Why did Hollywood’s greatest movie stars choose to make Palm Springs their mecca decade after decade? Are they still coming to this magnificent desert playground? And how about the tourists in days gone by — and today? The two of us found some of the answers in a cold, mid-January escape from our home in the frozen land of Idaho to the glorious, spring-like weather of Southern California. Here we quickly learned that Palm Springs was, and still is, a premier destination – and not just for the Hollywood crowd. It’s a fun place for people of all ages, and much of the draw is a special something that continues to attract visitors from all over the world.
This special something includes the huge, gently swaying palm trees lining the downtown streets, the glorious bougainvillea, the stunning scenery, 350 incredible days of sunshine each year, and on and on.
For those early Hollywood stars — way back in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, Palm Springs was an escape from the film-making grind. In those days, contracts required them to be within easy reach of the studios, and the geographical restriction extended to 95 miles. Therefore, Palm Springs, with its superb natural beauty, seductively beckoned.
Many of the stars and dignitaries stayed at places such as the nearly 90-year-old Ingleside Inn, a superb treasure, which boasts perhaps the longest list of luminaries ever garnered by a single hotel — drawing such impressive celebrities as John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, Dinah Shore, Jack Lemon, Jerry Lewis, Cher and Frank Sinatra, along with over 200 more.
Over the years, the property went into decline and was purchased by a colorful former New Yorker, Mel Haber, who took it over in the mid-1970s and caused it to rise like a phoenix from the ashes – not literally, of course, but he managed to engineer a superb renovation of the 30-room inn, and he still watches over his historic property like a daddy rooster.
After the renovation, Haber hangs his head and smiles as he admits to nearly chasing two major film stars away from an invitational evening party at the inn. The two had arrived on a motorcycle in anything but the required formal dress. Fortunately, at some point in time, he recognized the two were none other than Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw. Ouch!
With its early draw of stars, Palm Springs quickly became their unofficial gathering place. Big names, such as Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor bought or built lovely homes and vacationed in them throughout their lives. Others stars, such as Debbie Reynolds, Kurt Russell, and Jamie Lee Curtis still maintain fabulous homes – most priced into the millions.
Currently, the Ingleside draws a new crowd of celebrities that Haber says are looking for “truly authentic Hollywood glamour.” Most recently, among this “younger” set of luminaries, are former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Selleck, Trini Lopez, and Barry Manilow, to name just a few. Many of the younger set, however, now choose to rent homes – often for upwards of $2,000 a night, and many of this crowd go for the casino scene versus the activities of the crowd of years gone by who opted for tennis, swimming, and simply relaxing in the desert sun.
Elderhostel groups are also discovering Palm Springs and enjoying the amenities of the Ingleside Inn, as well as Melvyn’s on-site, upscale restaurant, now popular for glamorous weddings. During our visit, we had the delightful experience of an exquisite room, complete with our own private fireplace and patio. Dean refers to our stay as our second honeymoon. Sigh! We found our stay to be charming, romantic, and captivating, as so many movie stars must have done since the 1920’s. June Allyson, by the way, is quoted as saying: “Everyone should marry at least once at Ingleside Inn,” and she did just that.
Later in our visit, we spent a couple of nights at the unique Orbit In, a contrast in many ways to the more formal Ingleside Inn — and loads of fun. It’s where TRAVEL & LEISURE magazine says “the 1950’s never went out of style.” HIP HOTELS USA says this inn has been “lovingly returned to its rat pack glamour days” and, to our way of thinking, it’s just as much fun as it was in those razzle-dazzle days. This colorful property features intimate and impeccably kept rooms surrounding a large, sparkling pool – all beautifully preserved in the original 1950s motif. The inn offers a complimentary happy hour, a breakfast bar and private patios.
Rarely do we report on our accommodations, except as an aside, but these two contrasting properties deserve a spotlight in and of themselves. Both have been popular for well over half a century.
Dean particularly liked Orbit In, and Nancy, meanwhile, the romance and charm of the Ingleside. However, we’d both jump at a return to either place.
