Palm Springs Offers A Unique, Fascinating Culture

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PALM SPRINGS OFFERS A UNIQUE, FASCINATING CULTURE
Think:  Hollywood Celebrities, Mid-Century Modernism, Native American Heritage, Design Excellence, Elegant Shopping, Art Galleries and more . . .
By Susan Montgomery, photos by Todd Montgomery

 

On Big Blend Radio travel writer Susan Montgomery discusses her recent visit to Palm Springs and how it offers a unique, fascinating culture that includes Hollywood Celebrities, Mid-Century Modernism, Native American Heritage, Design Excellence, Elegant Shopping, Art Galleries and more.

The culture of Palm Springs, California is diverse, fascinating, and unique. There is no other destination like it in our country. It’s no wonder this desert resort town attracts thousands of visitors annually who come for all sorts of reasons.

 

Recently a group of journalists from the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) visited Palm Springs for four days. We were graciously hosted by the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels (PSPSH) and each of us stayed in a charming boutique hotel. There are actually more than 70 hotels in this association and as a group we were able to experience some of these hotels, which offer guests a variety of getaway options — from historical inns reflecting the town’s classic, mid-century modern and Spanish colonial architecture to clothing optional havens, but all the hotels offer intimate, distinctive experiences not found in large chain hotels.

What do you think of when you envision Palm Springs? Certainly sunny, warm weather (or should I say hot weather) and billowing palm trees come to mind — and also lots of great golf, but Palm Springs offers so much more.

To me Palm Springs always conjures up visions of the “rat pack” Hollywood era during the 1950s and 60s when such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, Liberace, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Gene Autry, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Ava Gabor and other luminaries retreated to this desert getaway, which was only a short two-hour drive from the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood. Even today, movie stars such as Leonardo di Caprio have homes in Palm Springs (although with modern-day traffic the drive may be a bit longer).

Many of our IFWTWA members stayed in or visited small hotels that were once retreats for these celebrities. We felt as if we were being transported back in time at these enchanting historic hotels that offered us modern amenities.  One member stayed at the retro boutique Rendezvous, in a room aptly titled “Pretty in Pink,” where Marilyn Monroe hid away (perhaps with some of her lovers).  Hugh O’Brien and Veronica Lake also chilled out here. Picturesque Amin Casa was the stunning estate of Gloria Swanson and today has four deluxe private bungalows for guests. The lushly landscaped Willows was originally a millionaire’s private luxury hideaway that hosted Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, Joseph Kennedy, and Albert Einstein.  The secluded Ingleside Inn had a revolving door for the rich and famous, including Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor and Salvador Dali. The Inn has recently been restored and retains the understated glamour of its early days.  The Monkey Tree, a wonderful example of mid-century modern architecture, was quite the romantic getaway, once hosting such famous couples as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn, Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder.

Whether they were around during Hollywood’s heyday in Palm Springs or not, all the boutique hotels we visited offer the charm, ambiance and privacy that the celebrities craved and that hotel guests still value today. The Mediterranean-styled La Maison opened about seven years ago and has become a modern-day retreat with many amenities such as lavender sachets on pillows and a nightly wine hour.  The Weekend where we stayed was contemporary and serene with spacious, beautifully furnished suites.  While modern and sleek, Alcazar, located in the heart of the uptown design district, is also warm and welcoming, and is adjacent to two outstanding restaurants, Cheeky’s and Biba. The Wescott, with its striking art deco design touches, offers guests a daily happy hour.  The Santiago and The Triangle are both clothing optional retreats with luxuriant landscaping and beautiful pools.

A highlight of our visit was a celebrity bus tour through many of the neighborhoods where famous stars built lovely, exclusive retreats for serene relaxing away from the buzz of Hollywood. We were in awe in the legendary Old Las Palmas neighborhood. Many of these homes are stunning examples of mid-century modern design.  Frank Sinatra’s home in a neighborhood called the Movie Colony was the site of many rollicking parties and you can even rent it out today. We also saw the unique home where Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned. Our knowledgeable bus tour guide was full of entertaining stories about how the celebrities played and recharged in Palm Springs.

Also harking back to the Hollywood era is the Purple Room, a dinner club oozing with a mesmerizing rat pack vibe. From Tuesdays through Sundays, live entertainment keeps this spot rocking while guests enjoy vintage cocktails (such as Old Blue Eyes) and outstanding cuisine. The night we were there talented owner Michael Holmes entertained us with nostalgic music of bygone eras. I was expecting Frank or Dean to saunter on the stage any minute.

The Casablanca Lounge at Melvyn’s, located at the Ingleside Inn, can also carry you back to the 1950s and 60s. You can sit and sip around the piano bar and even dance to the retro tunes.

During our visit, we also learned about the earliest, rich native American history of Palm Springs, which was settled by the Agua Caliente Tribe of Cahuilla Indians. It is interesting that the Agua Caliente reservation is in a checkerboard pattern since when the reservation was created the federal government had already designated certain areas for railroads. So wherever you are in Palm Springs you could be on the reservation. The Palm Springs International Airport is actually on the reservation. Fortunately, Palm Springs and the tribe work together to provide seamless services for area residents.

Also reviving our interest in the 40s and 50s, the Palm Springs Air Museum houses the nation’s largest collection of World War II flying aircraft. We were thrilled to see a B-25 actually take off while we were there. I was astounded to see that these vintage planes still fly.

A thriving LGBTQ community is also a key factor in the city’s culture and has had a major positive influence on the artistic, design, and culinary appeal of the area. Palm Springs’ entire City Council comes from this community and they have done (and are doing) so much to make Palm Springs the mecca for visitors and locals that it is today.

Shopping has always been integral to the enticing culture of Palm Springs. Luxury stores abound, but there are also a variety of one-of-a-kind, boutique and vintage shops with creative, hand-crafted items. Every Thursday night a market takes up the city’s main street and features all kinds of artistic items. The art and design focus of Palm Springs is everywhere.

The culture of Palm Springs is varied and enthralling. I’m just touching the surface in this article, but suffice it to say that the city’s rich history has influenced so much of what the city offers visitors today. Go and find out for yourself. Visit the museums and art galleries, enjoy the architecture, savor the restaurants and night spots, shop and shop some more, and, of course, soak up the sun.

Susan Montgomery is a widely published writer who loves documenting her travels and experiences with upbeat, informative articles.  While she has been writing and publishing throughout her career, her move from Wisconsin to Southern California nine years ago opened up many new opportunities for her work, which now focuses on food, wine and travel. Susan is on the Board of Directors of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association. She and her husband Todd have created a website called www.Life-Uncorked.com where many of their articles are published.

International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association

 

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