Time Travel to the Desert Glamour of Palm Springs

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Published on May 25, 2022 9:59:34 AM PDT May 25, 2022 9:59:34 AM PDTth, May 25, 2022 9:59:34 AM PDT

Palm Springs is more than its Colorado Desert’s Coachella Valley annual music festival. It’s more than its casinos and glamorous golf and hot springs resorts where retirees and snowbirds flock. And it’s more than its attraction of the Hollywood elite who in the 1920s and ‘30s were drawn to Palm Springs as it emerged as a resort destination and playground for the rich.

This desert oasis with 300 days of sunshine per year is a geographic location with nearly a leg on each side of the San Andreas Fault in Southern California. It is also ruled and regulated by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the city’s largest landowners and proprietor of three casinos. In fact, half the land in Palm Springs is rented and the tribal government governs over parts of the city where reservation jurisdictions overlap. The busloads of children who regularly arrive for a wilderness experience at the Andreas Canyon receive an earful of tribal history, while most tourists aren’t the slightest bit aware of the tribal sovereignty in place.

Palm Springs Hotel


From the ‘40s through ‘60s, architects were drawn to the desert’s dramatic landscape, where Desert Modernism was born, taking cues from early proponents like Corbusier, Gropius, van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright. By the late ‘70s, popularity diminished in the desert and the many treasured architectural structures of glass, steel, and stone fell into disrepair and were replaced by new homes and developments. Today, the distinctive character of these mid-century structures makes a visit to Palm Springs the closest thing to time travel.

It's an easy drive from San Bernardino County or Los Angeles to Palm Springs, which make day trips easy, but you’ll be able to experience more if you stay longer.

My room at the Palm Springs Hotel was a retro-designed mini-oasis a mile from the downtown. Once checked in, I grabbed a handful of Tootsie Rolls from the endless supply at the front desk, unpacked my suitcase under the supervision of Britney Spears, or at least the Warhol-style artwork of the pop star on the wall, and headed to the desert for a birds-eye view of the area, courtesy of a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

At the bottom, a sweater may have been too much to wear, but at the summit, there was snow - and it was chilly. Fortunately, my friend and I were in a glassed-in vessel as we rose 2.5 miles in 10 minutes flat, straight up Chino Canyon. Views from the top are astounding, and there are hiking trails, dining options, and a museum to visit.

View from the Palm Springs Tram.


Best Sites for Gawking

If you consider peeking at movie stars’ former homes as a fun activity, you can book a Celebrity Homes guided tour with Palm Springs Celebrity Tours and gawk at the residences of Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, Elvis, Sinatra, and Dean Martin from the comfort of a Land Rover. Along the way, you’ll hear an earful of juicy details of the owners’ lives (and loves).

Palm Springs downtown Marilyn


Tracking steps? Opt for a walking tour of Palm Springs, but first… download the GPSmyCity App on your phone and follow the map for the best sightseeing. You’ll accumulate about 10,000 steps in less than three hours on tours that include Strange and Fabulous sites; Art, Architecture and More; The Salton Sea; and Famous Houses in Palm Springs.

On Thursdays and second Sundays of the month, access is free at the Palm Springs Art Museum, whose collection includes 12,000 modern and contemporary works.

The best place to catch a breeze may be on a Windmill Tour. These majestic wind turbines are an iconic symbol in the Coachella Valley. You can take a self-driving windmill tour or opt for an off-road bike tour to explore the evolution of wind turbines on a private wind farm. The tour allows you to exit at each stop and guides you with a curated video.

Hungry?

Restaurants in Palm Springs and nearby Rancho Mirage (located between Cathedral City and Palm Desert -- one of the nine cities of the Coachella) range from brewhouse to Belgian, Californian to Catalan, sushi to steakhouse. Most boast spacious outdoor terraces. Pinzimini restaurant at Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa is a prime spot for a hearty Tuscan-inspired splurge. Be sure to save room for dessert.

