It's understandable why, as wintry weather sets in elsewhere, travelers flock to Palm Springs for warmth and sunshine. Heavy clothes are quickly replaced by T-shirts and shorts — or, at some resorts, no clothes at all. Palm Springs is a hot spot not only for snowbirds but also for those who choose to vacation wearing just their birthday suits at one of the area's several nudist resorts.
The city is known for its trendy boutique hotels, but for those wanting to spend a weekend (or longer) au naturel, common sense suggests that nudists sleep where they tan. At the Terra Cotta Inn (2388 E. Racquet Club Road, Palm Springs;  322-6059), couples can spend the night in one of 17 spacious rooms. In the '60s, as the Monkey Tree, the place welcomed Hollywood A-listers such as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and members of the Rat Pack.
For those willing to get dressed, downtown Palm Springs features a wealth of eateries. Locals and tourists alike enjoy LuLu California Bistro (200 S. Palm Canyon Drive,  327-5858). Right on the main drag — just a short stroll from the new, larger-than-life statue of Marilyn Monroe — this restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating. It's open early to late. The breakfast menu features made-from-scratch corned beef hash ($9.99), and dinnertime brings a wealth of fish entrees, including sautéed sand dabs ($23.99).
"We get tons of first-timers," Terra Cotta Inn owner Tom Mulhall says of his guests. He and his wife, Mary Clare, have owned the property for 17 years. They have many repeat visitors who relish the opportunity to shed their clothes and relax by the pool. Guests swear that once they get over the fear of being naked in front of others, serenity replaces stress. The building's clean lines represent the work of Albert Frey, the respected Swiss architect who designed it. Flowering shrubs adorn the grounds.
The lesson learned
Swimming, sunning and reading are popular ways to unwind, but "swinging" definitely isn't on the agenda. Those unfamiliar with what Mulhall calls "social nudism" may not realize that, at resorts like this, getting naked is not a precursor to foreplay.
Weekend rates at the Terra Cotta Inn begin at $169, which includes continental breakfast, and guests are welcome to check out as late as 5 p.m. A couple can enjoy a three-course meal at LuLu for about $90, which isn't bad by Palm Springs standards. And don't forget to budget for sunscreen.