After a century of taking the world by storm, we modern women have earned some downtime. When bubbles baths won't cut it, it's time to visit California's oasis of inspiration: Palm Springs.
Today it's the resort destination of choice for Coachella headliners like Beyoncé, not to mention sundry Kardashians. But Palm Springs has been a magnet for modern women for decades, with trailblazers like celebrity athlete Dinah Shore, modernist painter Agnes Pelton and movie icon Marilyn Monroe bringing bold, independent spirit to this SoCal retreat. So channel your inner Beyoncé, round up your squad and make your modern desert getaway.
Welcome to Parker, Palm Springs © Parker Palm Springs
Star like Beyoncé
Cruise the 100 miles from LA after rush hour, and you'll arrive in Palm Springs in time for the moonrise and its accompanying revelation: every star sparkles brighter in the desert. And if the planets are aligned, your arrival may coincide with a visit from the Knowles sisters at Parker Palm Springs.
Walking through Parker's enormous orange front door is like taking a mysterious and powerful chill pill. Suddenly you're in a hedonist's den strewn with shaggy throw cushions, psychedelic carpets, velvet lounges, a suspended fireplace and a knight helpfully pointing the way to the bathrooms with his spear. In case you missed the décor inspiration of Palm Springs potter-turned-design-star Jonathan Adler, the cheeky vintage sign over the lobby spells it out: 'DRUGS.'
The obvious choice for dinner with your entourage is Mrs. Parker, the decadent, dimly lit, reservation-only back room at Mr. Parker. Appropriately, the wine selection is inspired by '90s hip-hop supergroup TLC, with the menu divided into three sections: Crazy (read: pricey), Sexy (silky reds, satiny whites) and Cool (California wineries with cult followings). Sprawl across your leather booth and feast like you just landed a record contract on sustainable California caviar, crab cakes with saffron aioli and lobster salad studded with local avocado, grapefruit, and kefir crème fraiche. To keep the party going, squeeze into a speakeasy booth with a bowl of King Slayer rum punch at Bootlegger Tiki, or check out a band playing poolside at Ace Hotel. If it's that time of the month, you're in for a celebration at the Ace's monthly Full Moon Drum Circle.
The morning after, you may have to be dragged to brunch, and it just so happens Palm Springs specializes in drag, brunches – and drag brunches. The spread set out in the sunny, palm-fringed courtyard of Holiday House will cure what ails you, with rosé all day and Palm Springs' definitive Paloma: Casamigos tequila, lime, Coachella Valley grapefruit, SoCal's own Stiegl grapefruit shrub and a Pacific sea-salt rim. Azul pours a strong Bloody Mary with an eye-popping disco drag show, hosted by reigning queen Jersey Shore. But you're the star at RetroRoom Lounge, with karaoke nightly and drag bingo brunch on Sundays.
Rent a bike and cruise through Old Las Palmas to see amazing examples of Palm Springs modernism, like the Dinah Shore house now owned by Leonardo DiCaprio © Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism
Dare like Dinah
Truth is, Palm Springs knew how to entertain long before Coachella came along, thanks to one woman: Dinah Shore. As a swinging singer and trailblazing TV talk show host, she was Hollywood royalty from the 1940s–1970s – but she lived life even larger offscreen. Dinah was the honorary female member of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack who killed with witty cocktail banter and slayed everyone at golf on the notoriously tricky La Quinta PGA West Stadium Course – sand traps in the desert are no joke. Dinah was a pioneering champion of women's sports and founded the LPGA's major golf tournament, The ANA Inspiration. Every year, the ANA champion dives into Poppy's Pond on the 18th hole, just like Dinah did.
The annual LPGA tournament became such a draw for women that it inspired a spinoff lesbian spring festival: The Dinah, billed as 'the largest girl party music festival in the world,' featuring major acts like Lady Gaga, Eve, and Katy Perry. No doubt Dinah would've approved – she was a thoroughly modern romantic who defied convention. She divorced two husbands despite Hollywood studio objections and had famous flings with men decades her junior – including Burt Reynolds at the height of his fame when she was in her 50s and he was in his 30s.
But locally, Dinah is best known for putting Palm Springs modernism on the map. When she commissioned upstart modernist Donald Wexler to build her house in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood in 1963, it caused an architectural uproar – and set home trends worldwide. Dinah's low-slung, single-story home at 432 Hermosa Road redefined Hollywood glamour with its cool, laid-back Palm Springs style.
Rent a bike to pedal around Old Las Palmas, and you'll notice just how many houses are inspired by Dinah's place. In this neighborhood, you can compare Wexler's low-key modern homes side-by-side with the glamorous glass boxes built by his mentor, LA star architect Richard Neutra. Wexler's houses are built for affordability and shade, with mysterious hidden entryways in place of Neutra's huge, look-at-me-windows. The house Wexler built for Dinah retains its intrigue: it's now owned by Leonardo DiCaprio, who opens the house to the public once a year for a martini cocktail party that's the toast of Palm Springs Modernism Week. Leo maintains Dinah's house as a shrine to modernism, and honors Dinah with vintage photos of the modern design doyenne on the wall.
