Picture, if you will, exiting an airplane and walking through a small, cozy little airport after a three-hour flight. At first glance, the airport isn’t too different from the smaller, regional airports you may have patronized once or twice in your life. As you reach the end of the concourse, you see that baggage claim is straight ahead. You push open the door. Sure enough, baggage claim is steps away, but not before emerging outdoors and being greeted by a menagerie of vibrant palm trees, clear, sunny skies, and an impossibly gorgeous mountain range serving as the picturesque backdrop to the getaway of a lifetime.
This, my friends, is the Palm Springs experience.
Located in the Coachella Valley of Riverside County, California, Palm Springs has long been a popular resort and tourism destination for decades, and has evolved consistently over the years to appeal to a wide spectrum of visitors and residents.
“It was primarily a retirement community,” said Randy Garner of Visit Palm Springs. “The city has done a really good job of developing the downtown [area]. The average age is really going down, so it’s a lot younger crowd. I would also attribute that to the fact we’ve got a lot of people from L.A. that came over, bought up some of the homes and fixed them up, and that’s the younger, more affluent crowd.”
Of course, being a southwestern desert town, it can get hot. Especially in the summer time. But in the winter? The general lack of humidity makes even a 95-degree day downright comfy, especially come late afternoon when the ubiquitous mountainside allows for an earlier sunset. Pool parties all year long? Yessir, don’t mind if I do!
Palm Springs is also home to a vibrant GLBT community, as well as plenty of gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses.
“It’s not that they’re just coming to visit, but they also work here and they’re very integrated into the community,” said Garner.
Palm Springs boasts several GLBT bars and establishments, including the Tool Shed, The Barracks, and Chill Bar, and whether you’re staying in town by yourself or with a partner, there’s no shortage of great resorts to stay at. One such destination is La Dolce Vita (www.ladolcevitaresort.com), a men’s-only resort and spa located in the Deep Well neighborhood. This intimate, one-story bastion of relaxation offers two outdoor heated pools, a hot tub, a steam room, outdoor dining areas, weekend social hours, and best of all, an on-site professional men’s spa where you can spoil yourself with a deep-tissue massage to get you nice and relaxed for the many pleasures that Palm Springs has to offer.
And why not start with the food? Palm Springs is home to a vast array of excellent dining establishments. Start with LULU California Bistro (www.lulupalmsprings.com), a snazzy spot with mid-modern architecture where you’d imagine the movie stars of yesteryear to stop by for dinner (especially if it’s for LULU’s signature meatloaf!).
Hopefully your dinner will ease you into a comfy slumber, because come morning, it’s high time for some adventurin’. The entire Coachella Valley is a hotbed of natural wonders, offering countless opportunities for sightseeing, hiking, and A-plus photo ops. You can do all these things and more thanks to Palm Springs Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours (red-jeep.com), who will take you for the ultimate desert paradise adventure.
Consider signing up for their signature tour of the San Andreas Fault, a three-hour sojourn that’s one part sightseeing delight and one part natural history lesson thanks to the company’s roster of extremely knowledgable tour guides. On this tour, you’ll learn about the abundant flora and fauna of the San Andreas Fault Zone, the aquifer water source that the valley rests upon, the culture of the native Cahuilla tribe, and the twisting valleys and canyons that you’ll get to explore up-close and personal.
After your desert escapades, head back to downtown Palm Springs to enjoy a fantastic lunch courtesy of Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar (www.tommybahama.com). Kick back in their canopied outdoor patio where a cooling mist will counteract the hot midday sun, and nosh on as many of their tasty apps and entrees as you can muster (My suggestion? Start with the coconut shrimp and loaded pork tots, and polish off a bowl of lobster mac ‘n cheese).
After lunch, it’s time to spoil yourself with some afternoon shopping! There are lots and lots of lovely shops in Palm Springs, and one that sticks out in particular is Destination PSP (destinationpsp.com), which produces originally-designed merchandise ranging from souvenirs and t-shirts to wall clocks and pool accoutrement. Owned by Jeffrey Bernstein, Destination PSP also produces and designs merch and marketing materials for local groups and events such as the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Desert AIDS Project, and the Palm Springs Cultural Center.
After your shopping and general wandering needs are met on Palm Canyon Drive, stop by for a dinner for the ages at The Tropicale Restaurant (thetropicale.com). Like many other eateries in town, this jazzy spot feels like a place where Sinatra would be right at home, with an in-house piano player and a gorgeous patio that’s practically enclosed by a fleet of palm trees. I was particularly fond of their crispy boneless Southern fried chicken, but luckily their menu has something for everyone.
One defining feature of Palm Springs has been its long history of playing host to celebrities and politicians. Thanks to guide Jade Nelson of P.S. Walk With Me (pswalk.com), I got to learn a little more about not only the eye-popping architecture of the legendary Old Las Palmas neighborhood, but also some of the stars who called this neighborhood home. During our walking tour of this historic district, we stopped by Our Lady of Solitude, where JFK himself worshipped during his visits; we checked out homes designed by master architects Alvah Hicks and Donald Wexler; and we scoped out former homes of stage and screen legends Clark Gable, Liberace, Stan Laurel, and Laurence Harvey.
Heading back to Palm Canyon Drive, I stopped for lunch at Las Casuelas Terraza (www.lascasuelas.com), a fantastic product of four generations of family recipes from the Delgado family. The restaurant boasts a terrific outdoor ambiance with its three distinct patio areas, and offers over 100 varieties of tequila. Give their Machaca burrito a try, as well as their amazing homemade guacamole.
The mid-modern magic continues at dinner time with Trio (triopalmsprings.com), an electric American restaurant with a fantastic design aesthetic (I can never say no to an orange color scheme), friendly staff, and a bounty of fantastic feastables. Loosen up with the delish Forever Marilyn cocktail, indulge your appetizer impulses with their hand-breaded calamari and bacon-wrapped dates, and savor the grilled swordfish dish before calling it a day with their outstanding apple cobbler.
Now, after starting your previous days with Jeep and walking tours, what better way to start the next day on your Palm Springs stay than with a trip up a mountain? Thanks to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (pstramway.com), I got a birds-eye view of the majesty of Chino Canyon as we were wowed with a ten-minute trip on the world’s largest rotating tram car, ascending to 8,516 feet to the heart-stopping views of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Boasting 50 miles of hiking trails, this patch of wilderness offers amazing views of the Coachella Valley below, along with a natural history museum, two restaurants, and observation decks. Be sure to bring a sweater, as the temperature drops a good 30 to 40 degrees upon reaching the mountain station.
Once you return to the lower levels of terra firma, grab a quick bite to eat at Grand Central (www.grandcentralpalmsprings.com) for some stellar California cuisine, including a variety of different burgers and steaks. Afterwards, enjoy some international flair with a sake tasting at Wabi Sabi Japan Living (www.wabisabijapanliving.com), a home goods store owned by the couple of Darrell Baum and Osamu Sagara. The couple, who travels to Japan yearly, decided to bring the Land of the Rising Sun back to Palm Springs with authentic Japanese pottery, clothing, dinnerware, beer, and more.
It’s difficult to properly explain the enchanting allure of Palm Springs. A magical amalgam of environmental wonder, friendly people, architectural history, and progressive ideals, Palm Springs is a perfect getaway for those cold winter months. Trust me, when you’re greeted by those palm trees outside of the airport, you’ll know that you made the right choice.
For more information on GLBT destinations in Palm Springs, visit www.visitgaypalmsprings.com.