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Just about 100 miles east of traffic-tangled Los Angeles, Palm Springs beckons as Southern California’s ultimate sun-kissed oasis. Hollywood royalty started making their dash to the desert as early as the 1920s, and in dodging the limelight for a few days these movie stars helped put Palm Springs on the map. They still come, but now it’s for the wealth of mid-century modern architecture, hip resorts and, for much of the year, the best weather in the country. Not to mention, the raw beauty of the Indian Canyons and rugged desert peaks, which coexist comfortably with this sandy destination’s cool cultural spots and heat-seeking hipsters. Here are some of the top spots beautify your Instagram feed.
1. Old Tramway Gas Station
It’s the first building you see on the approach to Palm Springs, right as Highway 111 turns into Palm Canyon Drive, and its space-age “flying wedge” canopy roof makes it one of the town’s most iconic structures. The Old Tramway Gas Station (so named because of its proximity to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway) dates back to 1965, designed by famous Swiss-born architect Albert Frey and Robson Chambers. No longer a gas station, it’s a good place to fuel up on information: it now functions as the Palm Springs Visitors Center.
2. Palm Canyon Drive
Thanks to suburban sprawl and ribbons of freeways, many Southern California towns are virtually indistinguishable from one another — but Palm Springs is an exception, as a ride up its most famous thoroughfare will prove. It’s lined with palm trees on either side and chock-a-block with restaurants, boutiques and mid-century modern style hotels. The hip design district centers on the blocks between Vista Chino and Alejo, while the stretch between Amado and Baristo, with the iconic Plaza Theatre on the 100 block of South Palm Canyon Drive, is a mix of honky tonk and modernism.
3. The Indian Canyons
Many a visitor to Palm Springs has wondered if there’s any truth to the “springs” part of the city’s name and the answer is a resounding, though tranquil, yes. The sacred Indian Canyons, which belong to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, are nestled on the edge of the desert floor. Murray and Andreas canyons offer up a literal oasis of hiking opportunities. Sights like waterfalls and huge fan palms will make your ‘gram go pop — just look out for rattle snakes.
4. Frey House II
Along with modernist masters John Lautner and Richard Neutra, architect Albert Frey left a lasting mark on the California desert aesthetic. The Frey House II seems to be half man-made and half crafted by nature, and therein lies the marvel. From a distance, it’s almost indistinguishable from the rocky hillside; inside, under the tilted corrugated aluminum roof, a natural boulder separates the living area from the bedroom. Though it’s not private, you can join an organized tour to visit and photograph the site.
5. Elrod House
Palm Springs may be one of the most easygoing towns in America, but it’s not without its contradictions: for example, the absolutely epic John Lautner-designed Elrod House is not generally open to the public, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible. Your best chance of seeing this feathery concrete masterwork, where action-packed scenes from the Bond flick Diamonds Are Forever were shot, is on a tour during Palm Springs Modernism Week in February.
6. Bob Hope House
Of all the futuristic-looking buildings in Palm Springs, perhaps none is more iconic than the Bob Hope House, with its signature flying saucer-shaped roof. Like the Elrod House, it was designed by modernist architect John Lautner, but this creation is much more dramatic from a distance thanks to its position atop the rocky Southridge Rimcrest. While you have to be a resident to get past the security gate and drive up close, its rather brutalist design looks positively ethereal from afar.
7. Bank of America Building
The cloud-puff aesthetic of the landmark Bank of America building, at 588 South Palm Canyon Drive, was no accident. Originally built as the City National Bank in 1959, its designers were inspired by Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, which the French architect had built a few years before. The blue mosaic tiles on the south-facing exterior coupled with the smooth white stucco roof and curving walls seem custom-made for Instagram.
8. Riviera Palm Springs Hotel Pool
Landlocked Palm Springs is famous for its ocean of hotel pools, but few come with the pedigree of the Riviera Palm Springs: scenes from one of the most gloriously superficial movies of all time, 1963’s Palm Springs Weekend, were filmed here. Although it’s been a while since Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens frolicked poolside, the large swimming pool still rocks a retro vibe and is the energy center of the Riviera, now a Tribute Portfolio Resort. Other swimming pools at newer hotels may be hipper, but this is still a classic chill-out zone.
9. The Kimpton Rowan Rooftop Pool
You can hunt far and wide for a rooftop swimming pool in Palm Springs, but you’re only going to find one: it’s perched atop the new Kimpton hotel and packs an impressive 887 square feet. Along with that comes sweeping views of rocky desert summits and miles of sun-splashed palm trees in all directions — the Palm Springs equivalent of Parisian rooftops. And if you’re not a hotel guest, don’t worry: day passes with towel service included are available.
10. Palm Springs International Airport
Not many airports in America can serve up an authentically al fresco experience like Palm Springs International. The days of the outdoor putting green just past security may be gone, but the elevated Sonny Bono Concourse features towering palm trees under an open-air canopy roof. As cool as that is, perhaps the best thing about the airport is its location practically in the middle of town — where the US Army built the first landing strip on site in 1939, back when Palm Springs was even smaller than it is today.
Feature photo of Tramway Gas Station by @nei.cruz via Twenty20
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