Words by Bev Malzard
Palm Springs, California, didn’t have any palm trees when the desert settlement became a town. There were a few native palms around the actual ‘springs’, but the palms the area is known for were planted from the 1920s to 1930s, when America was going wild for the exotic trees that were holiday emblems of sunny days and clear, blue skies. They lined the streets and set the standard for California boulevards.
Greater Palm Springs is an odd concept, you enter and it’s a collection of villages in a line: Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella.
The drive from Long Beach to Greater Palm Springs takes about two hours through a landscape dotted with orchards of wind farms and the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains riding shotgun along the route.
Located in the Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs became a popular escape for Hollywood celebrities in the 1920s. It was also the perfect place for young architects to show their talent in a solitary environment.
The Oasis Hotel, built in 1924-25 and designed by Lloyd Wright (son of Frank), led the way with its modernist design. More resorts, such as El Mirador, followed. Celebrities decided homes were more important than hotels, though, and along with now-revered architects including Donald Wexler and Richard Neutra, concocted bold exteriors and sumptuous interiors.
The established homes and gardens (yes, there’s a lot of luxurious green grass in
the desert here) are rather grand, but the mid-century modern architecture, made possible with the advent of besser blocks and concrete, are the show-stoppers. Architecture enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the half-day tour of the homes with the Palm Springs Mod Squad.
You’ll find the core shopping hub along Palm Canyon Drive, with vintage stores, interior design boutiques and a host of eclectic and inviting restaurants. And for the ultimate Palm Springs retro experience, book a table at Melvyn’s.
Since the 1970s Melvyn’s has been packing them in; Sinatra held court here and all Hollywood stars that entered Palm Springs booked a table. There’s still a Rat Pack aura to the rooms and the waiters are dressed in dinner suits, with a couple of them still tottering about as they did over 40 years ago.
The menu reflects the era of the past and it’s pretty good, too – prawn cocktail anyone?
AVERAGE DRIVE TIME
From Long Beach, Anaheim or Los Angeles: around 2.5 hrs max on highways 15 and 10.
Hire a car and drive. This is America: it’s all about cars with a distance of some 60 km to drive the entire collection of towns.
Omni Rancho Las Palmas, a resort and spa with a golf course, all set against a backdrop of the mountains.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
There are always blue skies and sunny days here but summer can render scorchers. Temperatures are pleasant between January and April.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The impressive Palm Springs Aerial Tramway features a rotating cabin pulled up a mountainside for an exhilarating 805 metres, which means you can view the dramatic desert setting of the Coachella Valley as you ascend through the rugged Chino Canyon. It was a welcome 4 degrees cooler than the hot day below as we reached the mountain station of Mount San Jacinto State Park. There are 80 km of hiking trails, so if you want to walk off some of the fine food you’ve tried, here’s the chance, or you can sit with a coffee and enjoy the view and pristine mountain air.