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In the 1920s, many Hollywood movie studios had a clause written into stars’ contracts stating that an actor could venture no further away than a two-hour drive in case they were needed on set thus establishing Palm Springs, located a mere 100 miles east, as Tinseltown’s go-to weekend getaway. Fast-forward almost a century later and Palm Springs remains a vacation hot spot. And, with a year-round roster of unique events (like Coachella, Dinah Shore weekend, the White Party, and Splash House), luxury accommodations, exceptional mid-century modern architecture and perennial sunshine, Palm Springs has begun to appeal to a much broader audience including more LGBT visitors than ever before. Here’s a rundown of what you won’t want to miss:
Almost every Thursday night, Village Fest takes over Palm Canyon Drive - downtown's main thoroughfare - with hundreds of local vendors setting up shop and selling everything from baked goods to farm fresh vegetables, handmade soaps, jewelry, art, clothing and more. Many of the nearby stores and restaurants stay open extra late too.
Palm Springs Aerial Tram
Take a 10-minute, 2.5-mile ride up to Mountain Station (elevation 8,516 feet) in one of the tramways two rotating gondolas. Once up top, enjoy miles and miles of hiking trails, cross-country skiing (in winter) or dinner at Peaks, a fine dining restaurant that serves lunch, dinner, and a breathtaking view of the Coachella Valley (photo above).
The White Party
Each spring Palm Springs hosts one of the best circuit events of the year: the White Party. (In 2017, White Party weekend will be May 5 - 8.) Visitors flock from around the world for a sun-drenched weekend filled with world-class DJs, packed pool parties, a tea dance with fireworks and a Ferris wheel, plus A-list headliners like Robyn, Deborah Cox, J.Lo, Mary J. Blige and Lady Gaga.
Dinah Shore Weekend
The LBT flipside to the mostly G White Party, The Dinah - as it’s affectionately known - is the world’s largest girl party-slash-music festival. (March 29 - April 2, 2017). Last year’s event included DJ sets from Samantha Ronson, Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria plus an impromptu poolside appearance from Lady Gaga.
When a nightcap (or two) is in order, head to Arenas Road (between Indian Canyon and Encilias) where most of the gay bars can be found. Watch the sun set over the mountain while sipping cocktails on the patio at Chill, then head to the SpurLine for a bit of camp and show tunes. Close out your night on the dance floor at Hunters. On Sundays head to Toucans on the North side of town for its long-running drag revue. Or, if you prefer your bars (and boys...er, men) a little rough, check out The Barracks or the Tool Shed.
Over the past few years, Palm Springs has really stepped up its culinary game. What once was a scene where overpriced and mediocre were the norm has blossomed into a city with an abundance of innovative eateries consistently serving up solid food and helmed by talented chefs. Here, a few notable spots:
The Dråughtsman, the latest entry to the restaurant scene, plays off the double-meaning of its name with a gorgeous, architect-inspired interior (photo below, by Jeff Mindell) and a gastropub menu that includes items like short rib poutine fries, a half dozen burgers and pot pie. Of course, there are also plenty of beers on tap too. For some extra fun, head out to the patio for a game of corn hole or foosball.
It’s hard to decide whether it’s the lovely al fresco setting or the incredibly delicious Italian fare that makes Birba one of our favorite places in town. With options like pepperonata ravioli with shrimp, leek and dill, or their pizza topped with butternut squash, broccolini, red onion and fontina cheese, we have yet to find something on the menu we didn’t love.
If it’s Asian cuisine you crave, grab dinner at Rooster and the Pig. This consistently busy Vietnamese-American joint doesn't take reservations, so you may have to wait. However, we promise when you try the crispy Vietnamese rolls with chicken, wood ear and glass noodle, or the shrimp & corn with fresno peppers, you’ll agree it was well worth it.
When the weekend morning rolls around and it’s time for brunch, we have never been disappointed with Jake’s crab cake benedict. For a more lively atmosphere, the young (and generally hungover) crowd at the Ace Hotel’s King’s Highway makes fun people watching and the food is great too. We highly recommend the house made ricotta-orange pancakes.
There are literally dozens of amazing places to stay in Palm Springs, regardless of your budget or the kind of vacation you hope to have (i.e., chill and relaxing or, right in the thick of things). That said, one of our current go-to spots is the Hard Rock Hotel (photo above). Of course, you can expect to find the glitzy rock n’ roll vibe synonymous with many of the brand’s properties (i.e., tons of young people propped up against swaths of deep purple fabric and shiny decorative fixtures). However, what puts the Hard Rock over the top for us is its central location (literally less than a block from the Arenas Road gay bars), large rooms at competitive rates, the great collection of rock memorabilia worth a stroll around the property, and that they’ll lend you an electric guitar or DJ set up to play with during your stay. As an extra bonus, there’s a fantastic spa tucked away on the lower level that’s kind of a hidden gem and worth a visit whether or not you’re a guest.
Should you decide you need an extra set of wheels while in town, we recommend skipping some of the bigger chains and reserve a vehicle through Desert Rent-a-Car, a privately-owned local company with excellent personalized service and great rates.
For more information on Palm Springs and things to do, go to visitpalmsprings.com.