A two-hour jaunt from the heart of LA, Palm Springs once served as a desert retreat for a showbiz elite, from Elvis to Sinatra. Decades on, sleek, mid-century modern homes are precious relics of this glamorous era — but the city is anything but a time warp. Offbeat art spaces and cool boutiques line the palm-studded streets, and a sprawling new Cultural Plaza, dedicated to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, a local Native American Tribe with around 500 members, will feature a giant spa and museum when it opens this year. All this is set against the San Jacinto Mountains, a cinematic backdrop and a springboard for adventures.
Begin downtown, on North Palm Canyon Drive, where the Modernism Museum is the new kid on the block. A temple to mid-century design, it unfolds in a series of elaborately decorated rooms, from a 1970s-style lounge hung with macramé to a roller rink with a disco ball. Nearby, you’ll find Gré Records & Coffee, a music-poster-papered café-vinyl store that hosts gigs and open-mic nights.
Palm Springs’ main drag is a shopper’s delight too. Flapper headdresses, embroidered tunics and bright beaded necklaces fill vintage emporium Iconic Atomic, while ultra-chic collective The Shops at Thirteen Forty-Five hawks avant-garde furniture and objets d’art.
Just across the road is Superbloom, the storefront for a quirky brand known for vivid paint-splashed clothing and accessories. Come here for one of their unique colour-therapy yoga sessions, or head to Superbloom Studios, where you can upcycle your old clothes with a session in their painting rooms.
Don’t leave Downtown without a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum, whose hulking brutalist building is a departure from the city’s signature mid-mod design. The collection includes baskets and textiles by the Native Cahuilla peoples, Western American landscape paintings and a huge store of contemporary works.
Worked up an appetite? Workshop Kitchen + Bar has earned plaudits for its artfully plated New American dishes and craft cocktails. Or dog-friendly Boozehounds gets points for its stylish fern-filled dining room and plant-based options — the ‘veganwürst’ dog wins the menu.
It’s well worth venturing beyond Palm Springs proper, too — a patchwork of free-wheeling cities is stitched into the Coachella Valley. Strike southeast to Coachella, where the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians run the organic Temalpakh Farm. Contact them in advance for a full tour, or swing by the market to pick up a freshly blended smoothie.
Tours also explore Rancho Mirage’s Sunnylands Center and Gardens, an art-filled mid-century modern estate that’s long been a meeting place for world dignitaries. Or you can delve into the pioneering world of renewable energy with a fascinating golf-cart tour of a wind turbine farm nearby.
After you’ve exercised the grey matter, the mountains should be calling. Take the 20-mile Earthquake Canyon Express Bicycle Tour with Big Wheel Tours. The mellow route through the San Andreas Fault zone is mostly flat or downhill, perfect for drinking in the views. The best are of Box Canyon, whose mighty bluffs crack into cloudless blue skies.
You can rest up at the tiny Limón Palm Springs boutique hotel, which offers a colour-splashed lesson in desert modernism. Floor-to-ceiling glass in every room grants dreamy views of the swish pool deck. At the other end of the size scale, the giant JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa doubles as a bird sanctuary, with its own desert gardens and pleasure boats leaving from the lobby.
Like a local
Alexis Palomino's favourite arty hotspots
Co-founder and creative director of Superbloom, Alexis shares her top spots to see art around the city.
A bold piece of public sculpture just behind the Desert Art Center, this is the work of artist MIDABI. Stop by to snap a photo, or stay to picnic on the lawn.
Unfolding within a mammoth industrial building, this off-piste contemporary arts space focuses on the intersection between creativity, science and ecology. Plenty of up-and-coming artists.
The Fleur Noire hotel
This boutique hotel is covered in big, bright florals by artist Louise Jones (née Chen) aka Ouizi, and well worth a visit. Call or email ahead for an inside look, or book a stay.
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