There’s More to Palm Springs Than Golf…

Initially, you might think of Palm Springs as the mecca for retirees and golfers. You’d be absolutely correct.

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JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa – golf course (Photo credit: www.marriott.com)

There are more golf courses in the Greater Palm Springs Area (GPSA) than you can shake a 9 iron at —115 courses at last count—but, there is more to Palm Springs than Lacoste-adorned, tanned, grey-haired people driving golf carts and Lexus Sedans. Palm Springs is seeing a boon in a younger demographic as well—thanks to a burgeoning food and cocktail scene, and the love of mid-century modern architecture and culture. Palm Springs also has the highest concentration of same-sex couples (7.2% compared to the 1% national average) and was ranked as the “No. 1 gay-friendly city in the country” in 2013.

In short, Palm Springs has the climate (over 300 days of sunshine), the scenery, great shopping, legendary movie and music history, and a stellar amount of patios for you to partake of some good food and drink.

Hotels: As attendees of a conference, we stayed at the stunning Marriott in Palm Desert.  On future trips,  I’ll stay right in Palm Springs because there will be cocktails involved and that means hiring a taxi to avoid paying return cab fare of $50 or more. The hotspots for food and drink are mostly found on Palm Canyon Drive and the trendy, historic hotels are in that area as well.

Poolside at the Saguaro (photo credit: idvhotels.com)
Poolside at the Saguaro (photo credit: idvhotels.com)

MCM: Those who appreciate Mid-Century Modern (MCM) culture will want to mark February 11-21, 2016, in their calendar for the 11th Annual Modernism Week. Shop at a host of retro boutiques for clothing and accoutrements and dress like a cast member of Mad Men; visit iconic homes and buildings designed by architects like William F. Cody, Albert Frey, Richard Neutra and Donald Wexler, to name a few of many. Scour the plethora of antique shops for tiki cups and vintage furniture. Palm Springs is a virtual MCM gold mine, all year round.

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Food and Drink: The food scene is just in its infancy but is already showing fantastic promise. I’ll talk about where we ate and drank in a separate post. If I was an up and coming chef, I might consider securing some real estate in Palm Springs. I’m a budding Tiki nerd so finding Tiki barware at Victoria’s Attic and drinking Tiki cocktails at Bootlegger Tiki and the Tonga Hut on Palm Canyon Drive was one of the highlights of my trip.

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Shopping: everything and anything you can imagine. Retro shops, outlets, boutiques—Palm Springs is the shopper’s paradise. You will pay premium dollars for mid-century modern furniture but most of the fun is just in meandering through the shops and seeing what was rad in the glory days of teak and walnut.

If Outlet shopping is your bag, head west to Desert Hills Premium Outlets. One Hundred and eighty stores should keep you busy for a while. To refuel, eat at Blaze, a pizza chain that lets you create your own pie starting right from fresh dough. An assembly line has you from the ordering stage to the eating stage in about 5 minutes. The pizza itself is some of the finest I’ve had in North America. Crazy.

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Date Shakes! I never knew dates could taste this good. I also had no idea that dates have been grown in the Coachella valley for over 100 years. Seeing endless rows of date palm trees is quite the sight. There are several places in the Greater Palm Springs area to find date shakes but if you really want a thrill, take a drive out to the Oasis Date Gardens for a guided tour and sampling of the various dates grown on the 175 acre ranch. If you only have one date shake on your trip, make sure it’s from this place.

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Sightseeing: If you cringe at the thought of being in a walking-tour herd where the guide is inevitably usurped by a socks-and-sandal know-it-all ( yes, I’m looking at you Ms. Walking Encyclopedia from New York), book a tour anyway. You’ll gain heaps of information and little-known facts about the lives and lifestyles of Palm Springs past residents like Cary Grant, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Kurt Douglas and Liberace—and oh, what legacies they’ve left. I tagged along on the Golden Era Hollywood Homes tour and would recommend you do the same. Check the Palm Springs Historical Tour Facebook page for information.

walking tour brochure
Historical Walking Tour (note: rates may have changed)

Get high on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway — as in altitude, folks. You will climb  5,873 feet up in to the San Jacinto mountains. This is a great way to escape the heat of the city when the temperatures reach over 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the summer, and the views are spectacular. The tram has the second steepest vertical cable rise in the world, and the steepest rise the States.

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Something you won’t find in the tour books is Kenny Irwin’s Robolight art installation.

IMG_1453 IMG_1478Some say its an eyesore, some say its mad genius. Neighbours of this residential monstrosity might lean to the “eyesore” description, in fact, the installation shut down in 2008 after complaints from neighbours but re-opened after Irwin reduced the visiting hours and hired security guards. Guards have been necessary as vandalism and theft  is an ongoing concern for Irwin whose display features over a million lights and sculptures made from recycled material. If you’re into ‘weird’, make sure you head to 1077 E. Granvia Valmonte. There is no admission fee, only a donation box, rather a donation sink, at the door to the property.

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If you’re serious about weirdness and keen on exploring, take a drive beyond the city limits. Head south on Highway 86 to Bombay Beach, explore the eerie Salton Sea, drive further out to Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and East Jesus. You’ll think you’ve entered the Twilight Zone. I’ll  put up a blog post about those places plus bubbling mud pots near Calipatria and the hotspring-fed baths full of old people at the Bashford R.V. Park.  And wait, there’s more! In Yucca valley to the north you’ll find the Integatron Time Machine, a 7-metre high rock where aliens congregated, and an endless parade of Joshua trees. If you go to Palm Springs, take time to do a little road-tripping.

But if you’re going solely to Palm Springs, know this: slowly but surely, the city’s cool factor is resurfacing. The GPSA is easy to navigate and is rife with picture perfect photo opportunities. If you don’t golf, you can always shop and there are plenty of trendy hangouts to Instagram while you slam back a few margaritas. If you want sunshine and pool time, there’s no better place to get it than this oasis in the desert.

Check out my suggestions on where to eat and drink in Palm Springs.

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Author: Twyla Campbell

World-wide wanderer, CBC Edmonton AM Restaurant Reviewer, Member of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, oenophile, epicurean explorer and a freelance writer whose works have appeared in several magazines and newspapers including More, Above & Beyond, Avenue (Edmonton), Up Here, Northern Flyer, Opulence, City Palate, the Edible Prairie Journal, The Edmonton Journal, Slow Food Canada, Lifestyle Alberta, and on Slow Food Edmonton’s website. Grant MacEwan University (Professional Writing Program) Bachelor of Applied Communications Degree (in progress). I’m a Tweeter @wanderwoman10