My friends, my husband and I discovered Palm Springs, California on a vacation to the city, desperate to trade the cold of the Midwest for the sunshine of Southern California. Our foursome spent three days exploring—and, yes, it’s as good as it looks.
The sun was out and so were we—my husband, Andrew; best friend, Lauren; and her husband, Carl—mingling among the many San Diegans and Angelenos taking in the year-round summer vibe. Although the sunshine in those cities is also nonstop, LA and SD can’t claim as much laidback cool as Palm Springs.
This city has history, and not of the dusty variety. In the 1920s, Golden Age Hollywood made Palm Springs its playground. Those haunts have become hangs, in a way that reflects an architectural and cultural heritage. We saw as much on a walking tour from the Palm Springs Historical Society—there are more than a dozen to choose from, but we opted for “Frank Sinatra’s Neighborhood: The Movie Colony.”
Our group spent a little more than two hours strolling along the same streets and through the same buildings as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Gloria Swanson and Jack Benny, designed by Modernist architects including William Cody and Donald Wexler. My favorite? The pool at Frank Sinatra’s “Twin Palms” home—shaped like a piano, it has a pergola that creates keys when the sun’s overhead (that would be: 350 days a year).
Every year, the Palm Springs International Film Festival—one of the largest film festivals in North America—brings glitz and glamour back to Palm Springs. A-listers, red carpets and galas welcome more than 135,000 attendees each January for a watchlist of international features and documentaries.
Here, everything old is new, such as the Parker Palms Springs. In 1959, it began as California’s first Holiday Inn, going through several metamorphoses before its current incarnation: a Jonathan Adler-designed boutique property that’s so colorful, kaleidoscopes are jealous. Don’t miss the PSYC spa (Palm Springs Yacht Club spa)—the deep blue color scheme and deep massages are certainly part of why Palm Springs was voted as one of the top 10 wellness destinations in the United States by travelpulse.com.
Next and notable, the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, a converted Howard Johnson motel and former Westward Ho that was remodeled in 2009 with design in mind. Some might never guess that the too-cool on-site diner, King’s Highway, is a converted Denny’s. Others might not even realize there’s a restaurant on property, as they’re too busy enjoying the trendy pool scene.
Look up to see more new with the very recently opened Kimpton the Rowan hotel, the city’s tallest building and its only rooftop pool—up on the seventh floor. Bring sunglasses and take in the panoramic views over a cocktail. Our group embraced Palm Springs’ mid-century theme and ordered a round of Stingers, a la Cary Grant. Keep ’em coming.
We discovered a few tiny, boutique hotels that looked like absolute jewels when we walked the grounds of each. An area the locals call “the Tennis District” has these small gems on literally every street. Checking out the uber-romantic Rossi Hotel (which we were told recently landed in Condé Nast’s list of Best New Hotels in the World), Andalusian Court (a step back in time to southern Spain, but with private soaking tubs on every patio) and the Orbit In (a classic mid-century charmer serving Orbitinis each evening) helped us decide that this trip to Palm Springs would not be our last.
In Palm Springs, tradition and innovation have always struck a balance. Much in the same way as the city has welcomed designers to renew vintage hotels, Palm Springs has also welcomed artists and creators.
Palm Springs is home to nearly 50 art galleries, from the much-revered Shag the Store to Christopher Anthony Ltd. Artists and creators have made the city a haven of creation, and shops range from boundary-pushing to respectfully classic.
As a collective of art enthusiasts and amateurs, Andrew, Lauren, Carl and I popped into dozens of art galleries along Palm Canyon and Indian Canyon drives. A favorite for our group was Elena Bulatova Fine Art, a modern collection of sculptures and paintings, with an outdoor area prime for wandering. Color reigns at the Heath Gallery, where eye-catching, large pieces from a few different artists are displayed.
When all the eye candy makes eyes weary, head to a Starbucks Reserve store—one of the first in the country. More important than the coffee is the look of the building—an airy, open building with outdoor seating and a view of the mountains up close.
Most surprising by the end of the weekend was the realization that Palm Springs is much more than a vacation destination. Sounds obvious, but between its Golden Age Hollywood getaway past and in-out weekend population (guilty), it’s easy to forget that locals live among tourists.
Maybe it’s because the bartenders, hotel clerks, tour guides and others we encountered joyfully answered the questions we asked (which I’m sure they’d addressed hundreds of times before), happily provided recommendations and patiently gave directions. Or maybe it’s the local talent.
From past history to in-the-moment influencers, Palm Springs is a place for way back and whatever’s next.