Writer: Kelly Roberson
Palm Springs isn’t the only destination with a temperate climate, a splendid landscape, an absorbing history and beautiful people. But the Southern California city seems to have all these elements in doses that are unfair to the rest of the state, if not the nation.
There’s alchemy at work in spades in this desert retreat. It’s close enough to Los Angeles to borrow its coveted celebrity cachet but not close enough to be burdened with traffic and smog. There’s an almost unmatched collection of drool-worthy midcentury modern homes, built by weekend escapees. And natural forces formed the stark but stunning desert landscape, home to such stellar attractions as Joshua Tree National Park.
Brad Snyder succumbed to Palm Springs’ allure 15 years ago. “I love Des Moines—I think it’s the most magical, fabulous city in the world,” says Snyder, who is the commercial marketing director for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. “But I am not a winter person, and I need to have someplace to escape.”
Now, he and his partner, Scott McDonald, owner of Des Moines Rental, slip away to their home in Palm Springs five to six times a year, sometimes over a long weekend and other times for several weeks. “It’s such a great place to recharge your batteries,” Snyder says. “Sometimes we don’t leave the pool, but if you want to do something, there’s plenty to do. People are so friendly, and there are a lot of Midwesterners—it’s like two degrees of separation from another Iowan.”
Snyder and McDonald let us in on some of their favorite ways to enjoy the desert city, a fun mix of eclectic must-stop spots.
For breakfast: “One place we will not miss is Farm,” Snyder says. “Most people don’t even know where it’s at, but it’s a little gem, although relatively pricey.” Find its farm-to-table fare in the heart of downtown, across from the Little Wedding Chapel.
To catch something new: The city’s newest hot spot, Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge, is located in the Uptown Design District a few blocks north of downtown. Serving contemporary American cuisine, the eatery is housed in an old post office building. “The interior is really cool, and the duck and smoked halibut are just amazing,” Snyder says. eight4nine.com
To eat with a view: For a panoramic view of the city and mountains, try Escena Golf Club. “Most people don’t know that the clubhouse is open to the public,” Snyder says. “Go and sit out on the patio.” escenagolf.com
For an old-school drink: Celebs started flocking to Palm Springs in the 1920s, and many, including Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, built swanky hideaway homes in the area. Get a little glam on at the Bootlegger Tiki. “It has the best, strongest vintage cocktails you’ll ever drink in your life,” Snyder says. bootleggertiki.com
To get outside: The first thing that Snyder and McDonald do when they go to Palm Springs is hop on their bicycles and hit the trails, with the San Jacinto Mountains as part of the backdrop. “Our house is by a golf course and a trail, and we can get pretty much all the way into Palm Springs,” Snyder says. “There’s something about the mountains that’s almost spiritual.”
There are numerous cycling (and hiking) options in and around the city, but Tahquitz Canyon (which is owned and managed by a Native American tribe) offers a relatively easy path that gives a good glimpse of the area’s centuries-old history. tahquitzcanyon.com
For a day trip: The austere yet beguiling landscape of Joshua Tree National Park is about 50 miles north of Palm Springs, and Snyder loves its one-mile Hidden Valley Trail. On the way to or back from the park, stop at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace “It’s out in the middle of nowhere, but a lot of really well-known bands come there to try their music out,” Snyder says. nps.gov/jotr/index.htm; pappyandharriets.com
For a white-knuckle drive: Named the Palm to Pines Highway, the 130-mile scenic route along Highway 74 connects Palm Springs with Idyllwild, Julian and Temecula. “It’s really winding and steep, but if you want to escape the desert and are daring, it looks like you’re in Switzerland,” Snyder says. idyllwild.com
To get to know the city: Palm Springs took off as a celebrity hangout in the ’40s and ’50s, and the last decade has seen the famous return in droves. Snyder recommends Celebrity Tours Palm Springs for a good introduction to the people and places of the area. Ask for Ann Hall, Snyder says: “She knows more about Palm Springs than I think anybody.” palmspringsalive.com
To see how the other half lives: Visit Sunnylands, the former estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. It was donated to the public and now hosts diplomatic visits as well as tours and events. Tickets for the house tour, which is held on the first and 15th of each month, sell out quickly, so plan ahead. “This is definitely an inside look into American royalty,” Snyder says. “If tickets aren’t available, it’s still worth going to see the Sunnylands Center and Gardens, and there is a first-come, first-serve 45-minute grounds tour.” sunnylands.org
For art: Snyder and McDonald always make a stop at the Palm Springs Art Museum, located downtown. “It’s similar to the Des Moines Art Center in size and quality, and they change exhibits frequently,” Snyder says. “We always check what’s playing in the theater there.” psmuseum.org
For shopping: Head to the Uptown Design District, just north of downtown, filled with patio bars and boutiques, including many shops carrying modern art and midcentury furniture and décor. palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict.com
Near the heart of downtown, Snyder and McDonald love Stewart Galleries. “It’s one of the best resale shops for fine art,” Snyder says. stewartgalleries.com
For real estate envy: Nothing beats a weekend stop or two at open houses. “There are so many midcentury houses,” Snyder says. “Some of them are frozen in time, and there are ones that have been totally redone.”