Where else in America can you bask in the glory of a sunny winter day in the 70s and 80s while admiring the view of snow-capped peaks not that far to the west? It’s Palm Springs, of course, boasting more than 340 sunny days every year. With the glorious weather come all the vacation amenities that such an environment spawns: world-class golfing, tennis and other outside activities; gourmet restaurants; luxurious spa resorts and couture shopping. And of course, the friendly residents, full of the good cheer that living in paradise can impart. Palm Springs is where sophistication meets the small town and where relaxation is everyone’s goal.
It Takes a Village
When people say “Palm Springs” they generally are referring to the entire 15-mile suburbanized strip of Route 111 that runs through the towns of Indian Wells, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City, as well as the small city of Palm Springs at the north end. All have their attractions. But Palm Springs has a compact and active downtown area, which retains its small-town feel. Preserved 19th-century structures give a nod to the town’s pioneer history, and they contrast with the mid-20th-century modern look of much of the rest of town. Palm Springs relishes its village-like downtown, and street festivals are scheduled every Thursday night year-round.
Shopping Palm Springs Style
Palm Canyon Drive through downtown is lined by tall Royal palm trees that simply command that you get out of your car and stroll the sidewalks. It offers hundreds of small specialty shops, including women’s fashions, gifts, art galleries and antiques. To get a feel for the shopping spectrum in downtown, go to palmcanyondrive.org.
At the north end of Palm Canyon Drive is the Uptown Design District, a stylish and spirited retail area that showcases top designers, modern and vintage furniture stores and fashion boutiques. Those shopping for clothes will find what they are looking for at California Chic, designer Trina Turk’s boutique at 891 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Wil Stiles’ collection of sporty wear for women and men (at 875), or MacMillan’s Resort Wear (at 886).
One of the most innovative venues is the “retail incubator” Raymond Lawrence, blending the names of its owners Larry Abel and Raymond McCallister at 830 N. Palm Canyon Dr. This mega-shop integrates home décor, furniture, art, accessories, textiles and bedding, men’s and women’s fashion, shoes, and jewelry all in one location. A café and international newsstand top off the already amazing array. raymond-lawrence.com
Make a Tee Time
With more than 110 courses, the Palm Springs area is one of the world’s top golfing destinations. Major golfing events such as the Humana Challenge (formerly the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic), the Kraft Nabisco Championship (formerly the Dinah Shore) and the Skins Game are conducted here each year. Golf course designers include such top names as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Ted Robinson—and they have done some of their finest work in the Palm Springs area. Some favorite courses open to the public:
The Classic Club, one of the top five new public courses in America, was designed by Arnold Palmer and is the host site of the Humana Challenge. classicclubgolf.com
Indian Canyons Golf Resort is surrounded on three sides by breathtaking, colorful, natural mountain vistas. It’s naturally sheltered from the wind as it’s nestled at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. It’s a jewel of the desert and offers an unrivaled golf experience. indiancanyonsgolf.com
Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort consists of two spectacular 18-hole courses, both offering gorgeous views. “One of the best places to play,” according to Golf Digest. The Legend Course has been a favorite for years, and the newer Resort Course is a desert links style course in rolling terrain with well-placed bunkers. tahquitzgolfresort.com
For a complete listing of golfing opportunities go to golfnow.com. Many of the most famous courses are open to the public, but you’ll need to plan your game in advance.
Still Modern After all These Years
When visionary architects designed the sleek, modern homes they felt were perfectly suited to the desert environment, little did they realize that 60 and 70 years on, their work would be more admired and appreciated than ever. The thing is most of these houses are still private residences and must be enjoyed from afar for most of the year.
Perched overlooking the city looms architect John Lautner’s landmark home for Bob and Dolores Hope. Nearby is his modernist home built for the late designer Arthur Elrod. Maybe the most famous is the Kauffman House (the same Edgar Kauffman who commissioned Fallingwater in Pennsylvania), designed by Robert Neutra, much to the displeasure of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Various walking and bus tours can be scheduled by visiting modernismweek.com. Many activities are scheduled for the next Modernism Week, Feb. 12-22, 2015.
Yes, there are spas galore in and around Palm Springs with a wide selection of beauty and health treatments. Most offer day spa services to the public. One of the best is The Spring Resort and Day Spa, in nearby Desert Hot Springs, which offers use of its three mineral pools to spa customers, before and after their spa appointments. Located on a promontory east of Palm Springs, the views of the desert and mountains are almost tonic enough.
An outdoor soaking pool is maintained at 104 degrees. The large, sparkling swimming pool’s temperature is adjusted to weather conditions for maximum pleasure.
Day spa guests are provided robes and slippers and a small basket locker. The changing room is equipped with hair dryers, lotions and, yes, a beautiful view. the-spring.com
Copping the View
Visitors with kids in tow will enjoy the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which has been delighting visitors for 35 years with a short trip from the desert floor to an alpine forest on Mount San Jacinto at 8,516 feet. Snow sports in winter and cool activities in summer, great views and a mountaintop restaurant put this trip at the top of every first-time visitor’s list of things to do. pstramway.com
The desert offers an array of beauty completely alien to our Midwestern sensibilities. Nearby Joshua Tree National Park offers paved and off-road routes for unforgettable daytrips by car. Intrepid hikers can experience a real oasis with the hike to 49 Palms Oasis, an easy 1.5-mile trek from a trailhead readily accessible from Hwy. 62 near the town of Twenty Nine Palms. (They keep close count of those palm trees.) You’ll encounter every variety of cacti and draw a breath when the verdant oasis comes into view. nationalparks.org
Where to Stay
Hotel California—A romantic and luxurious hotel with a storied history that’s set in a lush desert landscape. From $150/ night. 424 E. Palm Canyon Dr.
Colony Palms Hotel—This Spanish-style hotel opened in 1936 and is one of the grande dames downtown. Newly re-opened after an extensive remodeling, it has regained its original swagger. From $145/night double. 572 N. Indian Canyon Rd.
Hilton Palm Springs Resort—Attention to details and a world-class spa distinguish this classic Palm Springs destination. From $124/night/double. 400 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way.
POSH Palm Springs Inn—A small boutique hotel known for the owner’s personal service. Quiet and small with the pool right outside your door. From $229/night. 530 E. Mel Ave.
Parker Palm Springs—A hideaway with grounds that will amaze you. This full-service resort offers spa treatments and tennis courts. 4200 E. Palm Canyon Dr. From $350/night.
Where to Dine
Purple Palm—The chef buys local and mixes traditional continental cuisine with his own innovative culinary twists. Menu evolves daily. Treat yourself. 572 N. Indian Canyon Dr. 800-557-2187
Fisherman’s Market and Grill—A fun and busy restaurant downtown that has fresh seafood flown in daily. Indoor and outdoor seating. A really good value. 235 South Indian Canyon Dr. 760-327-1766
Zin American Bistro—American classics served in the European bistro tradition complete with an exciting wine list. 198 South Palm Canyon Dr. 760-322-6300
Crossroads Café—This highway tavern in Joshua Tree draws a steady stream of locals and visitors for the simple, ample and delectable twists on traditional bar food sandwiches, etc. California cuisine meets the road. 61715 29 Palms Highway, 760-366-5414