Vintage Hollywood glamour with a modern flair
PALM SPRINGS HAS LONG DEFINED the meaning of a relaxing oasis of glitz and glamour. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was the retreat of Frank Sinatra and a constellation of tanned Hollywood stars who partied poolside in their Mid-century Modern bungalows. By the 1970s, the movie stars and moguls had moved on. Palm Springs sank into a period of sleepy retirement. But the city has since come full circle. Newly fresh and compelling, this epicenter for desert vacations again exudes laid-back contemporary cool.
A spectacular redevelopment plan has put a new luster on downtown Palm Springs, including a pedestrian walkway linking the world-class Palm Springs Art Museum to “The Strip.” Add Uptown art galleries and fashion stores, exciting new au courant restaurants, an edgy night scene plus super-trendy hotels that push the Modernist design vernacular into the now. No wonder a whole new generation of Hollywood stars and millennials is flocking to where it’s the swinging 1960s all over again.
In fact, Mad Men-era retro reigns in Palm Springs. Populated by trademark vintage motels with 21st-century accoutrements, candy-colored furnishings and kidneyshaped pools with DJS, this desert bolthole is ground-zero for anyone in search of throwback movie star glamour. Think vintage Palm Springs with modern flair.
Any sojourn through Palm Springs is a magical mystery tour of “art-chitecture,” thanks to the city’s stock of more than two
thousand Mid-century Modernist homes. Many of the finest exemplars of Modernism are boutique hotels—arrive, L’horizon, The Monkey Tree and V Palm Springs, to name a few—and almost all have played host to the Hollywood A-list. “Sinatra slept here” and “This was Angelina Jolie’s room” is no idle chatter. By the way, many of the famous personalities who’ve lived, loved and played in Palm Springs—from Elvis Presley to Elizabeth Taylor—are commemorated in pink granite stars (the “Walk of Stars”) embedded in downtown sidewalks.
Its population once surged in winter and cleared out by May. No longer. Palm Springs is now a trendy year-round destination, not least as the weekend haven of choice for sleek LA hipsters come to laze or party by the pool with cocktail in hand. The “Tesloop” chauffeured rideshare between Los Angeles and Palm Springs in Tesla electric vehicles makes it easy. But Palm Springs travel offers far more. Snowbirds, retirees, art lovers, spa-goers and active vacationers flock too to this amazingly cosmopolitan city. And Palm Springs’ sizeable gay and lesbian population translates into an uber Lgbt-friendly and fun destination, and never more so than during the annual Gay Pride Festival (November) and White Party (May). At any time of year, Hunters nightclub keeps the LGBT party alive with its nine-hour-long happy hour!
To satisfy cultural yearnings, start at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Considered one of California’s finest regional museums, this world-class venue is notable for its contemporary art and astounding glass art in the Denney Western American Art Wing. Its Mesoamerican collection includes basketry, pottery and other artifacts by local Amerindian tribes. A few blocks away, the recently debuted Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture & Design Center, in a 1960s former bank building of classic Mid-century Modernist styling, houses the museum’s growing collection of architecture and design-related pieces.
Meanwhile, Palm Springs’ Native American heritage is honored at the downtown Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, where basketry, pottery and other traditional skills workshops are hosted. And aviation buffs and WWII aficionados will exult to the warbirds on display at the Palm Springs Air Museum. It’s one of the world’s foremost museums dedicated to WWII aircraft, displayed in two hangars replicating the European and Pacific theaters. Flying demos are occasionally offered, as are Warbird Rides in a P-51 Mustang and C-47 Skytrain.
To truly appreciate Palm Springs’ beauty and scale from on high, lace up your hiking shoes. The Bogert Trail complex rewards hikers with sensational views over the city, as does the Desert View Trail in Mount San Jacinto State Park. The latter is reached via a sensational ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tram. Talk about saving the best for last!
PICNIC AT INDIAN CANYONS, opposite top; Palm Springs Art Museum, opposite bottom; cocktail party in mid-century home, Palm Springs, right; family hike in Indian Canyons, bottom.