In the midst of the dry, hot California desert lies an oasis so beautiful that photos cannot capture its splendor. Palm Springs is one of eight desert cities situated in an area known as the Coachella Valley, just a short two-hour drive from Los Angeles or San Diego. The population is approximately 45,000 but doubles during the winter season when all of their fabulous festivals take place. The city averages 350 days of sunshine and less than five inches of rain fall each year. With winter temperatures averaging in the 70s, it is an ideal place to escape the harsh northern winters.
The city is steeped in Native American history. It lies on land settled by the ancestors of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians. Of the reservation’s 32,000 acres, 6,700 lie within Palm Springs city limits. The remaining sections fan out across the desert and mountains in a checkerboard pattern.The Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians remains actively involved with the City of Palm Springs and in 1995, the tribe opened their first casino in a tent next to the Spa Resort Hotel. Today, the tribe has two hotels, two casinos, a golf resort, and entertainment venue.
Palm Springs is also famous for its mid-century modern architecture. People from around the globe visit the city every year just to view some of the historic properties built during this period. Influences from notable architects Albert Frey and Donald Wexler can be found throughout the city. Also during that period, local developer, Alexander Homes, popularized the post-and-beam architectural style. Alexander houses and similar homes feature low-pitched roofs, wide eaves, open-beamed ceilings, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Every year, the city hosts Modernism Week to pay tribute to the style.
Those who are more interested in shopping can take a stroll along Palm Canyon Drive, the heart of the city. Dozens of boutique shops, art galleries and outdoor cafes line the street, which has become the epicenter of activity. If discount shopping is on your agenda, head to Desert Hills Premium Outlets, just a short 20-minute drive away. Stores like Hugo Boss, Barney’s New York and Theory are sure to satisfy any serious shopaholic.
To catch a birds-eye view of the city, jump aboard the Palm Springs aerial tramway, the world’s largest rotating tram-car. Rising 8,500 feet from the desert floor, the tram gives visitors a chance to stand atop one of the area’s tallest peaks. Once they have reached the summit, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, from cross-country skiing to camping. However, if you visit during the winter months, be sure to bring a light jacket or sweater, as the temperature can be 30 degrees colder than the desert below.
Nature lovers may also like to journey to one of Palm Springs’ many wonderful parks and reserves. One location worth a visit is Indian Canyons. This glorious park is home to over 150 species of plants and wildlife, numerous waterfalls, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails. On our visit, we had the chance to take part in a guided tour of the park, which is ideal for horseback riding, bird watching, and picnicking.
Palm Springs is home to many guest-houses and small hotels. With dozens of choices, it is hard to find the perfect one, so I recommend dividing your trip and experiencing two. All of the properties provide a friendly and welcoming environment for their guests. Some are pet-friendly as well, so if you are travelling alone or with others, you will not be disappointed.
Palm Springs is also host to numerous gay festivals throughout the year, most notably the White Party and Dinah Shore Weekend, one of the top woman’s events in the country. Most gay nightlife is focused around Arena Road in downtown Palm Springs. Destinations include Hunters, SpurLine, and Georgie’s Alibi, which is located on Palm Canyon Drive. A 10-minute cab ride up the road will lead you to Toucans, the area’s hottest dance club. The indoor/outdoor venue is perfect for those looking to mingle with the desert “it crowd.”
Whether you are a nature buff, art lover or design guru, Palm Springs offers something for everyone. The best time to visit is between October and May, when temperatures are still tolerable – but steep discounts can be had during the summer months for the budget-conscious traveler.