Shop the boutiques in town and then take your Insta-worthy shot in front of #thatpinkdoor © Escudero Patrick / Getty Images
Style Like Kim
Now, by the power vested in you by Dinah Shore, you're free to set your own trends. Before they built their empire, the Kardashian kids spent school holidays playing dress-up in Palm Springs – and you too can find your signature modern style here in the Uptown Design District. Start with a vintage mod maxi dress from The Frippery, amp up the flower power with a Day-Glo daisy pin from Dazzles and dial your style to maximum stun with '70s cuff bracelets worthy of Wonder Woman at Bon Vivant. Nothing makes a splash poolside like bold, color-blocked suits and breezy tunics by Palms Springs designer Trina Turk. You can't miss her flagship shop on Palm Canyon Drive, located in a striking 1953 corner storefront built by pioneering modernist architect Albert Frey.
Not to worry: Palm Springs would never leave you all dressed up with nowhere to go. You too can be Instagram famous with a selfie by #ThatPinkDoor, the bubblegum-colored entryway at 1100 Sierra Way – just don't get too close, since the owners are still adjusting to the Internet fame of their house. Join your fellow Insta influencers at The Saguaro for mondo margaritas, cornhole marathons by the pool and photo-ops against striped walls in a rainbow of desert wildflower hues. But no Palm Springs photo shoot is complete without a visit to Robolights – text or call ahead to stand in awe of the 200 giant robots artist Kenny Irwin has assembled in his backyard. Yellow aliens, pink dinosaurs and sundry Santas provide post-apocalyptic Pop backdrops for every social media occasion, from Burning Man to Santacon.
After a busy day enhancing the local landscape like a long-lost Kardashian, you'll need a restorative drink. Head to the Kelly Wearstler–designed, poolside Chi Chi wellness bar for a classic Coachella Valley date shake: a silky blend of local Medjool dates, California almond milk and a dab of almond butter. When social media stardom wears you out, adjoining Estrella Spa's Milky Way mani/pedi will soak your extremities in warm milk and green tea until the twinkle is restored to your toes.
Take a dreamy sunset hike through Joshua Tree and watch the stars light up the sky © Roman Slavik / Getty Images
Dream like Agnes
But beneath all its sleek modern surfaces, Palm Springs has a restless creative spirit. In the stellar modernist collection at Palm Springs Art Museum, Hopi artist Barbara Cerno's 1951 Polychrome Seed Jar shows ladybugs marching across a desert landscape right over a startled jackrabbit, while Helen Lundeburg pictures ethereal gases swirling around Jupiter in her 1967 painting Planet Rising – decades before the rings were captured by NASA photography. But the quiet scene-stealer here is Agnes Pelton, who traded New York limelight for Palm Desert sunlight back in 1937. Her luminous dreamscapes invite you to explore the desert's spiritual dimensions, from native Cahuilla creation myths to surreal modern mirages.
Agnes took her inspiration from nature, and so can you in secluded Tahquitz Canyon, a native fan-palm oasis capped by a 60ft waterfall hidden right behind downtown Palm Springs. On the 2-mile loop canyon trail, you'll find ancient rock art, and a calm that's almost eerie – this canyon is said to be the stomping ground of a banished shaman who causes earthquakes. Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School offers a dramatically different perspective on the desert, perched on rocky outcrops above the pom-pom puffy treetops of Joshua Tree National Park, an hour from Palm Springs.
To build your own collection of modern art by women, you've come to the right place. Twin shows at Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale and Art Palm Springs will introduce you to women modernists who are finally getting their due in art history, from Cornelis Ruhtenberg's expressionist woodblock prints to sculptural macramé trees by midcentury fiber artist Jane Knight. Between fairs, Flow Modern gallery keeps the inspiration coming with cactus-spiked chalices by Bianca Juarez and moody time-lapse landscapes by Kat Ballis. To discover the next breakout star of the Palm Springs art scene, hit the sidewalks and mingle with local artists at Thursday night Villagefest and Backstreet Art District's First Wednesday Art Walk.
With a plethora of pools and spas, it isn't difficult to find a place to relax in the sun in Palm Springs © Mecky / Getty Images
Retreat like Marilyn
Palm Springs has been the unofficial Hollywood hideout since the 1950s, when stars were forbidden to travel more than a couple hours from LA without studio permission. Palms Springs architect Albert Frey designed his buildings for maximum discretion, but he couldn't help bragging that when Marilyn Monroe needed a place to escape with JFK, she knew just where to go: the Presidential Suite at the Frey-designed Monkey Tree Hotel. Today it's a Scandinavian spa retreat with a colorful past, preserved in mint mid-century condition.
Marilyn often retreated to Old Las Palmas to read scripts, but avoiding the paparazzi got a lot trickier once her neighbors Elvis and Priscilla moved in. You can picture their epic barbecues and sunken lounge parties when you visit the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, a mid-century gem built by Palm Springs' Alexander Construction as 'The House of Tomorrow.'
But never fear: Palm Springs offers other ways to escape. In the heat of the day, slip into a matinee at Camelot Theatre, a restored 1967 movie palace that screens restored classics and indie art-house films. To see and not be seen, hop the rotating Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for 360-degree views over cliffs and clouds up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. When you reach the summit, everything suddenly falls into perspective: you don't need Beyoncé's entourage, Dinah's swing, Kim's social media following, Agnes' paintbrushes or Marilyn's presidents to reach your personal peak. You've already arrived, all by yourself.
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