What do you do when it’s pitch-perfect weather in San Diego? My choice was a bit unconventional, yet warmly rewarding. I headed 90 miles from home into the Anza-Borrego Desert for a stay at its most iconic and best known lodge, La Casa del Zorro. Upon arrival, our dash registered a temperature of 106 F, but I was not deterred.
Originally established in the 1930s as a welcoming lodge for guests, its legacy of hospitality remains a significant component of the ranch-style stucco hacienda. Purchased in 1960 by James Copley, San Diego’s top newspaper magnate, changes were lovingly made with an expanded dining facility, new accommodations and the resort’s first swimming pool. Fast-forward to today, and this getaway is impressive in an understated classic way, with none of the over-the-top trappings that are the hallmark of many high-profile resorts.
Closed for three years (during which time its fate was unknown), its 2013 reopening revealed a $13 million renovation. As a past guest, albeit more than a decade ago, I was anticipatory but also apprehensive as my memories were fond ones. I feared changes, big changes, and a resort that was not necessarily better, just different. But my concerns were for naught.
Upon opening the lobby’s carved wooden door, I was greeted with a familiar scene, multiple seating areas in an atmosphere of hand-hewn beams, white adobe walls and terra cotta tile flooring. Its eateries cover the gamut from classic cuisine in the Butterfield Dining Room to a more casual fare in the Fox Den Bar and Cantina. The restaurant’s daily blue plate specials are legendary and aptly named, as they were originally served on blue plates.
Because of the weather, Borrego Springs and La Casa del Zorro are seasonal. Even the population is reflective of the time of year: summer season, 2,500 permanent residents; remaining seasons, 25,000 residents. But with La Casa’s selection of multiple pools and one of nature’s darkest skies brilliantly showcasing the Milky Way in summer months, there are many advantages of a warm weather visit. It’s a place with a wishing well and sculpted sand grounds that are raked and groomed daily, explaining the staff of 13 for landscape and pool maintenance.
Don’t miss Borrego Night Sky Tours conducted by local resident and master astronomer Dennis Mammana. His impressive resume lists the Smithsonian, the University of Arizona and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Mammana’s goal is simple, “I want you to see and feel what it’s like to be alone under the cosmos.” He did not disappoint. The night’s sightings included the Milky Way, Saturn and the rings of Saturn, a satellite, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, the birth of a star, a dying star and, as we were packing to leave, a shooting star.
Set amid Anza-Borrego State Park’s 600,000 acres, surrounded by the Santa Rosa Mountains and having only 25 street lights (all fully-shielded downward), Borrego has the distinction of being one of the world’s seven dark-sky communities and the only one in California, making it an astronomical mecca.
At Galleta Meadows, larger-than-life metal sculptures are scattered throughout Borrego. Guided by a map, it’s possible to find each of the 129 sculptures. Akin to a scavenger hunt, discoveries include desert tortoises, wild horses and a 350-foot serpent, which travels from one side of the road to the other.
With 66 rooms on 42 acres, a tennis complex, full fitness center, spa, 26 pools, bocce ball court, horseshoe pit, croquet field and a life-size chess set, the details are conclusive, La Casa del Zorro has it all. But it was signage on the foot path from our room to the lobby that best described a visit: “Slow, adults at play.”