By Matthew Link
For nearly a century, lovers have been lured to this Southern Californian desert hot spot. It was 1922 when Hollywood’s original heartthrob, bisexual silent screen stud Rudolf Valentino, honeymooned in Palm Springs with his equally bisexual bride. In more recent years, out pop star Lance Bass met his future husband here, and Ellen and Portia had designs for a big desert wedding at the plush Riviera resort before the paparazzi forced a change of plans.
Every other legendary couple of the last 100 years—from Elvis and Priscilla to Brad and Angelina—have retreated behind the sunny cloak of the desert for their intimate romantic getaways.
For go-go boys and party girls, Palm Springs is synonymous with the annual spring-break disco-decadence events White Party and The Dinah, the world’s largest gay circuit party and lesbian event weekend, respectively. The desert town’s gay and lesbian resorts number over 25, the largest collection in the nation and possibly the world. Nearly all are clothing-optional, helping to fuel Palm Springs’ anything-goes reputation.
After moving here five years ago, this desert retreat of just 50,000 souls began to slowly reveal to me its greatest secret of all: Palm Springs is actually—dare I say it—romantic.
Several of the gay resorts are actually elegant and upscale. Some offer honeymoon and romance packages for gay couples complete with roses, champagne, and spa treatments (see sidebar).
Not only does Palm Springs enjoy one of the highest per capita GLBT populations in the nation (30 to 40 percent of the residents), the city’s zip codes rank #2 and #4 in the nation for their percentage of male cohabiting couples, according to the U.S. Census. Heck, even Palm Springs’ current mayor, Steve Pougnet, is married with a husband and two small children.
The cinematic setting (a couple hours’ drive inland from Los Angeles or San Diego) creates a spectacularly inspirational backdrop for any wedding or honeymoon. The San Jacinto Mountains shoot up 10,000 feet directly from the back of downtown Palm Springs, and the world’s largest rotating tramcar whisks you up to these peaks for snowball fights, sometimes even in summer.
Keep in mind, Palm Springs has over 350 days of sunshine and is in the 70s to 80s during the winter. Perfect for you to escape the chilly weather and head to the sunshine.
Less than an hour outside of Palm Springs’ city limits lies the 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave high desert (with its native Dr. Suess-like Joshua trees) and the Colorado low desert (with its native Sponge Bob-like ocotillo cacti) collide to form terrain that looks shipped in from another planet.
Delving into this environment is itself romantic, whether you and your honey choose on horseback, in a hot air balloon, or with a private open air gay jeep tour. Or simply gaze up at the pink sunset mountains while you both float naked in the pool at one of the GLBT resorts or your own private pool at vacation home and condo rentals.
Palm Springs offers the luxurious infrastructure of a much larger destination—but without the traffic, smog, and attitude. And the place is experiencing a hearty resurrection. Thirteen acres of the downtown village is undergoing a major (and gorgeous) multi-million dollar makeover. Hipsters and trendsetters have recently rediscovered Palm Springs thanks to the über-popularity of the nearby Coachella Music Festival, and artsy new clubs, lounges, and hotels are revitalizing the town’s once-stale scene. And Hollywood is also finding Palm Springs again: Leonardo DiCaprio recently purchased a mid-century masterpiece home that once belonged to singer Dinah Shore (whom The Dinah is named after).
Instant relaxation seems to descend upon arriving passengers at the intimate and futuristic Palm Springs International Airport when they behold the towering scenery and breathe in the calm desert air. (New daily non-stop flights on Delta and Sun Country whisk you straight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Palm Springs in wintertime).
Nothing within the town of Palm Springs is more than a 15-minute drive away, and newlyweds can let the champagne flow by hopping on one of the city’s brand-new free trolleys, which enjoy the party-friendly name BUZZ. Lily Tomlin and Carol Channing were at the recent launch of the trolleys, which service 30 stops at 15-minute intervals every Thursday through Sunday until 1 a.m. That gives one ample time to peruse the city’s rich smorgasbord of gay clubs, restaurants, and shops.
“Palm Springs has a long history of welcoming gays and lesbians,” explains Mayor Pougnet, “So I can’t imagine any place more perfect to marry.”
When California first legalized same-sex marriage for six short months in 2008, Palm Springs City Hall performed over 600 civil ceremonies for same-sex couples (with the gay mayor personally presiding over 115 of them).
