A mammoth knight in armor points the way to Shields, just off U.S. Highway 111 in Riverside County, California. From the dusty heat of the Colorado Desert, follow the knight’s guidance into the calm and splendor of Shields Date Garden, overlooking the majestic Santa Rosa Mountains.
When Floyd and Bess Shields opened the Shields Date Garden on Christmas Day in 1924, they knew competition would be strong in the rapidly-growing Coachella Valley date industry. To distinguish his date farm from all others in the valley, Floyd began offering lectures to visitors on the lawns of the garden. In the 1950s, he did one better: a slide show with a recorded soundtrack, cheekily named “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.” Today, garden visitors can enjoy the slideshow, which has since been turned into a film that plays on a loop in the garden’s own “Romance Theatre.”
But the main attraction of Shields is, without question, not the suggestively titled cinematic experience, but the actual grounds: 17 acres of date groves, with a little pond at its center and Jesus in its heart. For here, amidst the beauty of winding pathways and date palms lush with fruit, are 23 biblical sculptures depicting Christ’s life, from birth to resurrection. They were donated in 2011 by a Canadian couple who were regular Shields Garden visitors, and are dispersed amid the date palms, olive trees, aloe plants, and citrus trees that populate the garden.
Visitors can also sample Floyd Shields’s two hybrid date varieties—called blonde and brunette dates—the only place in the world where they are grown. Today, nearly 95 percent of all dates grown in the United States are from the Coachella Valley.
In 1936, Shields also developed and patented a date sugar that he called date crystals, which are the key ingredient in Shields Date Garden’s most popular beverage: their signature date shake. Visitors can enjoy a date shake at the original counter, set up in the 1960s. The café at Shields of course celebrates dates on its menu. While they have your garden-variety omelets, sandwiches, and steak, consider trying the date burger, date pancakes, or just plain ol’ dates stuffed with cheese, jalapenos, and prosciutto, and wrapped in bacon.
There’s also the garden shop, which sells all the date varieties grown on the grounds, in addition to the famous Shields date crystals, along with a variety of sauces and vinegars, including the very intriguing figs and date vinegar.