Palm Springs: Paradise Found
by Linda Stewart
My first introduction to the glamour of Palm Springs was on the big screen when I was an impressionable adolescent, living in Oregon. It was in the 1960s and my friends and I went to the movie, Palm Springs Weekend. Not sure how we sneaked this movie about college kids spending a crazy weekend in this desert playground past our parents, but in those days, there were no ratings, and no Internet to check reviews. In later years, when I moved to Southern California, I was able to experience the charms of Palm Springs firsthand. When I recently had an opportunity to attend a Regional Media Event for the International Food, Wine, and Travel Association (IFWTWA) in Palm Springs, sponsored by the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, I was excited to learn more about this fascinating city and continue my love affair with P.S.
Paradise is defined as “a place of extreme beauty, delight, or happiness,” and Palm Springs more than fits the bill. Located just a little over two hours from either Los Angeles or San Diego, this scenic desert oasis has a variety of activities to bring everyone happiness: swimming, golfing, hiking, biking, or playing tennis. And, all visitors will delight in the impressive array of restaurants, retail shops, and mid-century modern architecture, along with art museums, gardens, celebrity home tours, and a casino. With an all-LBGTQ City Council, Palm Springs promotes a community of inclusiveness.
Where to Stay:
My colleagues and I were assigned to different boutique hotels, each one as charming as the other, and each one reflecting the diversity embraced by the city of Palm Springs. With 77 hotels consisting of less than 50 rooms associated with Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, there are boutique hotels that will appeal to everyone—including mid-century modern or Mediterranean architectural styles, continental or gourmet full course breakfasts, and hotels with a history of celebrity visits from Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Gloria Swanson, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. The recently restored luxurious Willows Inn was a favorite of Albert Einstein. For additional information on some of these unique hotels, check out this collaborative article in Food, Wine, Travel Magazine: Small Hotels Offer Charm & Character for Every Traveler. I was assigned to the Alcazar Palm Springs Hotel located in the fashionable Uptown Design District. Read about this hospitable independent hotel in my article, Alcazar Palm Springs Affirms Small is Beautiful.
Our journalist group had the opportunity to meet with Donald Eigendorff from the Palm Springs Historical Society, Michael Green from the Palm Springs Cultural Center, and Kate Anderson from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. We learned that Palm Springs has a rich history that encompasses over 2,000 years with the settlement of the Cahuilla people. The Agua Caliente, which translates to hot water, called Palm Springs Se-Khi, which means boiling water because of its natural hot springs. In 1876 the U.S. government established Agua Caliente Reservation in a checkerboard pattern, granting sections of the land to the Southern Pacific Railroad to entice them to build a railway route in the area. Today, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has plans to build a cultural center and spa, which will include a museum of cultural artifacts, garden, spa salon, mineral pools, retail shops, and a walking path which will be called Oasis Trail. There are also plans for a casino expansion and entertainment facility.
Hollywood was attracted to Palm Springs beginning in the 1930s for its dry, therapeutic climate, its proximity to Los Angeles (studio contracts often required working actors to stay within a 2-hour travel radius), and for its reputation as a sanctuary from the prying eyes of gossip communists (publications would not pay travel expenses beyond 100 miles and Palm Springs is 107 miles).
Where to Dine and Drink:
Located in the stylish Uptown Design District, Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge has a delicious creative menu in a beautiful, chic setting. The eclectic décor consists of a backlit onyx bar, crisp white and brilliant hot pink painted walls, and patent leather Louis XIV chairs. The culinary talent of Executive Chef Israel Jimenez was evident in my cumin -spiced roasted beet salad and a beautifully prepared beef tenderloin with St. Augur blue cheese and a red wine reduction. Wine pairings of a crisp, dry Turnbull Napa Sauvignon Blanc with the salad and a deep purple, aromatic Alexander Valley Vineyard Organic Cabernet Sauvignon with the entrée, enhanced the dining experience. Pastry Chef Albert Gonzales delivered a divine flourless chocolate torte, which was delightfully paired with a full-bodied Kobler Syrah, Russian River.
At Mr. Lyons Steakhouse we were greeted by innovative Executive Chef Eddie Moran, who had prepared a delectable menu of small plates expertly paired with wines selected by Jessie Casanova. Course one was an attractive variety of radishes and herbs topped with blue cheese. This was paired with Marco Felluga Mongris Pinot Grigio ’17, a medium bodied white wine with an apple blossom bouquet. Course two, was a Black Cod Escabeche (similar to Ceviche, but the seafood used in Escabeche is poached) with a dill crème fraiche (photo right). This dish was paired with a seafood friendly red, La Follette Los Pimeros Pinot Noir ’16. Berkshire Pork Belly with rhubarb, fennel, and Aperol was our third course. The juicy, rich pork belly was paired with Margerum M5 Red Blend ’16, a luscious Grenache and Syrah blend.
