Within the same hour in Palm Springs, California, I went from soaking in the sun poolside at the gay resort, InnDulge, to walking through six feet of snow on a mountain summit. The Southern California desert oasis about two hours east of Los Angeles is one of the country’s gayest cities. It has it all from high desert hiking to upscale dining, all complemented by the world’s largest number of gay resorts.
Palm Springs first became a favorite getaway for Hollywood stars in the 1920s when studio contracts often required actors to be within a two-hour drive of Los Angeles. The desert city fit the bill allowing stars to get away but still be close enough to be called back to work. The city was also a natural haven for closeted LGBT actors and Hollywood insiders. Palm Springs’ burgeoning gay population in the 1970s played a big part in the revitalization of the city that continues today.
The biggest gay event is Palm Springs is the White Party (jeffreysanker.com). This year it runs April 26-29, 2019. It used to run earlier in the spring but the later date ensures warmer weather for the pool parties and nighttime events. The lesbian party The Dinah (http://thedinah.com/) gets a head start running April 3-7, 2019.
How to get there
Palm Springs has one of the easiest small-city airports you will find anywhere. The airport is just two miles from downtown. Renting a car there is a breeze. You only have to walk a few steps from the airport car rental booth to your car. When you fly back home, you can enjoy your last few minutes of desert sunshine in the park the airport created on the tarmac. WiFi is free, but unfortunately, I found it doesn’t work most of the time. If you are a big Uber or Lyft user, ridesharing services are not allowed to pick up passengers the airport, you have to walk across the street to call one from the curb. But the car services are allowed to drop passengers off there. .
There are no nonstop flights to Palm Springs from Florida but several airlines will get you there with a connection. You can also fly into the Ontario, California, airport which is about an hour’s drive away. If you don’t mind a long ride, Los Angeles’ airport is a two hour drive in good traffic, but LA traffic is often not good.
Where to stay
Palm Springs has 21 gay men’s resorts. Sadly, the only lesbian resort, Casitas Laquita, changed ownership last year and is now mixed. Of the men’s resorts, all are clothing optional except for the East Canyon Hotel and Spa. All provide free WiFi and all provide a free continental breakfast ranging from coffee and pastries to more elaborate spreads. All the gay resorts are in the city of Palm Springs with the exception of the Cathedral City Boys Club (CCBC) which is in neighboring Cathedral City. When comparing rates note that CCBC charges a resort fee of about $20 per night but the other resorts do not. The busiest times and consequently the highest room rates are from around Valentine’s Day through May. Palm Springs is becoming increasingly popular in the summer. The average summertime high temperature is about 105 degrees but it is a very dry heat and there are no mosquitoes. Palm Springs enjoys two sunsets every night. Once when the sun dips behind the western mountains cooling the city in shade and about an hour later when it goes below the horizon.
The biggest concentration of gay resorts is in the Warm Sands neighborhood of Palm Springs, which is a about a half mile from downtown and about two miles from the airport. Another cluster of four resorts is just south of Warm Sands, on San Lorenzo Road. Four other resorts are just north of downtown and a couple others are south of San Lorenzo Road.
The aforementioned InnDulge (www.inndulge.com) deservedly draws a loyal repeat clientele that keep the property busy even during the slower summer months. The hotel owners Jon Jackson and Sandy Miller did a great job of updating the historic property with larger bathrooms and other modern conveniences while maintaining its mid-century architecture. InnDulge offers a free cocktail hour where you can mix and mingle with other guests. Sandy has the world’s best memory for names and is great at making introductions so that new and returning guests feel like they are home.
The biggest resort in Palm Springs is All Worlds and All Worlds Annex (www.allworlds.com). Combined, the properties have a total of 72 rooms. If you stay in one, you can play in both. The main All Worlds property has three pools and two hot tubs. Across the street, the annex has two pools, two hot tubs and a long wading pool separating two of the property’s buildings. All World’s main property is open for day passes and it does a big business on Sunday afternoon for its complementary barbeque. Both sides have dark rooms for those wanting to walk on the wild side.
