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50 Things to Do in December

In closing out 2019, the desert welcomes The Beach Boys, the Indio International Tamale Festival, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and a New Year's Eve celebration with some party animals at The Living Desert.

Amelia Rodriguez Attractions, Current Guide

ace hotel palm springs
The Golden Grapes Wine Festival marks its second year at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs.
PHOTOGRAPH BY KATE NAYLOR
The Beach Boys / Dec. 1

Despite the winter chill outside, a night out at the McCallum Theatre feels like a day at the beach with this beloved surf-rock band playing. The founders of The Beach Boys intersperse holiday favorites with hits like “Good Vibrations” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” mccallumtheatre.com

The Beach Boys tour

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MCCALLUM THEATRE

The Beach Boys appear at McCallum Theatre.

Annual Tree Lighting at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway / Dec. 1

Peabody and Emmy Award-winning journalist, Hank Plante, will serve as the 2019 celebrity tree lighter for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway’s Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Tram’s Mountain Station kicking-off with a holiday performance by the Palm Springs High School Madrigals & String Quartet along with a special appearance by Santa. Then Plante will  light the Tram’s landmark 45-foot tree comprised of over 4,000 LED lights. pstramway.com

“SOUNDS OF THE HOLIDAYS” / DEC. 1, 6, 7, 8, 13

Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 13, a different high school choir performs holiday favorites at the Palm Srings Aerial Tramway’s Mountain Station. Show times are 5 and 7 p.m. on the Pines Café Stage with food and beverage service. pstramway.com

El Paseo Art Walk / Dec. 3

With striking street art and a row of galleries that covers several blocks, renowned shopping street El Paseo is just as much an aesthete’s paradise as it is a fashionista’s. Visit more than 15 galleries and attend exhibition openings and artist receptions during the monthly art walk. elpaseoartwalk.com

Great Russian Nutcracker / Dec. 3

Russian composer Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky catapulted T.A. Hoffman’s tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King to international fame with his 1892 ballet, which reaches new heights at the McCallum Theatre thanks to the over-the-top set design, costumes, and puppets incorporated by the Moscow Ballet. mccallumtheatre.com

TED Women / Dec. 4–6

This conference at the La Quinta Resort & Club champions the work and perspectives of female movers, shakers, and changemakers with three days of social and networking events; workshops; and, naturally, TED talks. tedwomen2019.ted.com

Racquet War / Dec. 5

Have a ball at this tennis tournament at Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage. Women’s and mixed doubles games are available, and the company behind the play implements a unique method of sorting teams into brackets in order to accommodate players of all skill levels and ensure fair games. racquetwar.com

Old Dominion / Dec. 6

This Nashville-based band is something of a low-key supergroup — its five members are among the best songwriters working in country music today. Independently, they’ve penned hits for boot-scootin’ superstars including Kenny Chesney, The Band Perry, and Blake Shelton. Hear their catalogue of country classics — plus plenty of Old Dominion–exclusives, including fan-favorite single “Break Up With Him” — at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. fantasyspringsresort.com

Sax for Christmas / Dec. 6

Jazz up your holiday season at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage where saxophonists Jessy J. (whose velvety sax styling has appeared on songs by The Temptations and Michael Bolton), Paul Taylor, and Michael Paulo perform danceable Yuletide tunes and other groovy jazz pieces. groovesatthewestin.com

Tuba Christmas / Dec. 6

Community instrumentalists are the key players in this free concert at the River in Rancho Mirage. Musicians from across the Coachella Valley and beyond gather to bring seasonal songs to life on brass instruments like tubas and euphoniums. fb.com/rmtubas

Desert Mountains Art Faire / Dec. 7

Preservation-focused nonprofit Friends of the Desert Mountains hosts this monthly art fair at the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitors Center, where local creators and craftspeople vend photos, paintings, handmade pots, and more. desertmountains.org

Indio International Tamale Festival / Dec. 7

Mexicans have been chowing down on tamales since before Spaniards arrived in the Americas. Nowadays, more than 100,000 locals and visitors celebrate the delicious corn-based delight at this annual festival in Old Town Indio, which features live entertainment, shopping, and, of course, tons of tamales, with filling options ranging from expertly seasoned pork to pumpkin. tamalefestival.net

The Dan Band / Dec. 7

Fans of the 2009 party flick The Hangover will recognize this goofy comedy group as film’s raunchy wedding singers. Nab tickets for their show at Spotlight 29 Casino to see more bawdy spoofs and side-splitting pop covers by lead singer Dan Finnerty and his band of merry men. spotlight29.com

