“Let’s slip off to a sand dune and kick up a little dust” — Maria Muldaur
Palm Springs is enjoying a reverberation after a renovation and these days it’s more than just golf.
The Interstate 10 is almost 2500 miles from coast to coast, California to Florida, beach to beach, and a lot of flat in between, plus you have to slap your own face every now and again if you drive it, for many reasons.
Today we’re out west in the growing effervescent oasis known as Palm Springs in The Coachella Valley – 107 miles east of LA and 268 miles west of Phoenix off that long 10 Freeway, and it is thriving. Even Branson’s building a hotel here.
Sheltered by four mountain ranges and covering 94 square miles. You didn’t know it was that big. It’s old Hollywood mixed with resort vibe, a pool-centric setting (with over 50,000 pools) balanced between activity, serious relaxation, and party central. It’s all here – over 130 hotels and resorts, plenty of great restaurant and entertainment spots, luxury spas, salons, galleries, museums, boutiques all spread in mid-century modernist architecture befitting the desert landscape.
Many renowned architects were inspired to play with the low-level design that started booming again post-war through the 60’s, Modernist building was de rigor, flat-roofed homes were built for leisure and people came for just that.
Albert Frey built some of the municipal buildings including the library and the sway roofed garage on the way into town (now a museum).
Lautner built Bob Hope’s famous home in 1979 that sits like a giant spaceship rendering above Palm Springs.
Richard Neutra built the iconic Kaufman house for the same family who commissioned Fallingwater from Frank Lloyd Wright. When the rather prickly Frank came by to inspect the results he gave them a cactus garden as a housewarming gift, which is still there.
Palm Springs is hip again.
A growing arts and cultural scene flourishing after a $400 million renovation of downtown. Gone is the old shoddy Desert Fashion Plaza and in its place a 900,000 square foot little paradise of shady piazzas, boutiques, Starbucks and hotels headlined by the Kimpton Rowan.
It’s beautiful this time of year, in the summer it’s like colonizing the sun, but people still come. They book activities in the mornings or evenings and spa appointments in the afternoons or wander around one of the nicely cooled art museum’s three locations to escape the triple-digit heat.
Covering the two hours away union rule from the studios, the Hollywood elite could make it back to set just in time from Palm Springs to LA and so it became a fashionable party place as far back as the 1900s. A playground for Errol Flynn and Valentino in the ’20s and later with Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Elvis, and Priscilla…. Besides the health benefits of the dry desert heat and climate, it was an excuse to get a girl out of town.
Sinatra’s even buried here.
There are 124 golf courses, tennis, hiking, and 24 miles from downtown is Indio where from January to April 1st you can watch polo matches every Sunday at The Empire Polo Field before it morphs into a music festival ground for the rest of April.
Coachella has been going strong since 1999 when Beck and Underworld headlined. Back when it was $50. Now it’s closer to $500, if you’re cool enough to even get a ticket. California’s Country Music Festival, Stagecoach began in 2007 and happens in late April also at the polo field. Hopefully, we’ll be back to normal in 2021.
The festivals have had an enormous financial influence on the city which has had to reinvent itself to accommodate the invasion. There are family-friendly resorts, modern hotels, historic mid-century, boutique hotels, spa hotels, and adults-only spots. Palm Springs has the highest per capita gay population in the US. The shopping is fabulous for art and interior design along Palm Canyon Drive, and for fashion runs the gamut from thrift stores, vintage, resale (Celebrity Seconds), and designer.
The area is perfect through May, and then October onwards. Although hot during the day, it’s the desert so it gets cold at night during winter months.
If it all gets too much you can rise above it all, literally and take the largest rotating cable car in the world, The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It goes up two and a half miles and takes 8 minutes, (that’s quite steep) and it rotates slowly just to add to the experience. Locals and those in the know go up there to hike the over 50 miles of San Jacinto Trails, in summer to cool down or in winter snowshoe. You can camp up there too if you miss the last summer tram down at 10.30 at night. Check before you wander off…
There’s an award-winning restaurant at 8500 ft with ridiculous views and a store to buy extra clothing when you realize it’s up to 40 degrees cooler than down below and you’re freezing. Don’t be surprised to find snow at the top and pack an extra something even if it’s your whisky flask.
