Tips for Travellers: Palm Springs – California: Strange and fabulous
This is an article about one of the most quirky, but compelling places, to visit in California USA: Palm Springs. I love the place and it is somewhere I recommend you try and visit at least once. Here are my tips for travelers on things to do in Palm Springs, as well as Palm Springs Hotels, tours and best time to visit.
There are a few places in the that are wildly popular and yet seem just quite bizarre. One of these is Las Vegas that is a large glistening neon light the middle of the desert, and the other is Palm Springs.
This city also sits in the desert, around 270 miles from Las Vegas, it is sizzling hot in summer and used to be a major magnate for all the big stars, and many still have homes here. It now seems to be a mixture of retired people with Hollywood connections and gay men and women. The later accounting for, based on which source you read, between 35% and 50% of the permanent population of around 50000.
But despite its quirky history, this city does have a great appeal and is massively popular in the winter months as a warm place to escape to. A major pull being that it is just 100 miles from Los Angeles.
That fact was a major reason why Palm Springs took off as a vacation resort. It became the playground of choice for Hollywood stars and celebrities as in the days of the studio system, stars contracted to the studios were not contractually allowed to be further than 100 miles away from Los Angeles. The distance that Palm Springs conveniently is away from Los Angeles.
It led to the city becoming a star studded place, with every major star through the 1940s into the 1970s either visiting here regularly or owning property here. This legacy can also be seen in many of the streets named after stars like Dinah Shore, Kirk Douglas, Bob Hope and even President Gerald Ford (who also had a home here).Everyone from Marilyn Monroe through to Frank Sinatra had homes here. The city though went into decline and recession through into the late 1970s and 1980s as the younger generation of stars and easy air travel led to more diverse choices.
The city eventually came back into resurgence when developers started to create and promote the city as a retirement centre, and (inexplicably) it took off with gay men and women. It also became popular for golfing breaks as it has zillions of golf clubs, and also started to attract conventions and events. This tradition is still an important source of visits and boosts to the local economy as events like Miss Teen USA taking place in the city.
The city now looks prosperous, and is immaculately maintained. It is incredibly clean and tidy everywhere. The streets are wide with lush green sidewalk and huge palm trees.
One thing that adds to the beauty of the city is its unique architecture. As the city boomed through the middle of the last century and its population were affluent and had style, the city is full of middle of the last century buildings and houses. They seem to have ensured that most are intact, and reading in the papers and guides it seems the city ahs strong rules to ensure buildings are not bulldozed down and the look is maintained. This makes for a very different and distinctive look for the city. I hope they keep that. There are no tall buildings and lots of distinctive buildings.
Watch my video about the remarkable mid-century modern buildings in Palm Springs
The shopping and restaurants, of which there are many, are all centred in one area on Palm Canyon Drive and this area is very lively in the evenings even out of season which is the summer months when temperatures hit up to 110 in the day and only falls about 30 or so degrees at night. That is from about 27 to 40 in Celsius. It is clear that there is a season that runs from about November and peaks from January to May.
The drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs is not very appealing although the road network is good and being improved. There is not a lot to see until you get close to the city and you encounter the first of the large Indian owned casinos that have sprung up and after miles of nothing this huge skyscraper suddenly appears and looks odd in the middle of nowhere. Then just after that you come across this massive wind farm. It is huge, and people start driving more erratically as they stare at the huge turbines. This part of the area seems to channel wind through a particular area and hence the farm.
In addition to tourists from further afield, it seems to attract a fairly young, professional type group with quite a lot of people from Los Angeles who pop out for the weekend. Rates at the hotels and guests houses on weekends are much higher than week time.
Based on the times I have spent in this lovely city, here are my tips for people thinking or planning a trip to Palm Springs California
Best time to visit is the season unless you like it very hot!
The season is winter, with the peak time running from January through to May. Prices at this time ramp up with hotels costing much more, and I suspect other things too. It is very hot in summer, with a minimum of around 26 degrees Celsius up to about 40 and above (that is up to 110 Fahrenheit). It is a dry heat and so although sizzling not too uncomfortable.