Spencer Day / Dec. 7

Fans of jazz musician Spencer Day have his roommate to thank for kickstarting the “Till You Come to Me” singer’s career. When his roomie overheard the then-20-year-old Day warbling in the shower, he encouraged him to take lessons, and a star was born. Hear Day live at the Annenberg Theater (where the acoustics are even better than in the average bathroom). psmuseum.org

Desert Veg Fest / Dec. 7

Eating your veggies has never been so fun. The Coachella Valley’s only vegan food festival enters its second year, serving up mouthwatering plant-based bites, veg head vendors, and ace entertainment courtesy some of the desert’s best DJs at the UC Riverside campus in Palm Desert. desertvegfest.com

Festival of Lights / Dec. 7

This vibrant parade has been lighting up Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs for 27 years. In addition to local marching bands and performers, the festival features spectacular floats, high-stepping horses, and appearances by Santa Claus and Snoopy. psfestivaloflights.com

Welcome Winter Festival / Dec. 7

Usher in the season with style at the Palm Desert Civic Center Park with shopping, snacks, and kid-approved games and crafts. There are also chances to meet Santa and hear songs by 17-year-old America’s Got Talent semifinalist Makayla Phillips and local blues band The Bone Thumpers. ronnieshouseforhope.org

Jim Gaffigan / Dec. 7

Food-loving stand-up star Jim Gaffigan (known for his hilarious love-hate relationship with Hot Pockets) auditioned for The Late Show with David Letterman for six years straight before finally landing a spot on the program. Now, the funny family man is the most popular comedian on Pandora and has embarked on a number of successful tours — including one with a stop at Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage. aguacalientecasinos.com

Golden Grapes Wine Festival / Dec. 8

Golden Grapes Wine Festival organizer Christine Soto wants you to rethink your drink. “[Consider] farmer’s markets and natural beauty products and craft beer and sustainable clothing, then apply all that ethos and all those questions to wine — real wine, made by real people with traditional methods,” Soto explains. “That’s what the wine fest is about.”

Now in its second year at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs, Golden Grapes is aptly named, considering the festival’s dedication to highlighting the finest varietals coming out of the Golden State. “I wanted to do something to mark the change that’s happening in the wine industry, which is smaller producers making unique, terroir-driven wine. It’s a French word. It means ‘of the place,’” says Soto. “The natural conclusion was to keep it local.”

As the owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs, she also dreams of upping interest in vino in the desert. To that aim, Soto hopes to appeal to those who might be confused or intimidated by wine, not just oenophiles. “Come curious,” she advises first-time Golden Grapes attendees. “You are talking to the people that make this stuff. That’s ground zero for understanding wine. eventbrite.com

palm springs wine fest

PHOTOGRAPH BY KATE NAYLOR

Scribe Winery and Broc Cellars are among the featured winemakers at the Golden Grapes Wine Festival.

Masterpiece / Dec. 8

Modern dance company Nickerson-Rossi Dance partners with the Coachella Valley Repertory Playhouse in Cathedral City to present a sampling of director Michael Nickerson-Rossi’s most superb contemporary dance productions. The show’s piece de resistance is a stunning solo titled “Heartbeat.” nickersonrossidance.com

Let There Be Peace / Dec. 8, 11, 13

The professional and committed amateur singers who make up the California Desert Chorale join voices at the Indian Wells Theater for a night of music in which “all is calm, all is bright.” californiadesertchorale.org

Palm Springs Opera Guild Vocal Competition / Dec. 8

If you’re big on Bocelli and dream of partying with Pavarotti, don’t miss this tuneful tournament, in which young amateur opera singers compete for scholarships — and the potential for stardom that comes with performing before the contest’s expert judges — at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs. palmspringsoperaguild.org

Scott Wilke and Friends / Dec. 9

Jazz pianist Scott Wilkie recreates his 2015 holiday album Joy live at Coachella Valley Repertory in Cathedral City with bandmates Pat Kelley, Nathan Brown, Monette Marino, and Jeff Olson providing smooth instrumental backing on guitar, bass, percussion, and drums. cvrep.org

Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel / Dec. 9

Jeffrey Siegel is a piano man with the gift of gab — he furnishes his catalog of melodic classics with commentary on the origins and importance of each song and its composer. His latest concert at the McCallum Theatre celebrates Slavic, Nordic, and German musical geniuses including Tchaikovsky, Stenhammar, and Brahms. mccallumtheatre.com

Judy Kuhn / Dec. 9

Best known as the vocalist behind “Just Around the Riverbend,” “Colors of the Wind,” and other enduring anthems from the Disney classic Pocahontas, Judy Kuhn has also starred in (and scored Tony nods for) musicals like The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Les Misérables, She Loves Me, and Fun Home. Hear her “sing with all the voices of the mountains” at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs. psmuseum.org