Hidden behind Mr. Lyons is Seymour’s, where you can harken back to the days of Prohibition when patrons who wanted to enjoy illicit alcohol had to “speak softly” to enter a clandestine establishment, known as a speakeasy. This modern-day speakeasy serves both original craft cocktails and the classics, including my favorite prohibition-era cocktail, The Last Word: gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and fresh lime juice.
The Purple Room Supper Club, located in the Club Trinidad Hotel, provides enchanting entertainment along with dinner and drinks. Owner and talented performer Michael Homes (photo to right) captures the heydays of the sixties, when rat pack celebrities Frank, Dean, and Sammy sang on this very stage. On Sundays, Michael Homes presents the Judy Show, a parody of Judy Garland's television show, and a variety of live entertainment is performed throughout the week. The dinner menu offers classic supper club fare (shrimp cocktail, prime rib, seafood). Specialty cocktails are Hollywood themed. As a Tennessee Williams fan, I had to have the Maggie the Cat cocktail, based on his play and later movie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—vodka, basil, and elderflower. The flavor combination was wonderful. The club closes for part of the summer, so you will want to check their website for show dates and times.
Nestled against the San Jacinto Mountains, Melvyn’s Restaurant and Casablanca Lounge at the Ingleside Inn has a long history of favor with the celebrity crowd, and continues to attract the discerning diner with its classic tableside service. Spencer’s Restaurant, another classic restaurant set against the San Jacinto Mountains, is known for their brunch that serves six different kinds of eggs benedicts.
On this trip, I had the pleasure of meeting personable Scooter Kanfer, Executive Chef of The Tropicale and Coral Seas Lounge. (Photo of Chef Scooter and the author is left.) Upon entering the Tropicale, you immediately feel you’re in a dazzling Miami super club, complete with bright tropical décor, exotic cuisine, and a lively patio bar. Chef Kanfer and owner/chef Tony Di Lembo have created The Tropical Restaurant Cookbook, with over 150 recipes they have developed. Of course, I had to be an owner. For your hiking or biking outings, you can order hearty box lunches from Aspen Mills Bakery and Bread Company.
What to do:
Palm Springs is a shopping mecca that offers trendy and fashionable clothing, vintage goods, jewelry, home furnishings, art, and home décor. Village Fest is a street fair that occurs every Thursday evening on Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs.
Consider one or more of the many interesting tours of Palm Springs. Celebrity Tours’ comfortable bus and knowledgeable guide take you back in time to see the homes of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Liberace, Nat King Cole, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Sonny and Cher, Elvis Presley (photo to right), and Dinah Shore (currently owned by Leonardo DiCaprio). The Palm Springs Historical Society has a variety of walking tours: Frank Sinatra’s Neighborhood, mid-century modern architecture, city tour through eyes of the pioneers, and several others, along with private group tours.
The Palm Springs Art Museum was designed by renowned architect E. Stewart Williams and has over 50,000 pieces of art in its Americas and 20th Century California Art permanent collection, including Native American woven baskets, pre-Colombian ceramics, photographs by Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol, glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly (photo right), and furniture by Frank Gehry. The Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center , also designed by E. Stewart Williams, displays mid-century architectural drawings, blueprints, photos, and scaled models.
With 59 aircraft from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, The Palm Springs Air Museum brings aviation history alive with exhibits, art, and library and education resources. Most of the planes are still flight-worthy. We were fortunate to watch a B-25 Mitchell Bomber take off.
For spectacular vistas of the Coachella Valley, ride The Palm Springs Tramway for two and a half miles up the Chino Canyon. In just ten minutes you will be transported 6,000 feet to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. There you will find an observation deck, two restaurants, a natural history museum, hiking trails, and campgrounds.
Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten, a member of the original Keystone Cops, along with his wife Patricia, established The Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium, designing landscapes for the yards of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Red Skelton. With Walt Disney, Moorten helped design the grounds of Disneyland’s Frontierland. Amazingly, in just one acre of land, there are thousands of plants and succulents representing a world-wide geography.
Add a beautiful desert landscape with majestic palm trees, gorgeous sunsets, and an average of 269 days of sunshine to all this fabulous food, engaging entertainment, and abundance of activities, and I think most would agree, Palm Springs is indeed a paradise found.
My trip was sponsored by Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, however, all comments and opinions expressed are my own.