Palms, parties and power in Palm Springs

Discovering the new Palm Springs

Looking at the black and white photo of some of America’s most famous, rich and powerful people, I’m trying to imagine us attending the Annenbergs’ New Year’s Eve celebration at their uber-exclusive estate near Palm Springs. This must have been one of the most prized party invitations in the United States.

Sunnylands, which opened to the public in early 2012, provided a rare view of the exclusive world of immensely rich and powerful global leaders. At this 200 acre estate in Rancho Mirage, Walter and Leonore Annenberg hosted eight U.S. Presidents and numerous global leaders in politics, arts, science and business. Their 25,000 square foot home once displayed a billion dollar art collection. Surrounding it are a nine-acre desert-themed botanical garden, a nine-hole golf course, eleven lakes, a swimming pool and the Annenbergs’ mausoleum. Most importantly, Sunnylands continues to promote the Annenbergs’ goal of advancing world peace through the sharing of ideas among world leaders.

My wife and I came here to find out how Palm Springs has changed and what it offers visitors today. We found a city whose main growth took place between the 1920’s and the 1950’s, and as a result, many homes are known for their distinctive “Mid-Century Modern” architectural style (like Sunnylands, for example). It is also a leading destination for the lesbian and gay community, but there is a welcoming atmosphere for visitors of all persuasions, with a “live and let live” vibe.

The Palm Springs region hosts countless golf courses (more than 250), gated communities filled with single story homes, and a multitude of shops and restaurants. True to its name, Palm Springs is dotted with rows of towering palm trees. Rock-encrusted mountains loom so near that you feel you can reach out and touch them. Northerners who long for sunshine and warmth tend to come here for the dependable 350 days of sunshine per year.
We enjoyed the walkability of the main tourist area of Palm Springs, concentrated in a few blocks around Palm Canyon Drive in the center of town. This allowed us to easily walk from our hotel to the best restaurants, shops, casino and museum in ten minutes or less. Few buildings are more than two stories tall, so the town felt open and inviting. While some buildings on the periphery of town clearly look dated, there are ongoing changes that are transforming the city, as evidenced by the dozen new hotels that have opened in the past two years.

Many of the restaurants had European-style outdoor seating, either on upstairs balconies or downstairs along the sidewalk. The area had an aliveness accentuated by vibrant music and the energy of young and old folks eating, shopping or just cruising. My wife and I delighted in the restaurants’ plumes of fine, silvery mist that cooled us off from the midday heat.

We had the good fortune to secure a room at the Andalusian Court boutique hotel. It provided a haven of serenity, beauty and comfort. While we appreciated our room’s full kitchen, living room and bedroom, the highlight was the private outdoor jacuzzi. We spent a delightful evening sipping on a glass of wine and gazing at the flickering flames of our fire pit while we luxuriated in our bubbling jacuzzi. In the morning, instead of rushing around as usual, my wife and I relaxed by the pool and reminded ourselves that travel requires periods of serenity to offset constant activity. It’s hard to find a hotel better suited for tranquil relaxation than this one.

Just one block away was the Palm Springs Art Museum, along with the trailhead for the museum hiking trail that ascends the adjacent mountains. We enjoyed both. This moderately challenging trail offered panoramic views of the whole valley along with ample early morning exercise. As for the museum, it surprised and delighted us with its quirky, clever and innovative styles of art. We’re not generally modern art fans, but this museum gets two thumbs up.

A vast array of 2500 wind turbines dominates the landscape surrounding Palm Springs and I was determined to see them up close and learn more about them. A guided tour with Desert Adventures provided the real story behind this surreal scene. I was pleased to see how four types of renewable energy are making a difference in this region.

The Living Desert is located in Palm Desert, about a thirty minute drive from Palm Springs. It is one of the area’s major attractions, so allow the better part of a day to tour the gardens, watch the shows, observe the animals, or best of all, ride a camel for five bucks. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll do a lot of walking.

Last but definitely not least, the Palm Springs Aerial Tram provides an experience that you’ll never forget. We rode up one of the steepest trams in the world, in a rotating tram car that allowed everyone to share the breathtaking views. In just ten minutes we gained nearly 6,000 feet in elevation over 2.5 miles, which meant that we went from desert heat to alpine coolness. The temperature dropped more than thirty degrees so our light jackets came in handy. There were more than 54 miles of hiking trails at the top, but like most folks, we took the 1.5 mile Desert View Trail and picnicked on top of a boulder at one its five overlooks.

Heading home over the mountains that border the Coachella valley, we reluctantly said farewell to another great tourist destination. This coming New Year’s Eve, we’re going to remember our time in Palm Springs and offer a toast to the Annenbergs who gave so much to make the world a better place.
Doug Hansen is a travel writer and photographer in Carlsbad, CA. You can find more photos and articles at
Andalusian Court, 458 West Arenas Road, Palm Springs, CA 92262; 760-323-9980;

Sunnylands, 37-977 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270; 760-202-2222;

The Living Desert, 47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, CA; 760-346-5694;

The Purple Room, 1900 East Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA; 760-322-4422;–A talented female impersonator brings Judy Garland to life through singing and humor.

Spencer’s Restaurant, 701 W. Baristo Rd, Palm Springs, CA; 760-327-3446;–make reservations well in advance for this cozy, outdoor/indoor restaurant tucked near the base of the mountains; excellent food.

Zin American Bistro, 198 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262; 760-322-6300;–sit in the outdoor patio and watch the people-parade as you enjoy first class food and wines.

Wind & Water Adventures Tour with Desert Adventures, Palm Desert, CA; 760-324-5337;

Hard Rock Hotel & Spa, 150 S Indian Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262; 760-325-9676;–newly renovated hotel also offers a delightful spa; get a massage like we did to really relax during your visit.

Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs CA 92262; 760-322-4800;

Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism