Palm Springs offers a glimpse of the glam life that Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe lived in what was the Hollywood hideaway. Palm trees swaying in the warm desert air, nonstop sunshine, and pools aplenty still make Palm Springs a great playground.
Less than a 90-minute plane ride from San Francisco, the dramatic San Jacinto, Little San Bernardino and Santa Rosa Mountains surround this oasis. Palm Springs is the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and much of the land is tribal owned. Known for its mid-century architecture and focus on modernism, Palm Springs introduces you to this wonderful era beginning at the Donald Wexler-designed airport.
From intimate hideaways to sprawling resorts, Palm Springs has something for everyone.
A hidden gem located blocks from downtown, The Willows was once a private estate. Built as the winter home of a well-known businessman, houseguests included Clark Gable and Albert Einstein. The entire house has been restored to its original glory. Today, the historic property is home to lush landscape and eight unique guest rooms.
I stayed in the Marion Davies (a former tenant) suite, complete with a bathroom the size of most hotel rooms (and its own chaise lounge). With beautiful antique furniture, gas fireplace, and a patio overlooking the pool, it’s a luxurious way to enhance a desert stay. From the villa’s hillside locale, the mountains and verdant grounds are ever present. There’s even a waterfall outside the floor to ceiling windows of the elegant breakfast room (800-966-9597, www.thewillowspalmsprings.com).
Another night, I stayed at the Riviera Palm Springs situated on 24 acres. It combines modern architecture with many amenities spread across the property. Opened in 1959, it was designed like the hot Vegas hotels of the time that were frequented by the Rat Pack.
Rooms are a vibrant combination of midcentury modern with Hollywood caché — bright colors, white leather furniture, and Warhol pop art. The hotel’s lobby areas are bedecked with crystal chandeliers, mirrors, sofas, and a pool table (866-588-8311, www.psriviera.com).
It’s easy to walk around downtown Palm Springs, or hop on the free trolley to go from place to place. If you plan to venture farther out for hikes, golf and other sightseeing, get other transportation.
The Palm Springs Art Museum offers a fascinating collection of contemporary and modern pieces, and was designed by midcentury modern favorite E. Stewart Williams (760-322-4800, www.psmuseum.org). If you are interested in the enduring architecture of Palm Springs, take The Modern Tour, and see many stunning homes up close and personal (760-904-0904, www.themoderntour.com).
When it’s time to kick back, head for the pool. At The Willows, it’s secluded and nestled in the landscape, while at the Riviera, two pools are the center of the action. Regardless of the setting, poolside is a favorite Palm Springs destination, beverage in hand.
In 1853, a government survey mapped the town and its natural hot springs mineral pool. At that spot today, indulge in the “Taking of the Waters” ritual at The Spa (part of the Spa Casino Resort). Soak up the ancient healing mineral waters, and lounge in the steam and aromatherapy rooms and in the sauna and whirlpool baths (760-883-1000, www.sparesortcasino.com).
If you’re adventurous, take a short drive to Indian Canyons. Owned and operated by the Agua Caliente tribe, there’s room to picnic and plenty of trails for hiking and guided tours on horseback (760-323-6018, www.indian-canyons.com). See the Coachella Valley from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and access miles of additional hiking trails (www.pstramway.com).
There’s plenty to do in Palm Springs at night. Every Thursday evening, Palm Canyon Drive is home to the street fair Villagefest. Stroll along and meet artisans showcasing their wares, enjoy musicians, and visit the street’s trendy shops, restaurants and nightclubs (760-320-3781, www.villagefest.com). From November through May, the Palm Springs Follies lights up the stage with music, dance and comedy (760-327-0225), www.psfollies.com). After the sun goes down, the pool area at the Riviera is ablaze from the fire pits — the perfect location for a nightcap and something sweet from the restaurant.
One of the hottest new areas is the Uptown Design District (www.palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict.com). Tourists, locals and designers alike frequent this popular neighborhood, home to modern art, fashion and design. Find eclectic and fun shops like Trina Turk with her bonus home store and men’s fashion line (www.trinaturk.com/boutique/palm-springs) and Raymond Lawrence, a unique marketplace that houses pop-ups with creative and exciting fashion, home décor, and more (www.raymond-lawrence.com). Downtown, discover boutiques and art galleries, and at various times throughout the year, an art walk.
Here’s a selection of Palm Springs’ many restaurants:
Zini Café Mediterrano is casual and fun. Sharing tapas like the baby octopus salad, the spicy, lime-drizzled shrimp or the grilled artichoke with asparagus and Serrano ham is a great way to taste a variety of menu items (760-325-9464, www.zinicafe.com).
Situated next to one of the many Palm Springs golf courses, the Escena Lounge & Grill is a relaxing location to take in the scenic mountains and lush greenery. Savor a signature martini with house-made chips and tangy dip. The spicy southwest chicken wrap is full of flavor (760-992-0002, www.escenagrill.com).
While at The Willows, you’re served delicious hors d’ouevres and wine in the afternoon and a heavenly three-course gourmet breakfast in the morning. At the Riviera, try Circa 59. Nestled by the pool, the restaurant’s patio and indoor seating areas offer midcentury style showcasing stunning crystal chandeliers and other modern fixtures. The scallops and beet salad was tender and sweet, and the mushroom stroganoff was rich with a deep umami flavor. Find interesting wines on their international list (760-778-6659, www.psriviera.com/circa59-restaurant.aspx).
If you’re a gambler or don’t mind going through casinos, try The Steakhouse at the Spa Resort Casino (760- 883-1060, www.sparesortcasino.com). Pair your dish (including lots of seafood options) with a wine from their award-winning list, and hit the jackpot.
Palm Springs Tourism: www.visitpalmsprings.com