The desert is calling, with new hotels and a terrific lineup of design boutiques.
Who knew the '50s could be so much fun?

David Lansing

Palm Springs travel planner: hotels, restaurants, sights, and more

Slip out of the dry desert heat into the breezy lobby of the DelMarcos Hotel, and there to greet you from behind the orange-toppedregistration desk is none other than Ol' Blue Eyes himself, lookingquite debonair. Not literally, of course. But the Warhol-ishpainting certainly evokes the proper dooby-dooby-do era.

Meanwhile, just blocks away at the Atomic Age-inspired Orbit In,where the rooms are furnished in midcentury-modern furniture, twowomen sit poolside at the lava lamp-lit Boomerang Bar, playing ginrummy and discussing Albert Frey's second house, a modestglass-and-metal box perched on the edge of the chocolate-coloredhills above the hotel. "My grandparents had a house just like thatwhen I was a kid," says one of the women wistfully. "I loved it. Itwas just so ... "

"Cool?" suggests the other woman.

"Exactly!"

The desert heats up

Think of Palm Springs as a cocktail: Mix one part Rat Packglamour, a shot of desert beauty, fill to the top of the glass withbalmy days, and stir up the perfect desert midwinter getaway. Thatit's only about 110 miles east of Hollywood has long been reasonenough for Angelenos to claim it as their private hideaway, but inthe last few years, as it has blossomed with boutique hotels and― finally ― some decent eateries, snowbirds fromSeattle to Salt Lake City have claimed it as their own as well.

"We've always had the Hollywood notoriety," says Steve Rizzo,general manager of the Orbit In. "Now people from all over havetaken notice of the modern architecture."

And the desert is particularly alluring this month. Rain isunlikely, the temps are heating up but are still bearable(averaging 72°), and there's a plethora of outdoor activities,from touring the Indian Canyons to cool hiking from the 8,500-foottop of the aerial tram.

But for anyone who is a fan of 1950s and '60s home design, atrip to Palm Springs is truly a must. Why here? Well, because ofthe love for the early Hollywood glamourati who made their homeshere, and the rock stars of midcentury-modern architecture ―Albert Frey, Richard Neutra, William F. Cody ― who builtthose homes.

Boutiques showcasing swanky cocktail dresses and loungewear(think Jackie O meets Marcia Brady) and former garage-sale itemslike Melmac dishes are as ubiquitous as the palm trees along themain drag, Palm Canyon Drive. And hotels ― like the Horizonand Parker Palm Springs ― have gotten into the act as well― or maybe they led the way; there's much discussion as towhich came first, Corbusier adulation or Eames envy.

Celebrate local architects

The rise of the glam boutique hotel would probably come as asurprise to the godfather of desert modernism, Swiss-born AlbertFrey (pronounced "fray"). His most famous Palm Springs design, thesoaring, wedge-shaped Tramway Gas Station on the edge of town, wasalmost torn down in the name of revitalization just before hisdeath in 1998. Today, it's the much-celebrated home of the PalmSprings Visitors Center (and close to where the famous ― andutterly worthwhile ― aerial-tram tours depart). Here you canpick up "Palm Springs: Brief History and Architectural Guide," a $3booklet that lists some three dozen architectural gems and a map tofind them.

Take a break from design with a jaunt to the Living Desert innearby Palm Desert (a 20-minute drive) to see botanical gardensrepresenting plants from the Sonoran Desert and palm oases. Hike orride a horse through the Indian Canyons with their year-roundstreams. Then, in the afternoon, wander around downtown, perhapsstopping to take your picture sitting next to the life-size bronzestatue of Sonny Bono at the Mercado Plaza. And watch the streetscene unfold from the second-floor balcony of the Falls PrimeSteakhouse while sipping one of its excellent martinis and nibblingon rum-drunk shrimp.

You'll want to save at least a half-day for exploring the city'sshops, many of which are bunched around the northern end of PalmCanyon Drive in a neighborhood called Uptown.

One of the best is Retrospect, which carries a wide range ofmidcentury furnishings, like Bertoia Diamond chairs and a JensRisom Amoeba coffee table. As owner Laine Scott says, "It's ironicbecause 20 years ago, the city thought the best way to revitalizePalm Springs was to tear down all these midcentury-modernbuildings. Now they realize that it's people's love for this stylethat's going to save this city. You walk into a place like the DelMarcos Hotel and you can just feel the Rat Pack-ness of it. And that makes the city feelso hip again."

But has our love for the era peaked?

If you have any doubts, head to nearby Desert Memorial Park andlook for the final resting place of Francis Albert Sinatra. There,on white stone, it says it all: THE BEST IS YET TO COME.

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