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Palm Springs: Fresh downtown offers modern charm

If you haven't been to Palm Springs lately, then you've been missing out. The city has a fresh new unwrapped downtown that has it going on. You can learn all the details at VisitPalmSprings.com — or read on for many of the highlights.

The recent $400 million makeover is a top-to-bottom revitalization of six square blocks of the downtown district that makes good on its promises. It's a 21st century hub of retail, eateries, public art and a shining new hotel (with more to come) that future-proofs Palm Springs as the town it's already evolved into: less rarified, more accessible, diverse and undeniably interesting. It's stayed within its classic mid-century modern charm and nod to retro styles.

Tucked between the San Jacinto Mountains and the ever-popular Palm Canyon Drive, downtown Palm Springs has established itself as a cultural junction for locals and vacationers alike. A nearly 7,000-square-foot retail complex that opened last fall offers high-end and mid-range shopping (current tenants include West Elm, MAC Cosmetics, Free People, H&M and Kiehl's skincare), modern dining, office spaces, and small boutiques. And they're not finished. There's still a large public park and event space in the works nestled in the middle of all this.

On a half-day excursion (easy with a bike or free four-hour garage parking), visitors can grab a latte or sample a flight of cold brew coffees at the new Starbucks Reserve, stroll shops indoors or along Palm Canyon Drive, and split a pie at Blaze Pizza. After, post an Instagram in front of the show-stopping "Isabelle" sculpture by Julian Voss Andreae, a stainless steel marvel only visible from certain angles. The mix of hipsters, spa-and-golf aficionados and locals makes for perfect people-watching. And there is plenty else to ogle; the Palm Springs Walk of Stars begins across the street from the complex, and a block to the west, the cultural treasures of the Palm Springs Art Museum await.

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Anchoring the complex is the new 4-star, 153-room Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs Hotel, a place to be whether or not you check in. In a deliberately low-rise city, The Rowan is the tallest building in town and downtown, with seven stories delivering the psychic relief of panoramic views. Its High Bar serves handcrafted cocktails around an early-1960s glam poolside lounge on 10,000 feet of rooftop -- a sexy set piece for the evening nightlife that rolls out later. Two restaurants, Stephen Wambach's gourmet 4 Saints and the Mediterranean-inspired Juniper Table café, showcase the fresh, seasonal food for which California is the global blueprint. And for the Hollywood and Silicon Valley set (or the classy bachelor party?), book the 1,500-square-foot Arlo Suite for floor-to-ceiling views, a dining room and pool table, and two wraparound balconies.

There's plenty more to note here, from Thursday night VillageFest to David Cerny's giant naked Babies installation (wait, what?) within walking distance. Plus, there's the whole Uptown design district we haven't even mentioned -- with amazing vintage shopping and more award-winning restaurants and cafes to try, it's also ripe for exploration.

Whether you're just curious about the scene or thinking about staying, the new Palm Springs is waiting for you.

For more information about downtown Palm Springs and beyond, head over to VisitPalmSprings.com.