By: Scott Smith and Sandra Wells
Palm Springs, two hours east of Los Angeles, but a world away, has a comprehensive website for visitors that is updated regularly on what is open https://visitpalmsprings.com/. The town has been a long-time haven for Hollywood, close enough for stars get back to work on a moment’s notice. These included Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, Mary Pickford, Kirk Douglas, and Marilyn Monroe. There is a Walk of Stars downtown.
Palm Springs has its own star-filled International Film Festival https://www.psfilmfest.org/. It was the setting for last year’s “Palm Springs” (now on Hulu), a comedy about two strangers who meet at a wedding and get stuck in a time loop (which received a 94% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes). The city is also the main place to stay during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, cancelled in 2020-21, but which normally draws a quarter million. Palm Springs’ population of 50,000 triples during the snowbird season, due to it 300 days of sunshine (average high temperatures October through May run from high 70s to mid-90s, going over 100 June-September).
The diversity page is headed “An LGBTQ Oasis Like No Other”
https://visitpalmsprings.com/an-lgbtq-oasis-like-no-other/. Many businesses are gay-owned, especially in the gayborhood on E. Arenas Rd. between S. Indian Canyon. Dr. and S. Calle Encilia. According to the 2010 census (the 2020 has been delayed), the city had the fifth-highest concentration of households with same-sex married couples in the nation, 10.1% vs. the average 1%. In 2018, voters elected America’s first all-LGBTQ city government and in 2020, Christy Holstege became the first openly bisexual mayor in the U.S.
We stayed at the Alcazar Hotel Palm Springs https://alcazarpalmsprings.com/, the coolest boutique hotel in the bustling Uptown Design District, with 34 unique rooms and a pool. See the in-depth review:
We started with the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens https://www.livingdesert.org/ in next door Palm Desert. The botanical gardens are replicas of deserts from Baja California to Madagascar. Enclosures are large and recreate dry habitants, encouraging many of the 500 animals to feel comfortable enough to breed, so this facility provides animals for other zoos. We watched a jaguar pacing up close (big cats are almost always just active at night) and listened to a laughing kookaburra. Most amazing was being able to hand-feed giraffes (they eat 17 lbs. of lettuce a day and their tongues are up to 18″, but it’s quite safe). Some grow to 18 feet tall and one mother, who is 18 years old, has borne eight calves.
Afterwards, we headed out for Sunday’s Bitchiest Brunch at Oscar’s Downtown Palm Springs https://oscarspalmsprings.com/. Seating is at 11:30 and at noon there is a fun outdoor drag show, while Saturday’s brunch is Mimosa Men, a male striptease, both of a mixed audience. Monday nights’ Las Chicas Calientes is drag in Spanish and English, seating at 9. There are often live bands during the week. The menu had plenty to choose from, including veggie omelets, T’quila Chicken Pasta, and Coconut Shrimp.
In the afternoon, we headed for the internationally-renowned Palm Springs Air Museum https://palmspringsairmuseum.org/, which has the world’s largest collection of flyable World War II aircraft (you can pay to go up with ones of the pilots, if space is available). Most awesome is the B-17 Flying Fortress. Exhibits are touchable and utilize exciting combat videos, including those for the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The goal is “educating the public about the role air power played in preserving American liberties and way of life.” Many of the docents are veterans who share their experiences.
The next morning at 730, we took a rigorous, rocky, and rewarding hike up beautiful Tahquitz Canyon http://www.tahquitzcanyon.com/canyon, enjoying the wildlife and wildflowers on the way to the waterfall at the end.
We joined the daily 11 a.m. tour of the architectural highlights of the area, many of the houses and buildings in the classic design style known as Mid-Century Modern. Kurt Cyr of Palm Springs Mod Squad https://www.psmodsquad.com/ narrated via mobile phone as the cars followed him (for COVID reasons), with explanations of the functions of the features, the history of the designers, and amusing stories about famous residents (among them Elvis and Priscilla and Liberace). We returned to where we started, the Saguaro Palm Springs, the hotel that has received more Instagram posts than any other in the world. If you don’t think you have a real interest in architecture, you’ll be hooked by the end of the tour.
In the afternoon, we strolled along Palm Springs Canyon Dr., especially noting the 40 benches that have been transformed into pieces of art https://visitpalmsprings.com/find-our-colorful-benches/.
We left on a literal high note for Sandra’s birthday, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway https://pstramway.com/, which has the world’s largest rotating aerial tram cable cars, giving a 360 view we ascended 2.5 miles in a thrilling 10 minutes from the hot desert floor to the snow at the 8.615 foot elevation of Mt. San Jacinto State Park.
Not everything was open when we visited at the end of March, including the main art museum and the Palm Springs Historical Society. But it’s a fun place to visit anytime, even when it is literally a hot destination. Other ideas for the surrounding area can be found at https://www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/things-to-do/.