An oasis in the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs is the perfect destination for lovers of architecture from the Mid-Century Modern and Desert Modern periods (1930s-1970s). Design enthusiasts flock here year-round to cozy up in retro motels or sip martinis at throwback eateries. The Southern California desert community of 45,000 hosts the world's largest collection of Mid-Century Modern architecture, from residential properties to commercial buildings. Fresh off its 75th anniversary last year, Palm Springs is poised to impress design fans from around the globe. Consider this your guide.
What to See
Palm Springs Modern Tours
Jump into a van driven by a Palm Springs Modern Tours guide for a three-hour tour ($85) to see exterior examples of Desert Modern and Mid-Century Modern architecture in neighborhoods like Vista Las Palmas (home to Elvis and Priscilla Presley's honeymoon pad) and South Palm Canyon. Coachella Valley Savings & Loan, designed by E. Stewart Williams, is another highlight. Arrive early at the tour's starting point (Palm Springs Visitors Center, 2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive) to shop for souvenirs inside the former 1960s gas station with a cantilevered canopy.
Palm Springs Art Museum
For a town the size of Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Art Museum is mammoth, consisting of 28 galleries spread across four stories, plus two sculpture gardens. Among the most acclaimed works in its 55,000-piece collection is Pablo Picasso's “Owl” sculpture, born out of painted fired clay. Free admission is granted on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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Uptown Design District
Snap up a 1950s cocktail dress at Déjà Vu Vintage Finery, one of many shops along North Palm Canyon Boulevard in the Uptown Design District. Score Midcentury Modern furnishings, from a curvy sofa designed by Milo Baughman to a 1950s teak daybed, in pristine condition at consignment dealer Christopher Anthony Ltd. Twenty-some shops serve coffee, cocktails, and pastries during the Uptown Brunch and Art Walk Series, the third Sunday of each month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where to Eat and Drink
Workshop Kitchen + Bar
Snug in the Uptown Design District, Workshop Kitchen + Bar features a industrial interior marked by concrete booths, Heath Ceramics serving-ware, and 27-foot ceilings. Popular farm-to-table dishes to share include duck-fat fries and octopus carpaccio prepared sous-vide. Chill down with the signature “Palm Springer” cocktail (vodka, grenadine, bitters, and pineapple juice).
Purple Room Supper Club
For a peek into 1950s and 1960s supper-club culture, drop into Purple Room Supper Club, owned by Midwest natives Tony Marchese and Mark Van Laanen since 2009, although the swanky spot dates back to the early 1960s. Live music several nights a week pairs with comfort foods like deviled eggs, New Zealand rack of lamb, and crab cakes.
Where to Stay
Del Marcos Hotel
The Del Marcos Hotel, virtually untouched since architect William F. Cody designed it in 1947, is decked out with poolside orange–cushioned chaises, boomerang tables, working turntables, and bamboo shelves. A block off North Palm Canyon Drive, the hotels houses 17 rooms, some featuring patios, balconies, and kitchen suites. Enjoy complimentary breakfast (coffee, yogurt, orange juice, and pastries) poolside.
Open since last fall, the 20-room Sparrows Lodge in South Palm Springs off East Palm Canyon Drive is a ranch-style property. Cocktails and breakfast are served in a retrofitted barn, with chaises surrounding the pool and Adirondack chairs encircling fire pits. Soaking tubs in the hardwood-walled rooms are crafted from horse troughs. Be sure to take a morning or evening stroll around the neighborhood, as it's packed with architectural eye candy.
Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee where she reports on food, wine, and travel topics around the globe for Fodors.com, along with new-hotel openings. She also writes for Wine Enthusiast, TIME, Whole Living and American Way. In 2006 she co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Coffee and Tea (Alpha Books/Penguin). You can follow her on Twitter @kristineahansen or through her web site.