An Eclectic Winter Escape in Palm Springs
Creators Syndicate








palm springs

The view of the San Jacinto Mountains as seen from the modernistic Alta homes in Palm Springs, Calif. Photo by Beverly Mann.

Brilliant blue skies, picture-perfect palms accenting a sculptured granite mountain backdrop, and 354 days of glistening sunshine on desert landscape are just some of the reasons why Palm Springs creates a wondrous winter escape. The Hollywood stars of the 1930s through 1960s, as well as royalty, and business tycoons found a haven in the desert.

An enchanting oasis lying on the western edge of the Coachella Valley at 487 feet above sea level in California's Riverside County, Palm Springs is just a two-hour ride from Los Angeles and an hour flight from San Francisco.

 

No longer just a retirement Mecca for golf lovers and active baby boomers, this burgeoning area has attracted an eclectic range of young and old, including a large gay population, with a diversity of film festivals and quality restaurants, in addition to evening entertainment touting top international names in music, comedy, and cabaret performances.

My allure was the natural beauty enmeshed within the manmade mid-century, angular architecture of such design giants as Albert Frey, award-winning E. Stewart Williams, Donald Wexler, and William F. Cody.

The San Jacinto Mountains comprises some of the best of nature's beauty in the West with its towering 10,831-foot mountain range (visible via the rotating Palm Springs Aerial Tramway). However, it was learning about the rich 2,000-year-old ancestry of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla (kaw-we-ah) Indians combing the Tahquitz, Andreas, Palm, and Murray Canyons that highlighted my holiday stay in Palm Springs.

Ranger Rocky Toyama, led my companion and me through a private historical tour of these peaceful hunters and gatherers, whose tribal life largely centered on the abundant vegetation and natural mineral springs. Rocky pointed out North America's largest natural fan palm as we meandered over stone paths, cascading waterfalls, and flowing streams through the rugged terrain of the Andreas and Palm Canyons, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Amid the cottonwood, sycamore and honey mesquite trees, wild grape and palm fruit, we were able to eye ancient life embedded in the bedrock mortars or metates, in the rock surfaces. Here tribal families ground nuts and grain for survival, as well as built grass huts and rock shelters. A model of these habitats can be seen at the entrance to Andreas Canyon.

 

rocky

Ranger Rocky Toyama leads private historical tour the rugged terrain of the Tahquitz, Andreas, Palm, and Murray Canyons, once the home to California's Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and today listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Beverly Mann.

According to Rocky, "I feel humble when I walk this land. I think of thousands of years past when this place was home to so many who tried desperately to survive."

He mentioned that these canyons are ideal for picnicking, horseback riding, or just meditating while breathing the clean, crisp mountain air. The Indian Canyons were featured in Frank Capra's 1935 classic film, "Lost Horizon." Also, Tahquitz Canyon, closed for more than 30 years, is now open to the public.

Another popular hiking and top rock climbing area, which unfortunately I missed, is at the 800,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park.

 

Before we left the mountainside, Rocky told us a popular Cahuilla legend of the elder Maul who wanted to contribute to the community and land before his death. The tale speaks of how Maul stood still in a spring, while bark formed around his legs, roots intertwined through his feet, and his hair sprouted the first California Fan Palm.

Not far from downtown Palm Springs and the main thoroughfare of Palm Canyon Drive, we even found an oasis of nature at the privately owned Moorten Botantical Garden, showcasing some 3,000 varieties of plants, colorful crystals, and rocks. I entered the world's first Cactarium, home of some of the rarest succulents.

After a day's trek, we satiated our appetite at Tropicale, with one of the most creatively prepared menus by talented Chef Tony Di Lembo, a grad of Hyde Park Culinary Institute. Di Lembo ingeniously blends flavors that linger on the palate well after dining.

The next day, after a comfy night at the kitschy 60s-style Parker Hotel, a popular enclave for a diverse group of guests, we embarked on a two-and-a-half hour architectural tour of the rich and famous. Our guide Melody from Palm Springs Tours drove us through Twin Palms Estates and Las Palmas past residences of stars Monroe, Elvis, Hope, and Sinatra.

I was most impressed, however, with the Post-Modernist work of Patel Architecture at the Alta Development. The awesome, asymmetrical angles and marbled earth-tone colors framing the entranceway flawlessly blended with the green and beige, sunlit desert.

