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Although ’50s film director Douglas Sirk never shot on-location in Palm Springs, you get the immediate sense that you’re starring in your very own Sirk sudser the instant you cross the town line. Whether arriving from the spectacular Coachella Valley roads, mad with spinning windmills that blow you right into the heart of this mod desert oasis town, or sauntering in via the easy-breezy open-air loggias of the Palm Springs International Airport, you can almost see a frivolous pink cursive font glide across the screen, setting the stage for your very own scandalous B-movie weekend. Cue the melodramatic music.
In a nutshell, Palm Springs-a town just a few hours’ drive from Los Angeles that owes quite a bit to Hollywood’s film industry-has over the years become a clothing-optional, Wi-Fi-ready, übergay desert Shangri-la, with spectacular mountains everywhere you look and an enduring mid-century design to top it all off. This town isn't just about Follies, White Party, and Dinah Shore. You’re just as likely to be sweating it out hiking the arid desert as drinking mai tais with porn stars in a palm-shaded pool, playing croquet with the beau monde on manicured resort lawns, or snowshoeing in six feet of snow at 8,500 feet amidst an alpine winter wonderland (thanks to a breathtaking journey via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway).
This kind of versatility is what has made Palm Springs the historical stomping ground of Hollywood’s glitterati since the 1930s. But the town of 40,000 really hit its apex in the 1950s, when it defined itself culturally with its strikingly modern architectural style. Richard Neutra, the Alexander Company, and many other esteemed designers of the era put their signatures on the landscape of the town. Their presence can be felt today in countless butterfly-style homes, making this oasis a distinctive destination and a spacey desert utopia. It’s attracted the likes of Liberace, Joan Collins, and Tammy Faye as well as Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, and countless other stars. The gays arrived during the town’s 1970s slump, when mid-century was passé. It was then that Palm Springs underwent the first of many face-lifts. Today, well-known designers like Kelly Wearstler and Jonathan Adler have taken the Palm Springs look to the next level, helping the outpost continue to attract aesthetes and tourists alike.
Much as in Key West and Provincetown, gay life is ubiquitous in Palm Springs. Whether you stay in Warm Springs, the north end, the south end, or Cathedral City, make sure you find the right hotel. Each property really takes on the flavor of its owners, many of whom are gay transplants from all over the United States and Canada. Many of the properties are clothing-optional, sodon’t be bashful when you call ahead--ask anything. Most of the hotel owners are genuinely friendly and have probably heard it all before.
There are many gay properties in Palm Springs, and most of them are fun, sexually charged, and niche oriented. Where you stay will be the most important part of your trip. Most hotels offer free Wi-Fi service, pools, Jacuzzis, and cocktail social hours, and cater to the owners’ respective whims. (So if your lodge’s owner is a bear or bear-lover, expect a pool full of fur.) The Parker Palm Springs Hotel (4200 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-770-5000) is not a gay resort, but it sure looks like one. Luxury-seekers flock to Jonathan Adler’s latest creation, which takes much inspiration from Patrick Denis (think Kate Spade meets Auntie Mame). The former Givenchy resort (where Robert Downey Jr. was once busted for drugs) is infused with a fresh tropical soul and a compelling and textured flair. The rooms are spacious and uniquely Adler, while the grounds are impeccable, with gentle touches of retro charm. Downtown, Kelly Wearstler's sophisticated and cheerful interiors at the Viceroy Palm Springs (415 S. Belardo Rd.; 760-320-4117) set the standard for Palm Springs revamps when it reopened in March 2003. Guests can choose from rooms, studios, suites, or private villas, all of which have balconies, Italian down bedding, and vibrant modern furnishings. The “hedgerow-hidden” property is situated amid three courts boasting swimming pools, citrus trees, and manicured gardens. Century Palm Springs (598 Grenfall Rd.; 760-323-9966) is one of the newer gay Warm Sands properties, a whimsical mix of modern mid-century touches and exceptionally friendly but noninvasive service, making you feel like the long-lost (but very welcome) gay cousin of the Jetsons. The property is effervescent yet sexy, vibrant but private, very warm yet ultracool. Rooms feature flat-screen TVs, luxury down bedding, comfy robes, and digital kitchen appliances. Although not clothing-optional, the Las Palmas Hotel’s (1404 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-327-6883) Spanish tiles, panoramic views, and alt-outdoorsy clientele give it a relaxed, sexy feel. The lush Jacuzzi is located in a former room that has been fashioned into an open-air Italian grotto. The staff is exceptionally friendly and always helpful. The tastefully designed Triangle Inn (555 E. San Lorenzo Rd.; 760-322-7993) offers some of the best mountain views in town from its pool and adjacent Jacuzzi. The mid-century feeling is lush instead of