As a mid-19th century paradise for celebrities and architects alike, Palm Springs remains a mid-century modern mecca to this day. With palpable traces of its Hollywood roots around every corner and an annual festival celebrating the city's perfectly preserved modern architecture, tracing the city's history is an enjoyable way to explore Palm Springs.
Palm Springs Visitors Center — Photo courtesy of joevare - Flickr
More than just a welcome center for tourists, the Palm Springs Visitors' Center is also a well-preserved example of renowned architect Albert Frey's desert modernism designs. Originally known as the Tramway Gas Station, the triangular roof provides a metal canopy that serves as one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway — Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
After a pit stop at the Welcome Center, continue up Tramway Road to the entrance to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, one of the desert's most popular attractions. You’ll enter a cable car at the Frey- and Robson C. Chambers-designed Tramway Valley Station. Enjoy a leisurely rotating ride up the San Jacinto Mountains to the Tramway Mountain Station, which was designed by E. Stewart Williams. Both stations are notable examples of the modernist designs on the 1960s. At the top of the tramway, you can also enjoy short nature walks, hikes and unmatched views of the Coachella Valley.
After taking in the architecture and aerial views of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, head to Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs to trace the city’s celebrity roots. While taking in the various retro boutiques and modern architecture that line the strip, be sure to take a moment to look down. The sidewalk is lined with stars dedicated to actors, authors and civic leaders with strong ties to Palm Springs. Known as the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, this attraction is a fun way to learn about Palm Springs’ star-studded past.
Copley's on Palm Canyon — Photo courtesy of Copley's on Palm Canyon
Once you've finished a leisurely downtown walk, head to Copley’s on Palm Canyon for a nostalgic lunch. This popular restaurant sits on the former Cary Grant estate and serves some of the most renowned dishes in Palm Springs. While dining on the outdoor patio against a backdrop of palm trees and picturesque mountains, you’ll soon see why Old Hollywood’s A-list stars flocked to Palm Springs for a weekend escape.
Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands — Photo courtesy of Sunnylands
After lunch, grab your car keys and head into Rancho Mirage. Here, the recently open-to-the-public Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands offers a glimpse into the desert's political past. The A. Quincy Jones-designed estate on this 200-acre property was the winter home of ambassadors and philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Nicknamed “Camp David of the West,” the estate regularly hosted political power players like Queen Elizabeth II, President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton. Celebrities like Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra were also regularly guests at the modernist estate. The estate continues to hold high-level retreats for politics, arts and education, but is open to visitors when retreats are not being held. If you’re not able to tour the historic estate, you’re not out of luck: Sunnylands Center and Gardens, which includes a number of exhibits, a café and 9-acre gardens, is open year-round.