Tucked away in the Sonoran Desert of Southern California is a city known for its vintage flea markets, thrift shops, stylish kaftans, design savvy hotels, and a wealth of midcentury-modern architecture.
To outsiders, it’s an iconic destination for poolside partying and catching some time in the sun.
To locals, its rich history partnered with its easy going and inclusive community make it that much more of a hidden gem.
In short, Palm Springs is where you go to be seen, to party unapologetically, and to immerse yourself in the fabulous culture that put the city on the map in the first place. The locals sport a diverse LGBTQIA+ community and make it a point to welcome people from all different walks of life. It’s a hub where folks from different backgrounds live alongside each other in harmony—which makes the town a desert oasis in more ways than one.
My most recent trip to sunny Palm Springs was to celebrate my 50th birthday in style with some of my favorite girlfriends. Nestled in the safe embrace of the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains, we were able to unplug and unwind while living it up unabashedly. To be sure, there was plenty of partying, but we also took time to marvel at the city’s mid-century modern buildings and revel in the vintage finds we picked up at various thrift stores throughout the trip.
The soul of this desert city are the old Hollywood homes sprinkled throughout its streets. Many of these homes were built in the 40s and 50s to serve as getaways for the rich and famous whenever they felt the need to skip town and be amongst their peers, away from the ever present press and fans.
Most were abandoned and fell into disrepair during the 70s but experienced a second boom in the 80s with the influx of the gay community, also seeking a place to be allowed to be themselves without judgment. One by one, these stunning homes were refurbished and restored to their former glory. Nowadays, they serve as a reminder of the city’s history and are appreciated by many cult followers of the Mid-century style.
The thing to understand about Palm Springs is that it’s not a place you go to do things.
Downtown isn't much to look at, the food isn’t good (like at all), and there isn’t much to be done but lay around in the sun.
Instead, you visit this desert town so you can live in its aesthetic.
You drop into Palm Springs to lounge by the pool with a cocktail in hand, party it up with the beautiful people, delight in the modern architecture, and pick up a unique find or two at whatever flea market you happen to stop by.
It’s a very different scene from the next stop on our list.
After our stay in Palm Springs, we ventured 40 miles east into Joshua Tree to enjoy a completely different kind of experience.
You go to Palm Springs to be seen.
But when you go to Joshua Tree, you go to see.
Ever since the Mormons from Utah wandered through the desert and settled Joshua Tree as their own kind of Zion (true story), its reputation as a surreal and dreamlike landscape was established.
Stark, distinct, and totally bizarre, Joshua Tree is known for its strange plant life and terrain that is unique to its sliver of the world.
There are odd, architectural trees called Yucca brevifolia that look like they were pulled straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Though they present as cactus-like, they have bark like any other tree which make them appear more sculptural than anything else.
Then—within the same line of sight—there are heaps of stone that have stood in place for thousands of years. These boulders are stacked ten stories high and look as though giants left a game of marbles mid game. They were formed over millennia due to shifts in the North American and Farallon tectonic plates. They seem to exist in direct opposition to the whimsical trees they share a home with and yet somehow, it all works.
The texture, shape, and sculptural feel of the cacti, trees, and stones against the sandy moonscape of Joshua Tree has attracted mystics, hippies, and avid outdoorsy types for as long as anyone can remember. The population there is that of a leftover bohemian town where sage is sold and spiritualists gather. It is a place where those who do not want to be seen, go. The community stands in undeniable contrast to the Hollywood types that maintain a completely different lifestyle only an hour or two away, which is the beauty of this region of Southern California.
Though the differences between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree are stark, somehow the two manage to go hand-in-hand. Maybe it's because they share the same warm and dry desert as a backdrop.
Even better is the fact that you can enjoy two such brilliant and opposing experiences in the same 3-day weekend.
So, I’d encourage you to start planning your trip to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree. You’ll get the best of both worlds if you take the leap!
Until next time,