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Caliente Tropics Resort from “Alpha Dog”

Jun 1st, 2011 | By | Category: Movie Locations


Another location that I dragged the Grim Cheaper out to stalk while visiting the Palm Springs area two weekends ago was the Caliente Tropics Resort which appeared in the ultra-disturbing 2006 movie Alpha Dog. I found this location thanks to fave stalking book Hollywood Escapes: The Moviegoer’s Guide to Exploring Southern California’s Great Outdoors, which was written by stalking god Harry Medved (who, as it just so happens, will be signing books at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena on Sunday, June 19th at 2 p.m., but I digress). For those who have yet to see Alpha Dog – and I can’t really say that I would recommend doing so as it is extremely depressing – the movie very closely follows the true life story of the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz by drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood and his gang of friends. Pretty much the only differences between the actual story and its onscreen counterpart are the names of those involved and the setting. In real life, Nicholas was kidnapped from his hometown of West Hills and taken to Santa Barbara, where he was held hostage for three days, during which time he attended a pool party at the Lemon Tree Inn. In Alpha Dog, the Markowitz character, who was named Zack Mazursky, was kidnapped from Claremont and then taken to Palm Springs for the weekend, during which time he attended a pool party at the Caliente Tropics Resort. It was that resort that the GC and I set out to stalk two weekends ago.

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The Caliente Tropics Resort was originally constructed in 1964 as part of motel mogul Ken Kimes’ tiki-themed motor-hotel chain and was known simply as The Tropics. (While Kimes built and owned over 60 successful motels in his lifetime, he is perhaps best known for being married to murderer/con-woman/Elizabeth-Taylor-impersonator Sante Kimes). In its early years, the Tropics was THE place to vacation in the Coachella Valley and such luminaries as Elvis Presley and most of the members of the Rat Pack were frequent guests. Nancy Sinatra even lived there for a time during her childhood. Sadly, the motel fell into disrepair sometime during the 80’s and remained that way until the year 2000, whereupon it was purchased by new owners who immediately embarked upon a $2.2 million restoration project to bring the property back to its original, Polynesian-themed grandeur.

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The Caliente Tropic Resort boasts the third largest pool in the Coachella Valley. It holds a whopping 100,000 gallons of water and, amazingly enough, looks exactly the same today as it did when the place first opened in 1964. The pool also has the distinction of being the site of one of the very first Miss Hawaiian Tropic contests.

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In Alpha Dog, the Caliente Tropics Resort is stated to be in Palm Desert, but in actuality the hotel is located about eleven miles west of Palm Desert, right in the heart of Downtown Palm Springs. In the movie, Frankie Ballenbacher (aka Justin Timberlake) takes Zack Mazursky (aka Anton Yelchin) to a party at the Caliente at the behest of drug-dealer/kingpin Johnny Truelove (aka Emile Hirsch), who has kidnapped the teenager in order to hold him as a marker for a debt his brother owes. Several areas of the hotel appeared in the flick, including the exterior, which you can see above. And I really do have to apologize for the quality of my screen captures – as I mentioned earlier, Alpha Dog is a very dark movie and my screen captures definitely reflect that.

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The pool area also appeared in the movie as the spot where Zack – ahem – “swam” with his new friends Julie Beckley (aka Amanda Seyfried) and Alma (aka Amber Heard).

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I am fairly certain that one of the hotel’s real life rooms was also used in the filming, but I was, unfortunately, not able to verify that while I was stalking the place.

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The Caliente Tropics Resort was also featured in the 1997 movie City of Industry as the hotel where Roy (aka Harvey Keitel) and Lee Egan (aka Timothy Hutton) stayed while in Palm Springs planning the heist of a local jewelry store.

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While stalking the hotel, the GC spotted three cement blocks bearing sets of handprints, a la Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. One of the blocks was signed by someone named “Anna Nicole”, whom I logically assumed was reality star Anna Nicole Smith. I promptly went to the front desk to inquire about the blocks, but not only did the woman working in the office not know who the Anna Nicole in question was, but she had also been unaware up until that time that there were even signed cement blocks with handprints on the premises! Needless to say, she was not exactly a wealth of information. Winking smile Anyway, while she was speaking with me, she told me she did not believe the handprints belonged to the reality star, saying with a crinkled nose, “I seriously doubt Anna Nicole Smith would have ever stayed here.” LOL

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As it turns out, though, Miss Smith did in fact once stay at the Caliente Tropics Resort during the filming of the Season 2 episode of The Anna Nicole Show titled “Anna (Palm) Springs into Action”. In the episode, Anna ventures out to the Desert in order to judge the 2003 American Guy male beauty contest. And, ironically enough, the woman at the front desk was actually not too far off in her assessment of the situation, as Anna complained about her accommodations the entire time she was there, calling the hotel “cheapy” and “embarrassing”.

