Plenty to do in gay-friendly Palm Springs
I was bundled up as I walked through the snow in a pristine forest earlier this month. Kids and adults were cross-country skiing, sledding, and playing in the snow. Just an hour later, I was at a patio restaurant in a T-shirt in the warm sun looking for a table with shade.
The Bay Area’s favorite gay getaway is the perfect antidote for a wet winter. And the real winter is just a 10-minute ride away on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. If you can travel to Palm Springs this time of year, you can have it both ways.
The recession has left gay Palm Springs fairly unscathed. A new upscale gay resort, the View, opened over the fall, while the Desert Bear folded. A new gay bar, Studio One 11, opened about a year ago while its neighbor in Cathedral City, Sidewinders, closed. The city’s only after hours gay dance club, Confession (formerly Oasis), closed just before Halloween because of a fire.
Besides the abundant sunshine and warm weather, the biggest attraction for gay tourists to Palm Springs may be the wide variety of more than two-dozen gay resorts. Most are for men but a couple are for lesbians. The room rates are less expensive than you will find in most other parts of the country. You can find a room at some of the gay resorts for less than $100 if you can travel midweek, even in the current high season. Almost all of the resorts offer a free continental breakfast and a few offer lunch and an evening cocktail hour.
The biggest cluster of gay resorts is in the Warm Sands area of Palm Springs, about a half-mile from downtown. There are other clusters of resorts along San Lorenzo Road and in the north end of Palm Springs. Resorts run the range of very cruisy to those that are more couple oriented.
In Warm Sands, the 40-unit Vista Grande is four resorts in one. It was started by Bob Mellen 26 years ago. Mellen is a founding father of Warm Sands and helped the other gay resort owners get established. Now, 11 gay resorts are clustered in Warm Sands. Vista Grande’s centerpiece is the cruisy Mirage Resort, which is a lushly landscaped property that includes a waterfall, steam room, and huge hot tub.
The nearby INNDulge deservedly has a loyal repeat business. The owners, John Williams and Jean-Guy Lachance, have maintained a family atmosphere among its guests and employees. They provide a free cocktail hour that is a perfect opportunity to meet guests from all around the world. The resort has a good mix of couples and singles.
The Century Palm Springs is just across the street from INNDulge and is one of the most upscale gay resorts in the country. It received Out and About’s highest "five-palm" rating. It has six rooms that embrace the mid-century modern design but with all the contemporary comforts of the 21st century. The resort is a must-see for the eyes of anyone who appreciates good design. Century Palm Springs also has a spectacular and unobstructed view of the mountains.
Warm Sands Villas is another top quality resort. It has 27 units and is across the street from Vista Grande. This property deservedly earns top ratings in www.TripAdvisor.com. The historic property was built in 1933 and in its pre-gay days was a home away from home to Hollywood celebrities from Shirley Temple to Clark Gable.
The 23-unit Santiago Resort is another five-palm-rated resort. All of its rooms are extra large and impeccably maintained. The picture-perfect grounds surround the largest pool of any of the gay resorts. The Santiago is in a residential area along San Lorenzo Road, in good company with three other resorts.
The nine-room Triangle Inn is across the street from the Santiago and has an upscale feel without upscale prices. The owners live on the property and keep everything in perfect condition. The resort is attached to a four-bedroom house that is for rent as well. The hotel was built in the late 1950s and is a good example of mid-century modern architecture. The building has never looked better since the wind knocked down a pine tree in front, revealing the beautiful triangle-shaped main building of the inn.
The 10-room Chaps Inn promotes itself to leathermen and bears. Amenities include a steam room, outdoor sling area, St Andrew’s cross, stocks, and puppy cage. The rooms have ceiling hooks for slings. If you didn’t bring your own, you can rent one there. The resort is just north of downtown.
Just around the corner from the Chaps Inn, you will find the newest gay resort in town, the View. It gets its name from the panoramic mountain views from the pool and many of its rooms. The resort was completely renovated after its previous incarnation as the Indianola Tiki Guesthouse. All 12 units have full kitchens. The resort just opened on June 1, 2009. To attract new customers, the View is offering rates starting at $99, a bargain considering the upscale quality of the resort.
For the ultimate intimate experience, never mind getting a room, get a house. The Casa del Sol is a luxurious two-bedroom, two-bath home that can accommodate up to six. It has a private heated pool and is just minutes from the heart of downtown Palm Springs.
Palm Springs has a couple of resorts for lesbians. The Caistas Laquita is a spacious 15-unit property that has earned a five-palm rating. Every room has a full kitchen. The beautiful resort evokes the vibrant colors of Mexico.
The lesbian Queen of Hearts Inn and its smaller sister guesthouse, the Desert Hearts Inn, are upscale properties just two blocks from Casitas. The Queen of Hearts has nine rooms, each with a full kitchen. The three-unit Desert Hearts Inn is just across the street.
Arenas Road is the Castro Street of Palm Springs. It is in the heart of downtown, just east of Palm Canyon and Indian Canyon drives. In a one-block stretch, you will find the gay bars Hunters, Streetbar, Spurline, and Score as well as the gay stores Bear Wear and Gay Mart.
