As Palm Springs celebrates its 75th birthday this year, Andy Welch visits Hollywood’s desert playground on a road trip to San Diego and Los Angeles
IF YOU’VE ever taken an interest in the lives of the great and good of 1950s Hollywood stars, you’ll know Palm Springs was one of their favourite retreats.
Even from a distance, it’s very easy to see why the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack (George Hamilton, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Benny, Kirk Douglas and Cary Grant) enjoyed relaxing there, whether on long weekends between filming – Los Angeles is just over 100 miles away – or during breaks between shows in Las Vegas, under four hours away by car.
Get a little closer, and the appeal of this oasis in the desert – or Hollywood’s playground as it’s often referred to – is everywhere you look.
The city as we now know it was officially founded in 1938, meaning Palm Springs is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
And there’s never been a better time to visit.
There are plenty of flights into Palm Springs, although chances are you’ll be driving there from either LA to the north or San Diego to the south. It’s certainly the best way to experience the landscape which, putting it mildly, is absolutely jaw-dropping.
If you’re driving north east from San Diego, make sure you take Highway 74 rather than sticking to the monotonous, concrete Interstate. It will take a little longer, but the snake-like pass makes for a much more fun drive.
More importantly, you’ll pass through the Santa Rosa mountains. Stop off at Vista Point and take in the sprawling cities on the valley floor below, and in the distance, the San Jacinto and San Gorgonio mountains.
From here you can also get a taste of just how green Palm Springs looks. For example, there are 38 golf courses, grass-banked streets, parks, and, as you might expect from the name, palm trees everywhere.
We stayed at the Riviera Palm Springs, which regularly welcomes what the Americans call bachelor and bachelorette parties through its doors, but don’t be put off by that. These are wealthy groups of friends wanting a serious tan ahead of their big day.
The hotel itself doesn’t so much nod to its glamorous legacy – Frank Sinatra used to rehearse in the gorgeous ballroom before Vegas residencies – but bask in it.