Basking is Mandatory in Palm Springs
Basking is mandatory in Palm Springs.
Photo by Kristan Lawson
Picture a pancake-flat, sapphire-skied valley, its searing sands sporting thousands of swimming pools and ringed by four separate mountain ranges in assorted-biscuit shades. Its indigenous people sing their own creation myths for hours at a stretch. Its spring-fed, palm-fringed oases evoke Scheherazade. Its signature town’s year-round sunshine has toasted Albert Einstein, Barry Manilow, Carmen Miranda, John Muir, and a vast, glittering Who’s Who.
A spa-dotted celebrity getaway for more than a century, a mere 70-minute flight from Oakland, Palm Springs is an ancient, arid, take-no-prisoners paradise. It’s part prestigious playground and part affordable family-friendly getaway, complete with casinos, windmills, golf courses, LGBT festivals, Joshua trees, Airstream trailers, art galleries, and a soaring aerial tramway.
Viewing such landmarks on organized tours or independently (Palm Springs’ free BUZZ shuttle, launched in December, makes the latter easy, fun, and cool in both senses of the adjective) is an exercise in awe and envy. It makes you wonder whether this region’s appeal—to luminaries, hipsters, hermits, athletes, artists, migrating mallards, and bighorn sheep—might be more than mere heat. The answer is yes. Something in its silken air sings: Stay.
And it’s best to do that in retro “Desert Spanish”-style or low-slung, sugar-white, saucily Space Age time-capsular midcentury hostelries such as the Skylark, Del Marcos, Ace, Desert Star, Rendezvous, and others dotting the flamboyantly modernist Design District. Across town, within sight of Bob Hope’s lofty, castanet-shaped mega-mansion—priced at $50 million when it hit the market in 2013—paths meander the Parker Palm Springs’ lush palm-and-grapefruit shaded grounds past pools, queen-sized hammocks, a fire pit, and a canopied lemonade stand.
Looming westward and promising everything from sandy strolls to backcountry daredevilry is Indian Canyons, the reservation of the Cahuilla tribe that has inhabited this region for more than 5,000 years and is now Palm Springs’ largest single landowner. Two-dozen foot and equestrian trails stripe oasis-graced Palm Canyon, birdwatcher’s-wonderland Andreas Canyon, and secluded, waterfall-washed Murray Canyon. Keep watch for dinosaur-like chuckwallas, surprisingly savage roadrunners, saffron-blossomed, snaggle-spined, fat barrel cactus, and psychedelically purple-crowned Costa’s hummingbirds.
Restaurantwise, Cheeky’s (think squash-blossom omelets and kale-acaí “Icees”) and Tinto (think manchego and bottomless bloody Marys) are making inroads. But even in its Rat Pack salad days, Palm Springs was never a culinary capital.
Maybe that’s because the irresistible intensity, the sun- and star-kissed sacrament of simply standing outdoors here, makes even eating seem irrelevant.