Palm Desert: The capital of cool

The mood is mod and the art is amazing. And you don't even need a car to enjoy it

David Lansing

Sculptures, cycles, and cactus
Not to worry. After a mind-clearing dip in the pool, it's a sunset walk to downtown Palm Desert to scope out the town's public art, beginning with freshly installed sculptures rising out of the El Paseo median against a backdrop of rust-colored mountains. The air is as dry as chalk, the fading desert light gallery-perfect for pondering a 25-foot-long piece pairing an iridescent hummingbird with a damselfly.

In the morning, it's a five-minute stroll to Funseekers to rent a bike. Okay, it would have taken five minutes if I hadn't diverted up the block to take a look at the black-and-white midcentury modern house of William Boyd (better known as Hopalong Cassidy) and then dropped in at the Desert Art Collection & Sculpture Garden, a very cool gallery with a large courtyard set with sculptures amid palm trees, cactus, and bougainvillea.

At Funseekers, I'm feeling conflicted. Not only does it have all sorts of bikes to rent, but it also offers Segways and mopeds. Still, I've pledged to be fume-free this weekend, so I opt for a hybrid bicycle and power a mile and a half up a bike lane along Portola Avenue to the Living Desert, where I'm just in time for the docent-led tour of paintings of woodlands, seascapes, and deserts. My favorite: Granville Redmond's Cloudy Day at Monterey, from the early 1900s.

Later, I ride the length of El Paseo to the Eric Johnson Memorial Gardens, an oasis of curving paths that take you past gurgling waterfalls, cactus-covered sand dunes, and a shaded rock-wall canyon. If I could somehow get Laura to deliver one of her Mod-tinis here, I could just chill out all afternoon.

No matter. After dropping my bike off, I hoof it to Pacifica Seafood Restaurant, known for its fresh fish and its vodka bar ― 130 kinds from 19 countries ― where vodka martinis are $6 all night long. Perfect. Even better, it's a short walk back to the resort.

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