Just about everyone who visits Palm Springs discovers Palm Canyon Drive with its eclectic array of restaurants, shops and party spots. But there's plenty happening away from the main boulevard, an off-the-beaten-path Palm Springs begging to be explored.
"Off the strip, but worth the trip" is the motto of the Backstreet Art District. Located on Cherokee Way in the Canyon Sands area of southeastern Palm Springs (behind the Mercedes-Benz showroom), this edgy desert atelier features an assortment of artist-owned galleries and working studios open to the public. In addition to paintings and sculptures, these creative spaces offer a range of jewelry, photography, ceramics and mixed media works.
Another unique neighborhood is the Sunny Dunes Antiques District, which sprawls across three blocks on either side of East Sunny Dunes Road. More than a dozen shops dispense a wide variety of items from vintage clothing and mid-century modern furnishings to Asian curios, old musical instruments, used books, bygone photos and postcards, vinyl records, antique jewelry — you name it.
Après art and antiques, feast at one of the backstreet eateries scattered around downtown Palm Springs. Spencer's at the tennis club offers classic America cuisine (with a dash of French and Pacific Rim) in a boulder-strewn setting that's often voted the city's best outdoor dining venue. Another top choice is Le Vallauris, with classic french cuisine in a romantic outdoor garden under light-filled olive trees.
Indian Canyon Drive boasts a number of interesting restaurants. Shanghai Red's Oyster Bar brings fresh seafood to the desert, dishes like their popular Baja fish tacos and newfangled Catalina sliders — swordfish, mahi mahi or Alaska cod wedged inside a brioche bun. Half a block away is the equally unique Rooster and The Pig. This self-proclaimed "Vietnamese American beer bar" blends exotic dishes like lemongrass shrimp lettuce wraps and caramelized ginger chicken with California craft brews.
Perched on the northern edge of downtown, Triada Palm Springs is a hip new boutique hotel in a Mediterranean-style compound. Originally opened in the 1930s as the Spanish Inn, the hotel has hosted Liz Taylor, Lana Turner, Howard Hughes and other Hollywood heavyweights. After years of neglect, the property has been transformed into a chic modern boutique with a posh spa, multiple pools, upscale restaurant and private poolside lounges.
Close by is another celebrity landmark: the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway — a classic mid-century modern mansion dubbed the "House of Tomorrow" when it was built in the early 1960s. After getting hitched in Vegas, the Presleys spent several blissful months living in the futuristic dwelling. Fully decked out Elvis and Priscilla impersonators give guided tours of the house and grounds daily.
More hidden gems are sprinkled around "the curve" — that big bend in Palm Canyon south of downtown. Started in 1938 by a local family obsessed with desert flora and history, Moorten Botanical Garden has more than 3,000 kinds of cacti and other arid land plants along paths flanked by pioneer relics, fossils and other oddities.
The past also comes to life at Camelot Theatres, an independent movie house with an old-fashioned attitude toward the film-going experience. Although contemporary art house films are the cinema's forte, Wednesday nights are reserved for classic Hollywood films. Among those on tap for later this summer are “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (Aug. 19) and “Cool Hand Luke” (Aug. 26). You can even take your wine inside to watch the movie. Camelot also features a cafe and full bar.
Among the restaurants worth exploring on the east side of Palm Springs is Escena Grille and Lounge. Located on the grounds of the Escena Golf Club but open to the general public, the restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining with gorgeous mountain views, as well as Sunday brunch, excellent martinis and firepits on the dining deck.
Even farther east is Desert Memorial Park, where Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra and Salvatore Phillip "Sonny" Bono are buried. Many other Hollywood luminaries were laid to rest there, including director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, composer Frederick Loewe (of Lerner & Loewe) and several Gabors.
After paying your respects, raise to toast to Old Blue Eyes at one of the city's bygone bars. Step back in time at the Casablanca Lounge inside the Ingleside Inn, where Sinatra married Barbara Marx Blakeley in 1976. Order a double Jack on the rocks (one of his favorite drinks), which comes on a cocktail napkin emblazoned with Sinatra's portrait.
—Joe Yogerst, Tribune Content Solutions
For more visitor information, go to VisitPalmSprings.com.