Clubs Fore Kids Golf Tournament / Dec. 11

You’re helping tykes at every tee when you play this annual tournament at Escena Golf Club in Palm Springs. There’s also a player breakfast, holiday luncheon, and raffle with all proceeds benefitting the Boys and Girls Club of Palm Springs. palmspringshospitality.org

Desert Symphony’s Holiday Extravaganza / Dec. 12

Jazz singer and big band leader Michael Andrew lends his vocal chops to the Desert Symphony’s orchestral arrangements of seasonal standbys at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert. desertsymphony.org

The Narrow Door Golf Tournament / Dec. 13

Grab your irons and head to the Classic Club in Palm Desert for a do-gooder day on the green. Local nonprofit The Narrow Door raises funds to help end hunger in the Coachella Valley with this yearly tournament and the banquet dinner that follows. fb.com/thenarrowdoor.org

The Colors of Christmas / Dec. 13

This holiday show featuring songsters Peabo Bryson, Oleta Adams, Ben Vereen, and Jody Watley has been described by multiple reviewers as resembling a TV special — picture the heart-lifting energy and high production value of a celeb-hosted silver-screen Christmas concert, live at the McCallum Theatre. mccallumtheatre.com

The Storm Large Holiday Ordeal / Dec. 14

The Pink Martini singer takes the McCallum Theatre by storm with “The Storm Large Holiday Ordeal,” a cheery and sometimes cheeky Christmas concert now in its 13th year. mccallumtheatre.com

storm large

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MCCALLUM THEATRE

Storm Large

Santa Visits Palm Springs Aerial Tramway / Dec,. 14-15

Santa visits the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 14. Free candy canes and photo opportunities for the kids bring another dose of Yuletide merriment to all who visit the Tramway’s Mountain Station. On Dec. 15 is “Breakfast with Santa” starting at 9 a.m. Join Ol’ St. Nick for crafts, holiday treats, and a leam in an alpine setting. Tickets are $40 for adults and seniors, and $26 for children (ages 3-10). Tram fare is included. Advanced tickets are required by calling 760-325-1449.

Desert Art Festival / Dec. 14

Around 80 artists and craftspeople appear at Frances Stevens Park in Palm Springs for this monthly event that delights serious collectors and casual shoppers alike. Vendors must apply to exhibit and are chosen by expert judges to ensure that all available art is top-notch. westcoastartists.com

Femmes of Rock / Dec. 14

As much as the phrase “hard-rock electric violin quartet” may sound like some fanciful accident of an online musical genre generator, the Femmes of Rock are no joke. The bow-wielding beauties, who boast Beyoncé, Shakira, and Stevie Wonder on their list of past collaborators, play their singular takes on rock and pop favorites like David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and A Star is Born’s “Shallow” at Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella. spotlight29.com

A Big Band Christmas / Dec. 14

A nine-piece band and four talented crooners offer audiences at the Rancho Mirage Amphitheater a free trip to the 1940s via swingy holiday songs and clips from retro commercials. There’s also tasty treats, such as hot cocoa, gratis. whereisranchomirage.com

Gabriel Iglesias / Dec. 14

With three comedy specials, a number of TV shows, and a host of voice and acting credits including appearances in Magic Mike and Coco, Gabriel Iglesias — known as Fluffy thanks to his crowd-favorite quip “I’m not fat; I’m fluffy” — is one of America’s most successful stand-up stars. See his latest side-splitting set at Morongo Casino Resort in Cabazon. morongocasinoresort.com

CAMFest / Dec. 14

This event at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is a celebration of art and music for the grade-school set. With appearances by adorable elementary schoolers and professional performers, as well as an exciting holiday raffle, it’s a veritable kid-chella. desertsandsef.org

Paws N’ Claus / Dec. 14

Even when dogs are at their naughtiest, they can’t help but be on the nice list. At this event at the The Gardens on El Paseo, Saint Nick treats four-legged good boys and girls to photo ops, canine games, and pet-friendly snacks. thegardensonelpaseo.com

Ability Festival / Dec. 14

The possibilities are endless at this program hosted by the Desert Ability Center. The free festival at the Palm Desert Community Center offers adaptive recreational sports for all, plus a resource fair for people impacted by disabilities. desertabilitycenter.org

A Charlie Brown Christmas / Dec. 14

It’s the true meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown! This live stage adaption of the cherished TV special brings the Peanuts gang’s attempts to stage a holiday play (and spruce up the world’s spindliest pine tree) to Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. fantasyspringsresort.com

a charlie brown christmas

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY FANTASY SPRINGS

A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Santa Fly-In and Winter Fun Land / Dec. 14–15