Also notable was the restored 1946 home of Edgar Kaufmann, masterfully designed by famed Modernist Richard Neutra.

Afterward, we had a delightful, light brunch at another celebrity hot spot, the retro-contemporary Riviera Resort & Spa.

We dined by the curvaceous poolside warmed by fire pits, part of the $70 million renovation.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed the 1924 Mediterranean-style Willows adorned by mahogany beams and frescoed ceilings with a spectacular veranda view of Mt. San Jacinto. The onetime estate of noted New York attorney Samuel Untermyer, where Albert Einstein had many a meditative moment, the Willows was also the honeymoon spot of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

Today, guests can enjoy the quietude and privacy of this eight-room guesthouse, while savoring a sumptuous breakfast on silver plates facing a mountain waterfall.

Perched just up the hillside sits the 1925 O'Donnell House, Ojo Del Desiento, Spanish for eye of the desert, designed by Charles Tanner for oil magnate Thomas O'Donnell by his long-time friend Nellie Coffman, one of Palm Springs pioneers and owner of the famed Desert Inn.

That evening we dined in a cozy corner at Copley's, the former winter residence of Cary Grant. Chef Andrew Manion Copley prepared a delicately flavored, lavender-scented Roasted Rack of Lamb and Roasted Butternut Squash. The Lobster Pot Pie is also a winner.

The evening wouldn't be complete without experiencing the 18-year-old Follies, where amazing Broadway talent (ranging in age from 55 to 85) kicked up their heels in a Ziegfeld-style extravaganza. Host and comedian Riff Markowitz had us rolling in the aisles.

Inspired by the endless energy, my friend and I went to Melvyn's at the legendary Ingleside Inn where we danced the night away to live piano sounds. Melvyn's is a great place to go for an intimate, romantic dinner surrounded by more Old World elegance and fine service.

Our final day we spent at the Palm Springs Art Museum, featuring 20th century art, with an impressive Contemporary Glass and Western Art Collection. The special exhibits range from Frida Kahlo to Keith Haring.

Because it was Thursday night, I was able to attend the weekly street fair, Villagefest. I found a 1940s rhinestone brooch and earrings to take home as a souvenir (a bit of Monroe and Garbo), as a reminder of the glamorous era that so defined the Palm Springs of yesteryear.

IF YOU GO

Palm Springs International Airport is three miles from downtown Palm Springs, with direct flights throughout the United States and Canada. It's a two-hour drive from Los Angeles and a one-hour flight from San Francisco.

Hotels: There are 130 hotels from resorts to boutique hotels.
The Parker Palm Springs, 4200 E. Palm Canyon Drive, www.theparkerpalmsprings.com, 760-770-5000; The Horizon Hotel Palm Springs, 1050 E. Palm Canyon Drive, www.thehorizonhotel.com, 760-323-1858; The Willows, 412 West Tahquitz Canyon Way, www.thewillowpalmsprings.com, 760-320-0771.

Restaurants:
The Tropicale, 330 East Amado Road, 760-866-1952, www.thetropicale.com; Copley's Restaurant, 760-327-9555, www.copleyspalmsprings.com; Melvyn's, 200 W. Ramon Drive, 760-325-0046, www.inglesideinn.com; Riviera Resort & Spa, newly renovated, great for poolside lunch, 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive, www.psriviera.com, 760-327-8311; Pomme Frite for Belgium cuisine with hearty stews, steamed mussels, and sumptuous sandwiches. 760-778-3727, www.pommefrite.com.

What to Do: Palm Springs Tours & More- (760) 329-2204 or (760) 329-2205 for Mid-Century Modern Architecture and Homes & Hidaways of the Movie Stars. Hiking in the Indian Canyons, 760-323-6018, www.indian-canyons.com. Follies: Palm Spring's Beach Blanket Babylon-style extravaganza, which gives a new definition to swinging seniors. www.psfollies.com/pr. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes you on a rotating tram to Mt. San Jacinto State Park with 54 miles of self-guided hiking tours for novice and expert hikers. Note that the tramway closes for maintenance during September, 888-515-8726 or 760-325-1391. The Living Desert, 47900 Portola Avenue in Palm Desert, a 20-minute drive from Palm Springs, at www.thelivingdesert.com. Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, www.psmuseum.org; closed Mondays and major holidays. Moorten Botanical Gardens, 1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive, www.palmsprings.com/moorten.

 

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