In the Sonoran desert, some 100 miles from Los Angeles, Palm Springs may seem like an unlikely destination for the cultural set, but in recent years it’s become a hotbed of art openings, critically acclaimed theater and music festivals galore.
Yes, it might be one of the most popular places to retire in the USA, but it’s also home to the Desert X art show, the nationally recognized McCallum Theater, and the Coachella Festival. Add to the mix streets filled with iconic mid-century architecture, plus cool bars and restaurants and lashing of Hollywood history, and you’ll start to wonder how quickly you can make it down for the weekend.
Fine Art has been a part of life here in Palm Springs since the great and the good of Hollywood came here to escape L.A. life in the 1930s and brought their art collection with them to decorate their weekend homes. With this in mind, any visit to the city should start with a trip to the Palm Springs Museum, whose collection is made up of art loaned or donated by the town’s affluent residents. With pieces by Picasso, Warhol, Chagall, and more, its permanent collection rivals that of museums in much bigger cities. Upcoming exhibits include Andy Warhol: Prints, and a companion exhibition of work by Warhol’s friend and collaborator, the photographer Michael Childers.
Held earlier this year, the inaugural Desert X exhibition put Palm Springs in the spotlight as a serious destination for contemporary art. Timed to coincide with festival season in the Valley, the 50-mile installation used the desert as both canvas and inspiration for a series of site-specific works by both established and emerging artists including Doug Aitken and Richard Prince and drew over 100,000 visitors to the Coachella Valley. Founder Susan Davis recently confirmed to the Desert Sun that she hopes the event will return in 2019 but no concrete plans have been announced.
For collectors looking to take home some contemporary art, the galleries in the Backstreet Art District are a must-visit. Here you’ll find Elena Bulatova’s studio – the Russian artist who has made Palm Springs her permanent home – as well as the award-winning Coda Gallery (it was named Best Gallery in California at the American Art Awards this year), which specializes in contemporary paintings, photography, and sculpture.
Mid-Century Modern Style
As you drive around Palm Springs, you can’t miss the classic Mid-Century Modern architecture dotted all over. The city is like an open-air museum of 20th-century architecture, with clean lines, dramatic roof lines, and great expanses of glass at every turn. Many of the homes built for Hollywood stars like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Cary Grant were designed in the Mid-Century style.
To find out more, head to the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center. It has a host of information about the different architects that worked in the town and is housed in a Mid-Century structure, designed by E. Stewart Williams (who also designed Frank Sinatra’s former home, Twin Palms).
The town even hosts an annual event dedicated to all things Mid-Century, Modernism Week, each February. A celebration of design, architecture, and fashion, activities include tours of some of the most iconic buildings (many of which are private homes and so not normally open to the public), lectures on Mid-Century design, a vintage car show, and a party every night during the week. For modern design buffs, it’s a dream come true.
A Night at the Theater
The city’s cultural offerings don’t stop at art and architecture – there are great live performances too. The McCallum Theater hosts a varied program of events each year, from Broadway shows to classical music and ballet. The upcoming season includes a recital by world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and a series of performances of the Tony-award-winning musical Cinderella, by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Feel the Music
Every April, the Empire Polo Club in Indio transforms from genteel sports ground to weekend-long party for the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. Founded by concert promoters Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen, the festival has grown from a low-key one-day event to a three-day fiesta held over consecutive weekends in April (this year, April 13-15 and 20-22), featuring some of the biggest names in music today. Headliners in recent years have included Drake, Florence and the Machine, and Pharrell. The festival draws a crowd of trendy twenty- and thirtysomethings who come to make merry and watch great music under a desert sunset. For 2018, tickets are already on sale although the lineup is yet to be released. Online rumors suggest Justin Timberlake might be making an appearance, but you’ll have to go to find out.
If you prefer your music served with a side of rhinestones, the Stagecoach Festival might be more your scene. From the same promoters, it also takes place at the Empire Grounds, also in April—this time the 27-29. The 2018 lineup is already out and includes country music legends Garth Brooks and Kenny Rogers as well as Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, and breakout star Kacey Musgraves.
Where to stay in Palm Springs
With spectacular desert surroundings, swimming pools, and wall-to-wall sunshine, our homes in Palm Springs reflect the town’s history as a mecca of Mid-Century architecture, but with the added bonus of modern amenities and comfortable beds.
You can even live the life of a Hollywood movie star at a historic property like the Twin Palms, the home built for Frank Sinatra in 1948. Some of the original fixtures and fittings remain, such as the “his and hers” sinks, one of which still features a crack caused when Sinatra threw a champagne bottle at his then-wife, Ava Gardner during a row.