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Desert cool: Palm Springs’ boutique hotels and other hotspots

Photographed by Randy Laybourne/Unsplash

Palm Springs has it all and can never be accused of being timid about its assets. It flaunts its multiple personalities with aplomb. Palm Springs cherishes its mid-century architectural roots as well as its golf, spas, design showrooms, landscape, high-end shops, thrift stores, hipsters and old-timers. The Rat Pack and Coachella co-mingle as seamlessly as the desert horizon meets the sky.
      As the nexus of mid-century design æsthetic, Palm Springs is renowned for its boutique hotels. Quantitatively, there are probably more boutique properties than corporate, with a suitable fit for every budget and lifestyle. We’ve chosen to share a few notable standouts, with several in the middle of all the action and a couple where you can escape the hustle and bustle. We’ve also included select dining and daytime itinerary suggestions that showcase the diversity and scope of America’s desert getaway.

The Palm Springs Hotel
One of the newest hotel additions to the downtown arts’ district. The desert-modernist architecture where modern minimalism meets bold pop culture. Creature comforts include Apple TV and oversized bevelled glass showers, evoking discernible luxury and design. It’s a love of mid-century tradition infused with 21st-century flair. All art and furnishings are tailor-made and custom-curated with renowned design house ModShop by Room Service.
       A brisk walk places you in the centre of the design district. When you get hungry, we recommend a stop at Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge, a 9,000 ft² indoor–outdoor dining oasis. Eclectic design elements are a blend of repurposed vintage furnishings and light fixtures paired with Venetian mirrors and playful colour schemes. Locals and regulars rave about the chicken Milanese.

Villa Royale
A Palm Springs fixture since 1947, Villa Royale is an expertly curated mix of classic California Mission architecture, chic vintage accoutrements, arresting artwork, and elevated guest service. This languid retreat will transport you to the golden age of Hollywood when stars would escape to these villas to find peace and relaxation away from the crowds and paparazzi. Find solace in the lush gardens or relax all day by the sparkling pool. Guests receive signature amenities from Provenance including complimentary wifi, bicycles, a wellness kit, cocktail at check-in, and morning coffee service.

       Villa Royale is home to Del Rey, the area’s ultimate dimly lit date-night restaurant and lounge. Featuring much of its original 1940s furnishings and lighting design by Illuminators, Del Rey is a romantic culinary destination with a menu of Spanish-inspired tapas and entrées amid a seductive Prohibition-era vibe.

Skylark Hotel
You don’t have to be rolling in dough to live it up in the arts district. A 2021 Travelers’ Choice award winner, Skylark transports you to the swinging ’50s with meticulously restored retro style without sacrificing the modern creature comforts amid breathtaking views of the San Jacinto Mountains. Rooms feature pillow-top mattresses and glass showers, plus there’s a free hot breakfast and genuinely friendly and helpful staff. The Skylark is the ideal choice for those who prefer to spend their extra pennies elsewhere.

       Souk is the Arabic word for market-place or bazaar. Just a short walk from Skylark, Soukie Modern is a global art and décor lover’s dream come true. Inside the interior artisan souk, you will find handmade rugs, including jaw-dropping Moroccan designs from co-owner Taib Loltfi made on his mother’s loom, home décor, furniture, clothing, and accessories from artists around the world. Sit on a cushioned banquette and sip tea with owners Taib and Kenya while you marvel in the pageant of global artistry.

El Morocco Inn & Spa
Speaking of Moroccan, the El Morocco Inn & Spa is like no other hotel in the area, if not the country. Located in the outlying city of Desert Hot Springs atop mineral-rich hot springs water, the 13 guest room converted motel-turned-Moroccan riad is not merely exotic desert décor, it’s an immersive experience.
       Languish the day away on a hammock or lounge bed in the tranquil garden, or one of the lounge chairs surrounding the mineral pool or canopy-covered hot tub. Detox in an infrared sauna available to all guests. An outdoor fireplace warms up cool desert nights, or choose to chill out in the Kasbah lounge with a mint tea or lemonade. Hidden alcoves abound, so complete privacy is always near. Robes and slippers await in individually decorated king-bedded rooms with small kitchenettes. Wake up to complimentary French-press coffee and a light continental breakfast. The spa menu is replete with traditional Moroccan rituals using imported ingredients with day passes available to the pool and spa area to non-hotel guests who purchase a spa treatment. Like a desert oasis in a faraway land, the El Morocco Inn will beckon you time and again.

       Keep in mind there is no upscale or trendy dining in the immediate area, which is perfect because Desert Hot Springs is home to some of the best ethnic eateries around. The hotel keeps several take-out and delivery menus at the front entrance. The portions are huge and the flavours are bold, so bring your plate poolside or en suite and savour authentic Mexican, Thai or Indian while you bask in the El Morocco magic.

