Hotel Mojave Desert getaway combines '40s ambience and luxurious detail

Where: 73721 Shadow Mountain Drive, Palm Desert.

Rates: At this time of year (through Dec. 21), rooms start at $89. From Dec. 22-April 30, bottom rate rises to $139.

Information: (800) 391-1104 or (760) 346-6121; www.hotelmojave.com

Driving east for a weekend in the desert is part of life for many Angelenos, and there's no denying the allure: spectacular golf, pina coladas by the pool and plenty of p (peace and quiet) at top resorts. But after the first few trips, there's a sense of sameness about many of the lodging options.

The 1940s-styled Hotel Mojave gives the desert getaway a refreshing twist—refined taste on a smaller scale.

Perched near the upscale El Paseo shopping district in Palm Desert, the 24-room hotel offers everything the giant resorts do not - but in a good way. Smaller than a supermarket and staffed by people who pay attention to details, Hotel Mojave is what Grandpa would call swell.

After booking a couple of adjoining rooms with a kitchenette for a weekend with friends, showing up was like stepping into the '40s. We were welcomed and escorted to the room by an unpretentious guy named Joe, who provided a proper introduction to the accommodations, demonstrating the light switches as if he owned the place.

What a room it was. It was fully chilled for comfort in advance of arrival. Frank Sinatra was heard crooning from the radio (Joe had already tuned it to a pop standards station).

Striking the perfect balance of simplicity and splendor, Hotel Mojave is likely to hook you.

Nostalgic bottles of grape Nehi in the mini-bar were a nice touch, and having a VCR, CD player and coffee maker in both rooms made us feel right at home.

The front desk stocks a vintage video library, including `` Casablanca'' and ``Gone With the Wind.'' Each room is furnished with oak chairs and desks, sea grass carpeting and vintage black-and-white photographs on the wall.

Virtually every need is anticipated. For example, instead of those pint-size plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner, the Mojave uses twin dispensers in the shower.

A low-maintenance vacation meant relaxing with fresh coffee, muffins and grapefruit juice - fresh-squeezed each morning from the Mojave's citrus trees - at the complimentary buffet breakfast or sipping lemonade and iced tea, which were served in the afternoon.

When we weren't lounging around the pool and spa, we enjoyed drinks on the room's private patio - a perfect setting for a romantic nightcap.

While savoring these elegant stylings, you'd never guess that the Hotel Mojave's owner, Larry Broughton, was both a manager at McDonald's and a Green Beret (he served in the Middle East) before starting a career running small hotels.

At his Mojave, luxury is in the details, not the trimmings.

A smaller hotel does have disadvantages. An outside gate is locked after 11 p.m. (guests are given a key for entry), parking is limited, and sometimes the tiny lobby is closed when the lone desk clerk is otherwise engaged.

The rectangular configuration does allow rooms some degree of privacy, with the swimming pool at the center, but it's a good idea to inquire whether families with young kids are scheduled during a visit. Two screaming children and their parents were inconsiderate early one morning, but most guests were polite and discreet.

Benevolence is practically contagious in Palm Desert, so don't be surprised if strangers and merchants smile and call out a greeting during a stroll along El Paseo.

The shops are magnificent—most are the domain of the very, very rich—and you'll discover the highest quality in linens, crystal and cigars. There are few shops with modestly priced goods, and seeking out a sale is like a treasure hunt.

A note on penny-pinching: Try to book a room with a kitchenette, which saves dining costs and gives you more time together, and be sure to ask for dishes when you make reservations (the manager explained that some guests routinely feel entitled to take the dishes as souvenirs).

Joe suggested nearby Jensen's market for grocery shopping, which worked out fine.

Because many El Paseo restaurants are expensive, when we wanted to dine out we decided to head for Palm Springs—located 10 minutes away—to try El Mirasol, which was enthusiastically recommended by an El Paseo shopkeeper. The authentic Mexican cuisine was worthy of praise.

This 2002 article was published in the Los Angeles Daily News.

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