A Change Will Do You Good – The Evolving Charm of Palm Springs
By Mike Marcotte
It’s refreshing to experience the slower pace that vacations usually offer, whether you’re lounging by the pool or taking a lunch break with no end time. Change in routine and scenery do a mind and body good.
Change is also refreshing for Palm Springs, California, a city delicately balancing the best of mid-20th century architecture with new development. Their first newly constructed hotel in a decade, ARRIVE, recently opened. New businesses are popping up, giving even the Minnesota snowbird who frequently travels to the Coachella Valley something new to discover.
Located two hours east of Los Angeles and two hours northeast of San Diego, Palm Springs is one of the most GLBT-friendly cities in the country. It boasts more than 20 resorts exclusively for the gay and lesbian community. And despite being home to only 46,000 residents, Palm Springs has its own GLBT business guide and smartphone app.
The gay men I met who call Palm Springs home love their city. Many are transplants coming from overpriced San Francisco. They pursued their dreams as business owners and entrepreneurs.
I quickly discovered they all wish the same thing for their city: younger residents. It’s no secret that Palm Springs attracts an older crowd. As a single, 30-year-old travel writer, I boarded the plane in Minnesota not quite sure of how vibrant this town would be. I didn’t think I could bond with the city and those it attracts. But Palm Springs’ identity doesn’t reflect the “dinner at 4:30 and bedtime at 9:00” routine. Gay bars are open for late-night drinks and karaoke. Restaurants are packed throughout the night with the sounds of live music and laughter.
I was impressed with how easily I could travel around Palm Springs. Uber exists and no trip will cost more than $10. And a free trolley loops around town Thursday through Sunday nights.
Where to Stay
The vast majority of GLBT-owned resorts in Palm Springs are exclusively for men. When you reserve a room, ask the resort owners if there will be a social hour the nights you’re there. Depending on the number of rooms occupied, they will host a gathering around 5 p.m. so guests can mingle over adult beverages. Make sure to coordinate your check-in so you arrive before then as these socials are a great way to meet other travelers.
I stayed at multiple resorts and would recommend switching spots during your trip, especially if it’s your first time to Palm Springs. Each property has its own vibe. And it also prevents the items in your suitcase from exploding all over your room.
Only one all-male resort in Palm Springs is not clothing-optional. This trip marked my first time staying at any hotel where you could freely walk around nude. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Or see. But to be completely honest, the clothing-optional part didn’t factor in too much. Guys attending those social hours were fully dressed. Maybe it was the fact that temperatures were cool, but I wouldn’t let the clothing-optional policy or your body image stop you from considering a property.
La Dolce Vita Resort & Spa
1491 S Via Soledad, Palm Springs
There is a touch of Minnesota in the guest rooms and suites at La Dolce Vita by means of baskets full of Aveda products in the bathrooms. The all-male property is home to two whirlpools, two pools (they’re heated in the winter), and a full-service spa featuring “Romeo and Romeo” massages. From the cobblestone walkways to the carefully manicured gardens, La Dolce Vita has a quaint “mom and pop” type feel (or I should say “pop and pop”). And with 20 rooms, it’s one of the bigger clothing-optional resorts in town. I recommend La Dolce Vita if you’re looking to make new friends or are heading to Palm Springs for a shorter stay. Rooms do include mini-fridges and microwaves, but do not have the fully functioning kitchens you’ll find at other resorts. However, they do offer a complimentary breakfast.
601 Grenfall Rd., Palm Springs
While lounging poolside at the INNdulge guest happy hour, it’s common to meet men staying at this clothing-optional resort for a month or more. All of them are very loyal to this property, coming back year after year. The resort, with 24 poolside rooms and suites, is in the midst of another remodel, updating rooms with impressive kitchens which include full-size refrigerators and stoves.
What you’ll see on the walls isn’t what you’ll find at a Hampton Inn. The erotica artwork is tasteful and unique in each guest room. This property is perfect whether you are staying for a day or a month. And it’s great if you’re not interested in eating out for every meal.
555 E San Lorenzo Rd., Palm Springs
The owners of the Triangle Inn, Stephen and Michael, live on this eight-room, clothing-optional property. My room reminded me of the two-bedroom apartment in which I previously resided in Minnesota. A fully stocked kitchen has cups and plates, plus there’s a dining room table. A full living room set and a separate bedroom make your suite feel like a home.
