The Rat Pack lives again — or at least Palm Springs, once the party pad of Sinatra and the boys, does.
The Coachella Valley city, which had devolved into a down-at-the-heels caricature of a Hollywood playground, has reinvented itself: Its retro-chic look, striking scenery and hip hotels and restaurants are drawing a new generation of visitors.
And, of course, there's always the weather, a tourist attraction on its own (in winter, anyway).
The city prides itself on having 350 days of sunshine a year, a siren song that plays loudly and clearly in Canada and other frosty North America realms in the depths of winter. That's why snowbirds swarm here during the pricey high season (January through April). Besides spending wads of cash, they double the city's size to about 100,000.
But that shouldn't deter Angelenos, especially those who realize how many good deals await. We know this because we slept and ate our way through the city recently, ferreting out chic little boutique hotels and friendly cafes that are delightful and delightfully inexpensive.
We traveled the length and breadth of the city, visiting historic districts that once were the home of frolicking celebrities — the Movie Colony District and the historic Tennis Club District, for instance — and newer neighborhoods — the Design District, known for Midcentury Modern décor. We found a city catering to hipsters, retirees, couples — gay or straight — and dog lovers. And we found some great deals.
Our list includes:
—Seven hotels (three new) where you can get a room for less than $150 a night — some as low as $79 — in high season.
—Eight restaurants where you'll find plenty of tasty entrees for less than $10.
—Ten fun free things to do, including gallery tours, museum hopping, hiking in the hills and plenty of first-class window shopping.
1. Alcazar Palm Springs
This Palm Spring newcomer (it opened in October) sits behind the city's Design District and has taken the location to heart. Attractive and sexy, the Alcazar offers a winning combination for guests. Its 34 rooms are eye-catchingly designed and boast flat-screen TVs, fluffy white duvets, mini fridges and other amenities that don't usually come in this price range. The grounds are similarly attractive, with soaring palms, a stunning view of the mountains, a saltwater pool and several areas for lounging, snacking or sunning. Pets allowed in some rooms ($50 fee).
622 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (866) 877-8733 or (760) 318-9850,
High-season doubles from $79 (weekends $129); off-season rates from $84.
2. Casa Cody Inn
Built in the 1920s, Casa Cody qualifies as the oldest operating small hotel in Palm Springs; it also has among the lowest prices on our list. The Southwestern-style complex, once owned by Buffalo Bill Cody's niece Harriet, includes studios and one- and two-bedroom suites; many come with kitchens, and some have fireplaces. Furnishings are Santa Fe-style with splashes of color. There are two courtyards, each with swimming pool. The large grounds feature lawns, fruit trees and bougainvillea. Free continental breakfast is served by the pool. Kids and pets allowed (pet fee $15).
175 S. Cahuilla Road, Palm Springs; (800) 231-2639, (760) 320-9346,
High-season rates for doubles from $99-$189, no additional charge on weekends; off-season rates start at $79.
3. The Chase
Walk into the lobby of the Chase and you'll notice the pluses right away: home-baked chocolate chip cookies at the front desk, '50s decor worthy of
, and an eye-catching landscaped courtyard and pool just outside the picture window. This retro two-story hotel, in the historic Tennis Club District of Palm Springs, has spacious rooms, most with kitchenettes, and is polished in a Sinatra/Rat Pack sort of way. Free continental breakfast served each morning in the lobby. Kids and pets allowed (pet fee $10).
200 W. Arenas Road, Palm Springs; (888) 320-8867 or (760) 320-8866, http://www.chasehotelpalmsprings.com,
High-season doubles from $119 ($139 with kitchen), no additional charge for weekends; off-season doubles from $79.
4. Del Marcos Hotel
Retro fans will love the Del Marcos Hotel, where the Midcentury Modern design features vintage furniture, not knockoffs. "We cater to people who know and love the design," said Laura Ramstead, the manager. Designed in 1947 by desert architect William F. Cody, Del Marcos Hotel has a long list of amenities, including continental breakfast, complimentary bicycles, welcome drink, robes, saltwater pool, private patio or balcony and poolside cabanas with TV. No kids, but pets allowed in some rooms. (Pet fee $25)
225 W. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; (800) 676-1214 or (760) 325-6902,
Winter rates for doubles from $139, weekends $149; off-season doubles from $79.
