Palm Springs has been a popular destination since the 1920s when the clear, desert air was thought to cure all sorts of maladies. It fell into disfavor in the 1970s, when its iconic mid-century architecture just looked tired and dated. But by the 1990s, Palm Springs was cool again. And these days, it’s a popular winter getaway for Los Angelenos, affluent gay travelers, and those who love swanky piano bars, well-made cocktails, and 1950s and ‘60s-style glamour.

 

Palm Springs hotels in the mid-century modern style.

Once the favorite of Rat Pack members, the Riviera Resort & Spa recently reopened following a $75 million renovation. The 406 rooms and suites are now decorated in a retro-cool style and outfitted with widescreen plasma TVs, mini bars, high-speed Internet access, and marble bathrooms with rain showerheads. One-, two-, and three-bedroom suites range from 680 to 1,248 square feet. The 11,000-square-foot Noble House spa has 18 rooms for Balinese, Thai, and Indonesian health and beauty treatments, and there’s also a fitness center. The resort has two outdoor swimming pools, and a dozen private cabanas with 32” flat-screen TVs, mini fridges, sectional sofas, and lounge chairs. The Rivera now competes with the Parker for the title of hippest hotel in Palm Springs.

The most expensive Palm Springs hotel, Le Parker Meridien has a long, storied history. It was originally Gene Autry’s ranch, and then Merv Griffin turned it into the Givenchy Resort. To us, the best thing about the property is the property – the 13 acre grounds are absolutely gorgeous. There are towering palms, ornamental grasses, and bougainvillea everywhere. The 131 rooms are likely to underwhelm for the price. The 12 one-bedroom villas are more impressive. Service is absolutely first rate. The bar makes divine – if expensive – cocktails, and Norma’s serves incredible breakfasts all day long. With four pools, four tennis courts, a 16,500-square-foot spa, and a 24-hour fitness center, you never have to leave. It’s about a five-minute drive from downtown. With its “look-at-me” attitude and high prices, the Parker isn’t for everyone. But it is the place in Palm Springs to see and be seen.

 

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club is an updated, mid-century motel that’s a fun place for those who want to be where the action is. The two outdoor swimming pools and outdoor fireplace are nearly always packed. On Sunday afternoons, a DJ spins tunes by the pool. And there’s a fitness center and full-service spa. Rooms are modern and include amenities like 42” flat-screen TVs and docks for MP3 players. Some have fireplaces and garden terraces. It’s walking distance to downtown. And you can bring your dog too. The Ace is less expensive than most Palm Springs hotels and it’s a good choice for partiers. Those whose top priority is a good night’s sleep should probably look elsewhere.

Another 1950s motel that’s had a facelift, the Orbit Inn is a retro paradise. Rooms are available in the main building and in the 8-room Hideaway in the back. From the Pepto Bismol pink bathroom tiles to the Fiestaware in the kitchenettes, they’re a step back in time. Several rooms have private patios. The heated salt-water pool is popular day and night. And excellent cocktails are served in the pool-side Boomerang Bar and the Albert Frey Lounge, named for the noted local architect. A Jacuzzi and in-room spa treatments round out the amenities. When it’s time for dinner, you can head into town on one of the Orbit’s cruisers bike rentals.

The Viceroy black-and-white, minimalist décor would be equally at home in South Beach. With its waterfall, koi pond and white whippet statues, the cool lobby sets the tone. Sixty seven guest rooms surround three beautifully landscaped courtyards. Rooms have Italian bedlinens, European toiletries, and luxurious bathrobes, and some have kitchenettes, fireplaces, and balconies. Studio bungalows are especially inviting. There’s a fitness center, full-service spa, three pools, two Jacuzzis, and a popular restaurant that serves California cuisine. And it’s a short stroll of Palm Canyon Drive. Another bonus — the Viceroy is very dog friendly.

Palm Springs hotels that break the mold.

Located in a 1920s Mediterranean villa, the Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn has eight lovely rooms with hardwood floors, wrought-iron balconies or garden patios, hand-painted tiles, stone fireplaces, and antique furnishings. Outside the dining room, a waterfall cascades down 50 feet into the swimming pool. The hillside location in Old Palm Springs Village has beautiful plantings and great views. And the excellent La Vallauris French restaurant is practically across the street. The Willows is a nice alternative to the ubiquitous modernism of Palm Springs.

 

Travelers who really want to get away from it all will enjoy Smoke Tree Ranch, the last of the Palm Springs guest ranches. It first opened in the 1930s, and over the years, many famous names, including Walt Disney, have been guests. Its 55 small cottages are spread out across the 375-acre estate. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served each day in the dining room of the main ranch house. There’s a dress code at dinner and service is first rate. There’s not much to do here but enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of the desert. And for many Palm Springs visitors, that’s enough.

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