What You Should Know About Palm Springs
What gay travelers need to know before visiting Palm Springs, CA.
When most people think of a warm winter getaway, they think about Florida or the Caribbean as prime destinations to soak up sun. California can be iffy for those who want hot weather, but bargains abound if you’re willing to don a jacket for a quick escape.
Palm Springs, CA, is not only a popular gay travel destination, but the resort town is also close to Mount San Jacinto State Park and just a 1-hour drive from Joshua Tree National Park, making it a prime spot for a weekend getaway.
INNdulge is a nice clothing-optional resort for gay travelers who like to go au naturel. This resort has 24 rooms, each with a king bed and a pool view. Other notable amenities include a gym, a spacious courtyard, a heated pool, continental breakfast and a happy hour to mix and mingle with other guests. The biggest perk here is enjoying the mountain views during the day or the stars at night while relaxing in the 12-man jacuzzi. Other popular men-only resorts include All Worlds Resorts, La Dolce Vita Resort & Spa and CCBC Resort Hotel.
Clothing-optional resorts are quite popular in Palm Springs, but if that’s not suitable for you, keep your clothes on at boutique hotels such as The Saguaro, Ace Hotel or East Canyon Hotel and Spa.
Quick Tips: Several hotels and resorts in Palm Springs offer offseason rates — some as low as $100 per night. Rates during the holidays can be pricey, so avoid making reservations around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Mount San Jacinto State Park
Explore outside the city limits. And if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, I recommend spending about $20 (per adult) to hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, just a 10- to 15-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs. The tramway — the largest of its kind in the world — offers amazing views of Mount San Jacinto, the highest peak in Palm Springs. There are several activities to keep a family occupied once the tram reaches the top of the mountain. I recommend hiking the Desert View Trail if you want an awe-inspiring panorama of Palm Springs. It’s also a great spot to take the kids sledding if there’s a reasonable amount of snow on top of Mount San Jacinto.
Quick Tips: Dress warmly and go early; otherwise, expect to wait an hour or more for the tram. Grab a bite to eat or warm up with a cocktail or cocoa at the Pines Café, located on the third floor of the Mountain Station. Food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are also served at the Valley Station’s Cascade Café.
Sherman's Deli & Bakery
There’s no shortage of good restaurant options in downtown Palm Springs. Grab lunch at a local and tourist favorite, Sherman's Deli & Bakery. It’s not uncommon to see a crowd of people waiting for tables or picking up to-go orders. Open since 1963, this New York deli-style family restaurant serves something for everyone, including fresh-baked cinnamon bread French toast, locals’ favorite BBQ baby back ribs and hot corned beef stacked high with meat, lettuce and tomato. Diet platters are also available for patrons who are watching those extra calories.
Sherman’s award-winning chefs, Gordon Poster and Wayne Brooks, have served up delicious food for presidents, movie stars and other notable dignitaries, including former President Gerald Ford, former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, Clint Eastwood, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.
Quick Tips: Plan ahead, be patient, and expect to wait for a table or your takeout order. The food is well worth it. Save room for dessert. You cannot leave Sherman’s without sampling at least one of more than 30 different 3-layer cakes, pies and pastries.
Joshua Tree National Park
Rent a car and spend the day in Joshua Tree National Park. The $15 entrance fee is a mere pittance when you consider the abundance of natural beauty you’ll be able to explore. Don’t leave the park without going to Keys View to see — at a distance — Mount San Jacinto, the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs and, yep, even the famous San Andreas Fault. And if the weather is clear, you may be able to get a glimpse of Mexico.
In addition to Keys View, don’t miss out on visiting Barker Dam, Skull Rock and Hidden Valley and watching experienced climbers scale the side of Intersection Rock. Pitch a tent in any of nine different campgrounds in the park, if you’re feeling really adventurous.
Quick Tips: Bathrooms are located throughout the park. As for food and water, that’s a different story. Pack plenty before entering. A small café next to the Joshua Tree Visitors Center, located on Park Boulevard, sells a reasonably priced brown-bag lunch if you forget to plan ahead.
Downtown Palm Springs
Take a stroll around Palm Spring’s pedestrian-friendly downtown area for shopping, sightseeing and more. There’s definitely no shortage of fashion boutiques, art galleries and antique shops here. While you’re shopping, you may find it hard to miss the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, located on the sidewalks along Palm Canyon Drive, Tahquitz Canyon Way and Museum Drive.
The first star was awarded on Feb. 26, 1992, and since then, dozens of “stars” — authors, actors, humanitarians, sports legends and military heroes — have been given this prestigious honor. Notable recipients have included President Ronald Reagan, James Earl Jones, Harpo Marx, Elvis Presley, Lena Horne, Kathy Griffin and, yes, even reality TV star Lisa Vanderpump.
Quick Tips: Go bike riding on well-marked paths through the city’s historic neighborhoods. And don’t miss the Palm Springs VillageFest every Thursday night for local crafts, arts and entertainment. On Saturdays, the seasonal farmers market at the Palm Springs Cultural Center is also a popular shopping spot for locals and tourists.
Lulu California Bistro
Don’t leave Palm Springs without eating a meal at Lulu California Bistro. This award-winning restaurant is pure heaven for foodies. Lulu offers a wide array of options for even the most finicky eater. The 4-cheese baked ziti, veggie pizzas and fresh salmon with Champagne Dijon beurre blanc are just a few of the vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Some of my favorites include the turkey burger with a mixed field greens salad for lunch; the 10-ounce filet mignon with mashed redskin potatoes and fresh veggies; and the sauteed fresh tilapia with tropical mango sauce, rice pilaf and veggies.
Quick Tips: Looking for a good deal? Try the 3-course Sunday brunch or 3-course feast, which includes an appetizer, entree and dessert for $19.99. And don’t miss out on what Lulu calls “the desert’s best happy hour” from 11 a.m. to closing. The happy hour menu is reasonably priced with apps, desserts, cocktails, wine and beer ranging from $3 to $15.
Palm Springs is a popular destination for older gay travelers. And it becomes more evident when venturing out to grab a drink or cruise the gay bars, which, in most cases, cater to men. That being said… most of the bars near Arenas Road have a genuinely warm and welcoming crowd. If you enjoy crooning Broadway show tunes, then Thursday nights at SpurLine is right up your alley. Across the road, Streetbar is usually a hangout for “mature” gay men.
Some bars do have a diverse mix of people, including the intergenerational crowd of gay men at Toucans Tiki Lounge. A favorite for locals and visitors alike is Hunters Palm Springs. This fun, 16-year-old venue has 2 bars, dartboards, pool tables, an adjoining dance floor and an outdoor patio. Hunters Palm Springs attracts both gay and straight patrons. Add it to your list of things to do if you enjoy dancing into the wee hours of the morning.
Quick Tips: Mix and mingle with the locals and out-of-towners at Wang's in the Desert every Friday for happy hour. Located near the corner of South Indian Canyon Drive and Saturnino Road, Wang’s draws a large, fun crowd for its weekly happy hour. Its family-style dinner service is perfect, especially if you’re attending with a group or just want to share with your new friends.