New York City can be a fabulous place to visit, but there are also plenty of other great cities in the United States that deserve to be explored. One of them is Palm Springs, California, a desert town in Southern California which has a long history of being a gay mecca.
Palm Springs is one of those places that everyone with a car or plane ticket wants to get to. But Palm Springs is a queer paradise in so many ways. The city’s historic downtown, home to a small but fascinating collection of art deco and desert modern buildings, is a mecca for tourists and locals alike. But it also serves as the most visible marker of a queer community that’s still seeking the right to be itself.
In a city that’s known for its close to the bone coming out , Palm Springs has managed to carve out a place of acceptance for its LGBT community.
When I think of Palm Springs, I picture iconic Hollywood stars of yesteryear retreating to their homes or favorite spots there—Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa Gabor and the like. It’s almost an extension of Los Angeles, right? In fact, the gorgeous Coachella Valley became what it was partially because it wasn’t L.A. Many studio contracts back in the day stipulated that stars had to remain with a 100-mile radius of the studios. And Palm Springs, almost exactly 100 miles due east, was a perfect getaway. Today, the area is well known as a playground for LGBTQ travelers, and especially as a popular retirement spot for gay couples. Visitors will find roughly a dozen gay men’s resorts, each modestly sized and with different vibes and price points. The city really is a queer nirvana, with its incredible diversity of mid-century modern architecture, endless shopping, restaurants and galleries and a bevy of popular nightspots. Lodging Options The Santiago Resort, less than a mile south of the city center, is a blissful getaway with unbelievable views of the mountains. Although located in a neighborhood, the resort’s all-encompassing two-story hedges afford a sense of privacy and exclusivity. We almost felt like movie stars ourselves while lounging at the pool at this clothing-optional gay men’s resort. Rooms are well-appointed and tasteful, and the food is superb, as well. A basket of free snacks is provided in each room, and a 24-hour cantina offers free beverages—from soft drinks to bottled water to a fancy coffee machine. Breakfast here is a higher-end continental style, with plenty of offerings, from sinful to healthy. Both it and lunch are included; simply text your order (which comes from a local sandwich shop) to the front desk, and it magically appears at the appointed time. We enjoyed everything we tried here. The vibe at Santiago isn’t sexually charged like at some resorts we’ve been to in other cities; instead, it’s relaxed, fun and luxe. One of the newer lodging options is the Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs, which is built around two extensive, resort-style pools, which were always humming with activity. Although this may sound like an adult-focused party property, we found plenty of families here, too. Most of the kids seemed to congregate at the smaller of the two pool decks, but both were a constant source of fun. The main pool deck at the Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs. c Our suite at Margaritaville was incredibly spacious and featured a clean, bright beachy vibe with some fun pops of color. The St. Somewhere Spa and connected Fins Up! Fitness Center were first class and include everything you need to get sweaty—or relax and indulge. Speaking of indulging, we also sampled the comfortable and stylish INNdulge, another gay men’s resort, located in the Warm Springs part of town. INNdulge features a fun mid-century modern aesthetic, and the rooms include a nice kitchenette, helpful for longer stays. Our room had a great color palette and was spacious, with a large bathroom. Breakfast is included here, and the large courtyard features sculptures and a sizable pool and hot tub. During our stay, a visiting group occasionally conducted naked yoga sessions in the courtyard, which made our poolside relaxing a unique experience, but one we didn’t mind! Downtown restaurants are a very short drive away, or even walkable during the more moderate temperature seasons. Get Outside! Palm Springs and the surrounding areas have a breathtaking variety of hiking and outdoor activities to partake in. We climbed the South Lykken Trailhead to the Simonetta Kennett vista point, which afforded a panoramic view of much of the city. We also drove to nearby Joshua Tree National Park, which has unbelievable rock formations and the fascinating namesake succulents. The Palm Canyon trail within the Indian Canyons land is a lush oasis in between dry mountain peaks. (photo by Paul Heney) Another particularly memorable experience was the Palm Canyon trail within the Indian Canyons land; admission to the whole area is $9 per person, and well worth it. Hiking through the lush palm-dotted canyon floor was magical and made me realize this was a real-life oasis. You can hike back a longer—and tougher—and hotter—parallel trail higher up the canyon to appreciate the oasis from above. Lastly, don’t miss the famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which ascends to 8,500 feet up San Jacinto Peak. There are numerous trails at the top, where the temperature is noticeably cooler than on the valley floor. There are breathtaking views at nearly every turn, and a restaurant at the mountaintop station allows you to sit for a while and just take it all in. The view from the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway encompasses much of the region. (photo by Paul Heney) More To See and Do We did some pampering, too, while in town. Palm Springs Fine Men’s Salon, right near downtown, is a fantastic facility that offers everything from hair styling to coloring services, skin treatments, massages and more. We opted for a couples’ mani/pedi and were greeted with champagne upon arrival. The 90 minutes of relaxation flew by as we melted into our massage chairs, and we left feeling confident that we’d look the part of movie stars the next morning at the pool. Given the history here, you can do some fun self-guided driving tours; pick up a map at the visitor’s center (which used to be the coolest gas station ever). We loved the tour of former celebrity homes and another of the city’s architectural treasures, of which there are many. Even wandering through the Uptown Design District can pass an entire afternoon, with so many wonderful and unique shops. Palm Springs is a huge foodie town, too, and there’s just too much to even mention here. But suffice it to say that you can’t go wrong at places like Kaiser Grille, Zin American Bistro, Eight4Nine, Trio, Grand Central, LuLu California Bistro, Las Casuelas Terraza, Tommy Bahama’s Marlin Bar, MidMod Café or Roly China Fusion. More to come on this in a future article! There’s a whole collection of LGBTQ bars and shops along a block of E. Arenas Road near the center of downtown—increasingly a rarity these days—and the district is usually hopping on evenings. COVID still has forced restrictions on seating arrangements, but hopefully that will change soon. The Gay Mart and Bear Wear shops were fun to stroll through, and there’s a club for almost any demographic or vibe. All in all, I can’t believe it took us this long to discover Palm Springs—and we’re already planning our return to this queer paradise.I have visited more than 30 countries and lived in 10. I have seen the best and worst of the planet and have learned to love anything that is off the beaten path. I’m a nomad. It’s a lifestyle I have chosen for myself and one I recommend to friends and family. I’ve visited countless obscure places, curious old ruins, and romantic islands. I’ve discovered the unknown and lived to tell about it.. Read more about desert paradise resort palm springs and let us know what you think.
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