“Don’t expect to do too much while you’re here, Palm Spring is all about relaxing” These were the parting words from the fifties-attired hotel manager after checking in at the Rendezvous Bed and Breakfast, Palm Springs’ award-winning retro-inspired hotel. He was right, America’s sunniest city – which has a population of under 50,000 – is all about relaxing, and after the madness of LA the only worry we had was how to cope with blistering summer heat.
It’s a place that has always intrigued us, but before we arrived all we knew about Palm Springs is that it’s a former Rat-Pack and Hollywood starlet hideaway and currently a favourite bolt-hole of sun-seeking retirees. Although we’d also heard that the city is now entering a new era of cool, with the introduction of a few modern eateries, retro shops and a collection of very hip hotels, but in such a tiny laid-back place just what is there to do..?
Pay Marilyn Monroe a visit
Marilyn Monroe will always be associated with the desert resort – the Hollywood legend was “discovered” and first photographed here more than 50 years ago. Returning to her spiritual home (after spending a year in Chicago’s Michigan Avenue) she now stands towering over Palm Canyon Drive in her famous pose with skirt blowing in the breeze. The fascination with Marilyn clearly lives on – when we visited the 26-foot-tall sculpture it was surrounded by a small crowd of adoring fans.
Stay at the Rendezvous Bed and Breakfast
A couple of Brit ex-pats took a faded motel and carefully redesigned it to capture the nostalgia of its glamorous past (former guests include Marilyn Monroe and Veronica Lake). Today the hotel is an oasis of cool with an astroturfed pool deck and 14 beautifully kitsch themed rooms. ‘Crooners’ is filled with memories of the rat pack era, Elvis and his rock ‘n’ roll buddies adorn the walls of ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’, the ‘Honeymoon Hideaway’ pays homage to Fred & Ginger, and of course the room where Marilyn once was stayed features pink decor and a vanity area.
We stayed in the ‘Stage Coach’ room which had a huge bed, a two-person whirlpool tub, cowboy paraphernalia and a John Wayne mug-shot staring down above the bed. It’s the personal touches that really sets this hotel apart – the free use of cruiser bicycles and pool inflatables, home-baked cookies, immaculately presented gourmet breakfasts and a sociable happy hour complete with raspberry martinis and appetisers served from the blue vinyl bar.
- The Palm Springs Rendezvous – 1420 North Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA, 92262, USA
Visit the Art Museum
The Palm Springs Art Museum was recommended to us by the Rendezvous’ manager and the air-conditioned museum was a welcome escape from the sweltering summer heat. A Palm Springs attraction since 1938, the museum is filled with vividly colourful contemporary and Western American Art in an eclectic mix of mediums including paintings, sculptures and glass. Visitors can also dine in The Muse Café located in the Herbert E. Toor Gallery or relax in the tranquil Marcuse Sculpture Garden.
- Palm Springs Art Museum – 101 North Museum Drive Palm Springs, CA 92262
Wander into the wilderness
Encircled by mountains and with a number of excellent hiking trails nearby, exploring the desert wilderness is a popular Palm Springs pastime (heat permitting of course). Trails range from the easy to the challenging and for their effort hikers are rewarded with views of mountain vistas, waterfalls, rocky gorges and unusual rock formations. The world’s largest Rotating Ariel Tramcar is a much-loved resort attraction and the twelve-and-a-half minute ride begins at the Valley Station and ends in the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The temperature difference between the city and your final destination is a comfortable and very welcome 10 degrees lower.
Take a trip to Joshua Tree
If you stay in Palm Springs the beguiling Joshua Tree National Park is only an hours drive away. The 1250 square mile park has an unearthly and unsettling beauty filled with incredible rock formations and grotesquely gnarled plants, which aren’t trees at all, but a type of yucca. We drove to the park’s highest point – an eerily silent vista overlooking Coachella Valley and Salton Sea (only slightly marred by the smoggy air pouring out from the Los Angeles Basin) and stayed until sunset. As dusk arrived the desert floor become bathed in red light and the spiky trees turned into ghost-like black silhouettes.
- Joshua Tree National Park – Visitor Centre, 6554 Park Boulevard, Joshua Tree, CA 92256
Indulge yourself at Two Bunch Palms
Two Bunch Palms is one of several resorts and spas to take advantage of the area’s natural hot springs. Located in nearby Desert Hot Springs, the residence is said to have once been Al Capone’s West Coast hideout and then Robert Altman immortalized Two Bunch Palms’ mud baths in the movie The Player. Now taken over by Hollywood producers Steve Markoff and Donald Kushner and entrepreneur Elie Samaha they are returning the residence to its former Hollywood hangout heyday. An adults-only resort, it provides spa facilities, 52 bungalows and pools filled with naturally flowing mineral waters spread over 270 acres of lush gardens.
- Two Bunch Palms Resort and Palms – 67425 Two Bunch Palms Trail, Desert Hot Springs, California 92240
Dine at LuLu California Bistro
If you’re looking for the social hub of the new-era Palm Springs then Lulus is the place. Located between the more traditional Italian restaurants and steakhouses Lulus is the city’s newest and hippest restaurant. It’s a Californian bistro with contemporary decor, attractive staff and a varied menu which includes vegetarian and gluten-free options. Their 12-hour happy hour that begins at 11 am and lasts until closing is a popular attraction – to qualify make sure you sit at a high-top near the bar.
- Lulu California Bistro – 200 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262