Movie-Star Glamour Is Alive and Well in Palm Springs

The Kaufmann Desert House, one of Palm Springs’ architectural gems. | By Alan Weintraub/Arcaid Image

The Kaufmann Desert House, one of Palm Springs’ architectural gems. | By Alan Weintraub/Arcaid Image

Along with golf courses, movie stars and the Betty Ford Center in nearby Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs is famed for its mid-century modern architecture. Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley had luxurious vacation homes here, but most residential neighborhoods feature butterfly roofs and vivid color schemes. City Hall is all circular cutouts and textured concrete, but even car washes and office supply stores are housed in preserved vintage structures. In February, Modernism Week offers tours, lectures and cocktail parties all focused on mod design. But you can stop by the visitors center anytime for a free guide to Palm Springs’ architectural highlights.

How to get there

The straightforward and scenic route starts on U.S. 95, turns through the Mojave and along a bit of Route 66 before passing through Twentynine Palms. Or if you prefer, take U.S. 95 to the 10 to the 111.

Where to stay

Accommodations range from giant golf resorts to boutique bed and breakfasts. The lovingly restored Colony Palms Hotel was built by a gangster in the ’30s and once operated as a speakeasy and brothel. The courtyard pool and bar is a chill oasis, while claw-foot tubs and fluffy linens help you relax. Want something wilder? The googie-Polynesian Caliente Tropics was the original site of the annual Tiki Oasis convention. The kitschy theme carries out to thatched-roof cabanas by the giant pool and palm-print everything in the rooms.

Where to dine

Start with breakfast at Sherman’s, a deli where a plate of French toast or pastrami and eggs will sustain you throughout the day. Woody’s is a retro diner that hosts jazz, blues and R&B seven nights a week—the atmosphere is mellow, but the music and burgers are top-notch. The Purple Room is an old-school supper club, where you can sip and dine while digging jazz and standards or perhaps a tribute to Judy, Frank or Elvis.

Seeking a cocktail? Look for the flashy ’50s/’80s pink neon of the Tropicale—happy hour is excellent, but they shake up a fine gimlet or daiquiri anytime. The Tonga Hut is an outpost of the legendary L.A. tiki bar with giant carved heads and scorpion bowls, as well as a groovy balcony for people-watching with your pupu platter.

What to do

Cruise around admiring the architecture, of course. Want to take the high design home with you? Drop some dollars at Modernway or the Shag Store—or there are plenty of thrift shops where you can unearth a Liz Taylor caftan or vintage glassware set for pennies. If you’re more inclined toward the great outdoors, Palm Springs has tennis, bike paths, hiking trails and more than 100 golf courses.

Don’t miss

Joshua Tree National Park is nearby and rife with natural wonders: geologic formations, flowering cacti, stunning sunrises/sunsets and, of course, those crazy trees.