A notorious Rat Pack hangout in the 1950s and 1960s, Palm Springs still draws the glamorous Hollywood set with its sleek, low-rise architecture, broad, palm-lined boulevards and slew of stylish hotels, motels and cocktail bars.
There are no direct flights from the UK, but it’s an easy two-hour drive from Los Angeles International Airport. A lunchtime touchdown in LA means you’ll reach Palm Springs early evening.
Once you’ve parked up the convertible Mustang and checked in to your retro hotel, there’s enough time for a cooling dip in the pool before venturing out for happy hour – a Palm Springs tradition. While not a big city, Palm Springs is pretty spread out, so if you haven’t rented a car it’s worth downloading a ride-sharing app such as Uber or Lyft, or making a note of the local cab number.
A notorious Rat Pack hangout in the 1950s and 1960s, Palm Springs still draws the glamorous Hollywood set
Kick off the desert fun with a couple of old-school cocktails at the Tonga Hut (tongahut.com), a deliciously kitsch ‘tiki bar’ – exotic drinking place – on North Palm Canyon Drive.
Ask the bartender if you can take a peek in the Secret Room, a private area hidden behind a false wall and decked out like a 1940s tiki lounge with low-slung bamboo beams, carved tiki poles and vintage barrel lamps giving off a cosy, rouge-y glow.
Try a couple of old-school cocktails at the Tonga Hut, a ‘tiki bar’ on North Palm Canyon Drive (pictured)
After a couple of Mai Tai cocktails (made to Trader Vic’s original 1944 recipe), head over to El Mirasol (elmirasolrestaurants.com), the Castaneda family’s new Mexican restaurant at Los Arboles Hotel, and feast on butter-soft carne asada (chargrilled sliced beef), zingy fresh guacamole and salt-rimmed margaritas on the fairy-lit patio.
Jet-lag is on our side when flying west, so make the most of an early rise and join the pastel-swathed locals in their power walk to Koffi (kofficoffee.com), a cool local coffee joint where charming baristas holler out your soya mocha latte order like cabaret queens. It will set you up nicely for brunch at the Holiday House (holidayhouseps.com), a mid-century delight that’s decked out with original artworks by David Hockney, Herb Ritts and Roy Lichtenstein and looks like a Slim Aarons fine-art tableau.
Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms home is one of the stops on the MidMod Design Tour
Palm Springs has one of the finest collections of mid-century modern architecture in the world. If you’re into property, book a guided tour such as the MidMod Design Tour (midmoddesigntour.com), led by architect and interior designer Lyle Boatman.
The two-hour driving tour explores the city’s affluent neighbourhoods, swings by Elvis Presley’s pink-hued Honeymoon Hideaway, stops outside Leo DiCaprio’s desert love nest and peeks through the gates of Twin Palms, one of Frank Sinatra’s many desert escapes famous for its piano-shaped pool.
For happy hour, head to the new Del Rey lounge bar at the historic Villa Royale hotel (delreypalmsprings.com). With wood panelling, cosy booths and Art Deco hints, it has a gentleman’s-club vibe.
Try a Shy Ricky with vodka, celery juice and ginger beer for $10 during happy hour (4pm to 6pm, and 10pm until closing time).
Then it’s back to Downtown for dinner at the Purple Palm (purplepalmrestaurant.com) at the Colony Palms, a classic Palm Springs hotel opened by LA mobster Al Wertheimer in 1936. Its stylish poolside restaurant has a distinctly Moroccan vibe, but chef Nick Tall’s food is very much SoCal (Southern Californian) in style, with tuna ceviche ($17) and heirloom beets and burrata ($13).
Palm Springs boasts more than 350 days of sunshine a year and can see summer temperatures reach a blistering 110 Fahrenheit. When it gets that hot, make like a local and decamp to the mountains on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (pstramway.com), a rotating cable car that scales the cliffs of Chino Canyon up to Mount San Jacinto State Park. It takes ten minutes to traverse the two-and-a-half-mile route, which runs from arid desert to alpine terrain. In the cooler months, you may see several inches of snow.
Otherwise, air-con is your friend. Go shopping for mid-century treats in the Uptown Design District or head to the Palm Springs Art Museum (psmuseum.org), a contemporary collection established in 1938 with works by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Antony Gormley.
Happy hour: Cocktails at El Jefe, a relaxed tequila bar in the Saguaro Hotel
After all that nature and art, it’s surely time for a prickly pear margarita. Pop on a panama or oversized shades and head over to El Jefe at the pastel-hued Saguaro Hotel (thesaguaro.com). This relaxed tequila bar and taqueria has a vintage-sports-bar vibe and knocks out serious fresh fruit margaritas and delicious fish tacos. Then spend the afternoon lazing by a beautiful palm-lined pool and listening to soft jazz.
The famous supper club scene has seen a revival in Palm Springs in recent years. For an authentic Rat Pack experience, head to the legendary Purple Room in the Club Trinidad Hotel (purpleroompalmsprings.com) where Sinatra and his pals Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin schmoozed in the 1960s.
On Friday and Saturday nights, it hosts a supper club with live entertainment including class acts such as Carole Cook, a comic actress and one-time protegee of Lucille Ball, and The Judy Show!, Michael Holmes’s brilliant parody of Judy Garland.