Hunters video bar is the largest gay bar on Arenas. The main video bar is open all the time and the adjoining dance space is open mostly on the weekends. There are no full-time lesbian bars in Palm Springs but Hunters throws the Pink Girls Night Out party on the last Saturday of the month at 7 p.m. By the way, for more information on the lesbian scene in Palm Springs visit www.lspotpalmsprings.com. The site organizes a monthly mixer party.
Streetbar is Palm Springs’ perennial neighborhood bar. When the weather is warm, its patio is jammed for some of the best people watching on Arenas.
Spurline is a video bar best known for its wildly popular show tunes nights on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
For early risers or very late nighters, Score opens at 6 a.m. and offers pool, darts, and video games.
The after hours club Confession is on Palm Canyon Drive, south of the Arenas area. The owners promised to reopen soon after a fire that damaged the club in October but no word on when that will happen. Efforts to contact the owners were not successful.
Toucans Tiki Lounge is on the north end of Palm Canyon Drive. Toucans and Hunters are the largest gay clubs in town. Besides weekends, the most popular nights are Tuesdays and Thursdays when it offers two-drinks-for-one. It’s the place to go for dancing seven nights a week. Although predominately gay men, the bar attracts a lot of lesbians and heterosexual women.
The Toolshed (600 East Sunny Dunes Road) is Palm Springs’ only leather and Levi cruise bar. It is conveniently located in the gay Warm Sands neighborhood. Happy hour is daily until 8 p.m.
While you are in the area, be sure to check out the Palm Springs area’s best gay bookstore and giftshop, the Q Trading Company (606 East Sunny Dunes Road).
Gay life in the Palm Springs area used to be concentrated in the neighboring Cathedral City, just southeast of Palm Springs. There are still a couple of popular gay clubs in Cathedral City. The newest, which opened over a year ago, is Studio One 11. It is part of a shopping center on 67-555 East Palm Canyon Drive in the space once occupied by the lesbian bar, Delilah’s. The new owners completely renovated the space. It is primarily a piano lounge bar that features karaoke and nightly specials.
Club W (36-737 Cathedral Canyon Drive) draws a friendly neighborhood crowd in Cathedral City. It recently changed ownership but it hasn’t changed the atmosphere that brings it a loyal clientele. Karaoke nights are popular as are country western dance lessons on Tuesdays and country western dancing on Saturdays.
The Barracks (67-625 East Palm Canyon Drive) bills itself as "your leather, boot, uniform, bear, fetish and cruise destination." It is famous for its Sunday beer busts.
There are no bathhouses in the Palm Springs area, but the biggest gay resort in town, the 44-unit Cathedral City Boys Club (CCBC), operates as a de facto bathhouse with day and night passes 24 hours a day. If you show your key from another gay hotel, the admission is $12. Otherwise it’s $20.
The aforementioned Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a must for any visitor to Palm Springs. The entrance to the tramway is on the north end of the city, a mile north of Toucans. There’s usually snow on top in the winter and it can be as much as 30 or 40 degrees cooler at the top in the hot summers.
A number of organized tours can take you around to the best sights of Palm Springs and the surrounding undeveloped desert. Some tours focus on celebrity homes and architecture while others on the natural desert beauty. For complete information, visit the Palm Springs official tourism Web site at www.visitpalmsprings.com.
Indian Canyons in Palm Springs is worth seeing as part of a tour or on your own. You can walk through the three canyons: Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon that are the lush oases where Native Americans lived for centuries.
Joshua Tree National Park is just a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs and is famous for its surreal rocky desert landscape and the Joshua Tree plant that thrives in the arid terrain.
The Living Desert is a zoo and park about 30 minutes from Palm Springs that exhibits the animals of the desert as well as the desert’s ecosystem. The Living Desert’s administration building is named for a gay man, Stephen Chase, who died in 1994 and left a large portion of his estate to the zoo.
The Palm Springs Air Museum, next to the airport, is a must stop for anyone interested in aviation history. By the way, the newly renovated Palm Springs Airport has a beautiful outdoor park where you can wait for your plane after you’ve been screened by security. The Palm Springs Art Museum, located downtown, has a wealth of art that has been donated or loaned to it by the area’s well-to-do residents.
The "Fabulous Palm Springs Follies" is a show that should be seen at least once by any visitor to Palm Springs. It is a variety show extravaganza with a twist. All the performers are over 55. This year the theme of the show is "Let the Good Times Roll," with music from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. It is hosted by Riff Markowitz, a brilliant comic emcee who always manages to get in some funny good-natured barbs about Palm Springs’ gay, Native American, and senior communities. The Four Aces group is the featured musical act until February 6, then singer Rita Coolidge takes over February 9-March 27, followed by former Supreme Mary Wilson, March 30-May 16, when the show closes for the summer.
Every Thursday night, "Villagefest" street fair takes over Palm Canyon Drive with food, entertainment, and locally produced art and crafts for sale.
The hottest new restaurant in town is Trio, located at 707 North Palm Canyon Drive. The restaurant, which features American modern cuisine, opened in September and has a strong gay following.
Some of the more established gay favorites are Blame it on Midnight, Wangs in the Desert, Look Restaurant and Patio bar, and Tropical. For coffee, the place to go is Koffi, located at 515 North Palm Canyon Drive. It is part of the quaint Shops of the Corridor complex that includes a grassy courtyard where everyone gathers when it’s sunny and not too hot.