Palm Springs is one of North America’s premier gay destinations. Its harsh, arid, desert setting offset by the surrounding snow capped mountains certainly make it a unique stop on the tourist trail.
Sun, sun and more sun, a host of clothing optional gay resorts and a bumper crop of gay bars create a perfect sandpit in which gay men can play to their hearts content. Our two hour drive north west from San Diego was relatively easy, through spectacular desert landscapes and hillsides covered in vivid orange and yellow wild flowers, a product of the unusually plentiful spring rains.
Visitors to Palm Springs soon learn the city is no metropolis. A small CBD with wide open spaces and light traffic flow make it very easy to negotiate, even for newcomers. Having a car is a major advantage, especially for day adventures outside Palm Springs, and there are some terrific options available.
Our first introduction to this desert city was lunch at Bongo Johnny’s on Palm Canyon Drive. Very popular with the gay community, this sunny, modern cafe with scenic views, excellent food and service was our first contact with the local lads who made us feel totally welcome.
Our accommodation was at the conveniently located Triangle Inn one of the best clothing optional gay resorts in Palm Springs. Stephen, Michael and David were our devoted hosts, always happy to help out, yet simultaneously giving us space and privacy.
With a lush tropical garden, nine very spacious, well-appointed rooms, all with kitchenettes, the resort feels relaxed and inviting. The pool and hot tub are the centre of daily activity with comfortable outdoor sun lounges to perfect that enviable allover tan you secretly desire as your deluxe, desert souvenir.
A hit of coffee each morning gets guests started, along with a choice of fresh fruit, cereals, pastries and juices served poolside at the breakfast bar. Then the big questions follow. Is it a pool day or do we explore the town or venture into the desert wilderness?
David, the resort manager, is always on hand to provide local knowledge and helpful advice and pointed us to just the right spot on a number of occasions during our stay. Whatever your choice you can enjoy margaritas by the pool at sunset, surrounded by new friends and spectacular mountain views.
While here we also met Cam, the gorgeous naked houseman who ensures the rooms are spotlessly clean and inviting when you return from your daytime adventures.
Plus his teammate Johnathon who, besides being an awesome housekeeper, makes amazing, fully-fitted, tailor-made harnesses and jockstraps delivered to your apartment for a very reasonable price, a perfect conversation piece for that special party when you return home. Nothing was too much trouble for these guys and they certainly made our stay friendly, comfortable and a whole lot of fun.
In the evening the hot tub and pool continually bubbled and glowed its friendly welcome. Floating naked under a canopy of brilliant stars with a final nightcap in hand is a sensational way to end the day. For some it maybe just the beginning.
Palm Springs is a smorgasbord of gay venues, including restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping and theatre. Happy hours offered at many venues usually happen between 4pm and 6pm.
Arenas Road is where most of the gay bars are located and some of our favourites were Chill Bar, Street Bar, Hunters Night Club and, a newbie on the block, Black Book. A visit to Tool Shed is essential with Thursday being underwear night and usually packed with a good number of men wearing only jockstraps and welcoming smiles.
The Tool Shed also hosts leather nights on a Friday and a Saturday. For more leather and bears the Barracks Bar is the longest running leather venue and probably the most popular, especially on Sunday afternoons for their notorious Beer Bust.
For all the best local advice get your hands on a copy of the Gay Desert Guide as soon as you arrive in town.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens (LDZG)
About thirty minutes out of town is the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The gardens take about three hours to see. We rode the trolley tram around the entire route to get an overview of the whole park and then back-tracked to places that most interested us.
Currently the LDZG has two sections, Africa and North America. A third section, Australia, is currently in the making.
The Zoo Gardens have an impressive display of desert flora including beautiful displays of exotic cactus.
However, most people are taken by the animals like the Road Runners, Mexican Wolves, Meerkats, Chetahs and feeding the elegant Giraffes, dressed so primly in their cute patchwork pyjamas.
Also, don’t miss a visit to the Zoo’s animal hospital. You might be lucky enough to see a Chetah having a full medical. A good value day for the US$20 entrance fee.