On Thursday evenings, the main street is closed to traffic to allow vendors to sell their wares at tables setup along the street. There are food vendors as well, and the shops downtown stay open later as pedestrian traffic is heavy at this time. There’s no shortage of restaurants with patios, and all are buzzing with dinner chatter and live entertainment on Thursday nights, in particular.

If you want to amplify your fun, stop in a cannabis dispensary downtown. My friend and I had the great idea to purchase a box of gummies. We were novices but decided it might be fun to try the pomegranate-flavored gummies with a 1:1 ratio of CBD and THC.

We each took a slice of a flattened square gummy before we took our seats on a patio table at an Italian restaurant. We were there to enjoy cocktails and appetizers al fresco, but about 10 minutes later, the gummies kicked in – and instead of a light, fun, and slightly giggly high we anticipated, ours was a drugged feeling, a giggly ‘our stomachs hurt make it stop’ effect.

My friend kept pushing her martini further away, inch by inch as it swooshed like an infinity pool… and then I turned around to spot a man who looked like a cast member on The Soprano’s and I uber-focused on him shoveling forkfuls of meat into his mouth… as if in slow motion. It was shocking to my heightened state of euphoria and I’m sure I repeated this account to my friend in a louder than normal tone. My friend had a fixed stare ahead and just kept saying, “Don’t look at me.” Each time she repeated this mantra, I couldn’t stop laughing… to the point where it actually hurt. We both tried desperately to compose ourselves, but our fellow Soprano diner was on to us. I know this because when this man and his date were departing, he stopped at our table, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Is everything all right here, ladies?”


I cannot recall if we answered him or not, and I barely mustered the ability to pay the bill so we could leave this situation and head back to our respective hotels. My friend could easily walk to her room, but I had to call an Uber. Now, this may seem a simple task, but given our state of mind, it proved nearly impossible. After three attempts (and 3 cancellation charges) to right the wrong of sending the Uber to our drop off location instead of where I stood to be picked up, I made it back to my hotel and called it a night.

When we met for breakfast the next morning, we realized a full piece of gummy was actually double the recommended dose. If only the budtender had informed us one piece was actually two doses, we would have been able to function and have fun instead of feeling truly drugged. It’s a story we will forever laugh about now that it’s over.

Two nights later, I checked into the Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa on Dinah Shore Drive, where a visit to the spa was a beautiful walk away from my luxurious room overlooking this 365-acre golf course resort. Aside from its premier golf course and reimagined spa, there are 12 pickleball courts, three tennis courts, three pools, two waterslides, a bowling alley and arcade, and multiple dining options, including its signature Italian restaurant, Pinzimini. At the helm of this restaurant is James Beard Honored Executive Chef Joel Delmond.

Learning to play pickleball was on my bucket list, so I signed up for an on-site lesson with Tennis Director, Pete Kelly. Compared to tennis, this is a less taxing activity, and according to Pete, the game was conceived on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, where a dog named… yup, Pickle, loved to toss a whiffle ball. Alas, upon later research, the story of its name is but a fable; it was named by the wife of the game’s inventor, Joel Pritchard. Joan named the game in a nod to the pickle boat in crew where crew members were chosen from the leftovers of other boats. Regardless of the name, it’s a really fun sport to play doubles.

The proximity to the pickleball court to the Westin Spa lured me inside for a much kneaded massage that set me right for days to come.

Before I departed, I met up with a friend in the area who took me window shopping on the luxurious promenade in downtown Rancho Mirage, the perfect activity before lunch at The Fix on El Paso for a plate of street tacos and a glass of Chardonnay.

For more information to plan your visit, go to www.thegreaterpalmsprings.com.

About the Author:Charlene Peters is a travel writer and author of “Travel Makes Me Hungry: Tales of tastes & indigenous recipes to share,” available on Amazon. Email charlene@rhelm.com