could sit outside with a drink after dinner and soak up the atmosphere with the stars out in the full force. We ate in the Butterfield room which is a gorgeous restaurant – I had lobster and filet mignon, a dish where you have half and half and it was absolutely delicious. The spa is something a bit different too. I’ve been lucky enough to review lots of spas over the years but this one had a hint of spiritual guidance to it. It was a full body massage (and it was very good) but it also touched on healing, breathing, meditation and I felt mentally very relaxed as well as my body when leaving the room. I 100% recommend.
The Borrego Community
You might assume that staying in the desert means you’d be totally isolated, but this wasn’t the case at all. Our amazing tour guide Linda who works for the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce showed us the friendly nature of the Borrego Springs community (and knew everyone!). I loved how it was only a short drive to other resorts if you want to mix it up a bit. We had a delicious meal at The Palms at Indian Head in their restaurant Coyote Steakhouse overlooking the pool and mountains, which describes itself as a “classic desert hotel”. The prix fixe menu was 3 course for $19 which we thought was amazing value. It’s worth mentioning that the pool is HUGE (Olympic-sized) – it was built in 1947 and was one of the largest pools in the county more many years. This hotel also has a lot of brilliant history to it: it was once a hotspot for movie stars (Marilyn Monroe! Clark Gable!) who wanted to escape the paparazzi or the public. They flew private planes and landed on the hotel’s private runaway and they found relaxation and freedom there.
We also explored the Palm Canyon Hotel & RV Resort too which was totally different again to the other resorts. It had a sort of “Wild West” type theme which you could tell would be popular with kids. The rooms were lovely, perfect family-sized rooms, but I was really into the fact that you could hire out an RV (recreational vehicle) in the park next to the building. You tell it would be so sociable in high season, everyone sat outside their caravan drinking and chatting. The ones available are also vintage – which obviously makes it ever cooler – the interiors were 70s-inspired, bright colours, bold patterns. We went inside some of them and they have everything you need: miniature showers, fold out beds and some even had a bath inside.
We also explored the gorgeous Rams Hill golf hotel which was voted the Best Course in the Country 2016 by GolfAdvisor. The views were impeccable and the cheese selection that we took with us on our sunset adventure was 10/10.
One thing to mention about holidaying in Borrego Springs: it is actually cheaper to stay there in the Summer. This sounds weird, as normally Summer stays are pricier – but it gets ridiculously HOT in the Summer season and therefore it’s actually nicer to come in the Spring or even Winter seasons.
One of my favourite evenings of my WHOLE California trip was when we went to Font’s Point (nicknamed California’s Grand Canyon). It is a secluded place, a favourited spot for professional photographers, especially at sunset or full-moon evenings. Linda drove us there, Paul and I held onto the cheese and wine in the back while Linda’s Jeep bounced around all over the place getting us up to this amazing point. It was so fun, it felt like safari off-roading. You’re only allowed to attempt getting up there in 4 wheel drive, and Linda was a pro. I can’t fully explain how magical the evening was in a blog post, but it was definitely a reminder to breathe, enjoy life, and not worry too much about the things you can’t control. I can safely say it was the best view and sunset I’ve have ever (ever) seen.
This trip was hugely reflective for me, a step outside the “norm” of every day life. One thing I definitely don’t (and can’t) do in London is look at the sky or the stars properly. On the first night we arrived the brilliant astronomer Dennis Mammana took us on a Night Sky Tour. A small group of us met him in a quiet part of the desert and he had set up his telescope. I’d never looked through a proper telescope before, my dad had one once and we would stick it out of the window, but this was a huge mammoth one, a 14-inch Dobsonian telescope. Dennis taught us all about the different stars and star groupings — we saw the Big Dipper, Polaris (the North Star), Arcturus in Boötes, Spica in Virgo, and the Keystone of Hercules. We also saw Jupiter and three of its four moons – and some galaxies! It blew my mind that we saw the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) threw the telescope – because it is 26 MILLION light years away. My brain was aching with all the mind-blowing facts Dennis was telling us. But sometimes it’s good to get out of your own head and daily worries and remember how tiny the Earth is, and how absolutely crucial it is that we look after it. Thank you Dennis for an really inspiring and educational time.
Anaza Borrego is well-known for its amazing iconic desert sculptures. The late Dennis Avery, a philanthropist and hero of Borrego Springs, commissioned artist Ricardo Breceda to create metal sculptures of dinosaurs and other creatures, many from species that had once roamed Borrego Springs and other parts of Southern California. The sculptures remind you of what the desert was centuries ago: mammoths, wild horses, giant sloths, camels, birds of prey and saber-tooth tigers, among others. There are more than 120 sculptures in all and they are absolutely incredible up close. You can catch glimpses of them when you drive into Anza Borrego, but being able to stand next to them was something else.