Photo by Falon Koontz
Driving through the desert from Los Angeles, sky-scraping solar-powered windmills give way to an icon of sexual energy: a statue of Marilyn Monroe, 26-feet tall, her white dress billowing against the ever-blue sky. Towering over the center of town, Marilyn sees all in Palm Springs as the patron saint of glamour and leisure.
For decades, after its original glamor as a weekend destination for movie stars had faded, Palm Springs was largely known as a retirement community for elite Californians. Now, thanks to ‘50s glorification on TV shows like Mad Men, renewed interest in mid-century design, and the explosive popularity of the nearby Coachella Music Festival, Palm Springs has been redefined. The golf courses and country clubs live on, certainly, but they’ve come to coexist with artisanal cocktails and DJ nights.
Whether you come for the hot springs and spa services, the shopping, or the drag bars, all hail the new desert.
Palm Springs probably got the 20-something crowd’s seal of approval when an Ace Hotel opened in a renovated ‘60s motel just outside of town. The highly successful chain of hipster meccas (Ace has hotels in Portland, New York, and, soon, Los Angeles) chose to orient its desert incarnation around an Olympian swimming pool and adjacent bar, the Amigo Room, where craft bourbon cocktails and “boozy snowcones” abound. Some weekends it seems like every cool tattooed musician on the West Coast has checked in. There’s even a vintage photo booth in the hotel lobby to commemorate your stay in sepia tones.
There are, of course, countless other hotels and motels in Palm Springs—one to fit every personality. Should you lean toward a more polished experience, the Parker, with its Gatsbyesque sprawling grounds and dark, high-ceilinged spa, calls for white towel turbans and little black dresses. Then there’s the Del Marcos, a small ‘60s-themed motel where the rooms have names like “Shaken Not Stirred,” and you’re handed a red-and-gold can of Tecate upon arrival. Wherever you stay, make sure the swimming pool is clean and cold. Whether floating in or lounging nearby, the pool is probably where you’ll spend most of your stay. One thing that never changes in Palm Springs is the torrid weather.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes visitors up into the cool San Jacinto Mountains. Photo courtesy of Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
When your fingers start to prune, it’s time for the numerous options besides the pool. Take the Palm Springs Tram up and away from the heat—when you reach the top 10 minutes later, you’re 6,000 feet higher and the temperature drops about 25 degrees. Celebrate the cool by exploring the hiking trails and nature tours at your leisure. Or spend the day inside the Palm Springs Art Museum, which, thanks to the wealthy retirement crowd, maintains an impressive contemporary art collection, highlighted by Julius Scheppes photographs and iconic paintings by Ed Ruscha, the art prophet of SoCal.
After the sizzling sun sets, plan to eat dinner on an outside patio. Some of the best options include Copley's, the restaurant located on Cary Grant's former estate or Las Cazuelas Terraza, where the mariachi band never seems to stop playing and the margaritas are served by the gallon. The impossibly chic Workshop, with its cement booths, powerful cocktails and communal tables, guarantees a congenial evening.
Walking in the cool desert air after dinner and cocktails, it's easy to understand why movie stars and Mad Men came to Palm Springs to lose themselves. You'll realize that you can, too.