9 Palm Springs resorts where you can party like an Old Hollywood star
Curious about how Palm Springs became Angelenos’ favorite weekend escape? When Hollywood’s movie industry flourished in the 1920s, film stars were contractually mandated to travel no further than two hours away from their studios during production, in case they were needed on set. (The real reason for this “two-hour rule” was to keep them out of trouble.) Palm Springs was a two-hour drive from L.A. — and it was always sunny, unlike competing getaway destinations like Santa Barbara.
The celebs and their minions often stayed and played in three star-studded resorts: the Desert Inn (1914-1955), El Mirador (1928-1972) and the Racquet Club (1933-2014). All that’s left of the big three today is a reconstruction of El Mirador’s grand Spanish Colonial-style tower, now part of the Desert Regional Medical Center.
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But a handful of other historic Palm Springs-area resorts favored by Hollywood stars were spared the wrecking ball. The nine standouts listed here have been updated lovingly through the decades and still retain at least some of the look and ambience they exuded when Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and the Rat Pack hung out there. Consider them for your next desert escape, but keep in mind when booking: You’ll pay dearly for a room during the Coachella Valley’s spring music festivals, but rates plunge when summer temperatures push past 100 degrees. And ... most of these resorts welcome dogs but not children.
In 2021, boutique-hotel management brand Casetta renovated the 30-room property, augmenting its great bones with modern amenities like handmade tile work and chic Smeg refrigerators. A new lobby serves as a coffee bar and marketplace selling local products, including handmade ceramic juicers. Buy one to make fresh juice from the property’s bountiful citrus trees.
Two Bunch Palms
A multimillion-dollar renovation of Two Bunch Palms by new owners since 2016 resulted in a new spa offering the likes of a “Good Herb CBD Wrap.” In addition to yoga classes, guests can join nature walks, sound baths and craft workshops like basket weaving. The restaurant serves organic fare ranging from three-grain coconut porridge for breakfast to seared lion’s mane mushroom steak and za’atar-crusted salmon for dinner. The 65 spacious guest rooms are decorated in a clean-lined contemporary style. Six suites, including four in the stone cottage where Capone once hid out, have their own private mineral-water tubs.
La Quinta Resort & Club, Curio Collection by Hilton
Today, La Quinta Resort & Club, Curio Collection by Hilton, features 796 guest accommodations; 90 holes of golf; 21 tennis and eight pickleball courts; 41 swimming pools; a spa; and several restaurants, shops and event spaces. The original 20 casitas are still there (with the bathrooms modernized), surrounded by lawns and rose gardens.
Near them, you’ll find a plaque honoring the famous Hollywood film director-writer-producer Frank Capra. Capra and his wife holed up in a casita in 1934 when he was writing the screenplay for “It Happened One Night.” After the movie won five Oscars, he returned to write the screenplays for film classics including “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “You Can’t Take It With You” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They too won Oscars. No wonder Capra called La Quinta “my Shangri-La for scriptwriting.”
In 1975, Brooklyn-born businessman Mel Haber, who made his fortune manufacturing bobblehead hula dancers and furry dice for auto dashboards, acquired and renovated the inn. Haber played host for the next several decades in its Melvyn’s Restaurant, where guests like Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow and Liberace often performed in the bar. In 2019, Proper Hospitality hotel group renovated and expanded the inn to 30 rooms and suites. Melvyn’s is once again a bustling bar and restaurant with live music — and bow-tied waiters whipping up flaming cherries jubilee desserts tableside.
Avalon Hotel & Bungalows
Today the Avalon features 70 eclectic lodgings, from private villas to family-friendly cottages, and three swimming pools. Star designer Kelly Wearstler added colorful Hollywood Regency touches to the decor. The resort’s stylish Chi Chi Restaurant was named for Palm Springs’ famous Chi Chi nightclub, where back in the day, performers included Jerry Lewis, Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.
The Colony Palms Hotel and Bungalows
Cut to 2021: Steve Hermann, architect to A-listers and owner of Palm Springs’ award-winning, ultra-luxe L’Horizon Resort & Spa, bought the property and poured $3 million into a redo. Instead of giving the 57 rooms and suites a sleek midcentury look, for which L’Horizon and many of his homes are known, Hermann updated the resort’s original Spanish Colonial style. The green-and-white color scheme and the green-banana-leaf wallpaper will have you thinking you’ve stepped back into the 1930s — but in the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The elegant new Colony Club restaurant overlooks the swimming pool. As for the secret gambling club in the basement, it’s now a storage room. If you ask nicely, you might get a peek at the original wall murals of frolicking naked ladies.
The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn
The property originated in 1924 as side-by-side Mediterranean Revival-style vacation villas built at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains for two wealthy Los Angeles couples, the Meads and the Bishops. In 1994, prominent Palm Springs physicians Tracy Conrad and Paul Marut bought and restored the Mead villa, named the Willows. After a multiyear restoration, they opened the property as the elegant seven-room Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn. It wasn’t until 2017 that they were able to acquire the Bishop villa and connect it, enlarging the inn to 17 rooms.
In addition to antique furnishings and luxe modern amenities, the property features the hardwood floors, wrought-iron ornaments, painted ceilings and mahogany from the original villas. Guests enjoy a complimentary three-course breakfast overlooking the 50-foot waterfall that flows over the boulders behind the inn. After breakfast, they can climb the path up the mountain to the bench where Einstein once sunbathed.
In 2014 it was acquired by PRG Hospitality Group and partners. Last year, they brought in French creative producer-interior designer Clairemarie Astruc Rutledge to update — and glamorize — the original look. Think rustic ranch chic, with stone fireplaces, wood-beamed ceilings, cowhide sling chairs and deep “horse-trough” bathtubs.
The high-ceilinged barn is now the Barn Kitchen, a cool gathering place, bar and restaurant serving sophisticated dinner entrees like a gin-brined pork chop. The 20 guest rooms open onto the swimming pool or the citrus-tree-shaded rear courtyard. Most have private patios but lack TVs and phones to enhance the laid-back vibe.
In the 1990s, new owners stuccoed the exteriors and added a clay-tile roof for a more Mediterranean look. Recently, the Provenance boutique hotel-management group enlarged Villa Royale to 38 units and added murals of 20th century icons like Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and JFK. The resort’s dark and cozy Del Rey restaurant serves tasty Spanish tapas-style dishes.
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