“Guys’ weekends” get a bad rap. Maybe it began with The Hangover guys leaving their friend to nearly bake to death on a rooftop. Or when the first nightclub decided to give free bottle service to an NFL player. Or when Justin Bieber outgrew babysitters.
Whatever the reason, the very term, “guys’ weekend,” elicits images of immature debauchery and bad decisions. While not entirely inaccurate, that assessment doesn’t tell the whole story. When done right, a guys’ weekend vacation can be full of PG-rated fun times, delicious treats, cool toys, and lots of grin-inducing playtime. And there’s no reason it can’t be luxurious as well.
So I decided to have a perfectly respectable (and solo) guys’ weekend in the town of La Quinta, in California’s Coachella Valley near Palm Springs. Why this location? Mainly, because it’s home to the beautiful La Quinta Resort & Club (not to be confused with the significantly-less-ritzy La Quinta Inns & Suites hotel chain).
The setting of my solo guys’ weekend: La Quinta Resort & Club (Photo: La Quinta Resort & Club)
This 45-acre resort, part of Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria brand, opened in 1926 and has a long reputation as a desert playground for the Southern California elite (Oscar-winning 1930s writer-director Frank Capra is rumored to have written classics like “It Happened One Night” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” here).
The property is lined with lovely Spanish-style casitas, ornate fountains, and the occasional grapefruit tree. I managed to score the gigantic, 1,385-square foot Pueblo Suite with my own private backyard and pool, where I spent the first day of my luxurious solo guys’ weekend lounging poolside, staring at the Santa Rosa Mountains, and contemplating how I was going to really do things up during my stay.
The Pueblo Suite has a private backyard with its own pool. (Photo: La Quinta Resort & Club)
La Quinta has numerous tennis courts and golf courses (guests also have access to courses at the nearby PGA West golf club). And while I looked forward to eating my drinking my way through the amazing resort, I felt I needed to do something active and/or adventurous in order for this to qualify as a true “guys weekend.” Golf and tennis aren’t exactly my leisure activities of choice, so I turned to the woman who organized my stay for other options.
“Would you like to race BMWs?” she asked.
The place where dreams are made of, if your dreams involve driving expensive cars at ridiculous speeds. (Photo: BMW Performance Center)
The folks at La Quinta arranged for me to spend some time burning rubber at the nearby BMW Performance Center-West in Thermal, California, one of two such BMW facilities in the country (the other is in South Carolina).
After about a 30-minute drive to Thermal, I arrived at the BMW Performance Center. For its racing activities, BMW uses a track owned by the private Thermal Club, a separate facility best described as a country club for car lovers.
For its driving school, BMW sells various packages that include lodging and meals at nearby resorts, including La Quinta. There are several different courses that teach drivers the basics of cornering, downshifting, figure-eights, and other sorts of hard-driving maneuvers you usually see on a race track or your average action movie chase scene. These driving/accommodations packages range from $1,950 to $5,000.
Fun fact: You don’t need to own a BMW to race here. (Photo: BMW Performance Center)
And yes, they encourage guys’ weekends and other sorts of group outings. “We do corporate events,” lead instructor Adam Seaman told me as we prepared for my day at the track. ”We’ve done wedding programs, bachelor parties — all sorts of things. If you have a driver’s license, you can come out with us.”
On that bright morning, I was to hit the track with Adam and Chris, another first-time racer. As we walked to the track, I saw one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen: a variety of brand-new, fully-loaded BMW M3s. Chris and I got to pick out which one we wanted to drive and it was a lot of fun to giddily scamper around them trying to decide which one we wanted would be our toy for the day. We were like kids in a candy store — a candy store with 400-horsepower treats.
“Which one do you want to drive?” is music to your ears when you’re looking at these. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
Adam then ran through the basics of the BMWs we’d be driving. These particular models had automatic transmissions with paddle shifters — two small gear shifts on either side of the steering wheel that allow you to shift gears manually without a clutch. Adam then explained the exercise we were going to be doing on the track. It’s called a “Lead/Follow,” which basically involves the three of us racing in single file with Adam always in front, and Chris and me switching off between 2nd and 3rd position at speeds topping 130 miles-per-hour.
