In a corner of the vast Southern California desert, nestled against scraggly snow-topped peaks with sagebrush trailing in every direction, sits the idyllic enclave of Palm Springs.
Nice for Sunday brunch with Grandma, sure, but a hip weekend destination? A recent trip proved that this once-mecca of early-bird specials and temperate retired life is emerging as a thoroughly young, modern getaway. The proximity to Joshua Tree National Park makes the town a perfect stopping point for some urban indulgence at the close of a camping adventure.
Journey the roughly 40 miles from Joshua Tree into Palm Springs and find a modern rendition of desert living perfected. My senses, fresh off the brilliance and glory of the pristine desert, were at first dulled by the expected condominiums and billboards aligning the highway. But upon reaching the downtown district, I was struck immediately by its vibrancy.
Strolling past bistros and retailers in a tank top, I soaked up the sun and window-shopped leisurely. A quick stop at the Desert Hatter and I’ve equipped myself with a Panama hat. My counterpart opts for the floppy sun variety that screams iced cocktails on the front lawn in summer. We don the new headgear and resume exploring our lunch options. At every turn a sunny patio dining area beckons, offering paninis, beet salad, all kinds of Italian and Mediterranean dishes with a California infusion.
Settling into our seats, it’s high time for our first cocktail of the day. A few margaritas later and we’re ready to check out our hotel and its two pools.
We spy the sign for Ace Hotel on an unassuming corner south of downtown. Its art nouveau essence wafts out like an A/C unit as soon as we set foot inside. Navajo rugs, raw wood and stone fixtures and a hipster staff greet us at the front desk. Not wanting to waste daylight, we hurry over to the heart of the hotel.
It’s 3 p.m. and the central pool area is full-throttle. Umbrellas, hammocks and smiling faces fill the deck, framed against pristine snow-capped mountains and chic modern architecture. A DJ spins upbeat pop and funk music as waiters circulate with libations.
The general vibe is hip, fun and indulgent, yet welcoming to children, chillers, even dogs. Young families laugh and play by the pool, splashing over to cheeseburgers and pear salads. Happy canines shadow their masters and investigate one another. Cliques of friends and couples recline on deck chairs, contemplatively smoking while dangling feet in the water.
That evening, we explore Ace's compound in the warm desert night. Fires gleam from private suites and from common fireplaces where sofas await. We stop in the sleek, dark wood Amigo Room for a cocktail before dinner. The daiquiri merits consideration – not a blended fruity headache, but a sophisticated drink of eight-year-old Bacardi with brown sugar and lime.
We remove to King’s Highway, a converted Denny’s that now serves as Ace’s chief restaurant. We salivate over the menu like Pavlov’s dogs before deciding on a brisket burger and some sides. Having our fill, we head to the patio, wrapping up the night with a beer, a smoke and some good conversation.
The next morning, we rise eager to hit the pool. We stake out a good spot and gawk at the 9 a.m. sunshine. Dizzy and smiling dreamily, we swim a bit to pique our appetite. People-watching picks up as the pool fills, youths trickling in from sleeping off the late night. After some time spent dangling from one of the hammocks lining the deck, our breakfast of poached eggs, roasted tomatoes and turkey sausage arrives. We munch happily and order our last Mai-Tai of the weekend, making sure to splash around in the pool a few times before showering off and packing up.