Desert Escape

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At the end of a long, winding stretch of Highway 111  lies the desert playground of Palm Springs. – By Alli Tong

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More than 2,000 years ago, Palm Springs was the homestead for the Cahuilla Indians, who lived off the land as peaceful hunters and gatherers. Fast forward centuries later, and the area’s inhabitants and landscape have slightly shifted. By the early 1930s, Hollywood stars like Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope and Loretta Young started calling the city nestled within the Coachella Valley their “winter playground”—a refuge away from the fast-paced life of Los Angeles.

Although certain vicinities of Palm Springs are still owned in part by Native Americans, the string of celebrities continue to move into the city, sparking a trove of mega-mansions and vacation homes of the distinctive mid-century desert modernism style, luxury resorts, golf courses, shops and restaurants.

While Hollywood starlets and socialites still discreetly make their way down to Palm Springs for getaways, it has also become a favorite destination for Orange County locals (about 1.5-hour drive) that seek a fun-filled, casual vacation. And spring is considered the peak season to visit, when highs hover around 80 degrees. Here, discover the beguiling aspects of the ultimate desert playground, from boutique hotels to quirky breakfast nooks.

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Stay

Why not make like a celebrity and go in classic Hollywood style? Bearing the coveted “Class 1” historic designation by the Palm Springs Historic Site Preservation Board, The Willows (thewillowspalmsprings.com), a AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel near downtown, is considered one of the 10 oldest sites in the city and has hosted midcentury movie stars from Clark Gable to Marion Davies.

Built in 1924, the quaint bed-and-breakfast feel of The Willows has garnered a fascinating history, changing hands of ownership many times, which inevitably brought it to a forlorn state in the 1990s, where it was in need of rescue. That’s when Dr. Tracy Conrad and her husband Dr. Paul Marut purchased the home, nursing it back to its original luster through a multiyear restoration.

Willows Inn Exterior

Although the hotel only boasts eight rooms, each luxurious suite is uniquely decorated and styled with hand-selected antique furniture, creating a one-of-a-kind haven for its tenants. If you can manage to leave your private paradise, there are pathways tucked behind the hotel that ascend to some of the most breathtaking views in the city. The hotel also provides a three-course gourmet breakfast and afternoon wine and hors d’oeuvres daily.

The Willows creates an atmosphere of an elegant, private home,” says owner Tracy Conrad. “You feel transported to a more gracious time, as if you are visiting a well-off friend’s estate in times gone by.”

If you’re looking for a getaway a little outside of town, look no further than Miramonte Resort & Spa (miramonteresort.com) in the heart of the valley in Indian Wells. This Mediterranean village-inspired resort welcomes you with romantic architecture, tranquil piazzas and 11 acres of olive trees, citrus groves and flower gardens.

The sprawling grounds house 215 villas and suites, three prestigious golf courses, ranked in the top 20 “Best Courses You Can Play” in California by Golfweek magazine, and a luxury spa.

A must-try at The Well Spa, the resort’s signature house of relaxation, is the Desert Rain Massage, exclusively designed for the spa. Essential oils, such as marjoram and wintergreen, are dribbled like rain along the spine to boost immunity, reduce mental fatigue and calm the central nervous system. From poolside napping to spa pampering, Miramonte is ideal for those who prefer to stay at one well-appointed address.

shopping palm canyon drivePlay

Running along North Palm Canyon Drive (between Alejo Road and Vista Chino Drive), is a burgeoning retail strip true to Palm Springs’ desert modernism charm (palmcanyondrive.org). The shopping haven boasts more than two-dozen antique, consignment, resale and retro galleries and boutiques—everything from high street fashion such as Trina Turk and Don Vincent Store for Men to small boutiques and souvenir shops.

For those who want a taste of Palms Springs’ nightlife, the city’s weekly Villagefest (palmspringsvillagefest.com) is the perfect place to find it. Started more than 20 years ago and bringing thousands of visitors each week, the free, outdoor street festival on Palm Canyon Drive (open 6 to 10 p.m. Thursdays) offers an array of handcrafted goods, unique collectibles, as well as an ideal spot for people-watching. Many of the shops, restaurants and art galleries also stay open late to accommodate the late-night crowds.

Golf aficionados will have their pick of the litter when it comes to the plethora of golf courses in the Palm Springs area. The Escena Golf Club (escenagolf.com), however, gives the best of both worlds with a championship golf course (designed by Nicklaus Design, it boasts back tees that stretch nearly 7,200 yards) and a lounge that offers way-beyond golf club fare. After a long, hot day out on the green, a post-round cocktail at Escena Grill will surely feel like a hole in one.

Dine

Giving a nod to the mid-century’s bright, bold hues, Cheeky’s (cheekysps.com) upbeat interior and laidback atmosphere make it a treasure among some of Palm Springs’ more upscale urban eateries. It’s also, arguably, one of the best breakfast nooks in town, offering an eclectic menu that changes weekly based on fresh, local ingredients. Must-trys are the bananas Foster sourdough French toast with salty caramel and creme fraiche (for those with a sweet tooth) or the Blondie’s eggs Benedict with real bacon, sauteed arugula, cheddar scone and hash browns (for those who prefer savory). To wash it all down, try the Cheeky’s spicy bloody mary or the Pimm’s Cup, a traditional British cocktail that’s made with the spicy-sweet liqueur Pimm’s No. 1, lemonade, mint sprig and muddled fresh fruit.

Circa 59 at the Riviera Palm Springs resort

After a hearty breakfast, skip lunch and save your appetite for dinner—where a dining experience in Palm Springs wouldn’t seem complete a little glamour. Circa 59 at the Riviera Palm Springs resort (psriviera.com) captures a little bit of that retro Hollywood mystique, with red leather chairs and oversized chandeliers. The menu displays artfully re-invented classics, such as duck confit wrapped in cornmeal crepes. This spring, Executive Chef Jesse Souza gives insight into some of the menu’s fresh, seasonal ingredients—fennel, baby leeks and peas, and herbs like basil and tarragon. A wintertime favorite, roasted lamb, is also expected to reappear with a lighter spin using citrus zest and white wine as well as seared scallops with marinated beets.

Dining on Palm Canyon Drive

“We stay true to the Americana cuisine we’re known for on the Riviera,” Jesse says.

For dessert, the chef foresees spotlighting some of the desert’s stone fruits, like nectarines, cherries and peaches. The restaurant also offers a special Wine Dinner Series throughout the first quarter of the year, where custom dishes will complement featured wines.

From Palm Springs’ A-list celebrity inhabitants and local legends like Elvis Presley and the Rat Pack to its awe-inspiring terrain and endless options of entertainment, the ultimate desert playground is truly a retreat for the weary, or those just looking for a little R&R. LBM

 

 

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