Pioneertown started life as a movie set in the 1940s
When I first told friends that I was heading to the desert city of Palm Springs in California, their first response was to ask if I was going to Coachella. Since its launch in 1999, the festival has become a mecca for music fans – but there’s more to the desert than flower crowns and Beyoncé, as I was soon to discover.
Located in the Sonoran Desert of Southern California, the town was first put on the map in the 50s and 60s by Hollywood movie stars.
The legendary “two-hour rule” of Hollywood studios meant that actors under contract had to be available within two hours from the studio, in case of last minute filming or photo shoots – and this made Palm Springs, just two hours from LA, the perfect getaway.
Today, it still attracts the rich and famous, though you don’t need a movie star budget to enjoy this relaxing retreat to the full.
Driving through the town on our arrival, it’s hard not to immediately fall in love with the mid-century architecture that it’s famous for. Like something out of The Stepford Wives, I gazed over low-slung houses with brightly coloured doors, incredible cacti and manicured lawns.
Our home for the next few days was the hip Saguaro hotel.
Its brightly hued exterior is painted in 14 different wildflower colours that are native to California’s Colorado Desert, and will immediately bring a smile to the face of even the grumpiest of long haul travellers. However, if you’re a light sleeper who goes to bed before midnight, it might be best to request a room with a mountain view, as those overlooking the pool are privy to a soundtrack of upbeat music that plays from 9am to midnight.
Relaxation is the aim of the game here, so make sure you soak up the Californian sunshine on a sun lounger or day bed by the pool, while sipping a frozen strawberry banana swirl cocktail from the hotel’s El Jefe bar and restaurant. Then hop into the pool for a ride on one of the inflatable flamingos for the ultimate holiday photo opportunity.
Of course, there’s far more to do than just bask in the sun and with plenty of outdoor activities on offer, it’s worth spending at least a day exploring the area. Top of my list was a visit to the huge Joshua Tree National Park, a vast preservation area that offers a myriad of hiking trails and spectacular views over the valley.
It also has its own climbing school and horseback tours are available. But stay away from the cholla cacti – they are incredibly pretty until a grizzly long spine gets stuck in your skin.
3 Spin around the dance floor at Melvyn’s Restaurant & Lounge
However, my close encounter with all things prickly didn’t put me off visiting the world’s first cactarium at Moorten Botanical Garden.
With over 3,000 species of cacti, succulents and rare fauna planted by the Moorten family, as well as an on-site arboretum, it’s easy to spend an afternoon lost among the incredible collection of plants.
For an afternoon that’s really out of the ordinary, book onto a jeep tour of the San Andreas Fault with Red Jeep Tours. Our guide Darrell ‘Black Feather’ Eisman took us on a roaring open-air trip through the naturally formed slot canyons of the fault zone, showing us spectacular rock formations, breathtaking desert landscapes and a stunning palm oasis, where Washingtonia palms grew up in droves out of crags in the ground.
When you’ve had enough of adventuring, there are also plenty of opportunities for retail therapy – my favourite pastime. In keeping with its retro appeal, the town has an excellent range of vintage boutiques for both fashion and interiors. A quick trip to The Frippery’s carefully curated store had me wishing for more luggage allowance and larger wardrobe space back home.
Emerging empty handed, I quickly consoled myself with a visit to The Parker hotel instead. A modern Palm Springs institution, it’s worth visiting to sip cocktails with the early evening cool crowds and admire the newly refurbished Jonathan Adler interiors, as well as the grounds that have featured in several Gray Malin art works. You may even spot Leonardo DiCaprio in the bar as he recently purchased a nearby estate.
After a week in such incredible surroundings and with so much to do, by the time my plane touches back down in London I’m already planning my next visit to the desert.
Way to go
America As You Like It has a seven-night holiday in May to Palm Springs, including return flights from London to Los Angeles on United, seven days’ fully inclusive economy car hire and seven nights’ room only accommodation at the Saguaro from £1,105pp based on two sharing. For more information, visit americaasyoulikeit.com or call 020 8742 8299.
Ten things you must do in Palm Springs
1 Take a half- or full-day jeep tour through the canyons of the San Andreas Fault (red-jeep.com).
2 Get acquainted with the area’s modernist architecture on a drive-by door tour with Palm Springs Modern Tours.
3 Spin around the dance floor at Melvyn’s Restaurant & Lounge – once the favourite hangout of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack when they were in town.
4 Book in for a night of celestial spotting at the Stargazing Desert Retreat in Pioneertown.
Enjoy the sun in Palm Springs
5 Eat dinner at The Tropicale, which is worth the queue on a Saturday night. Grab a buzzer and sample one of the spectacular cocktails while you wait for a table.
6 Enjoy a soak in one of the many hot springs of the area. The naturally occurring lithium in the water helps to soothe your mood within 30 minutes.
7 Hike up a trail in the Joshua Tree National Park.
8 If walking isn’t your thing, take a sunset ride over Coachella Valley on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for incredible views.
9 Visit Desert X, the bi-annual art festival that sees installations from artists such as Douglas Aitken popping up against dramatic desert backdrops.
10 Play a game of tennis at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.