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Top Things To Do In Palm Springs
I’m in a minivan (I’m actually pretending it’s a 1950’s Cadillac with the roof well down, wind in my hair etcetera etcetera), I’ve strategically put Fly Me To The Moon on my iPhone to set the scene while I gaze out the window, impossibly transfixed on the dusty desert landscape melting into the horizon. Not much else is happening outside the glass, save for a heap of cacti jostling in the crisp, light breeze and a few lonely power-lines standing to attention. It’s like a scene from an old Western film. I fight the urge to start reciting the theme from ‘Django Unchained’, partly because I don’t want my minivan mates to think I’m a nutter, but mostly because I want to wait for the exact moment I set foot on the desert mirage that is Palm Springs to bust out my sweet movie-reference repertoire. Unfortunately only one hour of the 2.5 hour drive from LA has passed and I am getting a little too excited. This eco-design mecca smack bang in the middle of the Coachella Valley has been on my travel bucket list for a while.
For the third time this morning I silently confirmed to myself that yes, indeed I was on a road trip to Palm Springs, and no there probably wasn’t going to be enough time to down some Peyote like the kids off Entourage, get lost in the desert and get real with myself in a tipi amidst all the tours and activities planned. Sads. But not that sad considering Palm Springs is currently going through a sort of “cool redux”, with an army of boutique design hotels sprouting up around the place, hip wellness retreats (the desert is famous for it’s healing properties), yummy farm-to-table eateries and of course the wealth of restored and revamped mid-century modern houses and hotels, possibly the most important collection in the United States. For a creative traveller and amateur architecture-buff like me, this trip was going to be ace, even without mind-altering substances.
We finally arrive at our Hotel, and I get right to reciting nerdy western film themes, consuming requisite Californian “date shake” from ‘Palm Springs Fudge and Chocolates’* and lazing by the pool. The desert scene around me is everything I expected and more: San Jacinto mountain ranges, blue skies and palm fronds surround the restored 1960’s hotel pool I’m adjacent to eating my organic quinoa date salad.
Spending the next few days in Palm Springs I feel like I’ve been teleported to the set of the Flinstones. And for good reason. Early Hollywood put the desert town on the map, allowing movies stars to abide by the studios’ “Two Hour Rule”: actors had to be within two hours of the set just in case the director called. But its heyday was the midcentury, when it became the desert playground of the Rat Pack. Those Palm Trees would have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly sides of Frank, Dean and Sammy.
Today there’s a little bit more of an edge to the kitschiness, hipster festivals like Coachella and Young Hollywood buying up property in exchange for some privacy have turned Palm Springs into a hipstery-bohemian escape away from the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles. It really is the perfect weekender…
Top Things To Do In Palm Springs:
The best thing about this tour is not actually the architecture (and the architecture is pretty mind-blowing), it’s the wonderfully quirky and knowledgeable guide, Palm Springs man-about-town Michael Stern. Stern grew up on the East Coast but came to Palm Springs decades ago, fell in love with the lifestyle and never left. He’s the author of the internationally best selling Rizzoli coffee-table book ‘Julius Shulman: Palm Springs’, which showcases photographer Shulman’s iconic images of Palm Springs houses which became synonymous with low-lying clean lines, casual elegance and modernism.
If you love mid-century architecture—the sleek modernist structures built between the 1940s and mid-‘60s—this tour is for you. The 2.5 hour journey accommodates a maximum of 6 people (private tours can be arranged for an additional fee) and showcases the fabulous exteriors and interiors of some of Palm Springs’ most famous (and infamous) houses of past and present celebrities. Stern’s insider information is phenomenal, and makes the tour engaging even for the most architecturally-inept punter.
If you feel like getting out among the dunes, Desert Adventures offers daily eco-tours in their bright red open-air jeeps. Led by local naturists, you can explore the San Andreas Fault or Joshua Tree National Park during the day or at twilight, with plenty of stops in hidden canyons and palm tee mirages along the way. Who knows, you might even see a rattle snake or two! If you opt for a sunset tour you’ll be treated to a some star-gazing at the end of the adventure which is a gorgeous experience on a clear night!
Eat at Workshop Kitchen + Bar
This relatively new farm-to-table eatery blends Palm Springs desert modern architecture with a menu inspired by locally sourced ingredients. Workshop Kitchen + Bar is the place to go if you’re looking for sleek interiors, a hip and lively vibe as well as some seriously good food. House in the historic El Paseo building on Palm Canyon Drive, Chefs and owners Michael Beckman and Joseph Mourani work with local farms, many within an hour of the Coachella Valley, to source fresh ingredients for their rotating menu. The veggie enchiladas and the slow-roasted lamb tajine are to die for.
Stay At The Ace Hotel
Ace Hotel Palm Springs is the coolest roadside motel since the ones from Thelma and Louise. Basically, if Elvis Presley and Young Hollywood teamed up to produce a place for the hipster bohemia to spend a few nights then this hotel would be it. On the outside, the kitschy, two-level buildings look like they were cryogenically frozen in the sixties only to rise in 2009 from their Austin Powers-like slumber with a lick of white-wash and some seriously edgy interior renovations. And in reality, this isn’t too far from the truth of how this boutique hotel came to be… [read my review on The Ace Hotel here]
Getting To Palm Springs
United Airlines flies daily direct from Melbourne to Los Angeles on their new Dreamliner 787-9 aircraft, and also flies daily direct from Sydney to Los Angeles on its B777 aircraft. Both United flights offer onward connections to Palm Springs. For all reservations and enquiries, please call 131 777 or visit their website: www.united.com/au
*’Palm Springs Fudge and Chocolates’ doesn’t have a website, but you can find them here: 211 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs CA 92262.
For more information on discovering Palm Springs, head to the Palm Springs Tourism Board website.
Stefanie Acworth was a guest of United Airlines and Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board in November 2014.