What comes to mind when you think of Palm Springs? For most, it’s palms trees, sun, swimming pools and mid-century architecture. Then, of course, there is the large LGBT community and the huge number of retirees — affectionately known as the “gays and greys.”
Gay Palm Springs
Palm Springs has a lot to offer the LGBT traveller looking for a hot time in the desert. In fact, the town’s gay roots go back almost 100 years, to 1919, when Chicago heiress Lois Kellogg (eccentric bohemian and rumoured lesbian) swept in to start construction on an enormous (though, sadly, never completed) Moroccan-Persian-style home.
Since then, gays and lesbians have been travelling to this desert oasis in search of sun-drenched same-sex frolicking. After all, not only did Rock Hudson have a house here (far from the prying eyes of his movie studio), über-gay Liberace owned two!
Today, Palm Springs has one of the largest LGBT communities in the United States. And these folks love sharing hot fun with visitors. What are you into? Over the course of the year, Palm Springs probably has something to suit the taste of any LGBT traveller: a White Party in April, the Film Noir Festival in May, the Cinema Diverse Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in September, Pride weekend in early November and Leather Pride in mid-November.
If you head to Palm Springs during one of the non-festival weeks, you will still find lots to do after the sun goes down. After a good meal at one of the many restaurants downtown, hit one — or more — of the gay bars in town. The bar scene seems to start earlier than other cities, but make sure you hit Street Bar, Hunters video bar, Score: The Game Bar, and The Barracks and the Toolshed (for the leather and denim crowd). All have specialty nights throughout the week.
For the ladies
For the past 24 years, lesbians have descended upon Palm Springs each April for their own brand of entertainment. Called “the biggest all-girl event in the world,” The Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend (known as “The Dinah”) coincides with the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s Kraft Nabisco Championship tournament (formerly the Dinah Shore Golf Championship).
Some of the events scheduled to get the ladies’ juices flowing during The Dinah are a comedy night, film festival, pool parties, celebrity poker and (just in case you boys thought this was your domain) a women’s White Party. And though many larger cities do not have even one hotel dedicated to the lesbian traveller, Palm Springs can boast two: Casitas Laquita resort and Queen of Hearts Resort.
Let it all hang out, boys
One benefit of a Palm Springs holiday is that you can pack light. Very light. Back in the days when it was the winter playground for Hollywood stars like Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich, resorts (with 20 or 25 rooms surrounding the ever-present pool) were built to accommodate all the families that flocked to town. Today many of these old resorts are gay-owned and have been transformed into men-only clothing-optional guesthouses. In fact, no other city in the world has as many gay clothing-optional resorts as Palm Springs.
So those inclined to spend their holidays in the buff can strip down and enjoy the sun without the fear of tan lines. Clothing-optional resorts are gated and walled so you won’t have to worry about shocking anyone who might be strolling by. And yes, local drugstores do carry 100 SPF sunscreen.
Popular gay clothing-optional guesthouses include Escape Resort, Vista Grande Resort, CCBC, Bearfoot Inn and La Joya Inn. Many rooms also include kitchens, private verandas, continental breakfasts and WiFi. Some of the resorts have day passes, so decide before you reserve if you want to stay in a place that allows non-guests use of the facilities (for instance, CCBC sells 12-hour day passes). However, the practice does allow you to check out some of the other clothing-optional resorts for a day visit.
The fact is, a lot of older people have chosen to live in Palm Springs because of the year-round warm weather and the great number of leisure activities. According to the 2010 census, 26.5% of residents were 65 years of age or older and the median age was 51.6 years. This is not South Beach, folks.
Still, older people, both gay and straight, are part of the charm. You will find a lot of friendly people and less attitude here than in many other gay destinations. Palm Springs welcomes everyone.
Palm Springs is famous for its large number of mid-century modern homes, and guided tours of these buildings are available year-round. But you can always just stroll around the downtown yourself to get a flavour of great architecture by modernist masters such as Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Donald Wexler, Albert Frey and William F Cody. Palm Springs Modernism Week is held every February to celebrate the city’s architecture.
For those looking to escape their resort for a few hours or days, nearby Joshua Tree National Park is a great place to enjoy camping, hiking and climbing. The forest covers a land area of 790,636 acres, or an area slightly larger than Rhode Island. A large part of the park (429,690 acres) has been designated a wilderness area.
If you find the lure of the snowcapped mountains too strong to avoid, jump on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Described as the “world’s largest rotating tramcar,” it will take you on a breathtaking journey up the cliffs of Chino Canyon. The ride from Valley Station (elevation 800 metres) to the Mountain Station (elevation 2,600 metres) takes 10 minutes.
Over the course of a typical year, the temperature in Palm Springs ranges from 7 Celsius to 41. The warm season typically lasts from early June to the end of September, with an average daily high of 36, while the cold season lasts from the end of November until the first of March and has an average daily high of 24.