Roman Whittaker isn't afraid to admit he's a metrosexual, at least after I explain to him that the newly-coined term describes heterosexual men who enjoy a bit of pampering. “My wife and I sit side-by-side and get our manicures and pedicures done here,” Whittaker says of River Nails & Spa, one of three beauty centers at The River at Rancho Mirage on Bob Hope Drive and Highway 111. He also likes the Bath & Body Works' cucumber and melon spray. “But I use it for air spray.” He's not, however, keen to try the Botox services at Spa Helios.

Whittaker, an attorney in Palm Springs, is first and foremost a family man. And that's another reason he spends a couple of days or evenings a week at the Jerde Partnership Inc.-designed center nestled in the Santa Rosas mountains and surrounded by palms. It's a family place. “We primarily come here to eat and go to the movies,” he says. It's not a place to visit for the type of clothes shopping found at other area malls, such as Westfield Shoppingtown Palm Desert. The mall draws from affluent cities Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs, La Quinta and Palm Desert.

The Century Theater multiplex, designed by Perkowitz + Ruth Architects, brings in 1 million visitors a year. Whittaker feels comfortable bringing his 7-year- and 7-week-old sons into most of the restaurants. Take Babe's, for example; a restaurant owned by restaurateur Marie Callender's son. Remember adorable Babe from the movie of the same name? He's on the menu here: pork and ribs are the specialty. Or the Whittakers (his wife owns a clothing shop in Palm Springs) might order out from Baja Fresh. More than 1,000 dining seats are available at The River.

Probably the biggest attraction — the oasis in the middle of the stultifying hot desert — is the river for which the project is named. It's man-made, of course, by Lifescapes International Inc.; little natural water is available in these parts.

The river provides a calm respite for both residents and tourists (most stores open at noon off-season, but stay open late) and is the centerpiece for various family-oriented events. Once a year there's a Duck Pluck. Management fills the river with rubber duckies. Shoppers can pick one and maybe win a prize. Soon, a kiosk will rent RADAR-powered boats for sailing the river. And each December there's a Christmas “boat parade.”

Whittaker, who moved his family from Orange County, Calif., four years ago to take advantage of a lifestyle he says he couldn't have farther north in the state, sees The River as a destination, which is what developer J. H. Snyder intended. Los Angeles-based Snyder has about eight retail projects in Southern California.

When Snyder was planning The River he told his favorite waitress at the Palamino restaurant here that he wanted her to “run his river.” She couldn't figure out what he was talking about. That waitress, Julie Reese, is now The River's director of marketing and hospitality.

Vitals

Location: Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Size: 225,000 square feet

Opened: 2001

Combined permanent and seasonal population: 494,200

Stores: Bath & Body Works, Bang & Olufsen, Borders; restaurants include P.F.Chang's China Bistro, the Yard House and Fleming's Prime Steakhouse