Once a hideaway for the Hollywood heyday set – Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby, to name a few – Palm Springs is an ode to the Golden Age of the Silver Screen, when poolside cocktail parties happened nightly, tennis was “Hollywood’s game” (according to a 1963 Sports Illustrated article), and seersucker suits were it and a bit. Perfectly stuck in time thanks to a passionate group of preservationists, the desert gem’s institutions and culture have remained intact. Insert a bevy of today’s tastemakers multiplying the cool factor, and Palm Springs proves that timeless is always in style. There are infinite reasons to love the desert hideaway, but we’ll start with seven:
1. Mid-Century Design
Stroll or bike down any street in Palm Springs and you’re guaranteed to spot a retro relic from the era when Bob Hope or Frank Sinatra made “Hollywood’s escape” their home. Both entertainers’ midcentury homes still stand (Frank Sinatra’s pictured right), and many other desert-modern structures give the city its decidedly vintage-cool feel. Pick up a map of mid-century modern landmarks at the Palm Springs Official Visitors Center, also a mid-century landmark, designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers – or take a guided tour with PS Architecture Tours. If you’re a real fanatic, you can take in an entire week of celebrations in February during Modernism Week.
2. Art Smarts
You’d be hard-pressed to find a desert-dweller without an affinity for art, or a studio where they create their own installations. After all, inspiration is everywhere, from the raw beauty of the desert to the architecture that graces every address. Counting the ever-changing murals that grace the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, the Palm Springs Art Museum (free to visit on Thursdays from 4 to 9 p.m. and every second Sunday), the downtown galleries, as well as the city’s public art collection with 60 works adorning the outdoors, Palm Springs may be a small town, but it has a big appreciation for art.
3. Desert Backdrop
Blessed with miles of mountains, valleys and desert flatlands, Palm Springs sits in a 7-million-acre outdoor playground known as the Sonoran or Colorado Desert, and homes are built right up to the rocks like at Villa Cahuilla (right). Just a few minutes from downtown, step into the lush and ancient palm grove at Indian Canyons and explore the sacred land where people came for healing. Drive an hour west and end up in Joshua Tree National Park, known for its jumbo, 100-million-year-old boulders and, of course, its namesake tree you may have seen on the back of U2’s The Joshua Tree album.
4. Brunch Bunch
Two words: Bacon flight. Now that we’ve got your attention, make room in your schedule and your stomach for Cheeky’s. Specializing in an ever-evolving weekly menu based on local farmers’ crops, the “it” breakfast joint always has one thing on the menu (aside from the buttermilk pancakes): The bacon flight, dressed in flavors such as Moroccan spice, apple-cinnamon, and jalapeño. Another not-to-miss brunch mecca is Norma’s, a five-star diner where every meal comes with a smoothie shot, the coffee is served in silver urns, and the food ranges from farm-fresh eggs to the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata (order it with caviar and watch your brunch bill go from $30 to $1,000 USD).
5. Cocktail Hour
Cocktail hour is my favorite hour in Palm Springs. In the desert, there’s a magical window of time when the sun dips behind the San Jacinto Mountains, the sky turns pink, and the midday heat cools to the perfect temperature for a tipple. Frank Sinatra was a cocktail fan, too. At 5 p.m. his friends knew to look for a flag he’d raise at his Twin Palms Estate to signal that his bar was open. Eighty years later, the tradition of poolside cocktail parties continues to thrive. For a taste of the Old-World cocktail scene, head to Melvyn’s Restaurant & Lounge, where the Rat Pack sipped martinis in the chandelier-clad piano bar. To mingle with the Coachella Valley’s new breed of cool cats, stop in at Counter Reformation in the Parker Palm Springs, a new 14-seat wine bar serving small-batch wines and small bites with a hidden entrance and a vintage confessional.
6. Alfresco Dining
There’s something about dining under a starry sky that enhances “that vacation feeling.” On the casual end, reserve a seat at Birba to nosh on a honey- and chilli oil-topped prosciutto pizza paired with an oh-so Italian Aperol aperitif. On the more upscale end, don’t miss Workshop Kitchen+Bar. Here, take advantage of the alfresco courtyard with ultra-local farm-to-table fare, but don’t miss the inside, either. This James Beard Award-winning restaurant design stunner is set in a 90-year-old movie theatre.
7. The 350-Effect
The sun shines in Palm Springs an average of 350 days per year, meaning that whether you visit in spring, summer, winter or fall, picture-perfect weather is almost guaranteed in this literal hot spot. Couple this with minimal rainfall – think less than a half-inch monthly – and it’s clear why the original A-list chose this oasis as their go-to vacation destination.