Coming from LA (where most out-of-towners touch down), pass the sky-high windmills and the retro dinosaurs in the distance and know, happily, you’re nearing this sun-kissed oasis where Frank Sinatra chased Ava Gardner around a piano-shape pool, where Don Draper cavorted with a tribe of jet-setting sybarites on an episode of Mad Men, and where, today, the past is still alluringly present. Midcentury architecture? Check. Roadside motels turned hip hotels? Check. Pool parties where you might glimpse a celebrity or two? Double check—some things just never change.
Drop your bags…
…at the Ace Hotel (pictured above) if you want a happening pool scene complete with potent cocktails and a tunes-spinning DJ camped out in the corner.
…at Korakia Pensione if, desiring a break from midcentury modern, you would prefer sexy Mediterranean stylings and a laid-back, romantic atmosphere.
…at the intimate Desert Riviera Hotel for throwback vibes, peace and quiet (no poolside DJs here!), and tons of freebies, from welcome treats to Wi-Fi to limo service around town.
Shop the Look
…in your own ride with a free map of notable private homes, civic buildings, and retro resorts from the visitor center.
…with a pro, architectural historian (and man-about-town) Robert Imber, who’ll shuttle you from site to site all the while dishing on not only who built the homes but who lived in them.
…diving into the dozens of design stores whose well-curated collections will make midcentury enthusiasts’ hearts flutter fast. Check out Swank Interiors (above left), Casa Moderno, and the entire Palm Springs Uptown Design District.
…taking the 10-minute aerial tramway up to 8,516 feet where you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the Coachella Valley, stark and sepia-toned from these great heights. Once there you can also hike Mount San Jacinto State Park.
…renting bikes (or borrowing them from your hotel) to cruise around downtown Palm Springs, which is lined with ice-cream shops, lively eateries, karaoke bars, and boutiques shilling kitschy-fun souvenirs.
Where to head for…
…breakfast. It’s got to be breakfast tacos or graham-cracker French toast at chilled-out Cheeky’s, where the patio’s always buzzing, the coffee flows freely, and a side of bacon comes as a “flight” featuring five flavors from applewood to jalapeño.
…lunch. In a retrofitted Denny’s, the Ace Hotel’s on-site restaurant, King’s Highway (above right), plates up farm-to-table offerings including wild baby argula with crispy prosciutto and charred lemon, and one dynamite pork-belly sloppy joe.
…happy hour. Alfresco Birba (above top left) is part vibe-y lounge, part pizzeria, and definitely where you want to be for late-afternoon sips and snacks with a side of ambience.
…dinner. Workshop Kitchen + Bar is the new darling around town, but the real find is an old standby that deserves a second look: Lyons English Grille (above bottom left) will blow you away with its cut-it-with-a-fork prime rib and perfect-perfect martinis, not to mention the stuck-in-time decor.