VB Editor Linda Grasso Hits Sensei Porcupine Creek in Rancho Mirage

Tech billionaire turf.

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    Linda Grasso

From the moment you pass through the enormous wooden gates, Sensei Porcupine Creek feels like an exclusive estate. Indeed the property was formerly the private estate of tech titan and Silicon Valley billionaire Larry Ellison. The secluded wellness retreat is nestled in a residential neighborhood in the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains in the Coachella Valley city of Rancho Mirage.

The second outpost for Sensei, Porcupine Creek opened in 2022 with 22 accommodations that include nine private villas facing the 18-hole golf course. (The first outpost, Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort, opened in 2019.) Ellison and his cofounder, world-renowned oncologist Dr. David Agus, met several years ago when a mutual friend was dying of cancer. The two discovered a shared desire to give people scientifically proven tools to live longer, healthier lives. The two have also partnered on the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine, where Dr. Agus is founding director and CEO.

The pillars of the Sensei wellness retreat are move, nourish and rest. But it is exhilaration that hits you as you motor down the winding driveway. The grounds—studded with large sculptures by Robert Indiana and Keith Haring from Ellison’s personal collection, planted with thousands of mature palm trees, and adjacent to an 18-hole golf course—made me catch my breath.

The resort offers several customizable packages with experiences that draw on the science-backed expertise of exercise physiologists, nutritionists and even former pro athletes. You can customize your package to be as jam-packed (as I did) or tranquil as you desire.

The tennis facilities—including two hard courts and one clay court—were built to match the professional courts of nearby Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which hosts the annual BNP Paribas Open professional tournament. The resort’s instructor is the former ninth-ranked doubles player in the world, Caroline Vis.

Guests can choose from accommodations that range from a bedroom in the main building to a stand-alone casita to a four-bedroom villa. Decor is a blend of Japanese-influenced minimalism—accented with stone and wood—and quintessential California casual. Vaulted ceilings permit lots of bright light to shine through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. The villas have an expansive outdoor patio replete with hot tub and heating lamps.

The prevailing ambience is high-end luxury. Raise the blinds with a remote control. Take advantage of (and chuckle over) the state-of-the-art Toto toilet that lights up (in your shade of preference) as you enter, and incorporates a temperature-controlled bidet. Soak in a teak Ofuro tub and a shower ensconced in a windowed nook offering views of a lush private garden.

The resort’s two dining menus are both helmed by Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa. The main menu is a blend of California-style cuisine with the Japanese and Peruvian influences Nobu is known for. Meals are served at the Sensei by Nobu restaurant and at a sushi bar; both are only available to resort guests. There is also a poolside Nobu menu. Everything we ordered was delicious. My only issue was a lack of flexibility. On a Sunday at 11:15 a.m., a member of our party wanted to order plain scrambled eggs with toast. The waitress kindly informed him that breakfast service ended at 11 a.m., and it would not be possible. He asked if he could simply get a slice of toast. The waitress said she’d have to go ask the chef. We were stunned when upon returning she sheepishly said, “The chef says no.” Yikes—wrong answer.

While the spa menu is expansive and progressive, Sensei has no formal spa facility, only individual treatment rooms. Guests can choose treatments like gua sha facial, an ancient massage technique used to uplift the dermis layer of the skin to revive and oxygenate the skin. The menu also includes thermal body mapping and massage, which uses thermographic technology to create a heat map of your body. The goal is to reveal asymmetries, muscle tightness and possible areas of pain so the practitioner can provide a custom massage that addresses your issues. My 90-minute massage was one of the best I’ve ever had; my Sensei Custom Facial was average.

Some packages come with treatments included. Some advice: Book early. Even two weeks before our arrival we experienced challenges (“We have one massage still available Saturday and it is at 7 a.m.”). I had to make several calls on behalf of our group of six and press the issue. They finally made additional slots available, but one member in our party was never able to book one of her included treatments. And one guy in our group—unfortunately the same one who couldn’t get eggs and toast—was told at the last minute (he was already in his robe) that his practitioner had canceled, and no one else was available to do his massage. The resort made no effort to try to arrange another treatment for the following day or to offer him a credit. For a resort of this caliber and price point (rooms start at $1,450 a night), that was shocking.

Aside from the natural beauty of the setting, the thing I liked best about Sensei was the activities. I signed up for as many as I could, including two tennis classes. The first day there were only three in the class, and the second day just one—me. As a novice player, the thought of a private lesson with a pro was terrifying. I was trying to slyly exit right when Caroline spotted me and insisted I take the class alone. It ended up being a once-in-a-lifetime private lesson. I also took my first wall yoga class, in which you do poses and stretches using straps and ropes while suspended from a wall. Unlike many other forms of yoga, it is not aimed at strengthening but rather improving flexibility and easing muscle tightness. A Functional Fascia class, using various tools to mobilize tissue and open up joints, was another new and worthwhile experience. As an avid gardener, I also took the garden walk, another delightful private experience where my friendly guide patiently answered all my questions about the native plants and the estimated 4,000 palm trees on the 230-acre property.

One final note: The property is adults-only; guests must be 16 or older. We saw several teens hiking with their parents and lounging by the pool, both of which I plan to do on our next visit. On this stay, tempted by so many enticing experiences, I just couldn’t find the time.

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