stark, with cool Danish furniture and modern amenities like CD players and kitchen accessories in many rooms. A fun French-Canadian and a sweet Georgian run the immaculate and luxurious InnDulge (601 Grenfall Rd.; 760-327-1408), which has some of the prettiest and greenest grounds around. The rooms are tasteful and the evening cocktail social hour is lively and amicable. You get lei’d the minute you enter the tiki resort Indianola(354 E. Stevens Rd.; 760-323-3203). The owners have outfitted the entire hotel with a Hawaiian theme, replete with grass-skirted beds and tasteful tiki touches. Mirage/Vista Grande Villas/Avalon/Atrium (574 Warm Sands Dr.; 760-322-2404) is a megaplex of fun and sun that is heavy on sexual energy. It is legendary for its various grottos, pools, and gay play areas, and renowned for attracting porn stars and other California playboys. The Movie Star Hotel (310 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-325-1995) is undergoing a renovation (and a bit of an identity crisis), but it’s the perfect place for any movie buff who doesn’t want to frolic nude in a Jacuzzi. Each room is named after a star. Casitas Laquita (450 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-416-9999) is a lovely and popular women-only resort replete with tasteful desert decor, a cool wine-cellar event space, and an amazing outdoor pool with stunning panoramic views of the nearby mountains. Queen of Hearts (435 Avenida Olancha; 760-322-5793) is another women-only option, featuring equally stunning views, outdoor fireplaces, and a friendly staff.
Dieting while in Palm Springs is not a problem since much of the food at the gay establishments is mediocre at best. Unlike the rest of California, the region has not fully embraced its geographic resources. The dry Coachella Valley is home to many date farms, yet menus offer lobster, thick French sauces, filet mignon, and other rich foods not reflective of California cuisine. Campy and fun restaurants like NOW: Never on Wednesday (476 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-323-0899), Blame it on Midnight (777 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 760-323-1200), More Than a Mouthful Café (134 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 760-322-3776), Wangs in the Desert (424 S. Indian Canyon Dr.; 760-325-9264), and Shame on the Moon (69-950 Frank Sinatra Dr.; 760-324-5515) have a let-yourself-go quality about them. They attract throngs of gays who no doubt enjoy the social aspects of the dinner hour, but they leave foodies scratching (and shaking) their heads. For Palm Springs' best food, duck out of the gay scene for a bit. The breakfast/brunch items at Norma’s-Palm Springs (4200 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-770-5000) are delectable. On the patio of The Parker, you'll share the scene with celeb-gawkers, tennis players, and freshly facialed globe-trotters--and be forced to decide between Foie Gras Brioche French Toast and Artychoked Benedict with truffle porcini sauce. Looking for a little something extra? How about the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata with 10 ounces of Sevruga caviar? The name is an exaggeration: It costs only $1,000. Mister Parker’s (4200 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-770-5000), located in the basement of the Parker Meridien, has a machismo-peppered menu and a remarkable dining room chock-full of vintage bachelor memorabilia. Zin (198 S. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-322-6300) is an American bistro offering a very small menu of tasty (if predictable) comfort food. The service is super friendly and the wine selection is great. Dining at Citron (415 S. Belardo Rd.; 760-318-3005), on the grounds of the Viceroy, is a refreshing experience. Everything from the butter-yellow walls to the brûléed grapefruit with fresh mint chiffonade to the semolina-crusted lemon sole evokes spa-fresh luxury. Skip the restaurant desserts and instead treat yourself to a date shake, a delicious Palm Springs original. See's Candies (144 S. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760 325-6211) is a West Coast candy chain offering deliciously sweet stuffed dates as well as the fudge and other candies they are known for.
The bars close early (2 a.m.) in Palm Springs, but all seem to pack a full roster of events into their nights. And at closing time, action resumes at the various hotel Jacuzzis (most of which are open 24 hours). Toucan's Tiki Lounge (2100 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760 323-3265) is a favorite among the late 30- to 40-something set, but it attracts all ages just the same. It features hilarious drag shows, a large smoking patio, and a medium-size dance floor. Hunter’s Video Bar (302 E. Arenas Dr.; 760-323-0700) is decidedly more hip, ironic, and L.A.-stylish than its fun-loving sister Toucan’s. Hunter’s also boasts a large smoking patio along with a dance complex and an edgy lounge loaded with hot guys. Blink, and you might miss a porn star. The bright desert sun doesn’t stop the leather and Levi’s guys from popping into the no-frills corner bar Tool Shed (600 E. Sunny Dunes Rd.; 760-320-3299) for refreshments, cruising, and chitchat.
The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at email@example.com if you have any new information.
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