From the air a narrow strip of flora twines across the desert floor like some exotic ribbon, a striking image as you fly into the famed California resort town, 110 miles east of Los Angeles. This bit of fragile greenery is a beautiful etching along the 18-mile-wide desert valley surrounded by mountain ranges on the north and south.
Here in the date capital of the world (meaning, of course, the fruit), with the majestic snow-capped San Jacinto Mountains seemingly within touching distance and a dry desert climate with 330 days of sunshine annually, you will find one of the world's gay-friendliest environments. No wonder Palm Springs sits atop the heap at the number one gay tourist destination in the nation.
The desert is a place of extremes. During the high tourist season from October to May, the night air cools considerably and a chill tints the morning air. At full sun, the temperatures rise into the 70s, even in the coolest winter months.
Green acres: A Palm Springs golf course
(Photo by Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism)
Summer in the desert is considerably hotter, with temperatures sometimes reaching 120 degrees -- too hot for the comfort of many tourists. But unlike Las Vegas and Phoenix, which depend on the Colorado River water for their survival, Palm Springs derives its water from an abundant underground aquifer. Hence not only a well-hydrated desert life, but the extravagance of 110 golf courses throughout the valley.
Nature keeps trying to reclaim this paradise as its own. Not far out of town on Interstate 10, leading west to Los Angeles or east to Phoenix, driving can often become hazardous because of drifting sand. These same winds drive hundreds of electricity-producing windmills aligned in row after row along the Interstate.
Life for the gay traveler centers around the nearly 40 gay-owned and operated resorts and hotels, many small and intimate. Worshiping the sun is serious business here so all have pools -- some even include a poolside lunch so as not to waste any precious rays.
With so many places from which to choose, there's an amazing range of accommodations available, from luxury to economy and from romantic to sexually charged. With only one exception, all have adopted a European, clothing-optional style around their pool and Jacuzzi areas.
Among the most luxurious of the men's resorts is the Hacienda (586 Warm Sands Drive, 800-359-2007, www.thehacienda.com, $149-$309/night), located in the close-in area known as Warm Sands, where many of the gay hotels are concentrated. With only ten suites, the ratio of staff to guests approaches one to one. Hacienda's two large heated pools provide dramatic views of the mountains.
Nearby, the Triangle Inn (555 San Lorenzo, 800-732-7555, www.triangle-inn.com, $85-$189) provides a more economical yet immaculately clean and well-appointed option, with a combination of rooms, suites and even an adjoining 4-bedroom home ($399/night) for meeting your vacation needs.
The once-neglected historic north end of town has undergone a renaissance in recent years. The luxurious Las Palmas Hotel (1401 N. Palm Canyon, 866-552-7272, www.LasPalmas-Hotel.com, $119-$219) raised the standard for mid-priced accommodations in town, and is one of the few allowing pets.
Nearby but higher on the price scale is the handsome hideaway East Canyon Hotel (288 E. Camino Monte Vista, 877-324-6835, www.eastcanyonps.com, $159-$359), the one gay resort that isn't clothing optional. East Canyon operates a day spa offering its guests a full range of services.
Seeking the bygone glamour days of Hollywood? Try Desert Palms Inn (67580 E. Palm Canyon, 800-801-8696, $89-$159), featured in the 1963 Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens film, Palm Springs Weekend. For a different vibe, the Cathedral City Boys Club (CCBC) (68369 Sunair Rd., 800-472-0836, www.ccbcps.com, $89-$185) maintains a "high sexual temperature" at the largest clothing-optional resort in the desert. And should you need a break from all the action, you have the scenic mountain views and well-manicured grounds.
Not as many choices await vacationing lesbians. Casitas Laquita (450 E. Palm Canyon, 760-416-9999, www.casitaliquita.com, $115-$200) is an attractive and well-run resort where owners Denise and Joanna host occasional women's parties, while Queen of Hearts (435 Avenida Olancha, 888-275-9903, www.queenofheartsps.com, $105-$150) features eight designer-furnished rooms with kitchens around a large heated pool.
Need more than sun worship to keep you happey? Take a dramatic ride aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (www.pstramway.com) to the Alpine-like wilderness atop an 8,500-foot mountain peak in the San Jacinto Mountains. Closer to sea level is Smoke Tree Stables (2500 Toledo Ave., 760-327-1372) where guided trail rides lead you onto Indian lands and canyons.
For a town its size, you'll marvel at the Palm Springs Desert Museum (760-325-0189, www.psmuseum.org), which houses an impressive art collection, natural science exhibits, and the Annenberg Theater for performing arts.
There's no shortage of fine dining establishments or tasty, casual eateries. For great Mexican cuisine, El Mirasol (140 E. Palm Canyon, 760-323-0721) offers an inviting space and an enticing menu. Try shrimp in pipián, a sauce of ground chili peppers and pumpkinseeds that dates back to the Aztecs. Don't miss the flan, the finest I've had anywhere.
