More than just a sweet spot to take your sweetheart, Shields Date Garden has all the fixings for a nostalgic weekend outing: pleasant meditation gardens, juicy Medjools, a spicy 15-minute romance film, young lover soda fountains, and the most sumptuous brunch in all of Indio. Discover this desert gem for the first time, and then over and over again.
From the Middle East to Mecca
Opened in 1924, Shields Date Garden has been producing the Middle Eastern delights we call dates for nearly a century. Its founders, Floyd and Bess Shields, moved to Indio with a slew of prospecting ranchers and farmers after discovering that the dry heat of the desert, coupled with the stable ground supply of water from artesian wells in Mecca, California, made the Coachella Valley the perfect place to cultivate the sweet, juicy fruit. Beginning with an Algerian date palm, Floyd and Bess began the 15-year process of cultivating palms, painstakingly fertilizing female trees, and creating the 119 varieties of dates you can find at Shields today.
But Shields is more than just a farm. In the 40s and 50s, it became a popular stopover for visitors and snowbirds traveling between Palm Springs and the Salton Sea. Floyd Shields began giving date palm cultivation lectures, selling dates from a welcoming gift shop, and finally building a soda fountain in the 1950s where visitors enjoyed the farm’s date shakes, made of a secret ingredient called “date crystals.” The aged flakes of dates, bigger than grains of sugar but smaller than pieces or chunks, are the special sauce of a Shields date shake.
Love and Dates
Floyd and Bess knew that the gentle, careful cultivation of date palms was a good metaphor for romance and love, and they didn’t shy away from making connections between plants and humans in their racily-titled homage to date farming, “Romance and Sex Life of the Date.” It’s a film visitors can still see today, running continuously in the Shields Romance Theatre when you visit the date garden.
If the sweet stuff gets too strong, the Cafe at Shields offers breakfast, brunch, and lunch dishes that cleverly incorporate their signature ingredient. A burger topped with bacon, bleu cheese, and dates, anyone? What about date pancakes, served with a side of date butter? The crafty, from-scratch items are paired with more traditional breakfast and lunch items, all made from free-range, hormone-free meats and produce.
The cafe isn’t the only addition to check out, though. In 2013, Shields opened walking paths through the date palm farm, allowing visitors to stroll through some of the working farm area. Along the walking paths are scenes from a “Biblical garden,” where statues and scenes from the life of Jesus line the path. Stop and contemplate scenes of Jesus with the woman at the well, healing the sick, and breaking bread at the last supper. There is also an “empty tomb” scene in the garden. The structure of the garden allows places to sit and rest in contemplation, and the peaceful walk feels a world away from the bustling gift shop and cafe.
With its wholesome, curated structure, Shields Date Garden offers serious horticulture and quality food products, all while not taking itself too seriously. The nostalgic, kitschy vibe is alive and well too, and allows visitors to have a little fun with its sweet, sticky, fruity creations.
The garden and gift shop are open every day (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 9 am - 5 pm and is located at 80225 Highway 111 in Indio. Cafe at Shields serves food from 8 am - 3 pm daily.