Hot Getaway: Palm Springs

By Bill Malcolm*

There’s always something new to do in Palm Springs, California, and this trip was no exception. The Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza is the new museum downtown that just opened and showcases the fascinating history and culture of the tribes in this area. Palm Springs is the premier LGBTQ+ vacation destination and received a 100% rating from the HRC. The city is part of eight cities in the Coachella Valley.

Where to Stay 

The Descanso Resort (288 E. Camino Monte Vista) is just north of downtown in the Uptown/Arts and Design District. The resort features free bikes, a pool and spa, a continental breakfast, and a complimentary poolside lunch. Happy hour runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. The staff is very attentive. Guests enjoy a saltwater pool, spa, mist-cooling system, and outdoor shower. Every spot in Descanso’s courtyard boasts views of Coachella Valley’s San Jacinto mountains, which rise 11,000 feet from the Valley floor. Other amenities include a 24-hour snack cantina. This was my second stay there, and I loved it. Details at DescansoResort.com.

Another alternative is the new Twin Palms Resort at 1930 S. Camino Real. They have rooms facing a pool and hot tub, plus free use of bikes (and helmets). Enjoy the made-to-order continental breakfast and lunch delivered at 12:30 p.m. Under the gaze of the San Jacinto mountains, twenty guest rooms and suites open to a swimming pool, spa, and patio space. Take the bike to the Smoke Tree Plaza to dine out at one of the restaurants like Native Foods or pick up some to-go foods at Ralph’s or Jensen’s food stores. Continue on the many bike trails and bike lanes to explore the iconic Twin Palms neighborhood nearby (the original Modernist style of homes are found here), including a ride up to Indian Canyon. Details at TwinPalmsResort.com

Nightlife

Most bars are on Arenas Road downtown, a one-block strip between Indian Canyon and Encilia. Hunters has a fun happy hour and outdoor patio with great drink specials. It’s my favorite (and of the same owners as the one in Wilton Manors, Florida). Streetbar (224 E. Arenas) always has something going on. Go shopping at GayMart (305 E. Arenas). Other fun bars on Arenas Road include Blackbook, Chill Bar, and Dick’s. All feature outdoor seating. Close by is the new hot novel dance bar, Reforma (check out their website for more info). They have large video screens as well. 

Down the road in the Sunny Dunes area, The Tool Shed (600 E. Sunny Dunes) has a fun leather crowd. Food is available, like tacos. They have a huge outdoor patio in the back and dancers inside. Nearby is Club 541, which I hear is fun. You can also shop at Q Trading or Gear and have breakfast at a local favorite in this strip.

Over in Cat City (aka Cathedral City, another LGBTQ-friendly city in the Coachella Valley) are several fun bars. The Barracks is known for its Sunday beer busts and Wednesday underwear night. The One11 is good for talking and has drag and bingo crowds. 

What and Where to Eat

The Coachella Valley is known for its dates, olives, oranges, and grapefruit. Try a date shake. The Nature’s Health Food and Café features fresh juices and healthy options. Try the freshly squeezed carrot juice and order the quesadillas. You will find them at 555 S. Sunrise. Trio is an excellent choice at 707 N. Palm Canyon. The nearby 849 is particularly good. Both are in Uptown, just north of downtown, which features trendy shops like Shag. 

Always remember you are in California, and things are different here. You are not in Kansas anymore. The “traditional potato salad” at the LaQuinta Resort lunch buffet was purple. And delicious. 

Getting There and Getting Around

I took Southwest Airlines through Denver each way without incident. Get a window seat for the flight into Palm Springs, and you will see the Rockies and the Grand Canyon. 

Southwest now allows you to take an earlier flight for free—a user-friendly airline despite their recent woes.

Once in Palm Springs, UBER and LYFT can get you around. However, both feature annoying surprise junk fee surcharges for this and that. LYFT went to surge pricing twice, so I took UBER instead. So shop around. 

You can walk outside the airport and catch your UBER across the street (at City Hall) to avoid the airport surcharge. 

Or better yet, take the #4 Sunline bus for $1 just west of City Hall (across the street from the airport). The #4 takes you right downtown (which is just two miles west of the airport). 

If you stay downtown or close to it as I did, you can walk or bike everywhere in the perfect weather of this desert oasis. But beware—you are in Southern California, and the car is king. While Palm Springs has put in many new bike lanes and trails, they still have work to do despite having a perfect biking environment (flat with ideal weather).

WHAT TO DO 

  • Visit the new Agua Caliente Cultural Museum downtown to learn about the history and culture of the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla Native Americans. Learn about their history, where each canyon had its separate group. Learn about the Sec He, the mineral springs the museum sits on top of. Learn about basketry. A 12-minute animated film describes how the Agua Caliente settled in the Coachella Valley. It celebrates its heritage with a gathering place and an oasis trail along a stream with native plants. Their new Spa at Sec He is also a hit, where you can get a private bath and luxury treatment in the hot mineral spring; all are part of the Agua Caliente Hotel and Resort and Casino complex. 
  • Visit Indian Canyon for a hike in an oasis with native palm trees. 
  • Walk with the Front Runners and Walkers. They meet near the Mizel Center for a three-mile walk every day except Sunday at 8:00 a.m. It’s a fantastic way to meet folks. They meet in the parking lot at 480 S. Sunrise. 
  • Enjoy the LGBT stars on the Palm Springs Walk of the Stars downtown. Truman Capote, Rock Hudson, and other stars used Palm Springs as a retreat from Hollywood. Palm Springs has been an LGBTQ destination since the 1920s.
  • Take in Village Fest Thursday night downtown, including visiting the Palm Springs Art Museum, which is accessible then. The Village Fest has food vendors and stuff for sale, including art. Pick up some dates. The Art Museum has food and music on the outdoor patio. 
  • Swim at the Palm Springs Swim Center. The Olympic-sized pool has a stunning view of the mountains. You will find them at Pavilion Way. 
  • Work out at the Steel Gym (formerly the World Gym). It’s extremely popular. 
  • Hike on the Lykken Trail just west of downtown off Ramon Road. Enjoy the barrel cacti and other desert plants and the view of Palm Springs. 

*Bill Malcolm writes a syndicated LGBTQ travel column and is based in Indianapolis. He is a frequent visitor to the desert oasis of the Coachella Valley. He is a former resident of San Francisco. 

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