AOL Travel
Print

Palm Springs Neighborhoods

Palm Springs’ neighborhoods reflect the city’s evolution from a 1930s film-star haven to a 1950s Rat Pack hangout, to today’s vacation paradise. And while it grabs the spotlight as the Coachella Valley’s most-popular desert destination, Palm Springs isn’t the only game in the desert. The “Palm Springs Desert Resorts” (as the tourism folks call the greater Palm Springs area) is actually six cities. Five are built along Highway 111, south of Palm Springs, and one, Desert Hot Springs, is 15 minutes away on the other side of the I-10. For most visitors, a Palm Springs vacation is centered on Downtown. But two major attractions—the posh El Paseo shopping district and The Living Desert zoo and botanical gardens—are in nearby Palm Desert, and good restaurants and great golf can be found in all the cities.

Downtown

Anchored by the picturesque Spanish-style Plaza Theater, built in 1936, and the contemporary Mediterranean-modern Mercado Plaza on South Palm Canyon Drive, Downtown is the heartbeat of old and new Palm Springs. It encompasses maybe a dozen blocks along South Palm Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive, making it easy to walk to the eclectic shops and eateries, or the Palm Springs Museum of Art, from any of the dozens of beautifully restored mid-century inns and the few mid-size hotels scattered throughout the residential area. Watch the world go by from a coffeehouse patio on South Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way. This intersection is the epicenter of Downtown. And see the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, starring 80-something showgirls, at the Plaza Theater.

South Palm Springs

South on Highway 111 from Twin Palms, the highway twists and turns around the base of the mountains. Look for Bob Hope’s party house high on the hill to your right. It appears like a gigantic turtle shell, and it signals South Palm Springs. There’s a huge BMW dealership here, but it’s also home to The Parker, the most lavish Palm Springs resort and a preferred hideaway for today’s celebrities. Secluded from the street by high hedge, it’s a perfect paparazzi deterrent. Across the street is Resale Therapy, one of Palm Springs’ best resale boutiques.

La Quinta

Golf—that pretty much sums up this sprawling modern community. No surprise the Robb Report named La Quinta the “Best Place to Live for Golf.” It’s got more than 20 exceptional courses. This includes PGA West, with 109 holes designed by five legends: Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, Pete Dye, Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus. The best way to get to play on these courses is to stay at the historic La Quinta Resort & Club. Oh, and there’s art, too. The annual La Quinta Arts Festival is among the nation’s renowned juried shows.

Cathedral City

Family entertainment is the name of the game in Cathedral City, a mainly middle-income enclave, with a few big resorts. Its Town Square Park houses the Desert IMAX Theatre and the Mary Pickford Stadium 14 Cinemas. Look inside the cinemas’ lobby for the surprisingly impressive collection of early film star Pickford’s vintage costumes and memorabilia. If you’re a baseball buff, check out the Big League Dreams Sports Park, a 28-acre fantasyland with replicas of Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.

Rancho Mirage

Posh golf communities are a trademark of this wealthy city, dubbed the “Playground of Presidents” for its many courses once frequented by the likes of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford. But Priscilla Presley also has a home here. For locals, it could be called “Palm Springs’ restaurant row,” since it offers many of the desert’s landmark eateries. Examples include Wally’s Desert Turtle, Bing Crosby’s Restaurant and Piano Lounge, and Lord Fletcher’s, an old-school windowless steak-and-martini experience. A local hangout called Piero’s Acqua Pazza (in The River shopping mall) offers all-day, half-price happy hour. Not that you’ll need it, but Rancho Mirage also is home to the highly respected Eisenhower Medical Center (site of the Betty Ford Center).

Desert Hot Springs

The name says it all. Bubbling natural mineral springs—said to be therapeutic—are what give this city its fame. Health enthusiasts while away the hours in the hot waters that bubble from a deep thermal aquifer into the pools and hot tubs of Desert Hot Springs’ hotels. Once considered a backwater—and still looking that way as you drive through town—a growing number of contemporary resorts are giving it new life. El Morocco Inn and Spa Resort is a must-see, with flamboyant, but authentic, décor from Morocco. The Spanish-style Hacienda Hot Springs and The Spring Resort and Spa are other fresh faces. Be sure to visit Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, a quirky Hopi pueblo-style mansion built by Cabot Yerxa, the wealthy eccentric who first discovered the hot springs in 1913.

