Palm Springs is all about soaking up the old “Rat Pack” glamour, the deliciously enticing modernist architecture, and the sheer majesty of the surrounding beauty of the desert landscape, and the mountain views.
Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley has been a popular California destination since the 1930s when the Hollywood set started flocking to the desert retreat. Attracted by 350 days of sunshine a year, golf, and hot springs, this desert oasis made the perfect spot to escape the fray.
The hour and 50-minute drive from Los Angeles fitted perfectly with the studio's "two-hour rule", requiring under-contract actors to be available within two hours for any last-minute film shoots. The onslaught continued through the 1950s and 1960s.
The architecture popular at the time, influenced by the surrounding landscape, initiated the noted Palm Springs desert modernist style that leans towards minimal, clean lines, white or neutral walls, and symmetrical facades with vibrant pops of colour, usually on the front doors.
Famous residents in Palm Springs hideaways included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Sammy Davis Jr., Kirk Douglas and Cary Grant. Famous female visitors included Marilyn Monroe, Dinah Shore, Lily Tomlin and Elizabeth Taylor.
Where to stay
There are several fabulously retro mid-century modern hotels. One of the most colourful and quirky hotels is the Saguaro (1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive), a renovated 1970s-era motel that has had several lives, including one as a Holiday Inn. The iconic Saguaro Hotel is fun, not uber luxe or lavish, but an excellent place to stay and party by the pool.
Palm Springs is known for its pool parties, and the coolest is the Saguaro's original pool party, the Swim Meet, where rising young DJs showcase their house music.
But the Parker is the ultra-luxe "it" spot for seclusion-seeking movie stars. John Travolta, Angelina Jolie, and Leonardo DiCaprio, among many other Hollywood stars, have enjoyed Jonathan Adler's hyper-curated design, which makes this hip spot cooler than ever.
“To me, Palm Springs is Hollywood, luxurious, and a little bit louche,” says the designer.
It's a modern-day retro fantasy hideaway with hammocks under palm trees, croquet and bocce fields, vintage umbrellas, glamorous pools, and a "lemonade stand" for a perky hit of muddled vodka-laced lemonade.
Parker is the place to play, with its lighthearted vibe and the cheekily named PSYC, Palm Springs Yacht Club, aka the spa. Here the decor is decidedly “boaty”, and your pampering starts with a thimble-sized shot of cucumber vodka.
Setting the scene – the Adler-designed Hollywood regency-style hotel is chic, kitschy, whimsical, and utterly fabulous. The designer's cheeky, contemporary update maintains the historical soul of what was the estate of the Western movie star Gene Autry.
The property sits on a sprawling 13 acres of sublimely lush landscaping scattered with 225 towering palms, bushy grasses, flowering bushes, citrus trees, a herb garden, and a tunnel of hedges, perfectly designed with hidden hangouts at every turn, including a croquet lawn, Pétanque courts, fire pit seating areas, two pools, and a lemonade stand.
Adler initially made his mark on the desert retreat in 2003. Of his recent revamp, he says: “The hotel's design certainly wasn't broken. If anything, the patina made it feel right, but some spaces needed a facelift.”
He has carefully kept the soul of the Parker Palm Springs alive. Fun new additions include a seven-foot-tall bronze banana sculpture located on the hotel's main lawn by Alder himself, and a wonderfully trippy carpet design inspired by the flooring in the hallway of the Overlook Hotel in the film The Shining.
The iconic two-bedroom villa, Gene Autry Residence, where the cowboy country singer once resided, is everyone's fantasy of a Palm Springs getaway with eccentric glamour and an Old Hollywood vibe, complete with a screening room.
The playful grounds have a labyrinth of pathways connecting the various outdoor spaces and buildings that house the 156 rooms and villas and the yellow-striped Lemonade Stand.
The main building houses the ultra cool lobby, with a dramatic white brick wall and a mantle of colourful glass sculptures sitting below a light-up sign screaming the word "drugs". A screened lounge with a circular hanging fireplace, shag pile rugs, leather and velvet furnishings, cane furniture, and hanging spoon chairs invites you to chill – accompanied by seriously louche music, macrame owls, leather and velvet furnishings.
Where to eat
The wonderfully colourful Norma's is a decadent all-day breakfast hangout, while Mister Parker's restaurant is a dark, sequestered indulgence spot for a more atmospheric evening.
The fabulously glamorous "Mini Bar", which during the day is hidden behind large blue doors, is flanked by brass palm trees. The mini bar is extremely mini, but "size isn't everything", as the saying goes. Perfectly formed, intimate, and yet grand in dark emerald stone, mirrored accents, blackamoor sconces and Lucite stools.
The world's smallest restaurant, Mrs Parker, is a romantic table for two by the Gene Autry Pool to sip champagne and dine under the stars with your butler and chef. Counter-Reformation is Parker's under-the-radar Parisian-inspired wine bar, or in Parker speak, a Cave à Manger, serving an eclectic curation of wines and a selection of small delicacies, and decked out in brass, mirrors, and patterned cement tiles hidden in the corner of the hotel grounds.
Palm Springs abounds with desert modernist iconic mid-century architecture and design, a groovy desert vibe, retro-chic restaurants, shops, stylish luxury hotels, and fabulous restaurants.
There really is something for everyone. The Palm Springs International Film Festival attracts the Hollywood A-listers in January. While the Palm Springs Modernism Week is the epicentre for mid-century architecture lovers.
The annual 11-day festival features more than 350 events, including the Palm Springs Modernism Show, CAMP, and tours of the many iconic homes. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes place in April with music, art installations and sculptures. What's not to love?