You can learn about the land and the Cahuilla Indians who first lived here 3000 years ago and the San Andreas fault, that you’re standing on…
Alternatively stay in the city and visit a Rat Pack haunt – The Purple Room Supper Club where the sophisticated Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and friends would hang out and also play in the 1960’s. There’s still a show six nights a week. Get dressed, go for a Martini, go for dinner. The restaurant serves buttery seared sea scallops in a carrot ginger puree or New York steak with whisky peppercorn sauce, a hearty Rat Pack meal.
Fly me to the moon.
Palm Springs events throughout the year include International film and music festivals, world-class car auctions, parades, numerous art events, the air museum.
The Thursday night Artisans Market is a must-do. Villagefest.
There’s a Saturday morning Farmers Market October through May.
And there’s this extraordinary art gallery, Maxson, owned by and featuring mostly the works of husband and wife artists, Greg and Linda Maxson, and it’s open. maxsonart.com
Out of downtown it’s spread out scattered with eight desert cities in all directions, and roads that don’t seem to make much sense, maybe because the mountains are so mesmerizing, maybe it’s the heat.
There are the high desert communities of Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms where Jurassic Park was shot and the south end of Joshua Tree National Park.
Desert Hot Springs for the natural hot mineral springs. Be careful which ones you visit. Avoid the funky motels. For many reasons.
Wholefoods is in Palm Desert, 20 miles out of Downtown and opening soon in a closer location of course, Amazon just bought them. Maybe they’ll deliver your groceries by drone in the near future – and you thought getting bird poop on your head was bad!
Bristol Farms on Country Club Drive is also a good foodie experience and has a great little ambient cafe that won’t disappoint.
To get your luxury shopping fix head to El Paseo Drive in downtown Palm Desert 20 miles away for La Perla, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and 300 other stores, likened to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, but it’s just not okay.
Pioneertown is an old cowboy town built by Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and friends in 1946, still with the same Old West facades. They have free shows the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month – either a shootout or a stampede. Over 50 movies and tv shows were filmed here in the 1940 and ’50s. It’s well worth a visit! At night time go to Pappy and Harriet’s. It’s legendary among cool underground musicians and known to spring surprise gigs – a Paul McCartney pop-up anyone? Yeah yeah yeah.
If you’re driving in from LA and forgot your hat or really want to get into the desert kaftan thing stop at Hoof and Horn towards Twentynine Palms. They’ve been there for years and sell some seriously cool one of a kind items, and great western inspired hats.
Joshua Tree National Park is where the Mojave Desert meets the Colorado Desert. Giant yucca plants grow on the Mojave side that Mormon Settlers thought were trees – hence naming them Joshua Trees. Giant rocks, old gold mines and Fred Flintstone landscape. At night with millions of stars!
Fifteen miles away and definitely worth a visit is Integratron in Landers. Built by Ufologist (as opposed to a urologist), George Van Tassel this acoustically perfect dome offers sound-baths to rejuvenate you. There is hope for you yet, don’t worry.
HOW TO GET AROUND
The City of Palm Springs operates a free trolley service Thursday thru Sunday 11 a.m. – 1 a.m.
Bicycles are available at some hotels.
Cabs, Uber and Lyft are available from downtown Palm Springs, shuttle buses, but you can rent a convertible too if you didn’t come in one.
STAY AND EAT
There are around 136 hotels in Palm Springs to choose from but here are a variety of hotels that we love for our various moods:
Korakia Pensione – our favorite spot, but it’s secret sshhh!
Just off Palm Canyon Drive with its fun shopping, entertainment, and restaurants, that they give you a bicycle to explore on. It’s Morocco meets Palm Springs, gorgeous and an insider secret. The hotel attracts an eclectic crowd of creatives and has been used as a setting by some of the top photographers in the world.
Restored in 1989 into a Mediterranean style resort – It’s the Med meets Tangier and was the old Dar Marroc renamed ‘Korakia’, Greek for crow. That’s your Greek lesson for the day.