Palm Desert

Amazing shopping and furry animals—what better combination could there be? Palm Desert’s El Paseo shopping district is rightfully called the “Rodeo Drive of the Desert,” with block after block of boutiques from Hermes to Escada to St. John. But it’s not all designer duds. Fashions at normal prices abound at local boutiques, such as DOT, and chains including Talbot’s. Art galleries, mostly high-priced, add window-shopping and, perhaps, buying fun. The city’s other main attraction is The Living Desert zoo and botanical gardens—a wonderful collection of indigenous desert denizens from mountain lions to eagles; African desert dwellers from leopards to wart hogs, and a native plant botanical garden. Palm Desert also features the region’s largest resort, the Desert Springs JW Marriott Resort & Spa, and the renowned Desert Willow Golf Resort, which welcomes golfers of all levels.

Indio

Once the date—as in fruit of the date palm—capital of the world, Indio’s palm groves are gone now, but the memory lingers on at Shields Date Garden. Sit on a vintage stool at the Formica bar, sip an overly sweet date shake and check out the candies, nuts and date-themed souvenirs. Look into the back room, where the film, “Sex Life of a Date,” has run continuously for decades. Indio also has its sophisticated side, as home to the Empire Polo Club, where England’s Prince Philip has played; and an indie vibe, as home to “Coachella,” as sound-junkies call the annual Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. Headliners have included Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga. Ever wondered what SoCal’s biggest restaurant is like? Check out the Jackalope Ranch. At 21,000 square feet, this barbecue and steak joint brags that it’s the largest. Big or not, its Saloon bar is definitely worth a drink.

Indian Wells

The picturesque Santa Rosa Mountains stand guard over lavish homes in this small community of well-tended country club estates, and while you expect it to be snooty, it’s not. The 16,000-seat Indian Wells Tennis Garden is home to the annual Pacific Life Open Tennis Series held each March, as well as concerts and events throughout the year. The IW Club at the Golf Resort at Indian Wells has all the style and amenities of a posh private facility—but it’s totally public. Stop by and enjoy its stylish bar (it’s got a great happy hour), restaurant, boutique and 36 holes of championship golf. Le St. Germain restaurant is appropriately expensive for its fine French cuisine; but for good, affordable eats, pop into The Nest. Then stick around for the live piano bar and one of the hottest over-50 song-and-dance vibes in the desert. The oldster sitting next to you just may have starred on Broadway before you were born.

Twin Palms

Around 1957, George and Robert Alexander of the Alexander Construction Co. decided, as a perk for home buyers, to put two palm trees in the front yards of the homes in their newest Palm Springs development. They christened the new tract “Twin Palms.” Double palms still thrive in front of many homes in this quiet residential neighborhood, and most of the “Alexanders,” as these prized mid-century-style homes have come to be called, have been revamped back to glory. In all, the Alexanders built more than 2,500 homes in Palm Springs. Drive down a few streets on your way to hike in the Indian Canyons or golf at the Indian Canyons Golf Resort. If you’re staying at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, the Caliente Tropics Resort or the Ocotillo Lodge, you’re already here.

Movie Colony

The stars used to live here, back in the day when Palm Springs was small and the celebrity homes were discreet. Bob Hope’s modest home is here, along with Lucy and Desi’s, and Frank Sinatra’s first party pad. It’s still a great neighborhood, with lots of Spanish-style architecture and a few Regency-style head-turners with statuary and columns galore. A ride with Palm Springs Celebrity Tours points out the star homes. Several small resorts border this neighborhood on North Indian Canyon Drive, including the elegant Colony Palms Hotel and the ‘50s-style Movie Colony Hotel.

Las Palmas

This is Palm Springs’ most upscale residential enclave. From the 1950s into the ‘80s, if you were famous and moved to Palm Springs, you lived in Las Palmas. Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, Sammy Davis Jr., Dinah Shore, Lena Horn, Elvis Presley—everyone had a home here. While Las Palmas isn’t as celebrity-driven now, it’s still filled with wealthy folks who want the city’s best address—and Palm Springs’ best architecture. A drive through this Palm Springs neighborhood reveals mid-century marvels including “The House of Tomorrow,” built by modernist developers George and Robert Alexander; the state-of-the-art Edris House built in 1954 by E. Stewart Williams, and the Kaufmann House by Richard Neutra, which looks so futuristic it’s hard to believe it was built in 1946. Depending on your taste, both the Palm Springs Celebrity Tours and PS Modern Tours (architectural) cruise Las Palmas.

Uptown

The Uptown Design District is a relatively new phenomenon, sparked by an influx of ritzy antique, consignment and resale shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants into the once-depressed area, running along North Palm Canyon Drive between Alejo Road and Vista Chino Drive. Dress designer Trina Turk is often credited with having brought the area back to life when she opened her flagship store here in 2002. The mid-century modern craze has also bolstered Uptown, creating new appreciation for its pedigreed commercial buildings; many, such as Turk’s, created by modernism’s greatest architects.

ADVERTISEMENT