5. Desert Riviera
Don't confuse this mellow boutique hotel on the eastern edge of town, built in 1951, with the contemporary (and pricey) Riviera on the north end of the city. Desert Riviera's attractively landscaped courtyard looks as though it could have been the subject of Sunset magazine's cover story, circa 1965. The hotel's lowest rate, $149, barely makes our survey, but its fun style and many extras add value. Going shopping? Call the stretch limo for a free ride. Want to dine in? Prepare dinner in your own kitchenette. A bike ride, perhaps? Check out the tandem cruiser. Hungry when you arrive? Dig into the goodie basket you get on arrival. No children or pets.
610 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (866) 270-8322 or (760) 327-5314,
High-season rates for doubles from $149, no additional charge for weekends; off-season from $109.
6. Hotel California
Hotel California, also new to the Palm Springs scene, has only 13 rooms. But its diminutive size gives it intimacy. This classic California Mission-style hotel was built in 1940 and updated before its reopening last year. Rooms are stylish, and amenities are interesting, including a large kitchen guests can share. As a sister property to Desert Riviera, the Hotel California also offers the stretch limo to guests needing a ride to dinner or the airport.
424 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (800) 642-7079 or (760) 322-8855,
High-season doubles from $149, no additional charge for weekends; off-season rates from $109.
7. Los Arboles Hotel
Looking for a romantic hideaway? This recently renovated hotel hides behind high walls and seems insulated from the outside world. It has an old California feel with dark woods, tile floors and sunny colors on the bedspreads and drapes. There's a courtyard pool and an adjacent El Mirasol Mexican restaurant. No pets.
784 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (760) 459-3605,
High-season doubles from $138 weekdays, $168 weekends; off-season rates from $108.
1. El Mirasol
The ambience is pure Mexican Riviera at this new restaurant adjacent to Los Arboles Hotel in uptown Palm Springs. The outdoor patio, sheltered by a high wall, is surrounded by lush greenery, or you can dine inside in hot weather. Visit at lunch, when Mexican combination plates start at $8.75 and half of the 20 combos offered are less than $10.
784 N. Indian Canyon Drive (entrance on Via Altamira), Palm Springs; (760) 459-3136,
2. El Taco Asado
This fast-food diner, near the entrance to Palm Springs International Airport, draws hungry locals on a budget. Don't look for a pleasant ambience: lights are bright, tables are uncomfortable, and you may be seated next to an ATM. But portions are huge, prices are right and food is authentic. Combination plates range from $6.75 to $9.85.
440 S. El Cielo Road, Palm Springs; (760) 323-7544
3. Fisherman's Market & Grill
The fish at this small, family-owned chain tastes fresh enough to have just come off the boat in San Pedro. That's because the owner is a fishing fanatic who was so passionate about his sport that he went into business. There's not much ambience here — and many entrees are pricey — but you can get fish tacos for less than $10 and there's a value lunch menu for $7.99. The early-bird dinner (3-5:30 p.m.) is $10.95.
235 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, (760) 327-1766 (other locations in Palm Desert, La Quinta and Banning),
Order at the counter, then take a seat at a comfy booth at this uptown Palm Springs diner that's one step above a fast-food restaurant. You'll find lots of heart-stopping dishes on the menu, including the "Heartstopper Burger," a high-cholesterol cheeseburger that includes two sausage patties, bacon and an egg. John's specializes in big portions and low prices. Breakfast is served all day and a special dinner menu is priced under $10.
900 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (760) 327-8522.
5. Lulu California Bistro
Take a seat at a high-top table and save as much as 40% at this new, popular downtown Palm Springs restaurant. Lulu's, which opened in September, has a 12-hour happy hour that begins at 11 a.m. and lasts until closing. All you need to do is sit near the bar at a high-top. Among the sharply marked-down items: $7.99 for barbecue chicken pizza (regularly $13.99); $7.99 for fish tacos (regularly $11.99).
