My daily routine in Palm Springs, the queer and sunny desert oasis just two hours from Los Angeles, always goes something like this: I rise and shine at one of the city’s gay resorts early enough to watch the first rays of sunlight stream across the pool where I’m sitting not far away with coffee in hand.
Mornings usually involve an activity like a bike ride around town or a hike through Joshua Tree. Afternoons, meanwhile, are spent poolside swimming and sunbathing with a good book (and cocktail) nearby. A late afternoon nap leads to dinner and drinks on the town and a late night skinny dip in the hotel hot tub. I follow this pattern almost daily.
Despite the symmetry in this routine, what I also love about Palm Springs is that no two days ever look exactly alike. In a city that celebrates everything vintage, from the modular and low-slung Alexander homes scattered across the region to the Eames chairs, Platner dining tables and Slim Aarons prints that furnish them, the city is paradoxically obsessed with newness. I credit this newfound energy to the arrival 20 years ago of the playful Parker Palm Springs hotel and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, both of which upped the city’s cool factor and cemented the town’s status as a must-visit, mid-century oasis.
So fast is the city changing in fact, that when I visited a couple of months ago to check out all the new sleek hotels, Michelin star eateries (the city now has eight of them), and cool cocktail bars around town, I found myself returning two weeks later just to fully soak it all in. In addition to what I checked out, more is coming in 2023, including the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza for events and activities, which also features both a museum and day spa, a surfer-focused water park called The Palm Springs Surf Club, and a Soho House (it was only a matter of time).
“We are so proud of our city and its continued growth and recognition of our partners by prestigious organizations such as Michelin,” says Kimber Foster, director of tourism at Visit Greater Palm Springs (VisitPalmSprings.com). “Our partners are constantly striving to raise the bar for the community and with that, we are able to garner the attention of business leaders who see and value the amazingly talented individuals that are strengthening Palm Springs. We are very excited about the upcoming additions to the city’s already amazing portfolio of hotels, attractions, and retail offerings.”
When I visited a couple of months ago to check out all the new sleek hotels, Michelin star eateries (the city now has eight of them), and cool cocktail bars around town, I found myself returning two weeks later just to fully soak it all in.
The first men-only, clothing-optional resort to open in a decade, Descanso Resort (288 E Camino Monte Vista, Tel: 760-320-1928. Descansoresort.com) has given the city’s LGBTQ hotel scene a much-needed jolt. Sibling to upscale Santiago Resort (a Palm Springs favorite), Descanso offers 18 rooms, each with a king bed, and features native plants and lush greenery making it feel like a true hideaway and a smart choice for couples (and the singles who pursue them). Staffers are attentive without being obsequious, and are so adored by the hotel’s loyal guests they are frequently mentioned by name as among the best in town. Top amenities include complimentary breakfast and lunch, a 24/7 snack and beverage bar, outdoor shower, outdoor misting systems, and bottomless “wine o’clock” weekend happy hour.
The same team behind Descanso and Santiago surprised guests yet again with the Pride Weekend 2022 opening of Twin Palms Resort (1930 S Camino Real, Tel: 760-841-1455. TwinPalmsResort.com) which I have now stayed at twice. Twin Palms resides in a neighborhood of the same name that is ringed with the city’s famous Alexander Homes and leans heavily into midcentury with a zesty color palette (think bursts of lemon, mandarin, and teal throughout), a large, swimsuit optional saltwater pool offering stellar views of the San Jacinto Mountains, and one of the biggest hot tubs around town; always a gay resort plus. Staff is outstanding and amenities include free breakfast and lunch, outdoor shower, and communal fire pit. I loved grabbing a complimentary city bike and taking a morning ride around town.
Thanks to an upright row of birds of paradise lining the pathway outside the hotel lobby, it’s hard not to feel like a dignitary at a state dinner upon first visiting Azure Sky (1661 S Calle Palo Fierro, Tel: 760-469-4498. AzureSkyHotel.com). This adults-only and LGBTQ-friendly hotel is a serene and stylish knockout. Boasting a spacious lawn, a large, rectangular fire pit where new friendships are forged, and a pool that’s downright palatial for a hotel of its size, Azure’s real star is its forward design. Modernist, but without mid-century’s overzealous pop, the hotel’s soothing aesthetic includes a muted color palette, a simple typeface, and features in its 14 guestrooms like custom-made headboards and beds, wishbone chairs, and suites with back patios and hammocks. The lobby is a stunner and yes, there’s a bar.
