Advertisement

Californias desert oasis, Palm Springs, has been attracting the rainbow community for decades with its healthy climate, modernist architecture, and lively gay scene. Oliver Hall steps through Palm Springspearly gates to see if gay heaven lives up to the hype. 

Where Drag Queens go to dieand a perfect stop on the way to Coachellawere the phrases I had recently heard about Palm Springs as we approached the desert oasis. 

Arriving late evening, we are first struck by the lack of street lighting and tall buildings, a contrast if you are driving in from L.A. or Vegas, and you instantly feel more relaxed for it.

Advertisement

Palm Springs is a town designed to relax in. Its popularity took off in the mid-40s as golden-era Hollywood boomed. Production companies insisted that stars reside no further than 100 miles from set, and Palm Springs sat just within that boundary – yet felt a million miles from their demanding jobs.

Palm Springs’ storied connection with the gay community, particularly men, was solidified in the eighties in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. Doctors would recommend patients with respiratory conditions relocate to Palm Springs for its warm, dry climate. Today, the town still averages 300 days of sunshine a year and houses a multitude of gay resorts offering men-only accommodation. Looking around, we counted at least 11! One local tells us that the resorts used to be given a publicised number out of 10 to highlight how promiscuous their atmosphere was. I wonder what number our accommodation would get,we wonder as we pull up at Santiago Resort (santiagoresort.com).

Santiago Resort is all built around its centrepiece pool, spa, and fire pit. We are assured that this is the largest bathing suit-optional pool of any gay resort in Palm Springs, and its 23 rooms offer either a view of the mountains that line the resort or of the pool, which, depending on that days clientele, can be a pretty impressive sight!

Santiago Resort, Palm Springs.

Santiagos General Manager Charles checks us in, recommending dinner spots and a wealth of gay bars while highlighting that the resort is designed for men to hit pause, be spoiled, and rediscover the bliss of completely giving in to the moment.’ In that spirit, both breakfast and lunch are included in every guests stay and served by the pool.

So the next day, we give in and take up a couple of loungers. Its December, so technically their winter but there is not a cloud in the sky, and in the 25-degree sun, we bake. On this day, the other guests are all out-of-town Americans. They are friendly, chatty, and swapping tales of the previous nights underwear party at Barracks Bar,’ which sounds like debauched fun. There is another underwear party that night at Tool Shed,’ which they assure us will be tamer. 

Palm Springs Arenas District.

Most of the gay nightlife revolves around Arenas District, with bars (we liked Dicks), clubs (Hunters was busy), and shops such as Gay Mart and Bear Wear that cater to all your jockstrap and amyl needs. Its clear that this town overachieves in gay nightlife for its population of just 43,000 (including Kris Jenner and Barry Manilow), but gayness isnt the only thing Palm Springs is renowned for. 

Dick’s on Arenas, Palm Springs

Palm Springs’ mid-century modern architecture is so impressive, even its gas stations are all over Instagram. We took a personalised Palm Springs Architecture Tour (psarchitecturetours.com), where our guide Trevor took us around areas like Vista Las Palmas, where in the late fifties over 200 houses were all designed by the same modernist architects, William Krises and Charles Du Bois. We stop outside Leonardo DiCaprios house (his cleaner looks unimpressed to see us) and shoot locations for Harry Stylesmovie, Dont Worry Darling. Beautiful buildings and groundbreaking designs aside, a highlight is Trevor’s deep understanding of the history – particularly the gay history – of the town, and our experience and knowledge of Palm Springs is richer for the experience.

Palm Springs Architecture Tour

Later that afternoon, however, our minds are blown, and it’s not at an underwear party! We take a visit to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (pstramway.com), the worlds largest rotating tram car which travels upwards for two and a half miles, ascending the cliffs of Chino Canyon up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The journey is breathtaking. It takes about 10 minutes. Its mainly smooth, but the occasional bump adds excitement. Your ears pop, and when you exit the tram, the temperature has dropped about 20 degrees. The park offers miles of walking tracks, however, we are ill-prepared for the snow and ice, so our trek is brief, but we enjoy the Lookout Lounge bars sweeping views over Greater Palm Springs!

The post-underwear party hangover makes it hard to leave the comforts of Santiago Resort the next day, but Palm Springs still has plenty to offer. For dinner, Eight4Nine (eight4nine.com) is a Palm Springs darling, with modern desert-chic decor and a hearty French menu. If craft beers and stocky bartenders are your thing, dont miss 1501 Gastro Pub (1501uptown.com), which sits opposite Trixie Mattels proudly pink Trixie Motel. 

Miley Cyrus rocks out at Eight4nine

On Thursday nights, be sure to check out Palm Springs’ Villagefest Street Fair, which closes off traffic between Indian Canyon Drive and Belardo Road, filling the streets with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to crafts and collectibles as local bands serenade.

Now that Coachellas dust has settled, there are plenty of other exciting and queererfestivals to check out in Palm Springs, look out for Septembers five-day lesbian music festival, Dinah Shore, or Palm Springs Pride in balmy November.

The express team were guests of Visit Greater Palm Springs. Plan your Palm Springs trip at visitgreaterpalmsprings.com and follow @VisitGreaterPS on socials #FindYourOasis

How to Get There :

Hawaiian Airlines flies 3 x weekly from Auckland direct to Honolulu with convenient connections to Californias Ontario Airport, which is just an hours drive from Palm Springs. Flying Hawaiian includes the airlines award-winning service, complimentary meals and beverages, and a free checked luggage allowance of 2 x 32kg bags per passenger. Flights are operated by wide-bodied Airbus A330 aircraft with 192 Main Cabin seats in a couples-friendly 2x4x2 configuration, 68 of Hawaiians popular and affordable Extra Comfort seats, and 18 lie-flat Business Class seats in the Premium Cabin. hawaiianairlines.co.nz  

Article | Oliver Hall.

Advertisement