If you follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you probably saw a post or two about our recent team trip to sunny Palm Springs, California! We took four days to get out of the office and draw inspiration for our upcoming midcentury modern flight. It was an amazing opportunity to do our research and see prime architectural examples first hand.
We’ve got plenty to share on the history, defining characteristics and principal architects of Palm Springs midcentury modern, but you’ll have to wait for it. For now, here are the details of our trip, and everything we did, saw and ate in Palm Springs!
Get a Room
The Kimpton Rowan
After an early flight, a full day in San Diego, and a 3 hour drive to Palm Springs (we took the scenic route), we were so relieved to finally make it to our hotel. We were booked for three nights at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs, which had opened just 6 months prior.
Kimptons are fun because they come with all the comforts you expect of a luxury hotel chain, but each one is uniquely designed for it’s specific location, giving the hotel more of a boutiquey feel. This one certainly had a desert modern aesthetic, with midcentury modern inspired furniture, and a rooftop pool that took full advantage of the amazing mountain views.
All the staff were friendly and accommodating, the beds comfy, and the complimentary amenities surpassed the usual list, including a yoga mat in every room and a bike share program. The best part was obviously the aforementioned pool, with cushioned lounge chairs, shaded cabanas and poolside food and drink service.
The hotel had a decent sized gym with new equipment, clean towels and complimentary fruit. This last perk I especially appreciated, as the apple I took later became my airport snack between flights home. Kate and I exercised at the gym two of the mornings, which, I don’t mean to brag, but I was pretty proud of myself considering it was sort-of vacation.
Colony Palms Hotel
We discovered this little boutique hotel on accident, as we didn’t know the restaurant we were heading to for breakfast was actually inside it. Not only was the food at The Purple Palm delicious (more details below), but we were just enchanted by the ivy covered walls and peaceful atmosphere of the Colony Palms Hotel.
Emerging from the entryway, we found a sunny courtyard surrounded by two floors of hotel rooms, with a pool and lounge chairs in the middle. An ornate fountain gurgled nearby, and a flagstone path disappeared into the lush greenery, leading to other parts of the hotel. It was picturesque Spanish colonial style, with white archways and red tile roofs.
The longer we sat at our outdoor breakfast table, the more serene we felt. It was with reluctance that we eventually left this little, historic oasis, despite wanting to curl up in a cabana with a good book instead. The hotel also has a spa, which we unfortunately did not visit.
All the Food
Lulu California Bistro
The first night we just wanted something quick and close by, so we asked the guy at the front desk of our hotel for a suggestion. At his recommendation, we headed over to Lulu California Bistro with the expectation of something “funky and modern.”
His words did not disappoint, as the multi-level restaurant was a swarm of different colored art pieces and chairs, with nods to midcentury design and portraits of celebrities on the wall. Funky indeed. Despite the slightly overwhelming, Cheesecake Factory-style menu, the food was pretty good and the people watching out the window excellent.
The Purple Palm
This was the previously mentioned restaurant within the delightful Colony Palms Hotel. The inside is a mosaic of different patterned, red and white, floor to ceiling tile and wallpaper, but with the large chandeliers and oversized mirrors, the effect is more alluring than overwhelming.
However, as it was morning and not yet too hot, we sat outside on the charming canopied patio beside the pool. The Purple Palm is open for every meal, offering New American cuisine made from fresh and high quality ingredients. I highly recommend the Eggs Benedict with homestyle potatoes, and the croissants were especially light and crisp.
Sandfish is a relatively new sushi restaurant and whiskey bar with an industrial modern vibe. We made the mistake of going without a reservation, and so we ended up sitting on the hot patio, stifled by the lack of breeze and misters. Aside from the heat and the unreasonably long amount of time it took to get a water refill, the sushi was fresh, imaginative and all together exquisite.
Cheeky’s is a frequent addition to Palm Springs top restaurants lists. Allured by bacon flights and house-made cinnamon rolls, we decided to try it out for our second morning in Palm Springs. Like we did for almost every meal on our trip, we sat outside on the covered patio, which had a wall of thick greenery that added a jungle vibe congruous with the Cheeky’s playful monkey logo.
There was only a short wait to get a table, and it was definitely worth it. The menu rotates weekly, so you are sure to see some inventive dishes and seasonal flavors at their full advantage. The signature cinnamon roll was also tasty, although not what I expected. I had pictured a gooey, icing-drenched mound of dough of Cinnabon proportions, but instead received a flaky, croissant-like pastry, sans frosting. We readily shared and ate the whole thing, regardless.
533 Viet Fusion
Everything here was good, from the cocktails to the curry to the Bahn mi. The restaurant has a relaxed feel with a hip modern style and eclectic artwork, including a giant, back-lit, astroturf exclamation point over the bar. I don’t know why, but I loved that. The wait staff was friendly, and genuinely wanted us to enjoy our experience and love their restaurant.
