Palm Springs - the hangout of the Rat Pack back in the 60s and 70s - has got its groove back. Kaye Holland has the low down on the decadent desert oasis that's currently celebrating its 75th anniversary
Surrounded by the stunning San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains, the desert town of Palm Springs stands for everything I love: hot weather (Palm Springs enjoys 360 days of sunshine each year), fabulous sun tanned bodies and some of the swankiest hotels and bars on the planet. So, to paraphrase Hollywood superstar Dean Martin, when I was offered the opportunity to visit earlier this year I couldn’t help but croon:“How lucky can one girl be?”
Located 110 miles east of Los Angeles along Hwy 111, Palm Springs is where the King of Cool and his Rat Pack cronies headed when they wanted to escape the intensity of Hollywood. However it wasn’t just Dean, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr who flocked to this desert jewel. Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable: name your star and they’ll almost certainly have had an extravagant home here. The question isn’t so much who has stayed and played in Palm Springs, as who hasn’t?
No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without seeing the homes of the aforementioned in addition to the house where Elvis and Priscilla honeymooned, the street where Hedy Lamarr, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, George Reeves and Dorothy Lamour all lived, the properties featured in both Ocean’s Eleven and Miami Vice and many, many more. The Best of the Best’s fantastic 90 minute ‘Rich and famous tour' shows you the estates of the celebrities who helped put Palm Springs on the map.
Searching for more stars? Make for Palm Canyon Drive where you’ll find the Palm Springs Walk of Stars - around 350 Golden Palm stars embedded in the pavement. And if you’re visiting soon, don’t miss the striking 26ft statue of Marilyn Monroe - on loan until the end of September - located on the corner of Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon, which depicts the blonde bombshell in her iconic pose from the film The Seven Year Itch.
Today Palm Springs still packs in celebrities by the bucket load thanks to Coachella - an achingly cool music festival attracting, among others, the Arctic Monkeys, The Killers and Jay Z every April. The Palm Springs International Film Festival is another annual jamboree that draws in theglamorous, A list likes of Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway and Halle Berry.
Architecture is also an attraction. The desert town boasts the largest concentration of mid century modern architecture in America: expect to see one storey homes with curved roofs, rectangular pavilions and floor to ceiling glass walls. Then there’s the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (aka cable car) which whisks you from the scorching desert to the summit of San Jacinto. Tip: it gets chilly at the top of the mountain - even in summer - so bring a jumper.
Palm Springs satisfies serious shopaholics too. For funky vintage stores and second hand furniture shops, the Uptown Design district is where it’s at. Even if shopping doesn’t interest you, don’t miss Dazzles (760-327-1446) whose garden is choc full of kitsch 1960s phone cabinets, plastic flamingos and 1950s sun loungers making for retro sensory overload. Elsewhere label lovers will want to head to the Desert Hills Premium Outlets to pick up Prada, Burberry and Armani Exchange threads, for a fraction of what they cost in the malls.
Ready to relax? Sumptous spas are another part of Palm Spring’s deep bag of attractions. I enjoyed a facial which left me feeling rejuvenated (I can’t count the number of people who said I had a certain glow about me) and ready to check out the pulsating nightlife.
For while the desert town is renowned for its spas, year round sunshine and sensational shopping scene, the real reason people flock to Palm Springs is to drink designer cocktails and dance to fresh DJ spun tunes around kidney shaped pools until the wee hours (sleep is a mere afterthought). Palm Springs lives by its own rules and rhythms: it looks like the sort of place where Don Draper goes on holiday in Mad Men and where you will have one too many cocktails.
The pool party over at Ace - a hip, happening and celebrity ridden hotel (Florence Welch was a recent guest) - is a great place to drink margaritas from glasses the size of goldfish bowls. Another hot spot to gather post midnight is the rainbow hued Saguaro Palm Springs, where the pool is surrounded by beds of bright desert flowers. There’s plenty to draw the foodies too: The Saguaro (pronounced Suh-whar-oh) is also home to Tinto - a wine bar and tapas restaurant run by celebrity chef Jose Garces, that’s garnered rave reviews for its spicy tomato-topped octopus and mussels with chorizo.
But Palm Springs isn’t all about hobnobbing with celebrities and pretty young things at pumping pool parties. Those who love the great outdoors won’t leave disappointed either. Next time (yes there will be a next time) I’m aiming to take a trip to the Indian Canyons - the ancestral lands of the Cahuilla tribe - and the natural wonder that is the Joshua Tree National Park. Oh and perhaps play a round of golf - there’s over a hundred courses to choose from including the famed PGA West stadium, which hosts the Bob Hope Classic every February.
Mostly though, Palm Springs provides what we all need in these times: good old fashioned glamour and an excuse to get together and party. Sure, Palm Springs won’t suit everyone - you either get it or you don’t (and there are plenty of peoople who love to loathe the glitz and bling). But if you do, like me, you can’t wait to return.
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