Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - by Scott S. Smith and Sandra Wells
Palm Springs, two hours east of Los Angeles, but a world away, has a comprehensive website for visitors that is updated regularly on what is open https://visitpalmsprings.com/. The town has been a haven for Hollywood, close enough for stars get back to work on a moment's notice. These included Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Bing Crosby, Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Dinah Shore, Kirk Douglas, Debbie Reynolds, Marilyn Monroe, and Jerry Lewis (among its more recent residents have been Barry Manilow, Andy Dick, and Suzanne Somers). Many of their homes can be seen on tours and there is a Walk of Stars downtown.
Palm Springs has its own star-filled International Film Festival https://www.psfilmfest.org/. It was the setting for last year's "Palm Springs" (now on Hulu), a comedy about two strangers who meet at a wedding and get stuck in a time loop (which received a 94% approval rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes). The city is also the main place to stay during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, cancelled in 2020-21, but which normally draws a quarter million. Palm Springs' population of 50,000 is triples during the snowbird season, due to it 300 days of sunshine (average high temperatures October through May run from high 70s to mid-90s, going over 100 June-September).
We stayed at the Alcazar Hotel Palm Springs https://alcazarpalmsprings.com/, the coolest boutique hotel in the bustling Uptown Design District, with 34 unique rooms and a pool. See the in-depth review: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/review-alcazar-hotel-palm-springs-scott-s-smith/
We started with the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens https://www.livingdesert.org/ in next door Palm Desert. The botanical gardens are replicas of deserts from Baja California to Madagascar. Enclosures are large and recreate dry habitants, encouraging many of the 500 animals to feel comfortable enough to breed, so this facility provides animals for other zoos. We watched a jaguar pacing up close (big cats are almost always just active at night) and listened to a laughing kookaburra. Most amazing was being able to hand-feed giraffes (quite safely, though they eat 17 lbs. of lettuce a day and their tongues are up to 18"). Some grow up to 18 feet tall and one mother, who is 18 years old, has borne eight calves.
For outdoors Saturday brunch, we went to Oscar's Downtown Palm Springs https://oscarspalmsprings.com/. The menu had a good variety, including veggie omelets, Chef Arturo's Stuffed French Toast (with eggs over medium, ham, sausage, bacon, cheddar, spinach, and tomato), California Cobb Salad, T'quila Chicken Pasta, and Coconut Shrimp. It's a very popular place, with live bands many weekdays, outdoor weekend brunches with a fun drag queen show and other adult entertainment for a mixed audience, and a drag show in Spanish and English on Monday nights.
In the afternoon, we headed for the internationally-renowned Palm Springs Air Museum https://palmspringsairmuseum.org/, which has the world's largest collection of flyable World War II aircraft (you can pay to go up with ones of the pilots, if space is available). Most awesome is the B-17 Flying Fortress. Exhibits are touchable and utilize exciting combat videos, including those for the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The goal is "educating the public about the role air power played in preserving American liberties and way of life." Many of the docents are veterans who share their experiences.
The next morning at 730, we took a rigorous, rocky, and rewarding hike up beautiful Tahquitz Canyon http://www.tahquitzcanyon.com/canyon, enjoying the wildlife and wildflowers on the way to the waterfall at the end.
We joined the daily 11 a.m. tour of the architectural highlights of the area, many of the houses and buildings in the classic design style known as Mid-Century Modern. Kurt Cyr of Palm Springs Mod Squad https://www.psmodsquad.com/ narrated via mobile phone as the cars followed him (for COVID reasons), with explanations of the functions of the features, the history of the designers, and amusing stories about famous residents (among them Elvis and Priscilla on their honeymoon and Liberace). We returned to where we started, the Saguaro Palm Springs, the hotel that has received more Instagram posts than any other. If you don't think you have a real interest in architecture, you'll be hooked by the end of the tour.
In the afternoon, we strolled along Palm Canyon Dr., especially noting the 40 benches that have been transformed into pieces of art https://visitpalmsprings.com/find-our-colorful-benches/.
We left on a literal high note for Sandra's birthday, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway https://pstramway.com/, which has the world's largest rotating aerial tram cable cars, giving a 360 view we ascended 2.5 miles in a thrilling 10 minutes from the hot desert floor to the snow at the 8.615 foot elevation of Mt. San Jacinto State Park.
Not everything was open when we visited at the end of March, including the main art museum and the Palm Springs Historical Society. But it's a fun place to visit anytime, even when it is literally a hot destination. Other ideas for the surrounding area can be found at https://www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/things-to-do/.