A desert oasis, where the thirsty gay finds a pond of Vodka beneath a palm tree. An oasis of art, fine dining, and gay pop culture; welcome to Palm Springs, CA. Palm Springs, a small land mass with big culture. Of the 50,000 residents, forty percent of them identify as LGBT and they are spread comfortable across 95,000 square miles of desert that make up the city.
If you don’t already know, Hollywood, specifically West Hollywood, is the gay epicenter of Los Angeles, CA (and really the world). There are movie studios and celebrities, but gays live, dine, club, and hook-up in West Hollywood. If you were to strip away the surrounding Los Angeles cityscape so only the small area of West Hollywood stood alone, crank up the temperature by 40 degrees…you would have Palm Springs. It is glamorous, star-studded, and every bit as gay as West Hollywood.
Palm Springs is a two hour drive from San Diego (or Los Angeles) through the sandy beige desert. You’ve arrived when the drive through hundreds of wind mills changes to palm tree lined boulevards that are found throughout the city. Palm Springs is a small community, but a gay one, that sits at the foot of 11,503 foot San Gorgonio Mountain; the highest peak in Southern California. In early summer, while sipping a martini in a hotel pool in 115 degree heat, you can gaze at the snowcapped mountain directly above you. It is a dramatic backdrop to a relaxed town that becomes energized at night when temperature turns to a tolerable 85 degrees. The streets and cafes are lined with misters that provide a soft mist of cooling water that evaporates before settling onto skin, paper and iPhones, only leaving relief from the heat.
I love the heat, dry heat, that is. As long as I’m not putting on work clothes and running errands, I could lounge in a pool for days in a tequila haze with nothing to do but relax. And that’s exactly what I did in Palm Springs.
Shanda and I try to get Palm Springs at least once a year. An annual pilgrimage to our favorite restaurants and stores we’ve come to fancy after years of going. We get a fill of gay immersion therapy, and pool time with an easy agenda of relax, shop, hike, and eat, in no particular order.
We usually arrive on a Thursday to go to the Palm Springs Farmer’s Market. Due to the heat of the day (that can reach 120 degrees), the weekly market is at night, from 7:00pm to 10:00pm. The main street, lined with trendy restaurants and bars that runs through the heart of downtown, is closed for several blocks during the Thursday farmer’s market that more resembles a block party than a market. Barely-clad glistening men, women and children make their way through the market’s honey and fig vendors, solar panel companies, food trucks, art tents, and farm stands to live music wafting into the night.
Shanda, myself, and twelve others rented a block of rooms at the Marquis Villas Resort for a weekend of pool frolicking, drinking without driving, BBQing, and Palm Springs nightlife. The Marquis is conveniently located one block away from Palm Spring’s main drag. Even more conveniently located is Hunter’s, a gay bar directly across the street from the hotel.
The Marquis Villas are just that, villas. Each room is approximately 1200 square feet and has: one or two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a wet bar, a full kitchen, a large patio, a dining and living room, and walk-in closets; for very reasonable prices (around $160.00 per night). The hotel has a large pool with lots of lounge chairs and tables, and a covered BBQ area with a kitchen and gas grills that guests can use for free. It is really remarkable what you get for the price, it makes Palm Springs affordable and luxurious.
Shanda and I arrived mid-day Friday, unable to come up Thursday for the farmer’s market, and met with some friends at one of our favorite brunch spots, Cheeky’s. A sleek contemporary restaurant with finicky hours of operation, but if you catch them open, they are worth every effort. They have a bacon bar – I’m vegetarian, so this doesn’t apply to me, but very appealing to many. They serve thoroughly homemade breakfast and lunch items with innovated spins on their recipes. The delicious food is organic with many healthy and alternative diet options (we are in California after all).
We checked into our spacious hotel villa, blended up mango-ritas and hit the pool directly. We had dinner reservations at 7:00pm at Lulu’s, and hours to kill before then. Our group staggered in throughout the afternoon until reaching a party of 14 and off to Lulu’s we went.
Lulu’s is a large avant-garde decorated two story restaurant with modern lighting and water features set among clean white walls. It is spacious and comfortable serving a variety of tasty upscale dishes. Many in our group opted for their $19.95 three course dinner: a starter, an entrée, and a dessert. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their dinners. We walked back to our Villas to get ready for our evening at Hunter’s night club; but back at the villa, tragedy struck.
We had several friends in our villa sipping tequila and chatting before going to Hunter’s. We were preparing for departure when I did an ID check; everyone had theirs but me. I triple checked my wallet and purse, but no ID. We bounced around ideas to solve the predicament: sneak in the backdoor, does anyone look like me with an ID I can use, or explain the situation to the bouncer. We decided sneaking in the backdoor was the best option.
Upon arriving to the backdoor, plan A was quickly dismissed, it was manned by a stern looking bouncer. Now our only option was plan B (the most used plan). We walked around to the front of the bar to talk to the bouncer. I lingered in the back of our group on the way thinking about what to say. I had the apprehension I used to get at age 19 with my fake ID as we approached the bar’s front door. There was a large group of scantily clad lipstick lesbians in six inch stiletto heels ahead of us. The bouncer was eyeing them suspiciously as he studied their ID cards unamused by their flirtatious manners. He then pulled out a machine and swiped their IDs – hope escaped me. I tried to warm up to the idea of an evening alone with my book in the 1200 square foot villa. It was now our turn at the door.
I was still at the back of our 14 person party and the people in the front must of starting the pleading and age assurance on my behalf. The group slowly parted and the bouncer’s flashlight blinded me and he ordered me to “come here.” I walked dreadful through the worried and encouraging faces of my friends to certain humiliation. He asked me my birthday and how old I was, and then so unexpectedly, he said if someone in our group gives a good Yelp review, I’m in! Three people enthusiastically complied and it was all cheers and a sign of good fortune.
We danced the night away to techno infused hip-hop music in Christmas colored laser beams that Shanda said gave her a “euphoric fun feeling all over her body” (no illegal drugs were used in the making of this blog). While Shanda was having euphoric fun, I was having a reality check. I noticed signs posted all over the bar that read “ID required for all persons looking under age 40.” I saw the stilettoed lipstick girls who had their IDs swiped by the verifying machine, and thought how grateful I was to be in my sensible shoes. They wore short tight little dresses; my dress was knee length and selected to conceal areas my 37-year-old-metabolism exposed. They had smoky eyes and I had eye brightener for the illusion of youthfulness. I suppose it wasn’t the convincing pleas of my friends that got me into Hunter’s; but my sensible shoes, middle-aged-metabolism dress and concealer caked crow’s feet eyes that got me in.
The rest of the weekend, our group passed leisurely by the pool; eating, drinking and laughing together. When it was time to bid farewell on Sunday, Shanda and I spent a couple hours wandering the streets of Palms Springs reminiscing about past visits and making plans for future ones.
If escape is what you need, the desert oasis of Palm Springs will fulfill you. It is glamorous and relaxed, has night life and tranquility, and offers visitors art, dining, and shopping, or none of that at all. Whatever you like, however you like it, Palm Springs will bring it to fruition.