Palm Springs: Desert Playground Then and Now

By Dean & Nancy Hoch

Elvis, Dinah, Lucille, Greta, Nat King, Clint, Sonny, Kirk, Cher, Clark & Carole, Gary, Gene, Bob, and Elizabeth.  You add the last names. . ..

These and hundreds of other Hollywood stars put Palm Springs on the map in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s — so much so that on a given weekend there may well have been more stars in Palm Springs than in Hollywood itself.

The little city in the desert became the “playground of the stars,” a.k.a. “Hollywood’s Hideaway,” and the places where they stayed — and later built lovely homes — were and still are as diverse and eclectic as the personalities of the luminaries themselves.

For example, during the first two nights we stayed in Palm Springs, we were guests at the Ingleside Inn, a small, intimate and romantic resort owned and operated (very hands on) by Mel Haber, a transplanted, colorful New Yorker. The Inn, built in the 1920s, had fallen into disrepair, and Haber, who purchased it in the 70s, almost singlehandedly caused it to rise like a phoenix from the ashes into one of the “Ten Best” listed in Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

June Allyson once said:  “Everyone should be married at least once at the Ingleside.”

Haber has a list of some 230 stars who stayed, were married, partied in, or frequented the Inn and his own deluxe on-site restaurant, Melvyn’s, still very much in vogue today.

Our room — where we knew Elvis and Priscilla or other stars may well have stayed — was furnished and decorated with art treasures, paintings, and antiques, complete with a private fireplace and our own patio surrounded by picturesque palm trees.  How fun and romantic can you get?  Dean called our stay there our “second honeymoon.”  Whoo—hoo!

The Inn, by the way, is just a short walk from many great restaurants and the glamorous night life of Palm Springs.

Later in our visit, we spent a couple of nights at the delightful Orbit In, a  contrast in many ways to the more formal Ingleside Inn. It’s where TRAVEL & LEISURE magazine says “the 1950’s never went out of style.” HIP HOTELS USA says that this engaging property has been “lovingly returned to its rat pack glamour days,” and no doubt just as much nostalgic fun as it was in those razzle-dazzle days.

Rarely, as travel writers, do we report on our accommodations, except as an aside, but these two diverse properties definitely deserve a spotlight in and of themselves.

Now, for some suggestions of places to go, go, go and things to do, do, do in Palm Springs:

  • Ride the exciting Aerial Tramway, world’s largest rotating tram that ascends 8516 feet in 10 minutes to an unforgettable view of the immense Coachella Valley below.
  • Don’t miss a Desert Adventures bright red jeep ride to the awe-inspiring San Andreas Fault area.  Our driver and guide, Naturalist Eric Harmon, delighted us with facts on geology, history, desert plants, and wildlife.
  • Try an architecture tour with Robert Imber — or a Best of the Best Rich and Famous City Tour, both focusing on homes of the stars.
  • The legendary Palm Springs Follies are a not-to-be missed treat.  The amazing part of this fabulous Broadway style show is that the dazzling dancers have to be 55 years of age and older, some into their eighties.  How in the heck do they do it? What fun!
  • Every Thursday night the main street of the city is cordoned off for a free VillageFest, with crafts, artwork, music and food items.
  • The Village Green Heritage Center offers informative, historic walking tours, as well as a 25-minute video of the early days.
  • Hike through the huge stands of palm trees lining sparkling brooks in the spectacular Indian Canyons — home to the native Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians.
  • See the Palm Springs Air Museum, housing one of the nation’s largest collections of World War II aircraft.

Experience Palm Springs as it was – and still is – very much a “happening” place where the quality of life is still marvelous. In addition to all we’ve described, fun in the sun also includes a fabulous art museum, casinos, golfing, camping, and seemingly endless shops and boutiques.

With 350 days of seductive sunshine a year, this is a fun place for people of all ages, and, for Chicago area folks, direct flights are available daily.


For more details:

Aerial Tramway:

Fabulous Palm Springs Follies:

Architecture Tour:

Rich & Famous Tour:

Historical Walking Tour:

Air Museum:

Indian Canyons:

Visitors Bureau:

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