Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Palm Springs: The Truths...

I have some things to say about Palm Springs,
Truths about Palm Springs,
that I hope will be helpful to those of you thinking of going
sort out fact from fiction.
You see, Palm Springs gets pretty hyped up
on some of the popular blogs and magazines,
but I felt the reality was far different than the hype.

The Truths:
The Sun Shines in Palm Springs.
We got in some nice pool time~but only one day when it was warm enough.  In late February you can get a cloudy day, it can be cool (upper 50s/low 60s) and the Sun may go down behind the San Jacinto Mountains at 4pm depending on where your hotel is.
Regardless, we enjoyed many hours, and days, of Sun ~ that alone is worth the visit.
Left:  Twin Palms Estates Home, Top Right:  Kaufmann House, Bottom Right:  Wexler House
There are lots of Mid-Century Modern homes in Palm Springs.
But all of them are still private homes and inaccessible to the public (unless perhaps you can rent them).  We had done our research by reading this book before we went, and were excited to see some of these places in person, but all of the homes featured in the book were on private roads closed off to the public and/or had gates or signs that essentially said "keep out".  The house on the left above was the one lovely Mid-Century surprise we had.  We were lucky enough to stumble upon some Sunday open houses in the Twin Palms Estates.
If you venture over to the other main Mid-Century clusters (over by the Wexler and Sinatra Houses), the reality of the US economy will sink in quickly.  Many of these homes are in heart-breaking condition, they haven't been maintained and many appear to have been abandoned or foreclosed on.  I would love to have shown you pictures - because it is real, not all the happy happy you see about PS.  But alas, I too didn't have the heart to take a picture of these neglected Mid-Century homes.  I wish I could have bought up a whole neighborhood and turned it into a super cool hotel for you to visit someday.
Joshua Tree National Park is Beautiful.
Joshua Tree is one of the most amazing places I have been, it is like spending a day on the moon.  We were lucky enough to be here early in the week without many tourists around, and had the place nearly to ourselves.  JT is a restful respite from the ugly drive to and from Palm Springs filled with overbuilt stripmalls, casinos, multiple lane interstates, and fastfood restaurants at every turn.  The second truth about the desert is that though it can be extremely moving and restful, it has also been extremely ruined.  I wish I could have come here during the heyday, before the fast food restaurants, casinos, and stripmalls.
Having a Fun Rental Car Makes Driving to and from Palm Springs a Blast.
It's SoCal, of course you are going to be driving, and probably a lot.  We learned when we were in the South of France a few years ago, that the right rental car makes all the difference.  Your fun little car becomes part of the adventure and part of the memories.  We have been partial to Fiat's, and this one was no different.  A bigger engine, and this thing would be a blast! 
Hotel experiences and eating will make or break a vacation - choose wisely and have realistic expectations.
Yeah, we loved the Ace - for happy hour.  We didn't stay there, so it was a fun reason to go over and check the place out.  I would perhaps stay there, but it is a big hotel and it is expensive, and the pool is very small (as opposed to how it looks in pictures), and breakfast here was dreadful.  But we had a really nice time at the Ace sipping a few inexpensive beers and taking in the vibe.

Yeah, the Viceroy is nice, and the grounds are lovely.  We did stay here, and it was fun to check the place out.  3 pools, a restful vibe, friendly staff, not too big.  Our happy hour by the main pool was nice, overpriced, but worth it on our first night there.  The room we stayed in was quiet, but needed a bit of a revamp.  Big downer is that people smoke everywhere in PS, including at the Viceroy ~ keep that in mind if you are not a smoker.  Not what I was expecting for CA.  That said, the Viceroy was a relaxing experience and my quiet times here were some of my favorite moments of the trip.

Overall, we were not sure what to make of Palm Springs.  
We got the Sun that we came for, and it was relaxing.  
But the town in general was not what we were expecting. 
Perhaps more than other places, PS certainly has felt the recession and it shows.  

We were expecting more of a Carmel or Sonoma type town, but what we got was more like Estes Park ~ what we classify as touristy.  
Restaurants were expensive for a basic meal, and dreadful.  Healthy and nourishing isn't really in the PS dining vocabulary.  

We would return for the sun, but I would recommend staying at a carefully vetted house or hotel with a kitchen and bring up a well stocked cooler of healthy food to cook.  Merely eating good food, hanging out by a pool, and basking in the Sun in February is worth a visit.  But if you think there is more, likely you will be a perfect candidate for life in PS, or you will hate it and bemoan it's touristy ways. 

Our visit reinforced what we learned years ago, marketing is a powerful tool - push away the curtain to get to the truths.  Anyone can make something sound good in a picture or a blog post, but is that a marketed perspective or a truth?  Know why you are going and have realistic expectations.  We had a good trip and it was simply great being together, you must decide for yourself what constitutes a truly great vacation.  Vacation, as in life, is what you make of it...