Palm Springs, CA: Like No Place Else

Two hours or less east of Southern California’s coast, Palm Springs gained its reputation as “Playground of the Stars” in the 1920s. Its proximity to Hollywood while still being relatively remote made it an ideal escape.

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Today, tourism has taken away some of the mystery and privacy that Hollywood’s elite enjoyed so much in the past, but there is still an allure to the area. The fascinating desert modernism architecture and countless local art galleries provide pleasure for anyone with an aesthetic inclination. Even the busiest areas have an essentially small-town vibe that welcomes you and tempts you to stay a while. The surrounding mountains and desert landscape provide a playground for all things outdoors, especially hiking and cycling. Best of all, this retreat from the busy coast is perfect to visit during the winter months, when you can relax by the pool and let the warm desert sun dry your worries away.

Bob-Hope-House_Palm-Springs_Midcentury-Modern_John-LautnerwModernism Rules

It’s no secret that Hollywood’s high rollers love the finer things in life, and Palm Springs has catered to such high-quality and high-dollar tastes since the 1920s. Impeccable taste and outstanding style seem to be the trend here over the years, and the sleek, modern architecture that embraces the desert landscape is one element that makes Palm Springs unique.

Clean, sharp lines and minimalist design features on low-lying houses hidden by lush gardens and opaque fences provided the privacy and sanctuary desired by so many of Palm Springs’ early elite residents. Pick up a map of mid-century modern landmarks at the Palm Springs Visitors Center, or leave the driving to someone else and take a guided tour for a more anecdotal history. You’ll see former homes of elite like Elvis Presley, Liberace, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Barbara Streisand, Bob Hope and Cary Grant, just to name a few.

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Once you’ve seen where they lived, why not have a look at where the stars played? The Riviera Resort opened in 1958 and is possibly the best example today of Palm Springs’ Hollywood playground. The Riveria quickly became popular among the business elite as well as the rich and famous. The Riviera recently was renovated to bring back the glamor and excitement that was abundant in 1960s Palm Springs. Visit the Riviera for dining, drinking, spa treatments (including hot spring baths) and more.

There are other sites iconic to Palm Springs’ heyday, including the Desert Regional Medical Center, which was once the El Mirador Hotel. The once luxurious hotel became a medical center in the 1970s, with the rebuilt 68-foot tall Renaissance-style tower as a reminder of the site’s glamorous past. Visit the historic Plaza Theatre in the heart of Palm Springs’ downtown district, showing films since the 1930s and also featuring live entertainment.

While some hotels, clubs and other notable hot spots may no longer exist, Hollywood’s favorites are very much alive in many of the area’s restaurants, many of which serve new twists on old favorites enjoyed by the Rat Pack and their contemporaries. Melvyn’s at the Ingleside Inn has been catering to Hollywood’s brightest stars since 1975, and hasn’t stopped since. Here, while hoping for a celebrity sighting, you can enjoy starters like Oysters Rockefeller and Beluga Caviar before moving on to main dishes that are fit for a king.

One of Palm Springs’ many unofficial nicknames is “Hollywood’s Waiting Room for Heaven.” It’s no secret that the arid climate and laid back lifestyle was appealing to those who were aging or ailing. Visit the Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City to see the final resting places for several famous names, including Frank Sinatra and his parents, Sonny Bono, William Powell, Betty Hutton and more.

A004_C093_03205RArtistic Flair

The art galleries, studios and museums are reason enough for many to frequent this desert escape. Uptown Palm Springs is home to more than a dozen galleries highlighting well known artists who work in a variety of mediums, while the Backstreet Art District just south of town features galleries and studios with collections of original contemporary art like paintings, sculptures, photography, jewelry, ceramics and more.

The Palm Springs Art Museum features art collections on loan from or donated by the area’s affluent residents and is said to rival even the best urban metropolitan museums. Throughout the museum’s 150,000 square feet you can browse major collections of modern and contemporary art, glass, photography, architecture, sculpture and design as well as Native American and Western art.

If the options for artistic offerings overwhelm you, consider taking a tour with Desert Art Tours, where a Palm Springs resident of 32 years and art aficionado will share his passion and give you a glimpse of Palm Springs art as you may have never seen it. Desert Art Tours offers six customized packages ranging from a day at the museum to a collector’s tour to a public and private art tour. Art lovers will truly appreciate the perspective and insider’s look at the talent thriving in Palm Springs.

Local Love

Not too far behind all of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood days gone by is a friendly, small-town vibe that spreads throughout Palm Springs, from the local coffee shops and restaurants to the boutiques lining Palm Canyon Drive.

Every Thursday, locals and visitors alike convene for VillageFest, a street fair where a variety of local artists, artisans, entertainers and food vendors offer their wares and display their talents for all to enjoy. Grab dinner from a food vendor, buy fresh produce for the next day’s meal, purchase locally made art or jewelry, dance to the music and end it all with a refreshing drink at one of the nearby restaurants, all while mingling with locals.

Seasonally open in four locations on three different days of the week, the Certified Farmers’ Market is a great place to buy local food and fresh, organic produce while enjoying a slice of Palm Springs life. Local schoolchildren might perform show tunes, and the friendly farmers and their assistants will give you helpful recipe tips.

Great Outdoors

With a variety of options for guided tours or exploring on your own, the Coachella Valley has plenty of hiking, cycling and off-road excursions to choose from. Check out the famed Salton Sea against the backdrop of the Chocolate Mountains, marvel at the San Andreas Fault, learn about the diverse landscape of the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve or explore the history of the Tahquitz Canyon.

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