Palm Springs

Palm Springs hails as the most internationally renowned of the desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley. A part of the Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs is located approximately 107 miles (172 km) east of Los Angeles and 123 miles (198 km) northeast of San Diego. Nestled at the base of Mount San Jacinto, the city spans over 94 square miles and is sheltered by the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, the San Jacinto mountains to the west and by the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east. Palm Springs is the land of sparkling azure swimming pools, purple sunsets and palm trees swaying in the warm balmy breezes.

The history of Palm Springs is as varied as those who lived and played here. From the native Cahuilla Indians to the early Hollywood stars, from the mid-century modernist architects to today’s rediscovery, Palm Springs remains a historical and ecological wonder. Sprinkled with stardust, Palm Springs is known world-wide for its famous Hollywood heritage.

More than 2,000 years ago, Palm Springs’ first residents were the ancestors of today’s Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The Cahuilla name for the area was “Se-Khi” (boiling water) for the abundant mineral hot water springs. Much of tribal life centered on the lush vegetation and abundant water in the area known as Indian Canyons, site of North America’s largest natural fan palm oasis and home of the naturally abundant native California fan palm. Legend states that the origin of “palm” in the name comes from early Spanish explorers who referred to the area as La Palma de la Mano de Dios or “The Palm of God’s hand”. The earliest recorded use of the name “Palm Springs” was in 1853 when the United States Topographical Engineers placed the name on early maps, identifying the area as the land of palm trees and hot springs.

In 1877, as an incentive to complete a railroad to the Pacific, the U.S. government gave Southern Pacific Railroad title to the odd-numbered parcels of land for ten miles on either side of the tracks running through the Southern California desert around Palm Springs. The even-numbered parcels of land were given to the Agua Caliente Indians. The Indian reservation land was composed of alternating sections (640 acres) of land laid out across the desert in a checkerboard pattern. The alternating, non-reservation sections were granted to the Southern Pacific Railroad as an incentive to bring rail lines through the open desert. Present day Palm Springs is divided in the same checkerboard pattern, making the Agua Caliente the city’s largest landowner. The current home of the Spa Resort Casino is where the Cahuilla Indians first discovered the magical healing waters of the hot mineral springs, still in existence today.

Palm Springs in the 1920s became Hollywood’s desert playground for celebrities to relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of showbiz. The legendary “Two-Hour Rule” of Hollywood studios put Palm Springs on the map as a perfect getaway. Actors under contract had to be available within two hours from the studio just in case last minute film shoots had to occur.

The Movie Colony, just east of Palm Canyon Drive, started growing in the 1930s as these Hollywood movie stars built their getaway homes. The residential estate building expanded into the neighborhoods of Tahquitz River Estates, The Mesa and Las Palmas. Actors Charles Farrell and Ralph Bellamy opened the Racquet Club in 1934 and Pearl McCallum opened the historic Tennis Club in 1937. The aptly named Movie Colony was home to Hollywood royalty such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., George Hamilton, Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Liberace, Albert Einstein, Bing Crosby, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, and Jack Benny. The Mesa started off as a gated community which was developed in the 1920s near the Indian Canyons and became home to many notable residents such as Zane Grey, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Suzanne Somers, Herman Woulk and Barry Manilow.

During World War II, the desert became the training ground for General George S. Patton’s troops as they prepared to invade North Africa. El Mirador Hotel, second home to the stars and the site of today’s Desert Regional Medical Center, served as a general hospital treating the U.S. wounded. The airfield, built to handle military cargo and personnel planes, would later become Palm Springs International Airport. The post-war era ushered in tremendous growth as Palm Springs’ natural environment was no longer a secret of just the wealthy. With tourism’s growth, attractions and resorts flourished. With the advent of air-conditioning, visitors and residents stayed year-round.

Known as one of the cradles of Mid Century Modern Architecture, the “Desert Modern” style was a high-end architectural style featuring open design plans, air-conditioning, swimming pools, and expansive windows allowing the outside in. Visionary architects Donald Wexler, Albert Frey, George and Bob Alexander, John Lautner, Lloyd Wright and William F. Cody flourished, using the city to explore their architectural innovations and artistic genius. These sleek modern designs embraced the desert environment with the extensive use of glass, clean lines, inventive materials and natural resources. Mid-Century Modernism evoked a lifestyle of simple elegance and informality and became more than just a style, it became the way of life in Palm Springs.

Palm Springs is home to many unique desert attractions including the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tramcar. Opened in 1963, the tram provides a breathtaking journey up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon and into the majestic mountains overlooking the Coachella Valley. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a major gateway to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Located at the “top of the tram” are miles of pristine wilderness available for camping, hiking and cross-country skiing and offer an exceptional experience.

The Indian Canyons, an oasis in the foothills of the San Jacinto mountains, possess astounding mystical beauty. Winding hiking trails meander deep into the canyons, traveling through the largest palm oasis in North America. Natural pools with waterfalls flow through the historical Indian Canyons, providing a majestic backdrop for hiking, swimming and sunbathing. The Indian Canyons are one of the ultimate desert experiences.

Palm Canyon Drive, the palm tree lined main street through downtown Palm Springs, offers a myriad of bistros, boutiques and lounges set in a village atmosphere. Palm Canyon is ideal for strolling, dining, listening to local bands and relaxing. Once the site of an exuberant “Spring Break” season during the 1980s and 1990s, today Palm Canyon Drive is home to The Village Festival held each Thursday evening. “Village Fest” features the unique creations of local artisans,musicians and local cuisine.

Palm Springs boasts more than 135 hotels that range from quaint bed and breakfasts, charming inns, luxury resorts, secluded spa hotels and luxurious private compounds. Palm Springs has earned its reputation as international resort destination appealing to the luxurious taste of jet-setters from around the world.

Palm Springs’ connection to the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood remains as strong today as it was in the early years. A new generation of Hollywood A-listers has succumbed to the lure of the desert and its relaxing privacy, favoring Palm Springs resorts such as The Viceroy, The Parker and the Ace Hotel. Palm Springs is also being rediscovered by today’s Hollywood stars during the Palm Springs International Film Festival held annually in January. Founded by former Palm Springs mayor Sonny Bono, the Palm Springs International Film Festival has matured into a star-studded event attracting Hollywood’s elite. Palm Springs will always be part of the Tinseltown allure.

Palm Springs’ glamorous past has ushered in a modern and chic lifestyle of the present day, while remaining a serene hideaway in paradise. Palm Springs is a magical place where weight of the world floats away.