200 S. Palm Canyon at Arenas; (760) 327-5858,
6. Sherman's Deli & Bakery
New York deli fans can find lox, gefilte fish, cabbage soup and other favorites at Sherman's Deli, which has been serving Palm
residents since 1953. The downtown restaurant hasn't changed much over the years, except for its prices, many of which are now out of our price range. But budget travelers can still find a substantial selection of breakfasts and sandwiches for less than $10.
401 Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; (760) 325-1199 (another location in Palm Desert),
7. Thai Smile
This tidy restaurant in uptown Palm Springs wins big each year in desert magazine popularity polls, including scoring a Best of the Best award in the annual Palm Springs Life contest. Entrée prices range from $9-$19.95, but the lunch special is a deal at $8.25-$9.50. It's served 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and includes soup or salad, tea, steamed rice and an entrée.
651 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (760) 320-5503,
Ask almost anyone in Palm Springs where to get a great burger and the answer most probably is Tyler's, a landmark for 16 years. The octagonal-shaped building once was the city's Greyhound depot; now it serves up fat, juicy burgers and other simple foods. (The addictive potato salad sells out each day.) This chic indoor-outdoor café, in the downtown Plaza, is so popular it can make its own rules: cash only; open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., closed Sundays. Burgers from $6.75.
149 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (760) 325-2990,
1. Hike the hills
Stand under a waterfall, visit a desert oasis, spot a bighorn sheep in the wild. Palm Springs' mountains and rocky ridges offer hiking conditions ranging from easy to strenuous. Check out Ten Best Day Hikes in Palm Springs at
2. Wheel around town
Tackle miles of bike trails that meander through historic districts and downtown Palm Springs. Many hotels offer free bike use, or bring your own. Pick up a map at the Visitors Center, 2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive, (800) 347-7746.
3. Take a do-it-yourself tour
Architecture buffs aren't the only ones who enjoy Palm Springs' famous Midcentury Modern homes and buildings. Get a Modern Palm Springs map at the Visitors Center, 2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive, (800) 347-7746.
4. Count the stars
Hollywood may have started the tradition, but Palm Springs built on it with its own walk of fame. Stars are memorialized in the city's "Walk of Stars," which can be seen on the sidewalks of downtown Palm Canyon Drive.
5. See the classics
Check out a different kind of superstar at McCormick's Classic Car Showroom, the home of Palm Springs' quarterly classic car auction. (The next event is Feb. 24-26; call  320-3290.) But you can see a range of classics for free any day at the consignment showroom, which is always full of privately owned classic vehicles. Recent stars include a '97 Bentley and a '49 Cadillac Sedanette. It's at 244 N. Indian Canyon Drive.
6. Stroll and shop
Window shoppers can spend a pleasant afternoon exploring Palm Canyon Drive, visiting galleries, home furnishing shops, consignment stores and fashion boutiques.
7. Visit the museum
On most days, adults pay $12.50 to visit Palm Springs Art Museum, where exhibits include contemporary and Western art, Cahuilla basketry collections and a sculpture garden. Get free admission 4-8 p.m. Thursdays and the second Sunday of every month. 101 Museum Drive, (760) 322-4800,
8. Check out Villagefest
Thursday also is the time to visit Villagefest, an old-fashioned street fair with musicians, food, arts and crafts and a farmers market. It all happens 6-10 p.m. on Palm Canyon Drive, between Amado and Baristo roads.
9. Chill out at an oasis
Take a short stroll or a longer trek at the serene 13,000-acre Coachella Valley Preserve. Just outside of town, the preserve features dunes, springs and stunning Washington palms. Ramon Road to Thousands Palms Road. (760) 343-1234,
10. Get out in the wild
Mule deer, desert bighorn sheep and bobcats are among the wildlife found at 31,000-acre Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and Covington Park. The wildlife sanctuary, in the Little San Bernardino Mountains near Morongo Valley, ranges from 600 to 3,000 feet. You'll find a picnic area and hiking trails. Call for hours and directions. (760) 363-7190,