Lars and Kelly Viklund, Owners of 3 Swank Resorts in Palm Springs
By Barbara Beckley
“Stewards of Palm Springs’ architectural and hospitality history.” That’s how fashionistas-turned boutique hotel moguls Lars and Kelly Viklund describe their pride in breathing new life and luxury into three vintage inns in Downtown Palm Springs.
As with so many Palm Springs success stories, the Viklunds didn’t set out to be hoteliers. (Or “moteliers,” as Lars likes to say.) Lars has loved Palm Springs all his life. Beginning when he vacationed here with his parents as a kid growing up in Manhattan Beach, then with his buddies – on spring break, oh my – and continuing into adulthood with wife Kelly.
Owning a hotel was the farthest thing from their minds, Kelly recalls, when she and Lars met as they walked to the post office in the downtown Los Angeles fashion district. Lars owned a clothing company, Heart and Soul, and was a retail factor. Kelly, who grew up in Encino and Malibu, was a clothing rep. But they loved to travel and did so extensively staying at luxury resorts in sunny destinations – including Lars’ beloved Palm Springs.
The couple also liked to “dabble in real estate.” So…when the Del Marcos Hotel came on the market about 20 years ago, the Viklunds snapped it up. “The location was a 10,” Lars explains, located just a block from South Palm Canyon Drive’s restaurants, shops and nightlife. And the building was “a 10-plus;” an architectural landmark designed in 1947 by master mid-century architect William F. Cody.
The Del Marcos needed work. And they even thought of re-selling it – for a second, Lars recalls. But his love and appreciation of Palm Springs mid-century heritage, and with encouragement from friends such as Trina Turk (who spear-headed the city’s mid-century architectural revival), Lars and Kelly restored the Del Marcos to its former glory – and voila – became hotel owner/operators.
Turns out they were good at it. Fast-forward 10 years, and the adjacent La Serena Villas goes on sale. Built in 1933, La Serena reflects Palm Springs Spanish Colonial style, with cozy red-tile roofed bungalows. It needed an immense amount of work. But the designing duo were up to the task, and bought it, too. While you wouldn’t guess; the Viklunds pretty much “reimagined” La Serena, utilizing its original footprint, while turning it into a luxurious, adult-only, 18-bungalow hideaway, and adding a cheery lobby, gift shop, the acclaimed Azucar restaurant & Sugar High Bar, a rooftop relaxation patio with a fire place and spectacular mountain views (ideal for happy hour), and Whispers, a one-room yet full-service spa.
If two are good – three are better, right? In 2017, the Viklunds bought the mid-century number directly across the street. Revamped, and renamed The Three Fifty, the cute little inn “feels like your own home,” says Lars. Built in 1950, guests enjoy a classic mid-century experience, with 10, floor-to-ceiling windowed guestrooms that look onto the pool and mountain skyline. The Three Fifty is popular with group buy-outs for wedding, anniversary, birthday and bachelorette parties, explains Lars. As well as with visitors who want a quiet, personalized experience.
Are the Viklunds happy hoteliers? Absolutely. “Our greatest satisfaction is being thankful and grateful that we’re making so many people happy. Our greatest pleasure is the guests who return again and again,” enthuses Kelly. “We love to travel and know what makes us happy when we do. So we put a lot of thought into giving our guests little touches that make a difference. That you’d find in four- and star-five hotels.”
For example, La Serena guests receive the “Frida,” a personal note from Kelly and Lars, a small bottle of tequila, two glasses, lime and salt, at check-in. And each morning they enjoy a brightly colored “breakfast basket,” filled with fresh-squeezed orange juice, hard boiled eggs, house-made granola and house-made yogurt, delivered to their rooms or poolside or wherever they’d like. At the Del Marcos and The Three Fifty guests enjoy a house-made breakfast buffet.
Becoming restauranteurs was as unexpected as the hotel gig. “At first we thought of just simple food and a bar for guests,” recalls Kelly. Lucky for foodies, Azucar blossomed into a full-service delight, serving fresh and creative lunch and dinner open to the public. Like everyone, I found the Beef Sliders – with Béarnaise aioli, caramelized onions, bacon marmalade, confit tomatoes and romaine – and the signature Blood Orange margarita amazing. Azucar and the rooftop deck are also available for events. “We’ve had some really high profile private parties from the technology and entertainment industries,” says Lars.
“La Serena is my baby,” continues Kelly. “It’s the one we built. We have no investors, so we put our heart and soul into making it work.” Kelly used her design instincts to punch up the Spanish colonial ambiance in a south of the border style that would make Frida Kahlo proud. Because La Serena is adult-only, they gave each bungalow a private patio with an outdoor claw foot tub and a fire pit. It’s popular with couples, friends, mother-daughter duos and other adults “who want a luxury property, but the intimate feel of a small boutique hotel,” says Kelly.
“The Del Marcos is like my first child,” chimes in Lars. “Because it was the first Palm Springs hotel we purchased, it has a special place in my heart.” And in the hearts of guests. Many of the same folks have been staying at the Del Marcos for 20 years. “Some come five times a year,” Lars says. “The Del Marcos is the essence of old Palm Springs. It gives guests a sense of authenticity,” he explains. Guests meet and mingle with one another around the pool, and during the complimentary happy hour, another special touch featuring a nightly cocktail specialty and charcuterie boards from Azucar.
Is three enough? No! “We recently purchased the Orleans apartment building next to The Three Fifty,” announced Lars. The property runs from Belardo Road to South Palm Canyon Avenue. “We’re not sure what we’re going to do. But we’re excited.” Judging from what the Viklunds have done so far – Palm Springs and all of us – are in for another treat. Stay tuned!
Del Marcos Hotel | 225 W. Baristo Road, 760-325-6902
La Serena Villas | 339 S. Belardo Road, 760-832-8044
The Three Fifty Hotel Palm Springs | 350 S. Belardo Road, 760-323-3654