The Anna Nicole Show–Caliente Tropics Resort

You can watch a clip from the “Anna (Palm) Springs into Action” episode of The Anna Nicole Show, in which the Caliente Tropics Resort is shown, by clicking above.

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Unfortunately I never was able to figure out who the other sets of handprints belonged to. The block on the left looks as if it says, “Sav-A-Pet”, “Petsmart”, “Herb M.”, and “Marcel”, but after Googling countless combinations of those particular words, I came up empty-handed. And I am at a complete loss as to what is spelled out on the block on the right. I believe the first word is “Harold”, but neither the GC nor I could figure it out while we were stalking the hotel. Ideas, anyone?

Until next time, Happy Stalking! Smile

Anna Nicole Smith handprints - Caliente Tropics Motel

Stalk It: Caliente Tropics Resort, from Alpha Dog, is located at 411 East Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. You can visit the hotel’s official website here. The cement block featuring Anna Nicole Smith’s handprints can be found in the patch of grass located just south of the resort’s pool, in the area marked with a pink “X” in the above aerial view.



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  1. Heather R. says:

    I’m new to your blog and love it. I’ve lived in the valley my whole life and i’m always interested in celebrities and where they film movies and tv shows. Have you found the house where Nicholas lived in West Hills? I live in the area and could never find it.

    • Lindsay says:

      Hi Heather,
      I’m so glad to hear you like my blog. 🙂 My friend EJ from The Movieland Directory found all of the real-life locations from the Jesse James Hollywood kidnapping. Nicholas Markowitz’s home was located at 23661 Arminta Street in West Hills. Hope that helps.
      – Lindsay

  2. SuzyUK says:

    My daughter & I stayed at the hotel in June 2010 for 1 night. The pool area was fabulous and our room looked similar to the one above. I wish we had known about the movie & Rat pack connections before we went. I’m really enjoying reading your pages & cant wait to return to the West coast

  3. John (Bay Area) says:

    Awesome post. We stayed at the Caliente Tropics Resort a few years ago during a Thanksgiving trip to see family in La Quinta. We loved the Tiki Theme… so much better than many of the generic old hotels in that area. The huge pool was awesome and the rooms were nicely updated so it turned out to be one of the best hotels we have stayed at in the Palm Springs area. I guess we were easier to please than Anna Nicole.

    • Lindsay says:

      I think anyone would have been easier to please than Anna Nicole! LOL The hotel looked nice, but we didn’t get to see any rooms, unfortunately, so I couldn’t really say whether I recommended the place or not. I’m glad you posted this for people who are interested in staying there. 🙂

      • John (Bay Area) says:

        Yep. is a good place to get reviews and recent room photos too. People either love it or hate it.

  4. Nice stalk. Looks like a nice place to stay for the pool alone.

  5. Laurie says:

    Great post! If the third cement block is illegible, no doubt it was part of Anna Nicole’s entourage. It probably made sense to them at the time. LOL . . .

  6. I would guess that the interior hotel rooms were done at the same place, but, according to our Palm Springs locations list, we also might have filmed here too, (or maybe the Willows Inn was where the crew stayed). I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, but I only worked on the L.A. County portion of the movie, so I just don’t know. — Scott Trimble, Assistant Location Manager of “Alpha Dog”.

    • Lindsay says:

      Oh wow, I didn’t know that you worked on the movie! Do you happen to know where Justin Timberlake’s dad’s house is? Is it Palm Springs? That house is amazing!

  7. lavonna says:

    Good post! Movie was dark but I love true stories even when they are sad!! OMG I’d love to be in LA and get book signed by Harry Medved!!! No one is ever there when we are visiting..well except the time we saw Hef….and he commented on my santa hat 😉

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. […] fellow stalker/location manager Scott Trimble, of the Film in America website, wrote a comment on my post about the Caliente Tropics Resort, the motel featured in Alpha Dog, stating that he had actually worked on the movie.  So I […]

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