Instructor Adam Seaman gave me my first driving lesson in decades. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
Then it was time for the moment of truth: We donned our helmets and hopped into our cars; I picked a white M3 coupe. We first did what’s called a reconnaissance lap to get familiar with the track and, presumably, to settle our “Holy-Crap-We’re-On-A-Racetrack!!!” excitement.
After that first lap, we began to open `er up, flooring it on the straightaways and braking hard before the upcoming hairpin turns. It was then I learned there’s no halfway on the racetrack: When Adam told us to brake, he wanted us to brake hard. When he wanted us to accelerate on the straightaways, he wanted us to floor it.
“Speed up!!!” he would yell into the com-link in our helmets as we hit the straight part of the track. I was grinning. I’d never gotten a car up to 100 mph before. And after a while, I decided that before the day was out, I was gonna hit 130 mph.
Problem was, I’ve always been bad at using paddle shifters (which, along with the CD player and child safety seat attachments, are among the never-used features in my own car). And for the first couple of laps, I had trouble shifting to top gear on the straightaway.
This is what 130 mph looks like from the dash. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
“White car,” I heard Adam say to me in the com-link in my ear, “Speed up!” Having a driving instructor yell at me to go faster reminded me of drivers’ ed; but except instead of an elderly high school teacher in a beat-up Ford Escort on the acceleration lane to I-66, I was now being ordered to speed up by a young professional racer in a brand-new BMW on a private racetrack for the super wealthy. Progress!
“Screw it,” I said to myself. I abandoned my adventure in manual shifting, threw the Beemer into full automatic and floored it. Freed from my shifting issues, I was off and running. The three of us took to the track in single-file formation with Adam leading the way and Chris and me alternating between second and third position. Every few laps or so Adam would tell us to switch. Then, whichever one of us was in second position would veer to the left of the track and slow down, allowing the person in third position to race ahead and assume second position while the other guy dropped back into third.
The three of us eventually developed into a nice rhythm. After a while, we were switching off with the high-speed precision of a Blue Angels air show and I was taking the high-speed turns easily and confidently. I started to get the hang of accelerating just at the right time at the tail end of the turn so that I could really be flying at the straightaway. During my third time around the track, I finally managed to hit 130 mph! Look out Vin Diesel and company; I felt ready for Fast and Furious 8: California Drift.
On the vacation activities ranking system, this ranks significantly higher than visiting a museum. (Photo: BMW Performance Center)
Then I got a startling reminder of what a novice driver I was. After a few times around the track, some serious mental fatigue took hold as I grew weary of all the concentration involved — remembering when to brake, where to brake, when to speed up, and everything else Adam told me. That, and some overconfidence, caused my mind to wander, and I took a turn too fast and got into a pretty serious spinout.
Somehow, I recovered relatively quickly. After Adam informed me in my earpiece what I’d done wrong, I resolved to have no more Icarus moments and I regained focus for the rest of my time on track.
As I almost lost my breakfast a couple of times that morning on the track, I was in no mood for lunch when I returned to La Quinta in early afternoon. But by the time evening rolled around, I was more than ready to enjoy dinner at Morgan’s in the Desert, the flagship of La Quinta Resort & Club’s eight dining venues (which also include the casual TWENTY6 and the Mexican-flavored Adobe Grill).
Post racing scallops at La Quinta Resort & Club’s flagship restaurant, Morgan’s (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
As I enjoyed the Maine sea scallops with roasted butternut squash, along with all of the restaurant’s delicious cocktails I had earlier denied myself in anticipation of my driving adventure, the sun set on my luxury guys’ weekend. Was it better than the less-pricey guys’ weekends I’ve enjoyed in the past that were full of dive bars, chicken wings, cheap beer, and hazy memories? Hard to say. But any guys’ weekend that includes the phrase “130 mph” that doesn’t involve an injury or arrest is one for the ages.