Since the late 1800s when this valley was touted as a place to heal body and soul, Palm Springs has drawn visitors in droves to marvel at its mountain vistas and immerse themselves in the desert’s magic.
Today the magic isn’t just about Palm Springs’ reputation for healing serenity; it’s about the city’s evolution into one of the most happening places you can find in Southern California.
Mayor: Robert Moon
Mayor Pro Tem: Chris Mills
Council Members: Ginny Foat, Geoff Kors, J.R. Roberts
Year Incorporated: 1938
In Hollywood’s heyday, Palm Springs was the playground of stars from Bob Hope, Greta Garbo, and Shirley Temple, to Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe. Today, if you’re lucky, you might run into Sia or Leonardo DiCaprio, who now call Palm Springs their second home.
Most tourists and visitors hotly anticipate the city’s signature annual events: October’s season-opening Modernism Preview Weekend; Pride Weekend in November; “Parade Season” throughout the fall; the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Tour de Palm Springs cycling benefit in January; Modernism Week in February; and the ShortFest film festival in June. They’re also attracted by a new crop of boutique and name brand hotels surrounding the Downtown and Uptown business districts.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LANI GARFIELD
The Palm Springs International Film Festival’s got everyone screaming for more, even Cate Blanchett.
The city has become hotspot for hipsters and cinephiles, laid-back travelers and music lovers, the LGBT community, and anybody enamored of its longtime love affair with Hollywood.
“This is one of the most welcoming places for all visitors,” says Palm Springs Director of Tourism Mary Jo Ginther. “We have an ideal magical balance here. It’s all part of why we now attract the young and hip travelers, architecture lovers, gay families, and bachelorette parties to the city.”
Palm Springs City Manager David Ready agrees that Palm Springs is once again a magnet for all ages as a tourism, commercial, and residential destination.
The change from drab to fab comes, Ready says, from business owners and city government recognizing that something needed to change. “To attract a more vibrant tourist (population), we had to apply our resources to change our position and regain relevance for future generations,” he says.
The partnership has been spectacularly fruitful.
There’s a new batch of entertainment industry types from DiCaprio, who rents out his midcentury house during Coachella and probably Desert Trip, to Sia, who sneaked into the city for her 2015 wedding.
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PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICHARD VAUGHN
ARRIVE is the place to go for a lazy sun-drenched afternoon by the pool. Ice Cream & Shop(pe) will keep you cool, with artisan flavors like fresh lavendar.
One celeb will have a permanent home downtown: Forever Marilyn, the city’s biggest tourist attraction, is slated to return next year, thanks to PS Resorts and Palm Springs City Council.
The 26-foot tall, 17-ton stainless steel and aluminum statue of the blonde bombshell attracted thousands of people who stopped by to take pictures standing next to her massive legs. “We constantly had people coming into the office and asking where she was,” says Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Nona Watson. “When she left, people were telling us how much they missed her. We’re all glad she’s coming back to us.”
“(Marilyn) was wildly successful when she was here,” says Ready. Ready notes that the city’s economic incentive programs for improvements to existing hotels and collection of new major name and boutique hotels are helping to beef up the number and profile of available rooms. Choices range from small, historic properties like the 16-room Colt’s Lodge, Sparrows Lodge, and L’Horizon on East Palm Canyon to the recently opened 32-room ARRIVE Hotel that now anchors the Uptown District.
PHOTO BY TOM BREWSTER
The Marilyn statue will return to downtown Palm Springs in 2017.
PHOTO BY ETHAN KAMINSKY
An increase in biking lanes makes it possible to tour the city on two wheels.
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Major name properties still to come include the 155-room Kimpton in the heart of city in 2017 and the 142-room Virgin Hotel, the first on the West Coast for the brand, near the Kimpton, that is expected to open in 2018.
“ARRIVE is a new concept from the ground up,” says Ginther. “The owners chose to put it on North Palm Canyon to create a place for visitors and locals to meet.”
ARRIVE is the keystone for area with a design profile that complements the city’s midcentury vibe, albeit with tons of modern luxuries. When it comes to food, the hotel dining options add to the city’s eclectic mix of eateries. Start with the artisan Ice Cream & Shop(pe), add Customs Coffee that features beans blended and roasted by the Joshua Tree Coffee Company to Reservoir, whose fare is a mix of Latin and Asian influences, and Sandfish, for whiskey and sushi, and The Draughtsman, a gastropub set to open soon. “They’re creating an entire business district in a six-block area that’s going to be a magnet for locals and visitors,” Ginther adds.
The city’s harvest of new food options are all homegrown. Tipper’s Gourmet Marketplace, is an upscale deli and sandwich spot; Watercress brings a Vietnamese bistro to town; Broken Yolk Café is for egg lovers; Grand Central Palm Springs has uncovered surprising architectural elements in the 80-year-old La Plaza space where it will serve comfort food; Truss + Twine, for classic cocktails and food (from the owners of Workshop Kitchen + Bar); Frankinbun’s haute dogs; and Woody’s Burgers, which moved to South Palm Canyon, have all either just opened or are about to welcome guests.
“There’s new nightlife, too,” says Ginther. “Like Bardot at the Hard Rock, and a new club going in above the Broken Yolk. People want more to do in the evenings, and we’re seeing new clubs coming to the city.”
It’s all creating a sense of excitement in the business community, says Watson. “Everyone wants it done,” she says. “They can’t wait to see the projects completed, and it’s all moving us into an all-year-round destination.”
PHOTO BY ETHAN KAMINSKY
The Kimpton Hotel construction is underway in downtown Palm Springs.
Add in the all the city’s traditional activities like pedaling around town on highlighted bike lanes, hiking trails, and Indian Canyons, the Palm Springs Art Museum and its Architecture and Design Center, shopping on Palm Canyon, or coming to town to enjoy the parades (PSHS Homecoming, Palm Springs Pride, Veterans Day, Festival of Lights, and Black History Month) or the Palm Springs International Film Festival or ShortFest, and there are so many ways for guests to enjoy the city.
Enjoying all that Palm Springs has to offer — from the Uptown and Downtown districts and the renovations in the area of Kimpton and Virgin hotels — make it a destination for the entire valley. Don’t want to walk? Catch the BUZZ trolley that runs Thursdays through Sundays and ride around town for free.
With all this action, retail businesses like the much-anticipated West Elm furniture store and H&M have taken notice of the city’s renaissance and are opening stores on Palm Canyon.
It all helps the city’s bottom line, says Ready. Since 2000 the city’s transient occupancy tax has risen 127 percent — from $11.9 million to more than $27 million in 2015. “We’ve been amazingly successful in increasing tourism,” Ready says.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GREATER PALM SPRINGS CONVENTION VISITORS BUREAU
Hop on the Buzz and take a free ride around downtown Palm Springs.
The city’s attitude toward LGBT tourism makes it one of the most popular gay tourism destinations in the world, with 24 gay resorts. “This is a very open place to live and play,” Ginther says.
Residents are benefiting from the renaissance, too.
Modernism Week and Preview Weekend bring in thousands of guests each year, and both lower the median age of residents. With neighborhood organizations receiving funds and actively participating in the tours and parties, it makes the city more attractive to new residents.
The bottom line, says Ginther: “Travelers want an experience they can’t get at home and residents enjoy the year-round sunshine and excellent quality of life — Palm Springs has it all. We truly are like no place else.”