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Palm Springs, CA

This retro resort town gets it right for both rockers and relaxers.

Photograph: Douglas Lyle Thompson and Jon Johnson
Kings Highway

The only thing that needs to be retired when heading to Palm Springs is the notion that this town is strictly for couples in their seventies and golfers with scores in the sixties. More accurately, Palm Springs is embedded in the fifties—1950s, that is. So, with all things headed backward and everyone nostalgic for better times (especially economic), this retro resort town in the Coachella Valley is the perfect place to escape without breaking the bank. The city was named for hot-water springs that the settling Native Americans believed had magical healing powers. It may not rid one of any maladies, but the warm, arid climate, created by its location among three mountain ranges, will provide a remedy for Midwesterners still recovering from what felt like the longest winter ever.

Although Palm Springs has its own airport, flying into Los Angeles (LAX) and renting a car to drive two hours east can save a few hundred dollars. (You can also use a shuttle service; round-trip rates from LAX start around $195 for two passengers; visit primetimeshuttle.com.) The newest hipster haven is Ace Hotel & Swim Club(701 E Palm Canyon Dr, 760-325-9900; king rooms start at $89), a renovated mid-1960s hotel south of downtown. Its vintage decor lends a bohemian vibe while the free Wi-Fi keeps things modern. Designed to foster interaction among guests, the grounds are dotted with communal fireplaces and patios. However, more reclusive types can upgrade to a room with a private patio, couch and fire pit. The hotel’s diner, King’s Highway, serves primarily organic, straightforward grub.

More of a luxurious lounge lizard? Then splurge on the Jonathan Adler–designed the Parker Palm Springs(4200 E Palm Canyon Dr, 760-770-5000; current offers include the Lushette and Gluttons Special—rooms start at $249 with a $200 drink/food credit). There’s no need to leave this 13-acre Eden. Start your day with a libation from the Lemonade Stand and explore the exquisitely manicured grounds. Take a nap on one of the palm-tree-slung hammocks or cozy up by one of the fire pits. Once you’ve gotten your second wind, reserve time at the clay tennis courts or petanque or croquet areas. Then take a dip in one of the saline pools or head to Palm Springs Yacht Club (PSYC), a 3,000-square-foot spa, to use the Jacuzzi and steam room at no charge. End your day with dinner at Mister Parker’s supper club, self-billed as a place for fops, flaneurs and assorted other cronies.

Plenty of other dining choices abound in Palm Springs. Cheeky’s Palm Springs(622 N Palm Canyon Dr, 760-327-7595) is ideal for brunch. Innovative offerings, made from locally sourced ingredients, include Nutella-drizzled banana waffles and “devils on horseback” sandwiches stuffed with Indio dates, prosciutto, Gorgonzola dolce and watercress. Housemade baked goods, bacon flights and freshly squeezed juices round out the menu. Koffi café(1700 S Camino Real, 760-322-7776) provides a nice alternative to coffee chains. The carne-asada tacos at no-frills El Mirasol(140 E Palm Canyon Dr, 760-778-0017) are excellent. And its outdoor patio provides a perfect perch for sipping a margarita. If it’s chic you seek, head to the glamorous Citron at the Viceroy(415 S Belardo Rd, 760-320-4117). This Kelly Wearstler–decorated gem is the perfect spot for any meal, but an absolute must for a cocktail and snack at a sleek, white leather poolside banquette.

Elegant but unpretentious Copley’s(621 N Palm Canyon Dr, 760-327-9555) is fittingly located in Cary Grant’s historic estate. The garden provides a lovely setting for indulging in chef Andrew Manion Copley’s culinary creations. Luscious chunks of ahi tuna nestled in sesame-seed taco shells and “pot pie” chock-full of lobster are standouts. Attend Thursday evening happy-hour cooking classes and receive 25 percent off your dinner bill that evening.

The quaint lamppost-lined, Mexican-tiled downtown Palm Springs is dense with midcentury design and antique shops, eateries and art galleries. Every Thursday from 6–10pm, Palm Canyon Drive between Baristo and Amado is closed to traffic for Village Fest, a street fair featuring arts, crafts and specialty food. Deemed “the Mecca of Modernism,” Palm Springs has the highest concentration of midcentury-modern buildings among cities its size. Examples by architectural heavyweights such as John Lautner, Richard Neutra, Albert Frey (Le Corbusier’s first student to build in the U.S.) and Donald Wexler abound. The architecturally ambitious can get a map of modernist buildings at the Frey-designed Palm Springs Visitors Center(2901 N Palm Canyon Dr, 800-347-7746) for a self-guided tour. Here you can retire your recession worries…at least for the weekend.

THE TAB

2 people, 3 nights:
Airfare $444 ($222 each ticket with a 14-day advance purchase)*
+Hotel $427
+Food $350
TOTAL $1,221

*Southwest Airlines from Midway and United and American from O’Hare provide nonstop flights to LAX. Cheapest flights were found on United.

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