If you prefer to stay downtown, the wonderful Canyon Club Hotel (www.canyonclubhotel.com) is on the city’s main drag, Palm Canyon Drive. Canyon Club boasts the biggest pool of any of the gay resorts and includes a beautifully landscaped lot with a hedge maze and koi pond.
The Bearfoot Inn (www.bearfootinn) is kitty corner from the back of Canyon Club and as you might have guessed caters to bears but it also draws every type who appreciate the property’s beautiful design and furnishings. By the way, the Bearfoot Inn, InnDulge and the fabulous Vista Grande all provide their guests with free passes to the gay WorkOut Gym (www.workoutgymps.com/), which welcomes everyone but unabashedly promotes itself as a gay men’s gym. It is worth paying for a day or week pass even if your resort doesn’t include a free pass.
Where to play
The biggest concentration of gay nightlife in Palm Springs is in downtown on E. Arenas Road between S. Indian Canyon Drive and S. Calle Encilia. That is where you will find the locals favorite, Street bar, the dive bar, Score, video bar, SpurLine, the spacious Hunters, and the newest kid on the block, Chill.. Tryst is around the corner from Arenas on S. Indian Canyon Drive and is known for live music shows.
Toucan’s Tiki Lounge is along Palm Canyon Drive, north of downtown and includes a dance floor and outdoor patio smoking bar. Popular nights include Latin Fever Mondays, half priced drink specials on Tuesdays, and drag shows on Thursdays and Sundays.
Before the 1990s, almost all the gay nightlife in the Palm Springs area was in neighboring Cathedral City. While most of the gay nightlife shifted to Palm Springs, there are still two bars in “Cat City,” as locals call it. The Barracks, as you might have guessed, is levi/leather/bear themed. It’s a great large space with an indoor and outdoor area but it is very hard to find. It’s on 67625 E Palm Canyon Dr., but tucked off the road behind the Arco station. The other bar in town is Studio One 11, a piano lounge bar with Karaoke on Thursdays and Saturdays and fried chicken on Wednesdays.
Where to go
If you have never been to Palm Springs, an organized tour is a good idea. The Palm Springs Historical Society offers seven excellent walking tours of the city, with themes including architecture, history and Hollywood (https://pshistoricalsociety.org/).
Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours and Events (http://red-jeep.com/jeep-suv-tours/) is a great tour company that runs jeep tours through the Indian Canyons, Joshua Tree National Park, and a tour that runs along and through the San Andreas earthquake fault. If you are traveling with a group, Desert Adventures can arrange a tour tailored to the LGBT community.
To visit Palm Springs without visiting the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (www.pstramway.com) is like visiting Egypt without seeing the pyramids. The $25.95 round trip tram ride is worth every cent. It is about 30 degrees cooler up there, making it an ideal outdoor getaway during the Palm Springs summer heat.
Celebrity Tours runs regular tours focused on Hollywood history and the homes of the stars who still call the desert city home. The tour includes the former homes of LGBT celebrities including Liberace, Barry Manilow and Lily Tomlin. The latter still bears the name “Lily Pad.” (http://www.palmspringscelebritytours.com).
The Living Desert Zoo Gardens (www.livingdesert.org) is about a half hour outside Palm Springs in Palm Desert and is a wonderful collection of desert plants and animals. One of the buildings on the property is named for Steven B. Chase, a gay man and renowned designer who was a major Living Desert benefactor. He died of AIDS in 1994.
The spectacular Sunnylands retreat (www.sunnylands.org) in nearby Rancho Mirage is the former Annenberg estate which is open for tours. It has been used as a retreat and meeting place for world leaders, including President Obama who was a frequent visitor during his two terms in office. The estate is open for tours and it is free for the public to stop by and visit the estate’s wonderful desert garden.