The property has the Palm Springs’ signature mid-century modern design that the Rat Pack would love. It’s the only GLBT hotel on the city’s historic site survey. If you’re looking to sneak away with your sweetie, this quiet spot is perfect, although it does still offer the opportunity to connect with fellow travelers. It’s best for a longer stay in Palm Springs.
Stephen and Michael also operate a house adjoined to the property that can easily accommodate eight people if you’re looking to go with a group of friends.
East Canyon Resort and Spa
288 E Camino Monte Vista, Palm Springs
When I walked into the office at East Canyon, Palm Springs’ only all-male clothing-required resort, the newest owners told me they received the keys to the property less than two weeks prior. They’re busy with upgrades and tweaks, but honestly, it’s already the most polished property I stayed at during my trip. The rooms replicate hotel-quality and provide beautiful views of the courtyard pool. Cookies awaited us as we entered the suite, and we were offered a drink soon after settling in. Breakfast and lunch can be pre-ordered, meaning there’s no need to worry about finding food before you head out around town. The 14 rooms are snug across two levels, yet it’s a quiet property. East Canyon best serves those who are more accustomed to more of a modern, tidy feel and those who want a quieter, more secluded trip.
Where to Eat
Palm Springs isn’t an Olive Garden and Applebee’s type of town. In fact, chain restaurants are banned in certain parts of the city. The results are inspiring. Charming, locally owned establishments have a chance to thrive. Here are some of those recommended spots, all GLBT-owned.
650 E Sunny Dunes Rd., Palm Springs
Townie Bagels exists from decades of love and dedication. Owner Andy Wysocki wanted to bake bread for fun. And after completing coursework at the San Francisco Baking Institute, he’d bring his creations to the Sunday coffee group he’d attend with his husband, Bill. That evolved to setting up shop at farmers’ markets, and then opening their own restaurant on the southern end of Palm Springs in the summer of 2015. Their system is slick: in the back, Andy bakes bagels, “less-gluten” crackers (made with almond flour as the main ingredient), scones, and baguettes, while Bill handles front-of-house duties.
The sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich I had was perfect on an everything bagel that wasn’t overloaded with onion nor spilling poppy seeds. And for a Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., the shop was packed. In the kitchen, Andy figures that they sell 1,200 bagels every Saturday. And that’s less than two years in.
Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace
276 N Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs
Felix Tipper, a Los Angeles talent agency owner, noticed opportunity in Palm Springs and opened Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace in the summer of 2016. And like Townie Bagels, Tipper’s is the realization of a dream. Felix’s love for cooking is a passion which he told me is a way for him to release steam.
The neatly organized and bright shop mixes a fast casual restaurant concept, serving breakfast and lunch, with grab-and-go options featuring the best meats and cheeses in southern California, along with pre-cooked dinners for your backyard soirees. The idea is to offer visitors the chance to pick up meats and cheeses to bring back to the hotel room for a late night snack or to pack for a picnic.
The restaurant is tucked away on a busy street in Palm Springs, making it a perfect location for meeting up without losing the ability to hear each other.
The salami and Manchego sandwich I had on a European baguette was light yet filling. The finale of a chocolate chip and pretzel cookie provided the boost of sugar I needed to accomplish a stressful afternoon of shopping.
1775 E Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs
I stopped by Pho 533 the first night I was in Palm Springs, and it set a high standard for my entire trip. No detail is overlooked, including the strip-mall restaurant’s name. 533 marks the number painted on the Land Transport Tanker picking up the restaurant’s founder and her 11 brothers and sisters from Saigon while the city fell to the North Vietnamese back in 1975.
Today, Chad Gardner, a catering company owner, runs the kitchen and his Viet-fusion menu includes the traditional pho, a perfect comfort food, along with BLT and fried shrimp spring rolls. By recommendation, I ordered the fried chicken, a peculiar choice, but one I don’t regret. The meat was tender and the skin was well-seasoned and not too crunchy.
Since taking the helm in March 2015, Gardner expanded Pho 533 into his neighbor’s space, adding a bar, additional seating, and a chef’s counter for spring rolls.