Between these contrasting accommodations (among many other places from which to choose), we suggest the following things to do, do, do and places to go, go, go in Palm Springs: Large numbers of visitors start their visit with a ride on the exciting Aerial Tramway, world’s largest rotating tram. The ride leaves the desert floor and climbs to the Mountain Station at 8,516 feet in ten minutes, traveling through seven climate zones such as would occur from Mexico to Alaska. Breathtaking, panoramic views of the immense Coachella Valley and a top-notch café at the summit make this an experience to long remember.
For a great adventure, don’t miss a Desert Adventures bright red jeep ride leading to short hikes into mountainsides that have been tortured and twisted by wind and erosion, as well as tremendous earth changes over millennia created by the awe-inspiring San Andreas Fault. Our driver and guide, Naturalist Eric Harmon, was a “hoot,” albeit a highly knowledgeable and informative “hoot,” who delighted us with facts on geology, history, desert plants and trees, huge, desert solar collectors, desert wildlife, and so much more – a truly grand experience.
We also enjoyed an architecture tour with Robert Imber of Palm Springs Modern Tours. Robert is an authority on the phenomenal “living museum of architecture” that is Palm Springs — often referred to throughout the world as the “Mecca of Modernism.” The iconic Kaufmann house, as an example, recently sold for 15 million dollars.
Another great tour is the fun and informative Best of the Best Rich and Famous City Tour that focuses on the stunning homes of the Hollywood stars – both in days gone by and now. These hideaway homes include those of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Jack Benny, Nat King Cole, the Marx Brothers, Tony Curtis, Dinah Shore, Sonny Bono, Kirk Douglas and others.
For nighttime entertainment, the legendary Palm Springs Follies are a not-to-be missed treat. Held in the delightful, historic Plaza Theater, the Follies, for the past 20 years, have entertained over three million patrons. Comparable to any great Broadway show-stopper, the amazing and fun part of this fabulous show is that the dazzling dancers have to be 55 years of age and older — some into their eighties. However, you’d never know their ages because these hoofers are a troupe of vivacious, vibrant and highly talented entertainers. Playing five nights a week from late October through May, this show is filled with music and dance numbers popular in decades past and still creating a toe-tapping experience today. The troupe ends every show with a star-spangled — and unabashedly patriotic — finale.
Every Thursday night, meanwhile, the main street of the city is cordoned off for a free VillageFest, and you can spend hours strolling among over 200 booths offering crafts, artwork, unique food items, and theenjoyment of itinerant musicians performing. Stores along the route are also open for business, as well.
The Village Green Heritage Center on Palm Canyon Drive offers informative, historic walking tours, as well as a 25-minute video highlighting the early days of the area, and much more.
Hike through the huge stands of palm trees bordering pristine streams of the spectacular Indian Canyons, home to the native Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians. The canyons beckon with their beautiful ancient palm groves and over 100 miles of hiking trails.
Visit the remarkable Palm Springs Air Museum, housing one of the nation’s largest collections of World War II aircraft complete with its sobering historical background and displays of this world-wide conflict that took the lives of an estimated 50-70 million people, including over 20 million military dead.
Be sure to experience Palm Springs as it was – and still is – very much a “happening” place where the quality of life is still as exciting as ever. In addition to all we’ve described, the fun in the sun also includes (but is not limited to): world-class dining, every kind of accommodation you might desire, a fabulous art museum, golfing, camping, and seemingly endless shops and boutiques.
For more details:
Aerial Tramway: http://www.pstramway.com
Desert Adventures tours: http://www.red-jeep.com
Fabulous Palm Springs Follies: http://www.psfollies.com
Architecture Tour: http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Rich & Famous Tour: http://www.Thebestofthebesttours.com
Historical Walking Tour: http://www.pshistoricalsociety.org
Air Museum: http://www.palmspringsairmuseum.com
Indian Canyons: http://www.Indian-canyons.com
Visitors Bureau: http://www.VisitPalmSprings.com