Our last morning in Palm Springs was an earlier start, as we had a guided architecture tour to get to. For that reason we stayed close for breakfast, opting for a quick meal in the cafe at the base of our hotel. Juniper Table offered a smaller selection, as you would expect from a coffee shop, but the standard breakfast options were refreshed by unique ingredient combinations, and an emphasis on lighter, healthier eating.
I’d be lying if I told you this trip was all work and no play. Although the work was fun (looking at cool houses? Yes please), we made sure to do some exploring and relaxing as well. The only thing I think we really missed out on was perusing all the midcentury modern furniture shops. Not that I could have fit anything in my carry-on, or probably afforded any of it for that matter, but it’s always a good time browsing through vintage stores.
One of the few things we planned before arriving in Palm Springs (Tim much prefers spontaneity) was to stroll through VillageFest. Every Thursday night, over 100 local artisans and vendors line up in booths down the main street running through downtown. It’s very similar to Austin’s Pecan Street Festival, which I have loved going to ever since I was little, so I knew I wanted to check it out.
We saw tons of handmade jewelry, housewares, foods, accessories, artwork, soaps and so much more. It was a display of local talent good for shopping or just looking. Although we didn’t buy anything, I really had to control myself when we passed a booth of fresh baked cookies.
If you go to Palm Springs and don’t lay by a pool, did you really even go? But seriously, besides it’s claim to midcentury modern architecture, Palm Springs also touts it’s prominence as a luxury getaway spot for the rich and famous. The avenues for relaxation are everywhere, with a pool, spa or golf course on every corner.
Besides, when the temperature hits 108°, what else are you going to do? So we visited the Kimpton rooftop pool for a couple hours on each of our two full days in Palm Springs, embracing the carefree, slow-paced flow of the city and watching the intriguing characters that were some of our fellow patrons at the hotel.
Perhaps the best part of our trip was the guided tour we did with the Palm Springs Mod Squad. They offer a couple different tours all centered around the city’s midcentury modern architecture, and as we had already driven around and seen a lot for ourselves, we jumped at the chance to actually go inside some of them.
The tour guide, Kurt, is incredibly knowledgable about the history and architectural qualities of the style. Although he is almost constantly throwing information at you, he keeps it light and amusing with his fun personality. He drove us to three different homes around the city, and we even had the joy of meeting two of the homeowners.
Once it was over, Kurt gave us a cheat sheet with all the buildings and people he talked about, a map of more places to see, and showered us with coupons for local shops and restaurants. Clearly it would have been better to do the tour early on in our trip, but as we didn’t schedule ahead of time, we had to wait until our last morning in town and head to the airport as soon as it was over.
Mid Mod Homes
Since we had to wait a few days to take our official tour, we decided to go ahead and do some architectural exploring on our own. There are so many examples of midcentury homes and buildings in Palm Springs that you can drive in any direction and be sure to find something.
We followed this online map (there’s also this one) and saw plenty of gorgeous homes with butterfly roofs, breeze block screens, clerestory windows and brightly colored doors. With such a fun and unique style, there was no chance of us getting tired of it!
Palm Springs Art Museum
Faced with a wide open Friday, we decided to check out the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, a satellite campus from their main museum. The current exhibit focused more on the “design” than the “architecture”, but we saw some interesting furniture pieces, and at the very least, enjoyed some time out of the heat.
The building itself was perhaps the best part of the museum, as it was a well-restored 1960s bank building, complete with a book gift shop in the old bank vault. Our Architecture and Design Center admission also would have counted towards the price of visiting the main museum, had we gone, which boasts a large collection of modern and Western art.
Our last night in town, Tim couldn’t get the idea of a tiki bar out of his head, so after dinner we drove around until we ended up at the Tonga Hut. It was everything we could have possibly hoped for. Tropical themed rum cocktails, thatched ceilings, tribal masks, and a fellow patron ordering a beverage served in a flaming coconut. I’m pretty sure they even interrupted the music at one point to play the sounds of a volcano erupting over the speakers.
We didn’t actually ride the tram, but I wish we had because it sounds awesome. We did drive up to the tram station though, as it was a stop on our self-guided architecture tour. The curvy mountain road itself offered some pretty spectacular views, so I can only imagine how amazing it would look from the top.
The aerial tram climbs 6,000 feet in altitude, slowly rotating on the journey. The temperature difference can be 30 - 40 degrees lower than the desert floor, and the Mountain Station at the top has two restaurants, a gift shop, natural history museum, observation decks and hiking trails. Definitely the top Palm Springs attraction for a nature buff.
Needless to say, our trip to Palm Springs was full of unique adventures, tons of food, and quality team bonding. There’s just enough in Palm Springs to intrigue, but not enough to overwhelm. It’s an excellent spot for a sunny getaway or low-key vacation, with a particular desert beauty your won’t find in many other places.
Keep an eye out for the next post, where I’ll really dive deep into Palm Springs midcentury modern architecture, and everything that we learned on our trip!