A romantic escape means reducing the world to just two people. Where better to do that than the desert? At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, you're surrounded by 600,000 acres of, well, almost nothing. But the nothing that is there is truly spectacular and it offers the perfect framework for romance. The desert guarantees you and your partner enough space and time to gaze into one another's eyes, while the crystal-clear night sky above supplies mood-enhancing starlight.
Imagine standing on a carpet of white dune primroses on the desert floor. The bright, clear desert light can make you see one another in a fresh new light. Every twig on a desert-hard creosote bush stands out; every stony grain on the surface of a boulder looks sharp and clean.
Walk together up Borrego Palm Canyon, and stroll past thorny ocotillos to an oasis of fan palms whose trunks, sheathed in skirts of fronds, resemble Hawaiian hula dancers.
Beyond the beautiful and romantic scenery, Anza-Borrego has a wild side. An unexpected number of living things survive in this desert, including 60 different mammals and 225 species of birds. Desert bighorn sheep live high in the canyon - hard to see, because they no doubt saw you first. Another lucky sight: endangered pupfish, tiny pond dwellers dating back to the Ice Age, so adaptable that they can live at temperatures from near freezing to 108 F/42 C.
Desert solitude - and spectacular beauty
Anza-Borrego is a realm of raw grit, rocky summits and canyons carved out by centuries of rainfall (reminders that thousands of years ago there was a vast lake here). A great way to explore is via Erosion Road, where you can see the huge scale of the desert: alluvial fans spreading from mountain ranges to the desert floor and Font's Point, where you can put your arms around each other and watch the sunset over the Borrego Badlands. There's a very good chance you'll be the only ones there.
Another must-see is Borrego Springs, more or less in the middle of the park: a funky town with so little traffic that you could easily lie down on the main road and not get hit. An influx of visitors nicknamed "snowbirds" heads down from colder climates in winter to enjoy the balmy desert temperatures and to play golf on several courses - bright patches of green in the immense sand trap of Anza-Borrego. You can also participate in the other popular snowbird rituals here and throughout the desert region - shopping (see below) and dining.
In California, the State Parks are known for their beauty, not their gastronomic possibilities. Yet Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a rare exception: the nearby Red Ocotillo whips up a fine breakfast and lunch. For dinner, The Krazy Coyote, in the California Mid-century Modern Palms Hotel at Indian Head, serves upmarket fare. Take your sweetheart for a drink and toast each other with martinis.
Around these parts, the most romantic hotel is La Casa del Zorro Desert Resort & Spa, a luxury oasis with whitewashed casitas, sparkling pools and a spa that offers a range of massage treatments, from essential oils to heated desert stones (try the Cactus Tea Sugar Scrub to give desert-dry skin a boost). returning here after dinner, it's easy to relax and do nothing. Just don't forget to enjoy the stars in the sky - as well as the ones in each other's eyes.
Luxury shopping, desert style
Flower-bedecked El Paseo Avenue in Palm Desert boasts more than 300 shops, jewelers, beauty salons, galleries and exclusive boutiques (think Escada, BCBG Max Azria, St John Boutique). Exclusive shopping enclave The Gardens on El Paseo is anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and includes shops such as Coach, Cole Haan and Tiffany & Co. linger over dinner at Pacifica Seafood on a balmy evening, overlooking Palm Desert and watching the light change on the mountains. For a final shopping spree, head for the Cabazon outlet shops off US 10, heading west to Los Angeles.