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Exclusive | Palm Springs: Introduction

Exclusive | Palm Springs: Introduction

In the dead of winter, when the East Coast is buried under three feet of snow and Florida is experiencing a cold snap there's one gay destination you can count on for heat.

This travel guide was last updated 3/08. There may be places that changed since then. Call ahead, and please let us know about any corrections or new places of interest.

In the dead of winter, when the East Coast is buried under three feet of snow and Florida is experiencing a "freak cold spell," there's one gay destination you can count on for heat. Just a two-hour drive (four in traffic) from L.A. or San Diego, Palm Springs is a hot destination in both senses of the word. With over 30 gay guesthouses and a unique amalgam of attractions, this warm, dry desert climate draws visitors from all over the world, especially from nearby Southern California communities. A market-aggressive group of guesthouse owners sort of put Palm Springs on the map as a gay resort (Palm Springs is even home to gay timeshares), and while they have sometimes overhyped the place, they have done a great job of creating a destination where you can enjoy a large range of gay and nongay vacation activities. Of course, having a gay mayor for the last four years hasn't hurt the town's gay-friendly reputation either.

As Interstate 10 approaches Palm Springs, the billboards on the side of the road are your only indication that a resort community awaits to break the low-desert monotony of your drive. Turning off the highway, Palm Springs soon appears like the Technicolor emerald city at the end of the yellow brick road. "City," however, is a misnomer: Despite extensive development, Palm Springs still feels like a small town, with only 44,000 permanent residents and no buildings over five stories high. Although Palm Springs has become one of the world's leading golfing hubs, it is the natural hot springs here that originally spurred the area's development. (You can still enjoy the springs in town at the tribal-owned Spa Resort Casino.) Set at the bottom of the 10,834-foot Mount San Jacinto, the desert scenery is dramatic, and many resorts are designed and landscaped to take advantage of the spectacular views.

Palm Springs' greatest calling card is its weather. Although it is too hot for our tastes in the summer, it's great the rest of the year. Having said that, Palm Springs is becoming a year-round destination for gays and straights alike. With 330 days of sunshine each year, the skies are almost always clear and the days warm to hot. It's never humid and muggy, and at night, the temperature often drops 20 to 30 degrees -- providing cool relief and offering additional wardrobe options. The climate is ideal for golf and tennis, and no other gay-popular destination has such extensive facilities for enthusiasts of those two sports. Most of the big mainstream resorts are built around golf and tennis facilities, with paid-access privileges for nonguests. The mountain offers hiking and camping for those who enjoy their outdoors a bit rougher, and a tram ride to its summit for those who want to exercise just their eyes.

Non-athletic types appreciate Palm Springs' most participatory sport, lounging. Rest and relaxation top the list of daily activities, and if you like the idea of lying by a pool and looking at the mountains, you'll love Palm Springs. The large gay presence in Palm Springs is belied by the predominantly straight environment. The area actually consists of five contiguous communities: Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and Indian Wells, all of which have extensive facilities and developments catering to retirees, second-home owners and tourists. Gay life is limited almost exclusively to Palm Springs and Cathedral City. The largest concentration of gay guesthouses is in the Warm Sands area of Palm Springs, followed by the San Lorenzo area and then Cathedral City, which is also home to some of the gay nightlife. A number of gay resorts have opened on Palm Springs' north side in recent years. Palm Canyon Drive (state Highway 111) is the main drag, running parallel to I-10 through the five communities. In Palm Springs, it runs one way south through downtown, with parallel Indian Canyon Drive running north.

Part One | Part Two

Palm Springs: How and When to Go
Palm Springs: Where to Stay
Palm Springs: Where to Eat
Palm Springs: Where to Play/Meet
Palm Springs: What to See & Do
Palm Springs: Resources

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Joe Okonkwo