According to one staffer at Trixie Motel (210 W Stevens Rd, Tel: 760-808-0014. TrixieMotel.com), drag star Trixie Mattel’s exuberant new lodging on the north side of town, the crowd here is 50% queers and 50% straight girls, both with one thing in common: they love RuPaul’s Drag Race. Bathed in a bubble gum palette from head to toe, think of this gender queer love shack as a pink punk palace for drag fanatics boasting seven themed guestrooms each decorated by LA interior designer Dani Dazey. Handme-down knick-knacks and vintage treasures adorn the lobby and common areas, a swimming pool boasts stellar mountain views, and an open bar named Barbara has cocktails like the Oh, Honey. Trixie Motel is the exception to the vacation rule that you should put your phone away. I had mine out the entire time!
Uptown newcomer Fleur Noire Hotel (1555 N Indian Canyon Dr, Tel: 760-459-3865. FleurNoireHotel.com) offers a rosé and pedal-infused adults only playground aimed at Millennial and Gen Z travelers, and we’re not complaining about it one bit. Floral wall murals adorn the exteriors of the bungalow-style rooms which are simple yet cheerful and feature throwback furnishings like rattan poufs, queen beds with cane headboards, and ornate light fixtures. The spacious grounds offer a pool surrounded by pastel lounge chairs and fringed, floral umbrellas, a lobby-clubhouse stocked with snacks, and outdoor areas for socializing. Its signature feature is La Boisson, an Instagrammable speakeasy bar hidden behind a set of pink doors offering dozens of varieties of rosé which can be ordered via text and delivered poolside.
When it comes to food, the culinary scene in Palm Springs is a true palate pleaser. Bar Cecil (1555 S Palm Canyon Dr. Tel: 442-332-3800. BarCecil.com) is one the most fun and satisfying meal you can have in Palm Springs right now (if you can snag a reservation). This most hyped hangout in town is tucked away in a hacienda-style strip mall and boasts a zesty and colorful dining room crammed cheek by jowl with books, framed pictures, and original works of art from Andy Warhol and Damian Hirst. An homage to bisexual photographer, diarist, and designer Cecil Beaton, Bar Cecil is worthy of its stellar reputation. Staffers are warm, attentive, and knowledgeable, the design impeccable, and the genre-spanning menu (I loved the French caramelized onion tart, and the simple but perfectly executed cacio e pepe) is a knockout.
Imagine a brasserie-style eatery completely transformed and re-imagined for the desert and you start to get an idea of what to expect at Boozehounds (2080 N Palm Canyon Dr, Tel: 60-656-0067. BoozehoundsPS.com), a sprawling, LGBTQ-owned hangout on the north side of town draped in creamy earth tones. Dinner here might include a shared charcuterie board, a baked lobster with pickled ginger aioli and eel sauce, or a slurp-worthy bowl of pozole ramen noodles. And if you think Boozehounds is something to bark about that’s because its outdoor patio and atrium is dog friendly (hence the name). Canines are well-catered to and even get their own doggie menu featuring a gazpacho soup, teriyaki salmon bowl, loaded sweet potato, and doggie TV dinner. The human patrons at buzzy Boozehounds are as woof worthy as their pooches.
If you haven’t been to FARM, get there ASAP. This garden-like Provencal-style restaurant brings a little bit of France to the desert in the form of beloved breakfasts and nightly prix fixe dinners and both tourists and locals are wild for it. Alternatively, be the among the first to snag a table at the beloved eatery’s newer café-style concept Front Porch at FARM (117 La Plaza, Tel: 760-322-2724. FrontPorchPalmSprings.com). Offering a dash of indoor-outdoor charm right on The Plaza, the Front Porch nips at the heels of its celebrated sibling with a simple menu of charcuteries and crepes made boozier with a full bar. It’s a little bit like stumbling down some little cobbled laneway in Marseille, but with the San Jacinto Mountains as a backdrop.
Conveniently located just a quick sashay away from both Trixie Motel and Descanso Resort, the LGBTQ-owned 1501 Uptown Gastropub (1501 N Palm Canyon Dr. Tel: 760-320-1501. 1501Uptown.com) pushes all the right buttons. It’s got a fab location right in the heart of the Uptown Design District, floor-to-ceiling windows offering stellar mountain views, and is helmed by two stalwarts of the Palm Springs dining scene: Chad Gardner (Roly China Fusion, 533 Viet Fusion) and Willie Rhine (Eight4Nine). The menu offers approachable bistro fare like a pressed Kobe short rib and cheddar sando, a sour cherry balsamic braised pork shoulder, and vegan/veggie fare like the jackfruit “crab cake” and a vegan shepherd’s pie. Big surprise: 1501 Uptown is already a smash hit with both visitors and locals.