Santa trades his sleigh for a Douglas C-47 airplane and touches down at the Palm Springs Air Museum. He comes bearing great elf-made gifts, plus a special shipment of snow — because even desert-born kiddos enjoy a white Christmas from time to time. palmspringsairmuseum.org

Voctave / Dec. 16

Pitch Perfect meets Disney songs and show tunes in this performance at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert. YouTube sensation Voctave is an 11-piece a capella group known for their musical “medley” videos combining tunes with common themes (think “tracks from movies” or “Disney princesses”) into one show-stopping mash-up. mccallumtheatre.com

Dave Koz & Friends / Dec. 18

Saxophonist Dave Koz’s many contributions to the jazz world are impressive (his 2003 album Saxophonic received a Grammy nod) and sometimes unconventional (he hosts jazz music festivals at sea on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship). Koz teams up with musicians Jonathan Butler, Melissa Manchester, Michael Lington, and Chris Walker to play the sounds of season at the McCallum Theatre. mccallumtheatre.com

Adam Lambert / Dec. 20

A decade after the release of his debut album, the former American Idol star appears at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino for — you guessed it — your entertainment. In addition to releasing three solo records (one of which topped the Billboard 200 charts, making Lambert the first openly gay artist to do so), he’s flexed his vocal chops touring the world with Queen. fantasyspringsresort.com

Dionne Warwick / Dec. 21

Born to a family of celebrated gospel singers, Dionne Warwick found fame in the 1960s after her background vocals on a Drifters track drew the attention of songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The New Jersey–born musician performs Christmas songs at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. fantasyspringsresort.com

Mildly Wild New Year’s Eve / Dec. 31

Ring in 2020 with Palm Desert’s biggest party animals. Gatsby’s got nothing on African wild dogs, peninsular pronghorns, and striped hyenas at this 1920s-themed bash at the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens. Chow down on dinner, see live footage of the Times Square ball dropping, and dance amongst incredible creatures. livingdesert.org

Art Exhibitions
Brave New Worlds: Explorations of Space / Through Dec. 15

Five artists transform Palm Springs Art Museum’s grand galleries into uniquely transportive, sensory new spheres in which sculpture comes alive and Southern California’s artistic traditions are both celebrated and challenged. psmuseum.org

Touching History: Stonewall 50 / Through Mar. 29

Fifty years after the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that kickstarted the fight for LGBTQ rights, the Palm Springs Art Museum presents this exhibition of photographs and collages exploring the power of queer intimacy and touch. psmuseum.org

Reach for the Sky: Tradition + Inspiration / Through June 7

A striking 30-foot-tall totem pole has greeted visitors to Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s Rancho Mirage estate, Sunnylands, since 1978. Carved by indigenous artist Henry Hunt and later restored by his son Stan and grandson Jason, the totem pole serves as the focal point for a new exhibition featuring work by the Hunts and American sculptor Herb Alpert. sunnylands.org

henry hunt artist

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY ANNENBERG FOUNDATION TRUST AT SUNNYLANDS

“Reach for the Sky”

theater
Christmas with the Crawfords / Through Dec. 22

Spend the holidays in old Hollywood. Palm Springs’ LGBTQ theater company Desert Rose Playhouse puts on this zany play about Joan Crawford’s attempts to keep the overzealous Christmas spirit of Katherine Hepburn, Judy Garland, and other midcentury stars from spoiling a big-deal audition. desertroseplayhouse.org

The King and I / Through Dec. 22

This Rodgers and Hammerstein show nabbed Tony awards in 1952, 1996, and 2015, but the making of the musical wasn’t exactly smooth sailing — the duo overcame the limited vocal range of their star actress and a rare dispute over lyrics, among other issues. See the final product at Palm Canyon Theatre in Palm Springs. palmcanyontheatre.org

waitress musical

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MCCALLUM THEATRE

Waitress

Confessions of a Mormon Boy / Through Jan. 28

Steven Fales’ one-man play takes audiences at Hotel Zoso in Palm Springs along for the ride on his twisting journey from seemingly picture-perfect Brigham Young alum and LDS dad to excommunicated gay escort in New York City to out-and-proud actor who’s found his place in the world. mormonboyexperience.com

Waitress / Dec. 6–8

“Love Song” singer Sara Bareilles wrote the score for this quirky Broadway musical about a small-town pie maker dreaming of bigger and better things. Join the upper crust at the McCallum Theatre. mccallumtheatre.com

Mary Poppins / Dec. 6–22

Indio stage company Desert Theatreworks’ production of this classic tale about a magical, umbrella-toting nanny is supercalifragi … you know the rest. dtworks.org

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