The season does have the advantage that the place will buzz and there is much more going on, as it shows and various artists visit.
Guest Houses are the best places to stay
These can be found either through searching on the internet, or visiting the many sites on Palm Springs. It is quite remarkable how many sites there are on the city almost more it seems that major cities! The other good place to look is Tripavisor.com of course. The advantage of using a sites like this is that you can check the reviews and see visitor pics to check that the place is of the standard you want as there is a huge variance in quality. There is though an official palm rating system that is given to guesthouses and so you can also check these when looking for a guesthouse.
Another reason to check is that there are a lot of gay and lesbian guesthouses. Some of them even cater for specialists interests. There are over 40 gay guest houses and you dont want to find yourself arriving at the leather and rubber special interests guesthouse with your grandmother and kids! When looking at the prices remember that most of the guesthouses include breakfasts, parking, wireless internet and evening drinks and so offer a good deal versus hotels.
Have a car
You need a car to get around as you will find cabs expensive and not that plentiful although Uber has made a huge difference. There is a limited public transport system. It is also hot and although the main shopping and eating areas are fairly concentrated it can be just too hot to walk too far! Listening to people who did not have a car they seemed to spend as much as hiring a car by the time they added up to and from airport and getting to and from some of the attractions.
Do the celebrity tour!
With over 500 celebrities having called Palm Springs home, there are a lot of stories and houses where they lived or live to see. The best tour called not surprisingly celebrity tours started in 1963. They have a 2.5 tour and a 1 hour tour which goes twice a day, and details can be found at celebrity-tours.com. They take you to about 100 celebrity homes on the 1 hour tour and double that number on the longer tour.It is a good tour to do early on as you not only get a good feel for the city and layout but also for the history and glamour that made Palm Springs what it is.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
This is a very long cable car that rises over 6000 feet to give you a stunning view of the valley. The cable cars are apparently the worlds largest and take 80 people at a time, and runs about every half hour (one going up and one coming down).At the top you are in the Mount San Jacinto State park and can go hiking. There is a restaurant up there with terrible food as well! The temperature at the top is usually around 30 degrees Fahrenheit lower and so even if scorching down below, most people take something warm to wear just in case. At the top it is alpine like and in winter you can even do cross country skiing!You can get more details with a video I made and photos and tips: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Review
Try and be there on a Thursday and visit the evening fair
There a street fair that seems to be something of a long standing tradition when the main shopping area road gets closed off and up to 170 independent stall holders sell all sorts of food, art, jewellery and trinkets until 10pm. The fair gets packed and is popular with locals and visitors.Personally I am not sure that there was that much great stuff, but it was really good fun and worth visiting. The city comes alive from Thursday through to Sunday when the California weekenders arrive.
Palm Springs Air Museum is worth a visit
This is situated at the airport on Gene Autry Trail and is well worth a visit. This immaculately maintained museum is dedicated to the Second World War with one large hanger focusing on the Pacific and one on Europe. They have a great collection of planes and cars from the era, and as the museum is staffed by volunteers many who were in the 2nd World War they are not only welcoming but have many stories and anecdotes about the planes and the museum. Many of the planes are still in airworthy condition! You can find out more at palmspringsairmuseum.org
If you can pull yourself away from lying by the pool, try the tour of the wind farm
The farm was built from 1980s onwards and the tour takes you around the farm, and to a power station and lets you know why and how the farm was built. The tour can be you hit of education while soaking up the sun and the celebrity world of Palm Springs. You can find out more at bestofthebesttours.com
Palm Springs Art Museum has some great art worth checking out
The museum is in a very attractive mid-century style building and has mostly 20th Century modern and contemporary art with some Indian art. There are usually some touring exhibitions as well. It is right in the centre of Palm Springs in the easy to identify Museum Dive! Check out the people watching some of the paintings as they are not people they are artworks watching artworks.
If you can cope with the heat, get into some of the outdoor fun too
There are many great outdoor activities like the Knotts Soak water park with the thrilling Pacific Spin. More Golf Clubs than you can imagine and then tours out into the Joshua Tree Park and Indian Canyons
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