Gay marriage finally became permanently legal in California in 2013, the same year the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism launched their gay-welcoming web site, www.weddingsinpalmsprings.com, as a companion to their site www.visitgaypalmsprings.com.
Beginning last year, Palm Springs City Hall has set aside each Friday as Wedding Express due to the high demand for civil ceremonies and “to streamline the marriage process and make it easier and more convenient for all members of our community, gay or straight, looking to get married in Palm Springs,” says Mayor Pougnet.
“We hope as a tourist destination that people come from states where it’s too cold, even if (marriage there is) legal or not, and that we develop a tourist destination for weddings here,” says Reverend Richard Cadieux, a gay wedding consultant who has performed over a thousand marriages at hundreds of venues in the Palm Springs area. Cadieux says that after same-sex marriage became legal in California in summer 2013, “my business went up 400 percent.”
Cadieux’s company, Joyful Weddings & Events, is just one of several GLBT wedding planners in Palm Springs specializing in the social and legal nuances of this new frontier of same-sex weddings. By locally arranging everything before your arrival in the desert—from rehearsal dinner venues to marriage license forms to flower arrangements—these experts ensure a smooth and mellow marriage/honeymoon experience.
Palm Springs embraces its gayness fully, and locales like downtown’s world-class Palm Springs Art Museum and the 6,000-foot Palm Springs Aerial Tramway enthusiastically host same-sex weddings. The former desert homes of stars like Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Cher are all available as short-term rentals, making for a glamorous outdoor ceremony as well as a posh vacation home for you and/or your wedding posse. Many couples planning their destination wedding in Palm Springs often plan smaller ceremonies and host large parties poolside.
“We’ve done traditional weddings, small weddings, even a couple of naked weddings,” says Michael Green, a local gay wedding officiant and owner of Palm Springs’ clothing-optional men’s resort Triangle Inn. “Most have been for [people] who have been together for ten or more years—California residents as well as couples from all over the United States and Canada. It’s been a great way to contribute to our community.”
Gregory Goodman, owner of downtown’s My Little Flower Shop, unequivocally states that “Palm Springs is in a boom right now, of course. And I would say Palm Springs is one of the best wedding destinations.”
Goodman and his husband Alan fell in love with the desert and turned their weekend home here into their full-time residence. Due to the exploding demand, their wedding planning services have grown from sideline business to the cause of their recent relocation and expansion. The couple now also oversee My Little Bridal Boutique.
As for the reason why, Goodman’s response is once again unequivocal. “Everyone wants to come to Palm Springs.”
PALM SPRINGS WEDDING INFORMATION
PALM SPRINGS GLBT RESORTS WITH HONEYMOON/WEDDING PACKAGES:
Casitas Laquita Resort –
Casa Ocotillo –
East Canyon Hotel + Spa –
The Hacienda –
La Dolce Vita –
Pura Vida –
Random Haus –
Triangle Inn –
PALM SPRINGS WEDDING 101 CHEAT SHEET
Wedding Express service at Palm Springs City Hall:
– Every Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
– Speedy marriage licenses and/or civil ceremonies
– Information: 760-863-7505, www.asrclkrec.com/Clerk/MarriageLicensesCeremonies/CivilMarriageCeremony.aspx
– Cost is $90 at city hall (check or credit card only)
– Valid for 90 days
– Valid for any county in the State of California
– Recognized by federal government as full legal marriage even if your home state does not
– Valid government-issued photo I.D. required (passports acceptable)
– Both parties on license must be present together
– Both parties on license must be 18 years or older
– If one or both parties are under 18, a court order for the minor must be shown for license to be issued
– Copy of previous divorce or domestic partnership dissolution required within 90 days of license issuance
– Open to out-of-state residents and non-U.S. citizens
– Out-of-state residents must have notary-signed forms to obtain a certified copy of marriage license
– Non-U.S. citizens must have apostille-signed forms to obtain a certified copy of marriage license
– Blood tests not required
– Downloadable forms available at www.asrclkrec.com/FormsFees/Forms.aspx
– Every Friday at Palm Springs City Hall from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
– Costs $75 (check or credit card only, paid in advance)
– By reservation only
– At least one witness required for ceremony
– Presided over by city official (non-religious)
– Marriage license is obtained separately
– Marriage is not legal until paperwork is filed correctly
– Downloadable forms available at www.asrclkrec.com/FormsFees/Forms.aspx