A short drive, a bit of perspiration and a spirit of adventure is all that's needed for a quick getaway to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, where options abound for hiking, golf or spa activities at one of the area's tranquil resorts.
Sweetening the pot for hikers, the nonprofit Anza Borrego Foundation, in celebration of its 50th anniversary, is offering free day passes on selected weekends to one of the park's most popular spots, the Borrego Palm Canyon trail.
At three miles long, this breathtaking trail is known for its oversized palm tree grove and bighorn sheep sightings, as well as its culmination at a beautiful palm oasis and waterfall. Visitors to the trail must typically purchase and display a $10 vehicle day pass, but on Jan 21-22, Feb. 11-12 and March 25-26, admission will be free for those who register at theabf.org.
What to do
The Palm Canyon trail is one of hundreds of hiking opportunities in the 620,000-acre state park, the largest in California.
A two-hour drive from San Diego, Riverside and Palm Springs, the desert park is beloved by 1 million annual visitors who come to hike, lounge by resort pools or play golf on fairways that include the Tom Fazio-designed course at the Rams Hill Golf Club - ranked third among resort courses in California by Golf Week magazine.
In the spring, with the right amount of rain, wild flowers bloom in brilliant colors throughout the desert park.
An added bonus is the night sky. Unencumbered by man-made ambient light, astounding views of the heavens and stars can be seen year-round.
Where to stay
Though some come to Borrego Springs on day trips, the unincorporated town surrounded by park land has many hotels, large and small, plus numerous RV resorts and, of course, campgrounds. Some of the more popular hotels include La Casa del Zorro, The Springs at Borrego, Borrego Springs Resort & Spa, Borrego Valley Inn, The Palms at Indian Head and the Palm Canyon Hotel and RV Resort.
Where to eat/drink
During the winter tourist season, Borrego Springs offers many dining options including Carlee's Place, a lively roadhouse just off the town's iconic Christmas Circle where locals, snowbirds and day trippers have been eating and drinking for decades. Other notable eateries include Rams Hill Restaurant at the Rams Hill Golf Club, the Big Horn Bar & Grill, The Arches at Borrego Springs Resort, Carmelita's Mexican Grill & Cantina, the Krazy Coyote Bar & Grille, Kendall's Café and the Red Ocotillo.
Driving tour of beasts and serpents
Visitors to Borrego Springs won't want to miss driving by some of the more than 130 metal sculptures that dot otherwise wide-open landscapes on the Galleta Meadows property. The land is owned by a trust created by the late Dennis Avery, a philanthropist and millionaire who owned thousands of acres of undeveloped land in Borrego Springs. Avery initially commissioned artist Ricardo Breceda to create sculptures of beasts that once roamed the valley when it was a jungle. But when Breceda ran out of animals to sculpt, he became more fanciful, creating giant serpents, dragons and other creatures.
Many of the sculptures are along Borrego Springs Road, but detailed maps are available at the Anza Borrego Natural History Association store near Christmas Circle.