Desert Diamonds

Las Vegas and Palm Springs roll out the pink carpet this winter

In the 1960s, five men who defined cool took Las Vegas and Palm Springs by storm. The Rat Pack’s Frankie, Sammy, Joey, Dean and Peter brought worldwide attention to these two desert cities.

Rooted in hospitality and entertainment, it is no surprise that these cities also caught the eyes of many gay people. Today, Las Vegas and Palm Springs both rank among the top U.S. destinations for LGBT travelers and are home to many residents of that same community.

In his book, A City Comes Out: How Celebrities Made Palm Springs a Gay and Lesbian Paradise, David Wallace describes the evolution Palm Springs made from a very conservative city to a desert oasis that celebrates one of the highest concentrations of gay residents in the U.S.

Wallace writes in the book’s introduction: ”Since the film industry has always had a relatively high percentage of homosexual talent by its very nature it was inevitable that many of these new arrivals were gay or lesbian, and thus by their very presence, they created both a uniquely hip image for the place and, despite occasional efforts of reactionary politicians and moneyed interest, an environment of tolerance.”

The transition that Wallace describes for Palm Springs mirrors that of Las Vegas, which has also become more progressive as entertainment and other non-gambling attractions play a larger role in Sin City’s success.

And winter is a wonderful time to visit both. This time of year, the harsh desert heat is tamed and the crowds from the busy fall and spring convention seasons are gone.

Palm Springs’ Winter Prime

The key to a successful visit to Palm Springs is picking the right hotel (and maybe a look up the dress of the 26-foot-tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe).

For an independent gay resort, The Hacienda has a standard for service and luxury that rivals any Ritz. Slightly more casual but no less committed to outstanding service is INNdulge. Both of these properties are in the Warm Sands neighborhood that is home to a large cluster of gay resorts and is walking distance to downtown Palm Springs.

In addition to INNdulge and The Hacienda, Palm Springs has more than two dozen gay resorts, including a couple for women, Casitas Laquita and Queen of Hearts.

While not exclusively gay, Ace Hotel and The Saguaro are very hip and welcoming boutique properties. And for travelers who like the comfort of a traditional full-service hotel, the Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel underwent a recent $30 million dollar renovation and has served regularly as the host hotel for the popular White Party, bringing thousands of gay circuit boys to the city every spring for more than two decades.

For entertainment, the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies will be in the middle of its 22nd season throughout the winter months. The Follies bills itself as having ”internationally-acclaimed guest stars, a classic variety act, and the music and dance of the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, all performed by a cast old enough to have lived it.”

Winter visitors can also catch gay-favorite Kathy Griffin at McCallum Theatre, Feb. 10. If you miss the show, you can still check out her star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.

Famous for its abundance of mid-century modern homes, the city will host its annual Modernism Week Feb. 14 to 24. In addition, the Palm Springs Art Museum‘s winter exhibitions include and uniquely designed furnishings by brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana and a collection of contemporary glass. For filmophiles, you cannot get much better than the Palm Springs International Film Festival, among the largest film festivals in North America. The festival will feature a stellar lineup of more than a hundred films hailing from more than 60 countries, running Jan. 3 to 14.

If a little outdoor adventuring is what gets your blood pumping, the cooler winter months are a great time to hike the beautiful Indian Canyons. Or let the cables do the work by riding the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up the San Jacinto Mountains, where the temperature differential between the desert valley floor and the top of the mountains is usually about 30 degrees. Once at the top, if there is enough snow, you’ll have the opportunity to rent cross-country ski equipment and snowshoes.