If SXSW in Austin, Texas, is the world’s most intense conference for those who produce, perform or just plain love music (and it is), then the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is its afterparty. In its 11th year, Coachella’s three long, hot days (April 16-18; see page 80) in Indio, Calif., feature more than 100 performances and artistic experiences that blend Lollapalooza, Burning Man and Hollywood into one massive hipster bash.
Admission isn’t cheap, not to mention the price of bedding down. With Coachella’s on-site camping ranging from $67 (a car-camp spot) to $5,000 (a luxury safari tent), many find the 30-mile drive to and from Palm Springs well worth it, especially after 12-hour days in the sun.
For the uninitiated, Palm Springs might imply “retirement community,” but that is far from the full truth. If Las Vegas is the grand master of destruction and reinvention, Palm Springs is its karmic flipside: reinvention sans destruction. After suffering decades of economic decline and neglect, in the late 1990s the city poached a perfect opportunity to recast itself as a hot spot for fans of Mid-Century Modernism. Perfectly preserved by a dry climate and, at the time, not nearly enough cash flow to implode and rebuild, the city unboarded its expansive windows, shook up a martini and resurged as a trendy mix of kitschy cocktail culture and living architectural museum.
Today’s Palm Springs models its new self after its old self: an intimate, low-slung escape in the middle of nowhere, where aesthetes, glitterati and gays all congregate to schmooze and sun. A variety of groups hold big events here, from tiki aficionados to lesbian golfers, but the most diverse weekend is when Coachella hammers up its multiple stages just down the road, attracting music fans of all kinds. With a balance of proximity and style, Palm Springs can be the perfect home base for Coachella fans.
It is best to choose accommodations within walking distance of downtown’s Palm Canyon Drive. Along that main drag you’ll discover coffeehouses, bars and restaurants, boutique and retro shopping, and (as if you haven’t had enough already) live music. Crashing in a downtown motel also affords access to the beautiful neighborhoods of the Tennis District—and to house bicycles, on which you can explore them.
If you’d prefer to visit Palm Springs after Coachella clears out, keep in mind that summer is the slow season for good reason. This is a very outdoor town, so room rates drop when temperatures rise. It’s hard to enjoy a mimosa by the pool when it’s 120 out—even when you think you are used to it, like some of us claim to be.
You can either choose the painless and uneventful interstate route (I-15/I-10/I-215/CA-111), or a scenic and adventurous road trip through the tiny stops of Cima, Amboy and Yucca, Calif. The latter shaves 50 miles off the trip, but it may not save much driving time, as the route is almost all two-lane roadway. That, and there are plenty of interesting photo opportunities along the way, including at Roy’s, a legendary Route 66 filling station in Amboy.
The tiny, quiet and retro Orbit In (orbitin.com) may have started it all, but the hip hotel of the moment is the Ace Hotel & Swim Club (acehotel.com/palmsprings). For a hedonistic splurge, pack a caftan and wander the historic grounds of The Parker (theparkerpalmsprings.com).
Eat & Drink
With the number and variety of restaurants in Palm Springs, it’s hard to believe residents ever eat at home. Here’s a few we like: For brekkie and lunch, the sidewalk seating, full bar and casual, inexpensive café setting make Peabody’s a popular stop for Coachella kids (peabodyscafepalmsprings.com). Tasty wood-fired pizza and a trendy outdoor bar and patio overlooking Palm Canyon Drive make Matchbox (matchboxpalmsprings.com) a natural for a late dinner. The breakfast at Norma’s— a “5-star diner” overlooking the magnificent gardens of the Parker—is delicious and the setting worth every pretty penny.