A stylish oasis for sun-drenched leisure

CHRIS MICHAUD
Last updated 05:00 11/01/2014
Forever Marilyn
Reuters

FOREVER MARILYN: Check out the towering Marilyn Monroe statue at 101 North Palm Canyon Drive.

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Two hours east of Los Angeles, the resort area of greater Palm Springs has attracted Hollywood stars and well-heeled retirees for decades, lured by its proximity to both the entertainment capital and the gambling haven of Las Vegas.

With a sunny, dry climate and a backdrop of soaring snow-capped mountains, Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage offer a bevy of options for outdoor recreation.

Annual events include an international film festival and the Kraft Nabisco golf championship, drawing thousands of visitors.

Even short drives give glimpses of modern architecture off roads named for famous denizens such as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore.

Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to the desert oasis.

REVELLING IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS

With its warm and largely rain-free climate, greater Palm Springs is a renowned destination for retirees. From nature hikes and sprawling gardens to unspoiled preserves and stunning mountain vistas, the area has nearly limitless possibilities for visitors seeking outdoor fun and relaxation.

Any Palm Springs visit should include a stroll down Palm Canyon Drive, for both window and real shopping and great people watching.

Check out the towering "Forever Marilyn" Marilyn Monroe statue at 101 North Palm Canyon Drive. Don't be embarrassed about posing for a photo underneath her billowing dress - everyone does - and peruse the "Walk of Stars" plaques embedded in the sidewalk en route.

City officials negotiated an extension of Marilyn's original departure, so she will now be sticking around until this spring.

Another essential experience is at Mount Jacinto, which boasts the world's fastest rotating cable car ride. The entrance to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is just off the main artery, Route 111, at the northwestern edge of Palm Springs.

It might be 30 Celsius or more in the valley but bring a jacket and be prepared to trek through deep snow at the peak 2,590 metres up, even in spring and fall. Note that the cable car closes every August for maintenance.

At The Living Desert at 47900 Portola Avenue in nearby Palm Desert, lovers of flora and fauna can stroll around 1,200 acres (485 hectares), exploring trails, gardens, an aviary and exhibits that include butterflies, mountain lions, reptiles and longhorn sheep.

For those seeking a more concentrated garden-and-flora walk, try Moorten Botanical Gardens at 1701 South Palm Canyon Drive. A mere US$4 gives you access to this once-private arboretum created in 1938 to feature thousands of varieties of desert trees, cacti and other plants along a nature trail.

BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER

The Palms Cafe in Rancho Mirage, on Route 111 just past Cathedral City, offers great breakfasts and lunches with generous portions. Nab a seat on the patio, order a spicy Bloody Mary and enjoy huevos rancheros, chorizo and egg burritos or American-style fare.

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For lunch, the Pines Cafe atop Mount Jacinto has informal dining, while the Peaks Restaurant features fine dining, with lunch entrees moderately priced.

If brunch is the order of the day, fuel up at LuLu California Bistro at 200 South Palm Canyon Drive, where the three-course $19.99 deal features luxurious items like a smoked salmon omelette with caviar or seafood eggs benedict.

Owing to the warm climate, sidewalk cafes line Palm Canyon Drive, so settle in for an aperitif before heading to dinner.

A popular dinner choice with locals, especially on Fridays, is the bustling pan-Asian hotspot Wangs in the Desert at 424 South Indian Canyon Drive.

Enjoy one of the imaginative drinks while waiting for a table. Choosing from the copious menu is made a bit easier with dishes divided into categories of fire, savoury and sweet.

A true taste of Palm Springs culinary history can be sampled at Las Caseulas Terraza at 222 South Palm Canyon Drive. One of the area's oldest Mexican restaurants, it offers all the usual choices plus specialties such as camarones chipotle and ceviche tostada.

ARTS, CULTURE AND NIGHTLIFE

You might walk off your dinner with the ubiquitous stroll along Palm Canyon Drive or take in the legendary show The Follies at the Plaza Theater at 128 South Palm Canyon Drive.

The Follies is in its 23rd and final season - appropriately titled "The Last Hurrah!" - and will wrap up in mid-May. This year's mix of music, dance and comedy features Darlene Love, Susan Anton and Maureen McGovern.

Plan to have dinner early or late as evening shows start at 7 pm. There are also matinees at 1:30 pm.

For something decidedly more high brow, check out the Palm Springs Art Museum, downtown at 101 Museum Drive, which features modern, contemporary and traditional art of the Americas.

Current exhibits feature contemporary glass, Western landscape photographs by Stephen Willard, works by artist Richard Diebenkorn, Insights into Architecture and Mesoamerican and Pueblo ceramics. The museum is closed on Mondays and offers free admission on Thursdays from 4 pm.

OTHER OPTIONS

For aficionados of 20th century architecture, Palm Springs is a true oasis. It's worth a drive past the City Hall at 3200 East Tahquitz Canyon Way for a look at one of desert modernist Albert Frey's best-known designs. Frey also designed the Tramway's stylish visitor's centre.

Combine a dose of iconic style and pop culture kitsch with a tour of Elvis Presley's mid-1960s home, where he and wife Priscilla spent their 1967 honeymoon - followed nine months later by the birth of their daughter Lisa.

The house, at 1350 Ladera Circle in Palm Springs, has one-hour afternoon tours featuring docents dressed in character and photos are allowed. Reservations are advisable but not required.

The hottest ticket in town is entry to Sunnylands, the former winter residence of Walter and Leonore Annenberg that recently hosted the two-day meeting of US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Guided tours of the sprawling retreat at 37977 Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage run Thursdays through Sundays but the tickets must be bought online in advance and are snapped up quickly.

Blocks of tickets are released on the 1st and 15th of every month at 9 am local time for tours two weeks later. For those without tour tickets, the visitor centre and gardens are free, with no reservations needed. Note that Sunnylands is closed in July and August.

- Reuters

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