There are villas, bungalows and guest houses set around gardens and pools, and they throw in complimentary breakfast. Not that there’s any throwing allowed, it’s super serene. You’ll just want to move in, and that’s that.
Get a ‘Eucalyptus Rock Massage’ or ‘Raindrop Therapy’ with nine essential oils and get back to me tomorrow. Or don’t. There are two heated saltwater pools. And Winston Churchill was here.
Mediterranean bungalows and rooms open onto stone patios. There are studios with wood burning fireplaces, four-poster beds, kitchens, stone bathtubs. Some feature private patios and views of the San Jacinto mountains through your French doors.
Stay in their Orchard House, an original 1918 Palm Springs adobe. Its French doors open from your metal sleigh bed to a stunning large stone fireplace with stone floors.
If you just ask, they’ll decorate your room with candlelight, strawberries, champagne and strewn rose petals, too.
Rates from around $300 per night.
The Parker Palm Springs – Professional, artsy.
The sibling of The Parker New York is The Parker Palm Springs. Jonathan Adler designed this one in a ‘Cheeky hedonistic luxury’ vibe, he says…. Which stands behind an interesting 23 ft high white wall made from blocks.
The Spa interestingly named The Yacht Club offers a shot of cucumber-infused vodka on the way to their massage rooms just to loosen you up.
Rates from around $550 per night.
Desert Paradise Resort Hotel – Is a gay men’s clothing optional boutique hotel we recommend that welcomes couples and singles. It has a laid back friendly vibe and is more relaxing than some of the other hotels plus it has a saltwater pool, massages and a great continental breakfast to boot.
Palm Springs has a large gay community and an all LGBTI city council so there are a few diverse fun and fabulous places around.
Rates from around $160 per night.
The Rossi – A luxe serene paradise, in town.
Serene and Bohemian, a Boutique adults-only hotel with only eight suites, newly reopened in 2017. Ideally situated a couple of blocks off N Palm Canyon Drive also close to the museum so there’s no need to drive.
Rooms with jacuzzi hot tubs from $220 night.
La Maison Hotel – You can charge your Tesla while staying here.
A 13-room Mediterranean-inspired boutique hotel set around a pool and lush gardens offers spa services/ in-room massages and you can use their bicycles.
One of only three official Tesla/Electric Car Charging Stations in the entire Coachella Valley. Guests of La Maison can charge their electric vehicles free of charge.
A two-night stay from $478 plus tax.
Ingleside Inn – It’s an experience.
An old favorite in the heart of Palm Springs, this place opened in 1935 and was recently refurbished keeping its old style Spanish Colonial feel. All is not lost. The Inn and restaurant Melvyn’s were named ‘one of the world’s premier hotel and dining venues’ by Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous.
Rich and famous indeed with the likes of Marlon Brando to President Gerald Ford to Travolta have been here. Frank Sinatra held his pre-wedding party here in July 1976 when he was marrying Barbara Marx (wedding number four).
Plus it has a saltwater pool.
Melvyn’s is open for weekend brunch, serving Oysters Rockefeller, Prawn cocktails and omelets. Steak Frites are on offer for lunch and a New York Steak a la Sinatra for dinner.
Booking heavily advised. Dancing nightly from 8pm in the Casablanca Lounge is an experience, and if you can’t dance, sit at the old New York meets Hollywood bar, have a cocktail and look around.
Cocktail attire only. Men – collar and a jacket.
Thirty rooms and mini-suites from around $270 per night.
4 Saints serve small plates of shareable Mediterranean-inspired dishes on the rooftop of the newly opened Kimpton Rowan Hotel part of the up-do in downtown with surreal romantic views over the San Jacinto Mountains and the only rooftop pool in Palm Springs.
For more casual but still hip try The Ace Hotel’s King’s Highway diner owned by the people who run Five Leaves in Brooklyn, for burgers, really good tuna melts or tacos. This place is also good for breakfast. 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive.
Truss and Twine on N Palm Canyon Drive – is dark, cool and hip. The specially curated cocktails here are sublime as are the light bites with a twist.
Live music or DJs on Saturday nights. Eat a little, drink lots of cocktails.
And kick up a little dust.