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Weekend Traveler

Party in Palm Springs

Relax poolside at the Riviera. Photo by Patty Burness

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, this oasis is surrounded by the dramatic San Jacinto, Little San Bernardino, and Santa Rosa Mountains. 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.

Glam at the Riviera. Photo by Patty Burness

Glam at the Riviera. Photo by Patty Burness

STAY

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 suite (named after a former tenant), complete with a bathroom the size of most hotel rooms (including 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 (877-567-0236, thewillowspalmsprings.com).

Another night, I stayed at the Riviera Palm Springs, which is 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 frequented by the Rat Pack.

Rooms are a vibrant combination of mid-century modern with Hollywood cachet, leather furniture, and Warhol pop art. The hotel’s lobby areas are bedecked with crystal chandeliers, mirrors, sofas, and a pool table (866-716-8147, rivierapalmsprings.com).

Stay at the secluded Willows. Photo by Patty Burness

Stay at the secluded Willows. Photo by Patty Burness

PLAY

It’s easy to walk around downtown Palm Springs or hop on the free trolley to go from place to place (Thursday – Saturday). If you venture further out for hikes, golf and other sightseeing, transportation is necessary.

The Palm Springs Art Museum offers a fascinating collection of contemporary and modern pieces. The museum itself was designed by mid-century modern favorite E. Stewart Williams (760-322-4800, psmuseum.org). If the enduring architecture of Palm Springs is of interest, take The Modern Tour and see many stunning homes up close and personal (760-904-0904, 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 the Riviera’s two pools are the center of the action. Regardless of the setting, poolside is a favorite Palm Springs destination, beverage in hand.

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, indian-canyons.com). See the Coachella Valley from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and access miles of additional hiking trails (888-515-8726, pstramway.com).

There’s plenty to do in Palm Springs at night. Every Thursday evening, Palm Canyon Drive is home to Villagefest, a street fair with more than 180 vendors. Stroll along the road and meet artisans showcasing their wares and musicians at every corner, and visit the street’s trendy shops, restaurants, and nightclubs (760-320-3781, villagefest.org). 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.

Iconic Marilyn watches over downtown. Photo by Patty Burness

Iconic Marilyn watches over downtown. Photo by Patty Burness

SHOP

The go-to spot for great shopping is the Uptown Design District. Home to vintage and modern design, fashion and art modern, this popular neighborhood is frequented by tourists, locals, and designers alike. Find eclectic and fun shops like Trina Turk with her bonus home store and men’s fashion line (trinaturk.com), a unique array of antique and mid-20th century pieces at the Antiques Collective (antiquegalleriespalmsprings.com), and luxe boutiques at The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five (theshopsat1345.com). Downtown, discover boutiques and art galleries and — at various times throughout the year — an art walk.

The view from the Willows. Photo by Patty Burness

The view from the Willows. Photo by Patty Burness

DINE

Here’s a selection of Palm Springs’ many restaurants:

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 homemade chips and tangy dip. The spicy southwest chicken wrap is full of flavor (760-992-0002, escenagrill.com).

Spencer’s, located at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains, offers extensive patio dining. The lunch menu is a rich combination of their focus on American cuisine mixed with Asian — offerings include Kung Pao calamari, fried coconut crusted shrimp, plus all kinds of salads, sandwiches, and grilled entrées. Open all day, Spencer’s is popular with locals and tourists alike (760-327-3446, spencersrestaurant.com).

At the Riviera, go poolside and try Soleil Pool & Bar. Find a choice of salads,  sandwiches, and seafood. Pair with an artisanal cocktail, then apply the SPF. The hotel has several other restaurants that all highlight marketplace ingredients and of course patio dining (760-778-6659, rivierapalmsprings.com/dining-bar).

We didn’t have time to check out others on our list: Cheeky’s (cheekysps.com or one of their family of restaurants (f10creative.com/new/f10-company.html), Jake’s (jakespalmsprings.com), Copley’s (copleyspalmsprings.com) and a vegan option Native Foods (nativefoods.com).

If you stay 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.

OTHER ESSENTIALS

Palm Springs Tourism: visitpalmsprings.com

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Patty Burness can be found on Twitter (@pattygb), Instagram (pburness) and reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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