For years, Palm Springs was mainly a weekend getaway for the Rat Pack, movie moguls and hip socialites of Los Angeles. But it’s no longer just the Hollywood set who vacay here. The rest of the world has cottoned on to this sunny desert paradise….
Despite a lull through the 80s, its reputation as a glamorous grown-ups’ playground hasn’t waned. In fact, its cool-factor status has only gotten cooler, aided by the annual Coachella Music Festival and Palm Springs International Film Festival, which both attract major celebrities in party mode. Palm Springs is now an international hotspot and its allure has sent our imaginations into overdrive. The town, with its concentration of mid-century modernist architecture, great shopping and uber-cool hotels, is an interesting juxtaposition to the snow-capped mountains and surrounding deserts like the Joshua Tree National Park, which straddles the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. Together, these contrasting experiences offer a well-rounded holiday for any traveller.
Play. The Joshua Tree National Park is a unique experience — the spectacular Joshua tree only grows here — and it’s easily explored. The park’s entrance is a 45 minute drive from downtown Palm Springs and even the shorter hiking trails offer awe-inspiring vistas. Afterwards, treat yourself to a sugar scrub and seaweed wrap at the Parker hotel’s lavish nautical-themed spa, or venture out of town to the more Cali-hippie style Two Bunch spa for a soak in a mineral-rich mud pool. For a dose of culture, simply driving through certain neighborhoods equates to a tour of some of the finest examples of mid-century architecture you’ll see anywhere. The town’s museums and art galleries, furniture and antique stores, and fashion boutiques all offer unsurpassable style and cultural history, too. For a bit of old-school Americana, Slab City, an abandoned navy base which became an off-grid home and alternative living community, and Salvation Mountain, a sprawling artwork and offering made of local adobe clay and donated paint are worth checking out.
Stay. The Ace Hotel is a hip oasis with 1950s décor that contributes to its escapist vibe. Formerly a motor lodge, it’s been transformed into a sleek hotel surrounded by mature gardens, outdoor fireplaces and olive trees. The rooms’ walls and bedspreads are draped in soft tent canvases, kilims soften the concrete floors, old travel trunks lay at the foot of each bed, and vintage copies of National Geographic fill the bookshelves. Even the restaurant, which serves modern Mexi-Cali food had a former life as a Denny’s diner. Hicksville, which describes itself as “a trailer palace and artist retreat”, is a great options if you’re heading to Joshua Tree. Designed by quirky Los Angeles writer and director Morgan Higby Night as a space for artists to collaborate, it’s a series of themed trailers, with a recording studio and editing suite for musicians and filmmakers wanting to work away from the distractions of home. Although they may find themselves distracted by the mini golf, rooftop hot tub and saltwater pool, archery and BB gun range, bar trailer, and giant tipi with a fire-pit.
Eat. Palm Springs’ food scene has been growing steadily, as top chefs and restauranteurs from nearby cities have opened outposts in the desert. Roadside diners have been doing excellent jelly donuts and the area’s iconic date shakes for decades, but there are plenty of more contemporary offerings that are worth checking out, too. Start the day with brunch at Cheeky’s, known for their handmade cinnamon rolls — only 48 are made daily, so go early to avoid cinnamon-flavoured disappointment. King’s Highway, the Ace Hotel’s roadside diner, does superb Mexican-influenced food made by Michelin-starred chefs. Or, for something a little different, Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown serves up live indie rock alongside sublime wood-fired dishes cooked on mesquite outdoors. And for the ultimate in chilled dining, head for a swim at the Parker then order their classic Lobster roll and a chilled Pina Colada.
Words—Caroline Waldegrave | Photography & Travel tips—Simon & Sophia at Bayly & Moore