Only a three minute drive from the Triangle Inn is Tahquitz Canyon. The Visitors’ Centre is the starting point of the walking trail with a US$12 entrance fee.
The two mile trek loops it’s way to Tahquitz Falls and, at a few points, crosses a rocky mountain stream. The trail is a moderately difficult, forty-five minute walk through culturally sensitive desert landscapes which feature striking canyons, huge boulders and rock art of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
The stunning waterfall at the end of the trail with its fresh, natural air conditioning is the reward for your efforts.
Take some snacks and something cool to drink and soak in this beautiful landscape while you enjoy your refreshments and your well earned rest. The return trek is a little easier as it is mostly down hill.
A drive to Joshua Tree National Park is an absolute must when visiting Palm Springs. The imposing rock and boulder fields, natural walking trails, the arid starkness of the Mojavae Desert, it’s cactus gardens and the tens of thousands of unique Joshua Trees makes this an unforgettable experience.
To enter the vast park you need to stop by one of the two Visitor Centres to purchase a pass. We entered from the Oasis Visitor Centre which is less crowded and an easier entry point. It took us about four hours to slowly drive around the long trail with brief stops to see a landscape carved by extremes of climate.
The Joshua Trees are the main attraction. These extraordinary trees only grow in the Joshua Tree National Park. Their name was given by a group of Mormon settlers because the trees’ shapes reminded them of Joshua reaching to the sky in prayer.
Don’t miss taking the side road to Key View where there are amazing views right down to the Mexican border. There are no shops in the park so make sure to pack a picnic lunch.
On the way home we called into Pioneer Town, a movie-set town, where many old wild west films were created by famous identities like Roy Roger and Gene Autry.
Palm Springs Art Museum
This super modern gallery in the heart of Palm Springs exhibits many fine examples of sculpture, magnificent coloured glass, modernist paintings and installations.
The art museum captures a snapshot of Modern American art over three floors. There are often special exhibitions and you can catch a guided tour on the hour.
Palm Springs Village Fest
Every Thursday night the centre of Palm Springs is closed to traffic for a pop-up street fair featuring arts, crafts, food and live entertainment.
The fair is hugely popular with locals and tourists offering a range of treats, handcrafted jewellery, homewares and local souvenirs.
The Fest is supposed to last until 10pm but we found most of the crowd had disappeared into the surrounding bars and restaurants by about 8:30pm.
Palm Springs is famous for its vast collection of mid-century modern retailers, fashion boutiques, consignment dealers, art galleries and antique shops. It is easy to lose yourself in this purchasing paradise.
We were surprised to see so many vintage clothes shops, obviously very popular with the new chic being something preloved and recycled.
We are a little short on advice on restaurants as we often cooked in at our fabulous resort, taking advantage of the kitchen in our apartment at the Triangle Inn and the fresh produce available in supermarkets close by.
However, we did checkout a couple of Asian places and Wang’s in the Desert was a real stand out. Fresh delicious food in a very modern setting. Of course there are so many good restaurants in Palm Springs. Most people dine early just after happy hours and restaurants get very full in high tourist season. One restaurant which came highly recommended was the Purple Palm and everyone said it was always good, affordable and service was consistent.
Unfortunately we were not able to visit the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which takes you to Mount San Jacinto due to heavy rains which had washed out the roads prior to our arrival. This is one of the top tourist attractions of the area and by all accounts should not be missed.
On our first visit to this fascinating and friendly part of the world we were suitably impressed by the variety of entertainment options on offer. This truly is a city of contrasts, culture and carefree adventure. We can’t wait for our next foray into this gay desert wonderland.
Know Before You Go
Summer heat in Palm Springs is very unpleasant. Before or just after mid winter is the best time to visit.
Having a car will make your stay in Palm Springs even better.
The airport is very close to town and we used it as a place to pick up and drop off our rental vehicle.
Palm Springs boasts being ideal for retirees and, if you are a gay retiree, even better.
Transfers to and from Los Angeles are incredibly expensive. Our wonderful hosts at Triangle Inn organised a local transfer for us at a very reasonable cost.
Get hold of a copy of the Gay Desert Guide as soon as you arrive to find out what’s on.