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Travel

Palm Springs offers sun, fun and then some

Vacationing is wonderfully unique at the breathtaking escape destination of Palm Springs. Weather is distinctly better year-round than at most locations – the sun seems warmer, the stars brighter and the sky bluer.

As the gateway city to the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs is often referred to as the “Playground of the Stars.” The down-valley towns of Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage and others may boast more prestigious golf courses and upscale shops, but Palm Springs, with its glamorous history, has much to offer.

Things to see and do

Palm Springs hosts many special events year-round, but its International Film Festival in January is our hands-down favorite. Founded 24 years ago under the leadership of then-Mayor Sonny Bono, the event has grown in status. Movie buffs will enjoy the eclectic film selections – often previews of Oscar contenders.

Have you ever wished you could attend the Golden Globes or Academy Awards? The general public has little, if any, chance of attending either event except outside along the red carpet. The Palm Springs film festival stages an annual gala that lures many megastars and directors to attend to receive special awards, and the public is invited. The ticket price might be a little steep, but it includes dinner and rubbing elbows with the film world’s glitterati. At this year’s gala, we enjoyed seeing such popular stars as George Clooney (hands-down the friendliest to everyone), Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, Gary Oldman, Charlize Theron, Glenn Close, Michelle Williams, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer and more.

Passes for next year’s festival, scheduled Jan. 3-14, are on sale now. For more information, visit www.psfilmfest.org.

A ride on the Aerial Tramway (www.pstramway.com), an engineering masterpiece, never ceases to amaze us. Featuring the world’s largest rotating tram cars, it transports passengers 2.5 miles to an elevation of 8,516 feet in 10 minutes through five unique life zones, from desert to alpine wilderness.

Leave your bathing suits behind and don warm coats, hiking boots or cross-country skis at the summit, where more than 50 miles of Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area trails await. Visitors can dine at Peaks Restaurant above the clouds.

Up for a challenge? After exiting the tram, if the snow is gone, hike the remaining 2,288 feet to the top of Mount San Jacinto (the second-tallest mountain in Southern California at 10,804 feet) on clearly marked trails. Serious climbers/hikers can hike from the desert floor to the top of the mountain and then return by tram. Check with the ranger station a few yards from the tram’s zenith for safety details and current trail information or call (760) 327-0222.

The local Aqua Caliente Cahuilla Tribe maintains the breathtaking Indian Canyons (www.indian-canyons.com), comprising the Tahquitz, Palm, Andreas and Murray canyons. The area offers miles of moderately graded trails that lead to fan palm groves, oases, waterfalls, stunning rocky gorges, babbling streams and first-class fauna, wildlife and bird-watching.

The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies (www.psfollies.com), a critically acclaimed revue, is celebrating 20 years in the historic Plaza Theatre. The performance features a cast of showbiz pros and well-known guest headliners 55 and older.

Palm Springs serves a diverse and art-sophisticated community with its outstanding mid-size museum, the Palm Springs Art Museum (www.psmuseum.org). The exhibitions showcase Western, Native, Modern and Contemporary art. Admission is $12.50 adults, $10.50 seniors, $5 for students and free for members, children 12 and under, and active-duty military personnel and their families.

For those interested in seeing where Elvis Presley, Liberace, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas and other stars and celebrities lived and partied, carve out time for the Celebrity Home Tour (www.thebestofthebesttours.com). The tour includes the history of the stars, personal anecdotes and information about the architecture of the homes.

Every Thursday evening for more than 20 years, a long strip of Palm Canyon Drive, the town’s main street, has been closed to host Palm Springs VillageFest (www.villagefest.org). One of California’s most popular events, the weekly street fair features exclusively handmade crafts and jewelry, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, snacks and sweets. VillageFest hosts a variety of entertainers along the drive.

The Palm Springs Air Museum (www.palmspringsairmuseum.org) houses one of the world’s largest collections of flyable World War II aircraft. The air-conditioned hangars have no ropes separating visitors from the exhibits. The museum boasts a crew of trained volunteers who provide details on each exhibit and share the experience of flying them.

Places to stay and dine

Palm Springs is loaded with hundreds of lodging choices in every price range, from full-service resorts to B&Bs, historical inns and 1960s motels. Check the websites, as most of them offer moderate pricing during the summer.

Our favorite hotel in town is the Renaissance Palm Springs (www.renaissancepalmspringshotel.com), where a recently completed multimillion dollar renovation has elevated its stature. The property is everything you’d expect from the upscale image of the Renaissance brand, with stunning decor, dramatic public areas and a classic pool. Our meals at the hotel’s restaurant, Date, were consistently exceptional. Another reason to choose the Renaissance – it’s the headquarters hotel for the film festival.

The eight-room Willows (www.thewillowspalmsprings.com), a historic 1927 Mediterranean villa, is ideal for those who long for the intimate B&B experience. Sumptuous breakfasts are included.

Recommended restaurants in downtown Palm Springs include Le Vallauris (www.levallauris.com), the town’s most critically acclaimed eatery. The to-die-for cuisine, estatelike ambience and first-rate service remain at high levels. Spencer’s Restaurant (www.spencersrestaurant.com) at the beautiful Palm Springs Tennis Club has become a popular local dining choice. Johnny Costa’s Ristorante (www.johnnycostaspalmsprings.com) is a longtime tradition in the valley for anyone seeking authentic Italian family fare. Johannes Restaurant (www.johannesrestaurants.com), a relative newcomer, offers a unique and creative combination of Austrian and Pan-Asian cuisine. Matchbox (www.matchboxpalmsprings.com), a casual bistro with mountain and downtown views, offers wood-fired pizzas and mini-burgers. Pinocchio in the Desert (www.pinocchiops.com), open only for breakfast and lunch, features modest prices and extensive menu choices. Rio Azul (www.rioazulpalmsprings.com) is a new Mexican restaurant with a colorful atmosphere and an innovative menu.

For more information, visit www.visitpalmsprings.com.

 

Los Altos residents Ann and Don Shanahan have written travel articles for more than 25 years. Email them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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