I’m as passionate about Palm Springs as I am about boutique hotels. Combine the two and you’ll find a permasmile plastered across my face for weeks. Basking in Southern California’s desert, two hours east of Los Angeles, the former escape for Hollywood’s elite has gone through many ebbs and flows since Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra sought solace from the paparazzi’s flashing bulbs.
Due to a loyal group of local preservationists, including resident and fashion designer Trina Turk, Palm Springs skipped the ’80s condo craze and the Y2K building boom, and held onto its midcentury physique with a wrench-tight grip. The result is a destination drenched in architectural soul, where every building tells a story.
Staying true to its Golden Age glory days, the desert oasis once again has become the darling of escape artists, like moi, looking to add sun and style to the weekend repertoire. While choosing my favorite Palm Springs boutique hotels is as difficult as picking what vintage frocks I’ll pack in my carry-on, these retro retreats quicken my heartbeat every single time I check in.
Hitting the Palm Springs boutique hotel scene in 1989, Korakia Pensione is the boo of L.A. design bloggers and creative cats who can’t help but snap its eye-catching vignettes. Two restored Moroccan and Mediterranean villas—originally neighbors in the 1930s—host 29 guestrooms in a coveted location within walking distance of downtown Palm Springs at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains. Perpetuating the Moroccan theme, complimentary alfresco breakfast and afternoon mint tea service both immerse you in North Africa’s charms.
While I love a night on the town, the evening is when things really heat up at Korakia. Put on your comfy best and sink into oversized cushions while savoring classic films such as Casablanca or Breakfast at Tiffany’s under the glow of lanterns and flickering outdoor fireplaces. Haven’t you heard? Staying in is the new going out—at least that’s my motto at Korakia.
The Horizon Hotel
A true midcentury-modern muse, The Horizon Hotel’s gorgeous lines and interior decor have been preserved thoughtfully to uphold its 1952 roots. The result is a small collection of bungalows—each with its own patio—positioned around a pool just begging for a chic cocktail party.
Designed by famous architect William F. Cody—a star in Palm Springs’ modernist movement—this private retreat for the television producer, media mogul, and famed hotelier Jack Wrather and his wife, Hollywood actress Bonita “Bunny” Granville, was a weekend hotspot for Hollywood’s elite. After a two-year preservation process in 2006, the hotel opened and continues to wow guests as if they’re starlets with complimentary in-bungalow breakfast delivered daily, and leisurely games of badminton atop the velvety green grounds.
The Parker Palm Springs
The Parker Palm Springs makes you look—if you can find your way around its labyrinth of gardens sprouting lemon trees and celebs in wide-brimmed hats. Sporting a vintage-meets-va-va-voom Jonathan Adler design, the hotel is more than just looks; it has brains too. Anchored by the desert’s hottest spa, an all-day breakfast restaurant, and a lounge complete with hanging wicker chairs, you wonder if The Parker was Don Draper’s hideaway. Turns out it was once owned by Gene Autry, who used it as a hotel and Spring Training base for his baseball team, now called the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
In a nod to Palm Springs’ retro beginnings, alarm clocks are replaced by complimentary coffee wake-up service brought to rooms by an attendant who pours from a silver carafe into gold-rimmed china cups. This was, by far, my favorite Parker’ism, one in which I partook every morning (just make sure you call the night before to request your wake-up time). If you missed the morning coffee memo, the party at the pool (pictured at the top) starts early—think 9 a.m.—when staff pass out hot chocolate, followed by fresh berries in the afternoon and vodka-lemon-cranberry cocktails at happy hour. When you stay at the Parker, there’s no reason to leave the sprawling and savvy grounds.
Viewfinder Tip: Living the glam life in Palm Springs doesn’t have to cost an A-list rate. Stay in the off-season—summer or early fall—and you’ll be lounging like a star.
Alcazar Palm Springs
Immersing yourself in the vibe of the Alcazar Palm Springs is a study in both gastronomy and relaxation, right in the heart of the city’s Uptown Design District. Opened in 2011 near a trio of Palm Springs’ hottest eateries by the hippest restaurateurs in town, the Alcazar’s recipe for success goes far beyond food (though I totally dig nearby Birba, Jiao, and Cheeky’s; the hotel serves freshly baked croissants and Intelligentsia coffee from the last of that trio every morning).
The collection of 1950s haciendas and restored, all-white rooms hug a quiet courtyard covered in billowing desert flowers and a pool reflecting the San Jacinto Mountains. Don’t miss the outdoor fireplace; when my husband and I visited in January 2013, we spent many-an-eve cuddling up to its purple-hued heat.
Colony Palms Hotel
Last but certainly not least, the Colony Palms Hotel tells the tale of Palm Springs intrigue dating back 80 years—a stretch that spans many owners, from mob bosses to figure skaters. Built by mafia kingpin Al Wertheimer as a fancy clubhouse for debaucherous pursuits—yes, there was a secret staircase concealed behind a pantry cupboard—the iconic property later changed ownership and was catapulted to it-spot status, welcoming the likes of Howard Hughes and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Surviving time and trends—even a stint as Palm Springs’ first health spa—the Colony Palms continues to uphold its A-list status. In 2007 it took a page out of Hollywood’s handbook and underwent a updo by Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators star Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who kept the property’s Spanish Colonial bones and added touches of Morocco throughout.
While I couldn’t find its age-old secret passageway while I was there, I bet it still exists and provides a peek into Palm Springs’ past life.