Azure Palm Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa Oasis
Newly opened, Azure Palm is already winning praise. Majestically perched on Miracle Hill overlooking Mt San Jacinto and the Coachella Valley, guests can embrace the breathtaking scenic backdrop from a lounge on the expansive patio. Pamper your body and soothe your senses with a massage or body treatment, then soak up the healing vitamins and minerals in the silky, crystal clear pools and hot tubs. Come overnight or for the day to enjoy over 30 specially curated spa services. Experience the healing properties of Palm Springs’ only authentic Himalayan salt room. Unwind and tone in the yoga studio. Enjoy healthy dining from morning to evening, coffee specialties and delicious fresh-squeezed juices in the café (the food is truly delicious with the best flour-less chocolate cake ever).
       The focal point of the expansive, high-ceiling suites are the jaw-dropping concrete soaking tubs, and all rooms feature mineral springs water for bathing. Fashioned as a haven of relaxation and rejuvenation, the spacious rooms combine elements of earth and sky, imparting a sense of celestial serenity in aqua accentuated by artisan woodwork and geometric prints. You will notice one thing missing from your room: a television. You are here to reconnect, not tune out. There is complimentary wifi for your personal devices and an in-room radio, along with everything else you expect from a luxury resort. Dedicated to holistic well-being, Azure Palm sponsors five- and six-day yoga and juice cleansing retreats. Check the website for available dates.

Back to the downtown epicentre, Alcazar is a 34-room boutique hotel located in the middle of the bustling design district. Cloaked in a sea white, settle into a haven of calm on your private patio and crisp Italian white linens.
       For a yummy daytime excursion, head out to El Paseo Shopping District in Palm Desert. A world-class shopping and dining destination, you’ll find murals and art exhibits alongside designer boutiques and on-trend restaurants. After a stroll up and down the Paseo, Wilma & Frieda’s Café is a must-stop for brunch (available seven days a week). ‘Wilma was a down-home southern cook, while Frieda was more of an Ozzie-and-Harriet dinner-party type,’ says Kelly McFall of her two grandmothers, whose names are immortalized in the restaurant she owns with her brother, Kreg Alexander. Two culinary approaches, two locations, one amazing idea. The elevated comfort food reimagined as all-day brunch is a regular spot for locals who can’t seem to get enough of the grilled meat loaf with eggs and home potatoes. Other brunch favourites are the blackberry custard French toast, churro waffle, and Mark’s short-rib eggs Benedict. Pair with a classic cocktail or house-made pastry.

       Chances are you gave your appetite a workout at Wilma & Frieda’s, but you still need to feed your skin. The Body Deli is one of the original purveyors of organic personal care products started by two cosmetic chefs in the Coachella Valley way back in 2001. With their extensive background in nutrition, raw food, wellness and beauty, Margaret Skarin Clark and David Anton Parker envisioned a personal care brand as organic and pure as a freshly squeezed smoothie, or ‘fresh food for the skin,’ as they’ve coined. The Body Deli has evolved into a global brand with loyal customers spanning the globe. They did superfood for the skin before anyone else.

Dive Palm Springs
The desert meets the French Riviera, the product of a group of Francophile designers and artists with an affinity for 1960s French beach culture. It’s chic, boutique and très français. Lush grounds surround a restored original Libott pool, while the interior conjures a jet-set jaunt in St Tropez. Spacious and bright, the dwellings feature original murals, premium linens, rainfall showers and whimsical French accents.
       Rise and shine, ready for a desert hike? Beat the heat and take an early morning drive to Oswit Canyon for a brisk morning hike. Oswit Canyon is on South Palm Canyon adjacent to the Canyon Heights neighbourhood and the south trailhead for the South Lykken Trail. It’s a spectacular canyon, and is home to endangered bighorn sheep, desert fox, bobcats, mountain lions, migratory birds, raptors and other wildlife. These trails are known across the planet. Although this canyon is wholly within the city of Palm Springs, a group of tirelessly committed volunteers are attempting to preserve an international asset. Check their website here for events, news, and how you can help. There are even volunteer guides to accompany you on your hike if you inquire in advance.

       Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, head over to Chef Tanya’s Kitchen for a gourmet vegan lunch. Chef Tanya opened the first all-vegetarian restaurant in Palm Springs in 1990. She then started Native Foods, which became the first national chain serving only plant-based food. In 2017, Chef Tanya’s Kitchen was born and expanded into a take-out deli and curated market-place and Tanya is once again a local hero with fans from far and wide flocking to any of her three locations. Order a freshly prepared soup, salad, sandwich or opt for grab ’n’ go and head to one of the lovely city parks for a leisurely picnic. Finish it off with a dip in your hotel pool.

Hotel Zoso
Location, location, location! This property has the honour of having the best location in downtown Palm Springs. It’s been the hotel of choice for revellers who love a lively pool scene and spacious rooms with luxury amenities. That is all about to change for the better. Beginning this summer, Hotel Zoso will be undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation that will transform both the guest rooms and public spaces. In tandem, the hotel will be unveiling a new restaurant concept, a new nightclub concept, a new retail partner and more. The renovation will take approximately six months.


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    1. Jody Miller May 25, 2021

      Thank you!


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