Party in Palm Springs
Palm Springs offers a glimpse of the glam life in which 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 90 minutes from San Francisco by air, 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 offers an introduction to this wonderful era 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, and today the historic property is home to lush landscape and eight unique guest rooms.
I stayed in the Marion Davies suite, named after the former tenant, which came complete with a bathroom the size of most hotel rooms (and its own chaise lounge). With beautiful antique furniture, a gas fireplace, and a patio overlooking the pool, the suite provided 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.
Another night, I stayed at the Riviera Palm Springs, which is situated on 24 acres. The hotel combines modern architecture with many amenities spread across the property. Opened in 1959, it was designed with qualities similar to the hot Vegas hotels that were frequented by the Rat Pack at the time.
Rooms at the Riviera are a vibrant combination of mid-century modern with Hollywood caché—bright colors, white leather furniture, and Andy Warhol pop art. The hotel’s lobby areas are bedecked with crystal chandeliers, mirrors, sofas, and a pool table.
It’s easy to walk around downtown Palm Springs or hop on the free trolley to go from place to place. When venturing farther out for hikes, golf, and other sightseeing, other modes of transportation are available.
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. If the enduring architecture of Palm Springs is of interest, take The Modern Tour to see many stunning homes up close and personal.
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 the two pools are the center of the action. Regardless of the setting, poolside—with beverage in hand—is a favorite Palm Springs destination.
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 Resort Casino). Soak up the ancient healing mineral waters and lounge in the steam and aromatherapy rooms, the sauna, and the whirlpool baths.
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. See the Coachella Valley from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and access miles of additional hiking trails.
There’s plenty to do in Palm Springs at night. Every Thursday evening, Palm Canyon Drive is home to street fair, Villagefest. Take a stroll, meet artisans showcasing their wares, hear musicians at every corner, and visit the street’s trendy shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. From November to May, the Palm Springs Follies light up the stage with music, dance, and comedy. 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. Home to modern art, fashion, and design, this popular neighborhood is frequented by visitors, locals, and designers alike. Find eclectic and fun shops such as Trina Turk, with her bonus home store and men’s fashion line, and Raymond Lawrence, a unique marketplace that houses pop-ups with creative and exciting fashion and home décor. Downtown, discover boutiques and art galleries and, at various times throughout the year, an art walk.
Here is a selection of Palm Springs’ many restaurants:
Zini Café Mediterrano is casual and fun. Sharing tapas such as 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.
Situated next to one of the many Palm Springs golf courses, the Escena Lounge & Grill is a relaxing place 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.
At the Riviera, try Circa 59. Nestled by the pool, the restaurant’s patio and indoor seating areas offer mid-century 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 the restaurant’s international list.
If you’re a gambler or don’t mind going through casinos, try The Steakhouse at Spa Resort Casino. Pair your dish (including several seafood options) with a wine from an award-winning list and hit the jackpot.
A few restaurants we heard about, but didn’t get to the chance to try include Cheeky’s, Jake’s, and Copley’s.
At the Willows, guests are 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
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb.