It all started with a clause in movie contracts for Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Clark Gable. At the time—the 1950s, folks—studio requirements stated stars had to stay within two hours (100 miles) of Los Angeles while filming their silver screen projects. So they flocked to Palm Springs.
Due to the city’s constant sun—think: 350 days per year—and temperatures worthy of pool parties and pétanque, the nearby desert quickly became Hollywood’s playpen. Along with this star-studded status sprung luxury estates, legendary lounges, racket clubs, and exclusive inns.
Once the 100-mile studio clause was lifted, so was the it-factor. Palm Springs’ once-famous pull slowed to a stop.
Thankfully, good trends always make a comeback, and Hollywood’s Golden Age muse is the poster child of comebacks. Thanks to a loyal group of forward-thinking preservationists, many of Palm Springs’ attractions have remained frozen in time. Many local prices are throwbacks to yesteryear, too.
Viewfinder Tip: Browse the luxe-for-less deal reel for last-minute and seasonal savings on hotels, restaurants, spas, and activities.
As a die-hard fan of luxury, value, taste, and trend, I make a pilgrimage to luxe-for-less Palm Springs a few times per year. It doesn’t matter if it’s spring, summer, winter, or fall; if I have a free weekend, I’m constantly saying to my husband, “Palm Springs?”
Best time to visit
Often we end up in California’s hottest ZIP code in the first half of December, which is, coincidentally, the best-value time to visit. This is when hotel rates reach yearly lows. If our stay doesn’t coincide with this price dip, we make sure to hit it midweek when the Los Angeles weekend warriors are tied to their desks, and per-night prices are off their highs.
In late 2014 I saw rates between October and mid-December at the Parker Palm Springs—once Gene Autry’s estate and now a celeb hotel hideaway—for US$249 per night including a US$250 spa or dining credit (yes, your read that right). This made my mouth drop, given that the Parker is the object of my hotel affection, and one of the area’s most swanky stays. Similarly, at the desert’s hipster haunt, the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, I spotted rooms from US$109 per night.
Saving money on your stay means splurging on food, right? Think again. You don’t have to be a VIP to drink and dine in style. First, embrace happy hour. To imbibe poolside—is there any other way?—make your way to Citron in the Viceroy Palm Springs. There, snag some 1940s-inspired drinks such as the bubbly citrus “Desert Jewel” inside the Viceroy’s garden party-chic setting.
Next, head for Taco Tuesday at El Jefe, the tequila bar conceptualized by Iron Chef Jose Garces in The Saguaro Palm Springs. When a modern taco costs US$2 and a straightforward margarita rings up at US$5, drinking and dining for a few dineros takes you back to another era.
Shop till you drop
Finally, when in California’s retro roost, dressing the part a la Marilyn Monroe or Frank Sinatra—both former residents—is de rigueur. From frocks to furniture, score discounted duds at the Palm Springs Vintage Market on the first Sunday of every month. If today’s trends are more your bag, browse 180 outlets from Jimmy Choo to Alexander McQueen at the Desert Hills Premium Outlets, a 40-minute drive away.
Now you and your pocketbook are set. Dress, eat, and stay like Audrey Hepburn, all for a price her assistant could afford.
Where are your tips for luxe-for-less travel?