What to Do
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
1 Tram Way, Palm Springs
The number one Palm Springs attraction is the Aerial Tramway. A short drive from the valley takes you from an elevation of 479 feet to the base at 2,600 feet. But that’s just the beginning. Hopping out of the car, I was skeptical of the $26 ticket price, but that was quickly forgotten. At base, you climb on the world’s largest rotating tram car (think really big gondola) for a 10-minute breathtaking ride up to 8,516 feet, going through five unique habitation zones. At the top, four feet of snow awaited me at the 14,000-acre Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area, giving those who miss snow a chance to ski. If you’re not in California to play in the snow, Mountain Station has a restaurant, bar, and picnic areas.
Before you start your adventure, you’ll want to make sure to buy tickets in advance online. Trams fill up quickly which can result in quite the wait.
Palm Springs Air Museum
745 N Gene Autry Tr., Palm Springs
A visit to the Palm Springs Air Museum wasn’t on my original itinerary. In fact, my travel partner, Jacob, and I stopped by only because we had a couple extra hours. It turned into a highlight of my trip. The museum, located on the tarmac of the Palm Springs airport, has a wide array of planes flown in World War II, including two featured in the movie Pearl Harbor. You can stand inside many of the 55 aircrafts, and the museum is staffed with veterans who volunteer their time to graciously share stories and vast knowledge. For me, it was one of the most interactive ways I have experienced this era of American history. The museum, which is privately funded, is now building its third overflow hanger.
170 N Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs
Modern day blends well with the 1950s inside Destination PSP, a home goods and apparel store located in the heart of Palm Springs’ shopping district. Many of the items for sale, including coffee mugs and clocks, are designed by the store’s owners. They’re preserving Palm Springs’ identity and making it cool for you to display it in your home. From placemats to postcards, Destination PSP was the best spot I discovered to purchase a sliver of desert living for your dog-sitter or mother-in-law back home.
When to Visit
The main tourist season runs late-January through April. Hotel property owners mentioned to me that British and German tourists love going in the summer to get a dose of heat, so if you think accents are hot, plan a trip then. But Minnesotans be wary, triple digit temperatures are common in the desert; July’s average high is 108 degrees.
The Coachella Music Festival in mid-April is only a 40-minute car ride from Palm Springs, resulting in big crowds. Palm Springs’ annual White Party, held the first weekend of May, draws a large array of younger visitors. Multiple resorts offer complimentary Wednesday night stays when you book for multiple nights, and that offer can extend into the peak season.
The Palm Springs International Airport is in the middle of town with Sun Country and Delta offering non-stop flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul International.
Palm Springs Isn’t Only for Gay Men
Lesbian travelers should check out Lucy and Gail Events as a resource before booking a trip to Coachella Valley. Their website is home to what locals call the best calendar for events of interest to women, including mixers and the annual Women’s Jazz Festival. Palm Springs is also home to the L-Fund, a nonprofit offering financial assistance to lesbians in crisis. The organization holds fundraisers throughout the year.
Web Extra: More Spots in Palm Springs Worth Checking Out
Draughtsman, 1501 N Palm Canyon Dr., www.draughtsmanpalmsprings.com
- Opened in December 2016
- Spacious restaurant with plenty of natural light
Purple Room Supper Club, 1900 E Palm Canyon Dr., www.purpleroompalmsprings.com
- Live music seven nights a week, an ode to Judy Garland on Sunday nights
- Make sure to make reservations
The Tropicale Restaurant & Coral Seas Lounge, 330 E Amado Road, www.thetropicale.com
- Great spot to enjoy a post-dinner drink on the patio
Hunters, 302 E Arenas Rd, www.hunterspalmsprings.com
- Gay bar with karaoke and underwear contests
- Sister property in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Tool Shed, 600 E. Sunny Dunes Road, www.toolshed-ps.com
- Leather bar open from 10 a.m. – 2 a.m. daily
Read also: Mike spent 24 Hours in San Diego.
This story was composed with assistance from the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism. Their website, www.visitpalmsprings.com, offers a comprehensive, one-stop shop listing of resorts, restaurants, shops and nightlife, including a GLBT guide listing all gay resorts in the city.