Blog created in partnership with the Meet the Mentor Program. Drew Filipski visited Greater Palm Springs in October and shared his experiences below.
The sun never sets in Greater Palm Springs, thanks to the line of mountains towering over its Western border. By late afternoon and well before twilight, it sinks behind the peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains, hidden from view. Perhaps that is why Greater Palm Springs has attracted (and still does) Hollywood stars. They, too, could step out of the spotlight of Los Angeles and descend onto this desert oasis for a weekend spent in midcentury modern villas hidden by tangled bougainvillea and green privet hedges.
This lushly landscaped environment of turquoise pools and palm trees is quite a contrast to its arid, desert environment — but this kind of dichotomy is familiar for queer travelers, existing in a difficult environment and, despite it all, creating a joyous way of living. Though the city’s gay landmarks are celebrated — like the Arenas District or the famed drag-queen-run Trixie Motel — Greater Palm Springs still offers hidden gems beckoning LGBTQ+ visitors to discover them over a weekend getaway.
Greater Palm Springs’ LGBTQ+ history is rooted in Hollywood, when old-school movie stars would flee fame and flashbulbs in Los Angeles for a two-hour drive east into the desert hideaway. To see where they camped out, bike around the "Playground of the Stars" with Bike Palm Springs, whose multicolored bicycles and retro flair offer a way to explore the city’s scenery. The cycle shop offers plenty of self-guided tours, such as the "Stars of the Movie Colony” and "Hidden Paradise'' tours. Pedal the streets of neighborhoods like Old Las Palmas, where the trimmed and hemmed hedges hide iconic midcentury modern homes — and where gay stars such as Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter once played, where anything could happen (and might have) behind the sheltering plantings.
To stay out of the public eye like the starlets who roamed this private paradise, a retreat to the pools of The Colony Palms is a must. This Spanish-colonial, lush escape, opening in the 1930s and transforming to become the elegant art-deco-inspired haven it is today, offers an adult-only boutique hotel experience. Unwind in the property's bungalows and intimate alcoves, or dine at The Colony Club Restaurant with a picturesque view of the San Jacinto Mountains. It is a secluded sanctuary that transports visitors to the era of Hollywood glamor, making them feel like Rock Hudson himself.
Hollywood's influence permeates the bustling streets of Downtown Palm Springs, where stars' names adorn the pavement. Downloading the Palm Springs Walk of Stars app helps locate legends, with a rainbow flag next to an honoree's name indicating members of the LGBTQ+ community. To add a soundtrack to the weekend, tune into KGAY 106.5 Palm Springs, SoCal’s only LGBTQ+ radio station, to keep you abreast of all queer happenings in Greater Palm Springs.
Arriving at the Palm Springs Art Museum introduces Seward Johnson’s “Forever Marilyn” statue, a colossal camp caricature of Marilyn Monroe with her billowing skirt. The kitschy "Forever Marilyn" and the modernist art museum behind her are a contrast. Delving into the Palm Springs Art Museum unravels the town’s riveting history. With contemporary African art, Native American and Pre-Columbian pieces, and an Architecture & Design collection, each floor peels back layers of Greater Palm Springs history.
A gay Greater Palm Springs evening begins with drinks at The Purple Room. A legendary supper club, now gay-owned and operated, that evokes a blast from the past, as it was a popular hangout spot for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and other members of the Rat Pack. After drinks, dinner. And because everyone knows gays love their theater, why not make it dinner and a show?
Enter PS UNDERGROUND, an unforgettable dining experience and cabaret show. Conceived in November 2012 by Michael Fietsam and David Horgen, PS UNDERGROUND has evolved into a permanent "pop-up" dining experience on East Palm Canyon Drive. Step into the shadows with interactive cast members and thoughtful tastemakers who collaborate to create an experience in song and supper with opulently ornamented tables and an immersive experience that lingers long past bedtime.
Returning to town, grab lunch at LULU California Bistro with its colorful, open outdoor terrace seating and bright bites (such as their Ahi Poke Nachos) where you’ll find a relaxed atmosphere, perfect for this communal city where people tend to divulge in the delight of meeting new people. This palpable energy is at one’s fingertips with Gay Desert Guide. LGBTQ+, a mobile-friendly website created by local entrepreneur Brad Fuhr, that’s a useful roadmap for gay life and events in Greater Palm Springs.
Heading into downtown, passing by the iconic Plaza Theatre, opening in 1936 with the world premiere of the Oscar-winning film Camille, directed by famously gay director George Cukor and starring Greta Garbo, both habitués of Greater Palm Springs’ underground LGBTQ+ society, unveils a slice of history. Bygone glamor persists at BAZAR, where saleswoman Peggy Sue awaits to aid in discovering the shop’s hand-selected vintage pieces. Peggy says of her store, which is also a popular pit stop for local drag queens needing last minute accessories for their gigs, “In Greater Palm Springs, our men shop the entire store, and our lesbians shop the mens.” Outfit handled, stop by Destination PSP, a unique gift shop that features originally-designed souvenirs and stylish statement pieces that incorporate the city’s retro, mid-century modern aesthetic, to complete the experience.
What could be more unexpected in Greater Palm Springs than a public skating arena? Visit the new Berger Foundation Iceplex in Palm Desert, home of Greater Palm Springs' new AFL hockey team the Coachella Valley Firebirds to cool off while the boys heat up the rink. This is also the home of the Coachella Valley Pride Hockey League, and getting involved in this not-for-profit organization is as easy as catching a free game on the weekends. As one of the first-ever organizations of its kind, it proves that community-centered experiences in Greater Palm Springs are at the forefront of what makes this city so special.
Hang up the skates and head out on the town. The perfect place to start your evening is Trio Restaurant in the Uptown Design District. A gay-owned and operated establishment, it offers American modern food with surprises like Kampachi Crudo and an Olive Oil Cake, and Executive Chef Jeremy Loomis's farm-to-table menu promises a night of culinary delights.
After dinner, go cruising along the Route 66 of gay life, Greater Palm Springs' famed Arenas District. Sprinkled with LGBTQ+ bars, restaurants and shops, the neighborhood's a mix of big city energy and small town sensibility, popular with visitors and locals alike. Whether hitting the dance floor at clubs like Hunters and Chill Bar or kicking back at Blackbook or Dick’s on Arenas, memories are guaranteed that will linger long past sunrise.
Finally, keep an eye out for a speak-easy behind the bustle of Arenas. Look for a red light, and be sure to have a reservation, because The Evening Citizen, a debonair, dimly-lit 30-seat bar, with vintage touches, makes for a great nightcap. It combines a film noir sophistication, bespoke cocktails, personalized service, and above all discretion — you have to ring a bell to get in — evoking a time when gay life unfolded in the dark. The hush-hush atmosphere alludes to the city's queer legacy while its energy reminds today’s gay travelers that Greater Palm Springs is both a sanctuary and an invitation to discover a legacy that others may not see. But, just as queer trailblazers of yesterday knew, the memories you’ll make in Greater Palm Springs will prove that it’s a special place where queer travelers can etch their own story within this city's history.
Start planning your getaway to Greater Palm Springs with these LGBTQ+ friendly resorts for your next stay.