There’s no place like Palm Springs when it comes to retro-inspired design culture and iconic modern architecture. Sandwiched in the desert half way between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Palm Springs is an oasis of pure Hollywood glamour fused with a bit of flamboyant Las Vegas spirit. It’s also the perfect place to enjoy some classic Southern California poolside culture.
Iconic Mid-century Modern Architecture
Home to the largest concentration of mid-century modern architecture, Palm Springs is sprinkled with iconic homes designed by the likes of Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and John Lautner. For architecture buffs there are plenty of home tours, and once a year Palm Springs celebrates its architectural glory during Modernism Week.
For 11 days in February Modernism Week is a showcase of design culture. Filled with events for design enthusiasts ranging from art talks to car shows to architectural tours, film screenings, and parties, this is a great time of year to visit Palm Springs and bask in the modernist design spirit. (The temperate weather is a welcome treat too.)
Modern Art in the Desert
For an art collection out in the desert, the Palm Springs Art Museum is surprisingly robust. With three floors filled with modern and sophisticated treasures, you’ll encounter work by countless art giants like Warhol and Lichtenstein among contemporary favorites like Yoshitomo Nara, Anthony Gormley, and Judy Chicago. Layered like a delicious ice cream sundae, the bottom floor houses the bulk of the collection plus special exhibitions, glass art, and gorgeous desert-inspired works. The next level up is home to a sizable collection of Mesoamerican sculptures as well as modern sculptural works by artists such as Amedeo Modigliani and Henry Moore. The cherry on top is the contemporary third floor, filled with daring pieces of art and iconic paintings by pioneering California artists such as Sam Francis, Nathan Oliveira, and Edward Ruscha. If you’ve only got time to see one thing in Palm Springs, make it the art museum.
No artist embodies Palm Springs style more than Shag, aka Josh Agle. Known for his colorful, fun paintings of cool retro characters enjoying cocktails in stylish modernist surroundings with an abundance of tiki culture, Shag’s work fits Palm Springs perfectly. The best place to see his art is the Shag Store, filled with limited edition prints and outfitted in a retro-modern interior that looks like it’s been plucked straight out of one of his paintings. Shopping for art and design books? Don’t miss Just Fabulous, a bookstore filled with oversized art books, gifts, cards, and classic books featuring Palm Springs.
Palm Springs is filled with chic resorts. The important thing is to pick one with a great swimming pool, because lounging poolside is a Palm Springs tradition. You can’t go wrong with the Riviera Palm Springs which boasts a lively poolside atmosphere enhanced with music, poolside cabanas, and fire pits. Other trendy classics? The sleek Viceroy Palm Springs features manicured grounds and private villas, with hip interiors decked out in canary yellow accents. At the sumptuous Parker Palm Springs modern design meets landscaped gardens amid a forest of palm trees towering above sparkling pools. The Movie Colony Hotel is another luxurious pick. A boutique bed and breakfast with just 16 rooms, this intimate minimalist hotel designed by Albert Frey is a must-see for lovers of mid-century modern design.
In the heart of downtown, Lulu California Bistro serves up fresh California cuisine in a large airy space. Their inexpensive prix fixe menu includes three courses concluding in desserts like tiramisu and flourless chocolate cake. Craving Mexican? Las Casuelas Terraza has a welcoming patio filled with bird-song and occasional live bands—great for enjoying margaritas on a hot day. For sandwiches, coffee, and pastries, head to Koffi, a hopping spot in the middle of downtown serving up delicious sweets, coffee favorites, and quick bites. Another tasty breakfast and lunch spot is Cheeky’s, known for their locally grown seasonal dishes, as well as pastries baked on the premises.
Palm Springs is peppered with hiking trails. One convenient hike right in the city center is the trail leading up from the Palm Springs Art Museum parking lot. This is a moderately difficult rocky trail, but it provides sweeping views across all of Palm Springs, including vistas of the wind turbines in the distance. Golf lovers can fulfill their PGA tour dreams by playing a round of golf on a championship-level course. Palm Springs has no shortage of world-class courses when it comes to golf.
Further Afar: Joshua Tree National Park
For a unique experience in one of the country’s most beautiful parks, head about an hour east to Joshua Tree National Park. With fantastic bouldering and splendid desert scenery, you can get friendly with the joshua trees out in the middle of the California desert.