It says something about a restaurant when the guy you’re flirting with on Scruff offers his enthusiastic endorsement via the app. The Colony Club (572 N Indian Canyon Dr. Tel: 760-969-1818. ColonyPalmsHotel.com), the restaurant at the recently renovated Colony Palms Hotel, has a great location. It’s tucked away in a snug building with Moroccan trimmings and so close to the hotel pool you can see the steam rising off the water in winter. The dining room is adorned in glossy marble, cane dining chairs, and ultra-plush banquettes (and is often filled with cute, gay patrons). Under the stewardship of new chef Michael Hung the food soars. Be on the lookout for starters like truffled cornbread, elegant entrees like a New Zealand sea bass, or sausage-wrapped pork tenderloin, and a Basque cheesecake for dessert.
Secret supper club PS Underground (1700 S Camino Real, Ste #2. Tel: 760-636-8442. PSUnderground.com) is both old and new at the same time. True, it’s been entertaining locals and tourist insiders for a decade now, but thanks to ever-changing themes and concepts, every visit at their dedicated space in the Twin Palms neighborhood yields a brand new experience. Bacon Brunch for example, offers bottomless mimosas and Bloody Mary’s coupled with heaps of bacon served between four courses and live performances. But other outlandish themed events might include Sitcom, a meal inspired by classic TV, or Big Top (wink, wink) a night of carnival-inspired acrobatics and eats. Guests are encouraged to dress according to theme, so in the case of Bacon Brunch my fellow patrons were dressed like pork fat. I loved being seated at a table full of strangers and walking away with a whole group of flirty new friends.
As excited as I was to see new openings across the hotel and restaurant spectrum, I was also thrilled to discover a new nightlife option taking off. If like me you’re too young to remember the golden age of airline travel, we missed out on wide seats, sumptuous in-flight meals, and passengers nattily dressed for the occasion. That experience has been reborn at queer-owned PS Airbar (611 S Palm Canyon Dr, Ste #22. Tel: 760-327-7701. PSAirbar.com), a speakeasy in the back of gourmet market Bouschet. Make a reservation for this in-flight experience which includes dinner, cocktails, and live entertainment. This is the only flight I’ve taken in recent memory where I was delighted to meet my fellow passengers (and would’ve gladly joined the Mile High Club with a few of them). Likewise, I wouldn’t mind being TSA pre-checked by some of the handsome staffers. Best feature of all, zero turbulence, and zero screaming children.
You’ll probably learn more about modernism by watching Mad Men then you will at Tracy Turco’s Modernism Museum (380 N Palm Canyon Dr. TracyTurco.com), but if you’re looking to beat the heat for an hour or two, this one sure is fun. Neatly divided into about a dozen different rooms saturated in bright colors and each one themed to resemble different rooms in a ‘50sera home, the museum offers a midcentury playground for history buffs, Instagrammers, and influencers (so bring your camera). Along the way you’ll pickup tidbits of fascinating information, see some interesting set pieces, and read a whole lot about socialite Turco who lives in Palm Springs and owns several boutique hotels around town. Fun fact: A local drag queen already rented the space out for her RPDR audition tape.
As if the most rainbow-friendly city in California doesn’t already have enough colors, it now has ten additional ones. The creed at Superbloom (1414 N Palm Canyon Dr, Tel: 925-413-7807. Superbloom.world), an art gallery and private event space, is built upon 10 colors each with its own identity. Think lavender representing self-loving (health and wellness), pink standing for equality (social justice and activism) and so forth. The entire appointment-only showroom on North Palm Canyon Drive is covered in Jackson Pollock-style paint drippings and offers jaunty hats, flowy robes, and other works of art for sale. Owners and designers Alexis and Chris Ramirez also offer yoga flow, sound baths, and a paint splatter program where customers can pay to upcycle their old home goods into works of art.
Of course, even without so many new offerings, I’d still return to Palm Springs again and again, but with so many bars, hotels, and restaurants to check out right now, and even more on the horizon, it looks like I’ll be spending more time here than ever before.