By Bill Malcolm*
There’s always something new to do in Palm Springs, California and this trip was no exception. The Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza is the new museum downtown and showcases the fascinating history and culture of the tribes in this area.
Palm Springs is a premier LGBTQ+ vacation destination and just received a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The city is part of eight cities in the Coachella Valley.
Image Credit: Creative Commons
WHAT TO DO
Visit the new Agua Caliente Cultural Museum downtown to learn about the history and culture of the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Native Americans. Learn about the Séc-he, the mineral springs that the museum sits on top of and more. A 12-minute animated film describes how the Agua Caliente settled in the Coachella Valley. It celebrates their heritage with a gathering place and oasis trail along a stream with native plants. Their new spa at Séc-he is also a hit and you can get a private bath and luxury treatment in the hot mineral spring. All are part of the Agua Caliente Hotel and Resort and Casino complex.
A few more activities in the area include:
- Visit the Indian Canyons for a hike in an oasis with native palm trees.
- Walk with the Front Runners and Walkers. They meet near the Mizell Center for a three-mile walk Monday-Saturday at 8:00 a.m. It’s a fantastic way to meet folks. They meet in the parking lot at 480 S. Sunrise Way, Palm Springs.
- Enjoy the LGBTQ+ stars on the Walk of the Stars Palm Springs. Truman Capote, Rock Hudson, and other celebrities used Palm Springs as a retreat from Hollywood. Palm Springs has been an LGBTQ+ destination since the 1920s.
- Take in VillageFest on Thursday nights where you can visit the Palm Springs Art Museum for free. The Art Museum has food and music on its outdoor patio. The VillageFest has food vendors and lots of shopping opportunities, including art.
- Swim at the Palm Springs Swim Center. The Olympic-sized pool has a stunning view of the mountains. You will find them on S. Pavilion Way.
- Work out at the Steel Gym (formerly the World Gym). It’s extremely popular.
- Hike on the Lykken Trail just west of downtown off Ramon Road. Enjoy the barrel cacti and other desert plants and the Palm Springs view.
Image Credit: Joshua Tree National Park
WHERE TO STAY
The Descanso Resort is just north of downtown in the Uptown/Arts and Design District. The resort features free bikes, a pool and spa, continental breakfast, and a complimentary poolside lunch. Happy hour runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Staff is very attentive. Guests enjoy a salt water pool and spa, a mist-cooling system, and outdoor shower. Every spot in Descanso’s courtyard boasts views of Coachella Valley’s San Jacinto mountains, which rise straight up to 11,000 feet from the Valley floor. Other amenities include a 24-hour snack cantina. This was my second stay there and I loved it.
Another alternative is the new Twin Palms Resort. They have rooms facing a pool and hot tub, plus free use of bikes (and helmets). Enjoy the made-to-order continental breakfast and lunch delivered at 12:30 p.m. Under the gaze of the San Jacinto mountains, 20 guest rooms and suites open to a swimming pool, spa, and patio space. Take a bike over to the Smoke Tree Plaza to dine out at one of the restaurants like Native Foods or pick up some to-go foods at Ralph’s or Jensen’s food stores. Continue on the many bike trails and bike lanes to explore the nearby Twin Palms neighborhood (the original Modernist-style homes are found here), including a ride up to Indian Canyon.
Traditional hotels include the Ace Hotel, a hipster hangout which is also in the Twin Palms neighborhood. The new Kimpton Rowan Hotel is also an upscale choice downtown. The Best Western La Brisas is also very handy. I have stayed at the Saguaro Hotel, this year’s host of the White Party. Always check for resort fees when comparing hotel room prices.
Most of the bars are on Arenas Road downtown, a one block strip between Indian Canyon and Encilia. Hunters (302 E. Arenas) has a fun happy hour and outdoor patio with great drink specials. It’s my favorite (and has the same owners as the one in Wilton Manors, Florida). Streetbar (224 E. Arenas) always has something going on. Go shopping at GayMart (305 E. Arenas). Other fun bars on Arenas Road include Blackbook, Chill Bar, and Dick’s. All feature outdoor seating. Close by is the new hot dance bar, Reforma (check out their website for more information). They have large video screens as well.
Down the road in the Sunny Dunes area, you will find The Tool Shed (600 E. Sunny Dunes) has a fun leather crowd and food available (e.g. tacos). They have a huge outdoor patio in the back and dancers inside. Nearby is Club 541 which I hear is fun. You can also shop at Q Trading or Gear and have breakfast at a local favorite in this strip.
Over in Cat City (aka Cathedral City, another LGBTQ+ friendly city in the Coachella Valley) are several fun bars. The Barracks is known for its Sunday beer busts and Wednesday underwear night. The One11 is good for talking and they also have drag and bingo crowds.
WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT
The Coachella Valley is known for its dates, olives, oranges, and grapefruit. Try a date shake. The Nature’s Health Food and Café features fresh juices and healthy options. Try the fresh-squeezed carrot juice and order the quesadillas. You will find them at 555 S. Sunrise.Trio is an excellent choice at 707 N. Palm Canyon. The nearby 849 is particularly good. Both are in Uptown (north of downtown), which features trendy shops like Shag.
UBER and LYFT can get you around. However, both feature annoying surprise junk fee surcharges for this and that. LYFT went to surge pricing twice, so I took UBER instead. So shop around.
You can walk outside the airport and catch your UBER across the street (at City Hall) to avoid the airport surcharge. Or better yet take the #4 Sunline bus for US$1 just west of City Hall (across the street from the airport). The #4 takes you right downtown (which is just two miles west of the airport).
You do not need a rental car. My friend waited 90 minutes at the counter to get one. If you absolutely must have one, get it for a few days at an off-airport location to avoid the fees and the crowds.
And if you stay downtown or close to it as I did, you can walk or bike everywhere in the perfect weather of this desert oasis. But beware—you are in Southern California and the car is king. While Palm Springs has put in many new bike lanes and trails, they still have work to do despite having a perfect biking environment (flat with great weather).
Image Credit: Visit Palm Springs
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Upcoming events include:
15-24 January: International Film Festival
15-25 February: Modernism Week—Celebrates the midcentury architecture of the region. (Midcentury means homes from the ‘50s and ’60s. Catch the butterfly style.)
29-31 March: White Party (the annual circuit party)
FOR MORE INFORMATION
GED Magazine is your source for up-to-date information and happenings in Palm Springs. The Coachella Valley Independent is free monthly. KGAY 106.5 is your radio station. The KGAY Gay Desert Guide has all you need to know about visiting the Coachella Valley. Visit them at GayDesertGuide.LGBTQ.
Rage Magazine out of San Diego is also distributed here and covers the Palm Springs Gay Scene.
I visit Palm Springs once or twice a year. It makes for a perfect winter getaway for the LGBTQ+ traveler. There is always something new to check out or revisit, and their cute little airport makes it so handy.
Image Credit: Joshua Tree National Park
*Bill Malcolm writes a syndicated LGBTQ+ travel column and is based in Indianapolis. He is a frequent visitor to the desert oasis of the Coachella Valley. He is a former resident of San Francisco. Featured Image Credit: Unsplash