The iconic turbines standing sentry at Palm Springs’ north end and San Gorgonio Pass attract a great deal of attention and are worth a closer look. Palm Springs Windmill Tours (www.thebestofthebesttours.com) offers a 90-minute tour of the Coachella Valley’s working windmill farms. Discover how local weather and geology combine to make the area ideal for this clean form of energy. Learn about the past, present, and future of wind energy. You may discover a new appreciation for windy days. Elite Land Tours (www.elitelandtours.com) also offers turbine tours, as well as others escapes, including San Andreas Fault and Joshua Tree National Park.
For a bird’s-eye view, hover, soar, or float above it all. Platinum Helicopters (www.platinumhelicopters.com) provides custom helicopter and airplane tour packages that allows you to experience the desert’s natural beauty from the sky. Slow down the day’s pace with a morning or sunset hot-air balloon ride and float over golf courses, swimming pools, and palm trees. Sip champagne while peacefully suspended over Greater Palm Springs. Check out the following hot air balloon companies: Fantasy Balloon Flights (www.fantasyballoonflights.com) and Palm Springs Balloon Rides (www.palmspringsballoonrides.com).
Hop in a Jeep or a Humvee for a firsthand look at the San Andreas Fault or explore the geography of two deserts in Joshua Tree National Park — and that’s only the beginning. A host of companies operate tours celebrating the desert’s natural beauty and power. Five Star Adventures (www.fivestaradventuresinc.com) offers several tour options, from windmills to Indian Canyons to Joshua Tree National Park to “Little Hollywood.” The popular off-road Jeep tour of San Andreas Fault provides insight into the valley’s geology and how local natives once lived. Walk through the desert’s amazing badlands and stand on one of California’s most powerful fault lines separating the Pacific and North American plates. Additional tour companies include Adventure Hummer Tours (www.adventurehummer.com) and Desert Adventures Eco Tours (www.red-jeep.com), with its signature fleet of red Scramblers. To explore by bicycle, consider Big Wheel Tours (www.bwbtours.com), which offers guided rides along the San Andreas Fault, Joshua Tree National Park, and beyond.
Elvis Presley, Liberace, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Darryl Zanuck, Walt Disney, William Holden, and Kirk Douglas represent only a few stars who once made the desert their home. Take a tour to see where famous folks lived and played. Palm Springs Celebrity Tours (www.thecelebritytour. com) offers all the glitz and glamour you’d expect of “Hollywood East.” For a deeper peek, take the private tour, where you’ll travel into restricted areas and “see what other tours don’t show.” Elvis fans may want to explore the Palm Springs Alexander estate where Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned and lived for a year (www.elvishoneymoon.com).
Stroll your way into local lore. The Palm Springs Historical Society (www.pshistoricalsociety.com) offers weekly walking tours through downtown Palm Springs on select days. The one-hour tours leave from the McCallum Adobe at 221 S. Palm Canyon Drive, across from Lulu’s California Bistro. Learn the history of Palm Springs and hear glamorous tales of days gone by. Or follow Palm Springs’ own Walk of Stars throughout downtown Palm Springs featuring more than 300 stars of celebrities, humanitarians, professional athletes, civic leaders and other influential folks (www.palmspringswalkofstars.com).
If walking isn’t your thing, hop on a horse-drawn carriage. Enjoy a jaunt with knowledgeable guides from Big Horse Carriage Co. (www.bighorsecc.com). They will regale you with stories about the area. For another historical perspective of Palm Springs, visit the O’Donnell House Tour and enjoy a 90-minute exploration of the 1925 Spanish Mediterranean house (www.thewillowspalmsprings.com) overlooking the city and O’Donnell Golf Club. Once the residence of oil tycoon Thomas O’Donnell, the house features 1920s California interiors, with furnishings from period hotels.
Find Your Modern Drive
Each February, Palm Springs Modernism Week showcases mid-20th century architecture and design. Renowned as the “Mecca of Modernism,” the desert’s built environment lures aficionados from near and far. Examples of the area’s modernist anthology exist everywhere, so grab a friend, and head out for a self-guided treasure hunt of midcentury jewels. Here are a several sites to get you started.
(1) PALM SPRINGS VISITORS CENTER
2901 N. Palm Canyon Dr.
Originally a gasoline station, the Palm Springs Visitors Center was designed by modernist Palm Springs architect Albert Frey with Robson Chambers. The site, with its soaring roof, is world acclaimed and serves as testament to an era of groundbreaking ideas and extraordinary accomplishment.
(2) WEXLER STEEL HOUSES
E. Molino Rd. & N. Sunny View Dr.
Designed by Palm Springs architect Donald Wexler and built by the George Alexander Construction Co. in the early 1960s, this Palm Springs neighborhood features iconic Steel Case Study Houses. Today, the elegant glass-and-steel homes are the subject of films, books, magazine articles, and exhibitions.
(3) WALTER WHITE HOUSE
1011 W. Cielo Rd. (in Little Tuscany Estates)
Sophisticated design and organic materials define this treasure. Architect Walter White designed this outstanding house in 1955, after spending time with legendary Austrian-American architect R.M. Schindler. Note the curved roof, angled glass at back, mitered clerestory windows in the garage, notched steel beam, and lighting.
(4) UPTOWN DESIGN DISTRICT
N. Palm Canyon Dr. (between Tachevah Dr. and Alejo Rd.)
Uptown Palm Springs offers a wealth of midcentury retail and design. Furniture, home accessories, jewelry, and fashions spill onto sidewalks from a network of boutiques offering modern finery. Beyond Palm Springs, check out Cathedral City’s Perez Design Center on Perez Road and an assortment of consignment galleries and thrift stores that reach east as far as Indio.
(5) FIRE STATION No. 1
277 N. Indian Canyon Dr.
Frey and Chamber’s 1955 Fire Station No. 1 on Indian Canyon Drive combines refinement, new thinking and materials, and practicality into a civic building. A flagpole pierces the open corrugated-metal roof, reminiscent perhaps of the firehouse pole.
(6) FREY HOUSE II
West end, off Tahquitz Canyon Way
Perched 220 feet above the desert floor, the second home of Albert Frey stands out in design and history. Built from aluminum, steel, glass, and concrete block, the house surrounds a granite boulder that divides living spaces. The house was willed to Palm Springs Art Museum on the architect’s death in 1998.
(7) BANK OF AMERICA
588 S. Palm Canyon Dr.
This 1959 sculptural jewel by architect Rudi Baumfeld (Victor Gruen Associates) captivates passersby with elegant combinations of curved and linear forms, mosaic tiles, and a concrete window screen.
(8) ROYAL HAWAIIAN ESTATES
83 E. Twin Palms Dr. (Across from Moorten Botanical Garden)
A striking islandinspired condominium community designed in 1960 by Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison features carved tikis and stylized apexes on lofty beams.
— Robert Imber
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