Discover the star-studded past residing in Palm Springs' midcentury modern estates, resorts and restaurants
The luxurious desert town of Palm Springs, California, gained fame in the 1920s when Hollywood movie stars made it their weekend retreat of choice. Who could blame them? Within a 2-hour drive east of the Hollywood studios in Los Angeles, the Coachella Valley beckoned with reliably warm weather and cinematic desert expanses framed by the twilight-purple San Jacinto Mountains. Celebrities could escape the show business spotlight and sip cocktails by the pool, yet still be near the big city should filming duty call.
Take a road trip to discover the star-studded past residing in its midcentury modern estates, hotels and restaurants. Plus you'll find the area is much more than a playground for the rich and famous.
Get Started in Hollywood
Start out in Hollywood, the town that created a trunk load of road-trip movies. Some 12 kilometers northwest of downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood dazzles movie buffs with essential attractions like the TCL Chinese Theatre, Universal Studios Hollywood and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Budget at least two days for sightseeing.
The famous Hollywood sign overlooks Los Angeles, home of the movie industry and big-screen stars
Make Your Way to Palm Springs
With the mountaintop H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign in your rearview mirror, drive U.S. Highway 101 south to Interstate Highway 10, then go east for about 180 kilometers to Palm Springs. Along the route, try your luck at the Morongo Casino, then spend any winnings on designer goods at the nearby Desert Hills Premium Outlets mall or on a date shake at Hadley Fruit Orchards.
Don't want to drive? Fly from Los Angeles International Airport to Palm Springs International Airport. Greyhound buses also depart daily from downtown Los Angeles to Thousand Palms, which is adjacent to Palm Springs.
What to See and Do in Palm Springs
Against the backdrop of the rugged San Jacinto Mountains, palms sway and rustle in the warm desert breeze. Couples, families, retirees and hip young people stroll laid-back Palm Canyon Drive, the city's main street, and duck into restaurants, nightlife spots, shops and art galleries of every stripe.
Jump into the city's star-studded history with both feet along the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, a smaller sun-baked version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Primarily lining Palm Canyon Drive, more than 370 stars are embedded in the sidewalk to honor show business royalty with ties to Palm Springs like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, as well as other significant historical figures.
If art appreciation is among your passions, downtown delights with the sublime Palm Springs Art Museum — its bright, airy galleries showcase everything from Native American basketry to contemporary photography and painting. Families should venture beyond downtown to eye the impressive collection of still-flyable planes from World War II, Korea and Vietnam at the Palm Springs Air Museum.
The Spectacular Architecture of Palm Springs
Palm Springs boasts the largest concentration of midcentury modern architecture. The streamlined, angular homes were built with an abundance of glass to harmonize with the desert landscape in a style known as desert modernism. Celebrities snapped up many of these properties between the 1940s and ’70s. Palm Springs' architectural legacy and glamorous past go hand in hand.
The easiest way to immerse yourself in the city's star-studded history is a guided van tour past the former spreads of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Liberace, Bob Hope and many more. Modern movie fans will enjoy seeing Dinah Shore's one-time home, which is currently owned by Leonardo DiCaprio and is available for vacation rentals starting at $4,500 a night.
Palm Springs Celebrity Tours offers an entertaining 2.5-hour overview, while architecture aficionados should opt for Palm Springs Modern Architecture Tours. Be aware you won't be able to tour the home interiors unless you visit during February’s popular Modernism Week, when several owners open their properties to the public.
Midcentury modern architecture throughout the Palm Springs area has drawn Hollywood stars for years
The Palm Springs Resort Scene
The celebrity jet set largely abandoned Palm Springs and its neighboring communities in the Coachella Valley after the 1980s, but in recent years a new generation of Hollywood stars has rediscovered the city and its spectacular resorts. Several landmark hotels have undergone major makeovers, attracting trendy young crowds to chic spots like the old Hollywood-style Riviera Palm Springs and the intimate L'Horizon Resort and Spa. Room rates are lowest June through August, when temperatures average above 40 degrees Celsius.
Go Outside in Palm Springs
When Cary Grant escaped the concrete jungle for the Coachella Valley's wide-open spaces, he'd often go horseback riding. Saddle up like a Western movie cowboy at Smoke Tree Stables, which offers trail rides among the desert palms. Just outside town, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway whisks you up San Jacinto Peak to see the valley.
Joshua Tree National Park has been a favorite backdrop of filmmakers, thanks to its wonderland of desert rocks and dense stands of the park's namesake yucca tree. Drive less than an hour northeast of Palm Springs via State Route 62, then follow the scenic drive leading to a dozen nature trails and short walks to spooky granite formations like Skull Rock.
Joshua Tree National Park has been the backdrop for movies, album shoots and countless spectacular sunsets