My wife and I love the desert. Our favorite pastime is lying by the pool under a warm sun with a good book (or, in Jeannie’s case, back issues of cooking magazines). But on our latest trip to Palm Desert, the wind howled and the temperature hovered in the 60s. What do you do when you can’t enjoy Palm Desert’s great outdoors? Try the desert’s great indoors. The tab: Three nights at the Westin Desert Willow Villas was $507, including tax; dinner for two at Fresh Agave, with beer and a margarita, was $58; and breakfast at Wilma & Frieda was $39.
In recent years, our default landing spot in Palm Desert has been the Westin Desert Willow Villas (75 Willow Ridge, Palm Desert;  636-7000. Although they are timeshares, the 356 villas are available to the public by using booking sites such as Expedia or Hotwire. Rooms are especially plentiful in the summer, but we found an 870-square-foot one-bedroom villa available in December. The spacious unit included a kitchen, living and dining areas, a separate bedroom and a large bathroom with a whirlpool tub.
Everyone has a favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant, and we’re no exception. When we’re in Palm Desert we head for Fresh Agave Mexican Bar & Grill (73325 Highway 111, Palm Desert;  836-9028). The 13 varieties of margaritas include skinny, spicy and flavored. And the sizzling fajitas (chicken or steak) arrive at your table with enough heat to warm you on the coldest evening. For breakfast, we look no farther than Wilma & Frieda (73575 El Paseo, Palm Desert;  773-2807). This vibrant café, open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily in the Gardens at El Paseo, serves delicious comfort food (including blackberry custard French toast and short rib eggs Benedict). Come early on the weekend; the wait can be more than an hour.
When the temperature drops and the pool is no longer an option, head for a few of the area’s indoor attractions. The Palm Springs Air Museum (745 N. Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs;  778-6262,) offers one of the world’s finest collections of World War II aircraft inside three climate-controlled hangars and outside on the tarmac. Access to the 200-acre Walter Annenberg Estate in nearby Rancho Mirage, otherwise known as Sunnylands (37977 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage;  202-2222) is by reservation only, but you can get out of the cold at the Sunnylands Center and Gardens (Thursdays-Sundays), where exhibits, films and art are on display without charge. The center houses a gift shop and café that serves French press coffee to help ward off the chill. And finally, the cozy Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert (72-567 Highway 111, Palm Desert;  346-5600) offers rotating exhibitions of sculpture, painting, photography and new media. While we were here, we took in “Glass for the New Millennium: Masterworks From the Kaplan-Ostergaard Collection,” a stunning collection of studio glass pieces that affirms glass as a major sculptural medium.
The lesson learned
It’s great to be in the desert when the sun is out and there’s a tropical drink in your hand. But when those conditions don’t prevail, Palm Desert and environs still make for a great weekend escape. Just visit the great indoors.