Wang's in the Desert (424 S. Indian Canyon, 760-325-9264) presents exquisite pan-Asian food in stylish contemporary décor, including an indoor koi pond. Lunch at Spencer's (701 W. Baristo, 760-327-3446) under giant ficus trees on the patio is an elegant experience with creations such as Ahi tuna tartare with avocado and Tobiko caviar.
For a festive atmosphere, try gay-owned Blame it on Midnight (777 Taquitz Ave, 760-324-5515) with its reasonably priced American cuisine. Kaiser Grille (205 S. Palm Canyon, 323-1003) and nearby Chop House (262 S. Palm Canyon, 320-4500) are both good bets for fine steaks, fresh seafood, pasta and attentive service.
For drinks and dancing, in which case you'll want to head to Toucan's Tiki Lounge, (2100 N. Palm Canyon, 760-416-7584) seen in the TV series Boy Meets Boy. Mingle with an interesting mix of gay men and women and dance the night away. At least ten other bars offer a wide range of scenes from leather/levi to friendly neighborhood spots.
Of course you know that Palm Springs is home to the Betty Ford Clinic and was a favorite getaway for the Rat Pack. Liberace owned a home here, as did Cary Grant, Elvis Presley, Greta Garbo and Elizabeth Taylor. Celebrity Tours (760-770-2700, www.celebrity-tours.com) offers drive-by bus tours of the rich and famous (and mostly deceased) denizens of Palm Springs, although Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow still have homes there. Major streets in town are named for celebs like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford and Dinah Shore.
And speaking of Ms. Shore, an annual world-famous the Dinah Shore Classic LPGA golf tournament is a perennial magnet for lesbians, drawing thousands of women to town each spring. More for the boys is one of the most famous of circuit parties, the fabulous annual White Party, which every Easter makes it nearly impossible to find a hotel room -- unless you've booked far in advance.
With a newly elected gay mayor and a number of gay councilmembers, gays and lesbians are a full part of the social and political fabric of the area. The Palm Springs annual Gay Pride celebration occurs each November.
Few places that come close to meeting the standard set by Palm Springs for vacation activities and gay hospitality. What makes this desert town a treasure for me is the mountain scenery and the exotic setting. The clear night sky with its millions of stars seems entirely new here. It's a stellar place to unwind, relax and renew. And don't be surprised by how much of this marvelous feeling you bring home with you.
For a full listing of vacation spots, activities and other Palm Springs information visit www.metroweekly.com.
Where to Go in Palm Springs
Hacienda -- 586 Warm Sands Drive, 800-359-2007, www.thehacienda.com, $149-309
Triangle Inn -- 555 San Lorenzo, 800-732-7555, www.triangle-inn.com, $85-189/night
Las Palmas Hotel -- 1401 N. Palm Canyon, 866-552-7272, www.LasPalmas-Hotel.com, $119-219
East Canyon Hotel -- 288 E. Camino Monte Vista, 877-324-6835, www.eastcanyonps.com, $159-359
Desert Palms Inn -- 67580 E. Palm Canyon, 800-801-8696
Cathedral City Boys Club (CCBC)-- 68369 Sunair Rd., 800-472-0836, www.ccbcps.com, $89-185
Casitas Laquita -- 450 E. Palm Canyon, 760-416-9999, www.casitaliquita.com, $115-200
Queen of Hearts -- 435 Avenida Olancha, 888-275-9903, www.queenofheartsps.com, $105-150
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway -- www.pstramway.com, $20.80
Smoke Tree Stables -- 2500 Toledo Ave., 760-327-1372. One or two-hour guided trail rides, $35/$65.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens -- 760-346-5694, www.livingdesert.org
Desert Adventures -- 888-440-5337, www.red-jeep.com. Jeep eco-tours of surrounding desert.
Marlene Spa -- 1492 N. Palm Canyon, 760-318-6718, www.marlene-spa.com.
PS Modern Tours -- 760-318-6118. Architectural tours of the city.
Palm Springs Desert Museum -- 760-325-0189, www.psmuseum.org
El Mirasol -- (Mexican) 140 E. Palm Canyon, 760-323-0721
Wang's in the Desert -- (Pan-Asian) 424 S. Indian Canyon, 760-325-9264
Spencer's -- 701 W. Baristo, 760-327-3446
Blame it on Midnight -- 777 Taquitz Ave, 760-324-5515
Chop House -- 262 S. Palm Canyon, 760-320-4500
NIGHTLIFE & ENTERTAINMENT
Toucan's Tiki Lounge -- 2100 N. Palm Canyon, 760-416-7584
Spa Resort Casino -- 140 N. Indian Canyon, www.sparesortcasio.com