Palm Springs has been an LGBT getaway for decades ever since the glamorous days of Hollywood starting in the early the 1930’s. Actors working in Hollywood would escape to Palm Springs, just a 2 hour drive away, to let loose and mingle with other closeted gays from the entertainment industry. These days, Palm Springs may have a reputation as a destination for just middle aged or retired visitors but don’t be fooled. The city has plenty to offer for all ages and you’ll find travelers of all generations visiting the city, especially during major events like gay pride, The White Party and especially the Cochella Music Festival, which draws an especially young demographic.
If you haven’t thought about visiting Palm Springs, you might want to think again. With year around warm weather and lots of events and cool activities, there’s no better time than now to plan a trip. Not sure what to do? Here are 10 cool things that might peak your interest.
Palm Springs Gay Pride
The gay pride in Palm Springs takes place each November and draws a crowd of 60,000. It’s a great excuse to visit and take advantage of the warm weather in November when many places around the country are in full force fall weather, with winter shortly behind. The pride parade takes place on Sunday morning with a colorful array of local organizations, activists and themed floats running along Palm Canyon Drive. The parade ends around 12:30pm and the city offers a free pride festival with performances, food and plenty of fun to finish off your pride weekend. You can also attend other official events throughout the weekend including pool parties, the Ladies’ Party Saturday night at Georgie’s Alibi Azul Patio and the Oscar’s Sunday Tea Dance.
Cochella Music Festival
The Cochella Music Festival takes place in April each year in the city of Indio, 45 minutes from Palm Springs. This show spans for two weekends and hosts more than 200 performers with music sets ranging from rock, indie, pop and electronic. The festival was started in 1999 and is now popular as a road trip destination given its remote location. Though it’s not located in the city, Palm Springs is a great place to stay for the weekend since hotel space is limited in Indio. Truthfully, Indio is not a really a tourist destination but with plenty of public shuttle buses available, you can attend the music festival by day and escape back to Palm Springs by night to enjoy the vibe, restaurants and nightlife.
Take Palm Springs Ariel Tramway
One of the coolest experiences in Palm Springs is taking the cable car up to the top of San Jacinto Peak. At the top you’ll get great views of Palm Springs and the entire Cochella valley, not to mention a temperature drop of about 30F (18C). The peak is part of the steepest mountain range in the US starting from the desert floor and reaching heights of 8,500ft (2600m). A ride to the top costs $25 and takes about 10 minutes. The ticket price may be a bit steep but you can make a day of your visit by exploring the national park at the top of the mountain, go for a hike or perhaps pack a picnic and enjoy your afternoon among the cool breeze and pine trees. As you make your way up, you’ll even discover that the tram car actually rotates under your feet giving the entire car a 360 degree view on both the way up and down.
Indulge on Margaritas and Sun
One of the best things to do in Palm Springs is to not do anything at all. After all, Palm Springs is a resort town so take advantage and head out to your hotel’s pool and spend your afternoon lounging and sipping cocktails. Not staying at a property with a pool on sight? Fear not, you can visit pools open to the public including the new Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club for a great day of fun open Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 6pm. Later on, you can stroll over to the onsite restaurant to enjoy some fantastic Mexican food or a jalapeno flavored margarita.
Stay at an All-Gay Resort
Palm Springs has more all-gay resorts than any city in the world. Before the days when you could be public with your orientation, these were a major draw as gays could vacation together and mingle with others in privacy. Most are small to medium sizes hotels catering to gay men such as InnDulge, a clean and welcoming place to stay with a great pool and friendly staff. Ladies can enjoy Casitas Laquita – the go to place for lesbian travelers. The properties in town range in quality and many are clothing optional so don’t be surprised if you find couples and friends lounging by the pool tanning their white asses. Some additional well known properties include All Worlds Resorts, Canyon Club Hotel and La Dolce Vida Resort & Spa.
Explore Downtown Using the Local Buzz Trolley
Palm Springs is a small city with a population of just 46,000. If you stay in the central and downtown part of the city, you can explore the town without the need to drive. The city even offers a free local trolley called ‘The Buzz’ to make it convenient to enjoy the city without a car – especially great when you happen to have a buzz, which is bad news if you get behind the wheel of a car. The Buzz runs from 11am to 1am Thursdays through Sundays so take advantage and play it safe.
Take the Gay Icons Tour
Palm Springs is famous as the second home of some of the biggest Hollywood stars, past and present. Barbra Streisand calls Palm Springs home as well as many other famous actors, actresses and gay icons alike. A great way to really dive into the experience is to take the Gay Icons Tour – a two-hour exploration of Palm Springs in a red open-air Jeep. You’ll ride around town learning the history of Palm Springs gaining insights into how it has become such an important destination and home for LGBT visitors and residents. The guide explains why gays and lesbians were pivotal to the founding of the desert resort town, a private sanctuary where Hollywood stars could let their hair down and let loose – including closeted celebrities. Gay and lesbian stars themselves, plus icons from a variety of decades have always come to Palm Springs and this tour will show you the best including homes from people like Lily Tomlin, Liberace, Judy Garland, Cher and Barry Manilow.
Visit the Weekly Palm Springs VillageFest each Thursday
If you’re in town on a Thursday then you should head over to Palm Canyon Drive in the evening from 6pm to 10pm for the weekly market called Palm Springs VillageFest. The city closes the street and you can stroll around and find a variety of products for sale including crafts and artwork plus plenty of entertainment and various types of food and drink options. Enjoy the evening in the warmth that Palm Springs offers and people watch as you shop, enjoying the relaxed vibe.
Attend a Drag Performance
Visiting Palm Springs without catching a local drag show should be a crime. More than just your average drag performance, Palm Springs is full of unique acts like The Judy Show located at The Purple Room or Trivia Night at the Ace Hotel hosted by local drag ambassador – Bella da Ball. The Purple Room at Club Trinidad originally opened in the 1960’s and was one of Palm Springs’ original Rat Pack hangouts often frequented by Frank Sinatra and friends. It recently re-opened featuring swanky updated décor with a large performance stage where the talented impersonator Michael Homes performs amazing renditions of Judy Garland, Carol Channing, Mae West and Katherine Hepburn.
World Class Gay & Lesbian Parties
Each spring, Palm Springs becomes the gay party capital of the entire country. The White Party is the most famous gay party in Palm Springs and the largest in the US. Now in existence for more than 25 years, this event draws 30,000 gays from around the country each April to enjoy one of the best parties around featuring top DJs, amazing venues and fantastic pool parties. For the ladies, Dinah Shore Weekend is the place to be and it’s the largest lesbian event and music festival attracting more than 10,000 ladies from around the world.
Are any of these activities cool enough for you?
Note: my visit was sponsored by the tourism office of Palm Springs in collaboration with the IGLTA conference in Los Angeles. But as always, rest assured all opinions are 100% my own.