By Nicola Bridges
Lounging by the only hotel rooftop pool in Palm Springs, watching hikers climbing the San Jacinto mountain trails on the hillside backdrop, with 360-degree views overlooking the Coachella Valley shimmering in the 105-degree desert heat, it's hard to believe that at just seven floors high I'm on top of Palm Springs' only skyscraper. I'm at The Rowan in downtown Palm Springs, which opened in the fall of 2017 as part of downtown's $400 million revitalization project.
Since its first residents of Cahuilla Indians more than 2,000 years ago, Palm Springs has been an architectural destination attracting everyone from A-list celebrities to golf fanatics and families seeking to soak up some desert sunshine surrounded by palm trees, hibiscus hedges and hummingbirds.
The first lodging in town was The Palm Springs Hotel in 1886, but it was the Palm Desert Inn that put Palm Springs on the map as Hollywood's playground in the 1920s, when the movie industry had a rule that said its contracted actors could be no more than two hours from the studios. They fled to the desert for some R&R every chance they could get — from Clark Gable and Cary Grant to Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe (and many presidents) to today's A-listers seeking to get away from the bustle of Los Angeles.
Today Palm Springs boasts boutique luxury hotels, private villas and large chain resorts offering a vacation flavor to suit everyone's budget — from Hollywood honchos and avid golfers to wedding parties, conferences and families who just want to kick back. To experience the range, I recently sampled three very different hotel vibes.
The Rowan Palm Springs is a contemporary Kimpton brand hotel with understated stylish modern decor. The vibe is starkly modern but warm, friendly and not at all bijou. The floor-to-ceiling windows in my room boasted mountain views and an up-close-and-personal viewing of a dirt lot currently featuring David Cerny's "Palm Springs Babies" art installation. The 10 babies have barcodes for faces to express the dehumanization of society. Contemporary and modern art is always a draw to Palm Springs, especially during Modernism Week, an annual February celebration of midcentury architecture, design and culture.
From the bright desert light of my room with a glass walled shower, I hit the rooftop taking coffee and pastries up from the all-day Mediterranean ground-floor cafe, Juniper Table. After lounging around the lap pool, living the seven-stories-high life all day, I ended each evening gazing at the 360-degree views, watching the spectacular desert sunsets, sipping craft cocktails from the rooftop's High Bar.
While it is lazy during the day, the rooftop comes alive at night, when it opens to the public who come to dine at the 4 Saints Restaurant with the same stunning views and serving small seasonal Mediterranean-influenced shareable plates. Just a block from Palm Canyon Drive's five-block downtown strip, The Rowan is just steps to Palm Springs shops and restaurants, but its laid-back ambience offers no motivation to leave.
It's hard not to feel in the pink, literally, in the glaring bright magenta, lime-green and yellow retro architecture and slightly kitschy decor of The Saguaro boutique hotel. Glass displays of Barbie and Ken dolls in various desert settings give away the hotel's vibe immediately when you arrive in the lobby. The hotel sits on the corner of a busy intersection just three miles from downtown Palm Springs.
But you'd never know it once you slip into your flip-flops inside The Saguaro's inner quad, where I spent most of my day floating in a large white blow-up swan or pink flamingo on the pool, staring up through a vibrant oasis of tall palm trees wavering in the desert breeze — and sipping umbrella-filled daiquiris from the poolside bar. The Saguaro's vibrant vibe attracts a younger crowd, and after listening to the DJ spinning eclectic club music poolside, I headed for the hotel's infamous Taco Tuesday-with-a-twist at the hotel's El Jefe cantina. At this popular spot for locals I devoured spicy Roasted Carrot Tacos with shots of one of the bar's 100 tequila labels.
An understated oasis in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, the Palm Mountain Resort makes no pretense of being a boutique experience but is rather an affordable, laid-back, just-the-basics, midsize family-friendly resort. After some poolside time listening to the shrieks and giggles of kids having a blast in the water, I headed to a hot-stone massage treatment in the unpretentious small day spa, where a couple of clearly now-relaxed moms were heading out from their pampering appointments, presumably while Dad watched over the kids' aquatics.
As I headed hot-stoned back through the lobby to my room, a group of Germans in biker leathers, looking hot from their desert ride, was checking in as a family of Scandinavians was checking out. The resort thrives as a popular stop on European packaged holiday tours of Southern California. There's no need to rent a car because of its steps-away convenience to all that downtown has to offer.
Because of its location, the hotel saw no sense in maintaining its previous onsite restaurant, so it renovated the space into additional rooms. After a siesta in my no-frills clean, quiet room, I changed for a stroll, trying to decide whether to eat burgers, Mexican, modern American or my favorite moules frites at Pommes Frites, a favorite Belgian bistro a block from the lobby.
WHEN YOU GO
The Rowan: www.rowanpalmsprings.com
The Saguaro: www.thesaguro.com
Palm Mountain Resort: www.palmmountainresort.com
Nicola Bridges is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The colorful Saguaro hotel welcomes visitors to Palm Springs, California. Photo courtesy of Nicola Bridges.