Pride comes late in Palm Springs; this year, it’s Nov. 1–4. (Photo courtesy PSPride)
Uber-gay Palm Springs celebrates Pride in November, but it’s a queer mecca all year long
ED WALSH | Contributing Writer
Palm Springs proves that last does not necessarily equal least. The Southern California desert city will be the final U.S. city to celebrate Pride this year. As the last Pride of 2019, it is also one of the last events that will honor the memory of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. But even beyond that, the city hosts tons of events year-round, and — along with Key West, P’town and San Francisco — is one of the most queer-welcoming towns in America.
The cooler fall, winter and spring weather are a good times of year to experience the spectacular desert landscape in Palm Springs. Most days are still comfortable for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. November weather in Palm Springs is near-perfect with warm sunny days and cool nights. By mid-fall, the regular 110-plus temperatures of the summer (but hey — it’s a dry heat) gives way to highs in the low 80s. The weather is ideal for the many outdoor activities planned for Pride.
PS Pride is given center stage in this uber-gay resort town, with an opening parade on downtown’s main drag, Palm Canyon Drive, and a festivalthat runs Nov. 1-4. An estimated 140,000 people attended last year and organizers expect even more this year. (If you want to be part of it, round-trip flights from Dallas/Fort Worth are currently running a little over $300. American offers three-hour nonstop flights from DFW.) For more information on Pride, check out PSPride.org.
Some Pride attendees get the party started early. Palm Springs Leather Pride week begins Oct. 24. This year, Pride starts the day after Halloween, which is celebrated with a block party on E. Arenas Road, between Indian Canyon Drive and S. Calle Encilla, the city’s gay business block, where most of the city’s gay nightlife is situated.
Still, autumn is just one time to visit PS; the town’s two biggest gay events happen in April. The Dinah (TheDinah.com), April 1–6 in 2020, bills itself as the “largest and most famous girl party music festival in the world.” The men take their turn later that month with the world-famous White Party (JeffreySanker.com) April 24–27. If you plan on going to either event, book your hotel now.
Desert Adventures (Red-Jeep.com) offers a number of excellent tours that include Indian Canyons and the Joshua Tree National Park. Desert Adventures’ three-hour San Andreas Fault tour includes a short hike through a desert oasis as well as a very unique jeep ride through a narrow rock canyon that was created by shifting seismic plates. The tour includes a walk through an even narrower rock canyon where tour groups have to squeeze through in single file. If you want to try your hand at horseback riding, Smoke Tree Stables (SmokeTreeStables.com) offers easy guided rides through spectacular desert landscape. One of the tours goes through two of the three Indian Canyons oases as well as the surrounding hillsides.
Thanks to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (PSTramway.com), in the winter you can sunbathe by the pool and play in the snow all in the same afternoon. The tram takes just 10 minutes to get from the tram station to the snow-capped summit of Mount San Jacinto. If you prefer a more urban experience when you travel, check out downtown. Downtown Palm Springs still celebrates every Thursday evening with a street fair known as Village Fest (VillageFest.org). The street is packed with food booths, local vendors and street musicians. A museum trail, located in the heart of downtown, is a good introduction to desert hiking. A new street, Museum Way, gives visitors to the city’s main drag, North Palm Canyon Drive, a view of the Palm Springs Art Museum (PSMuseum.org). Many tourists have missed the world-class museum because they never knew it was there. One of Palm Springs’ most talked about art exhibits is free 24/7. Babies on the Move is on an empty-lot across from the Rowan and features 10 eight-foot tall sculptures of babies. The babies are scheduled to be there until early 2020, when a residential building will be built on the lot.
One of the newest and gayest things in Palm Springs is in the air. The nonprofit LGBT radio station KGAY debuted the day after Christmas last year.
“The Pride of the Valley” can be heard on 106.5 FM (KGAY1065.com).
One of the biggest draws for visitors to Palm Springs is the city’s 15 gay resorts (16 if you count the CCBC resort in neighboring Cathedral City). Although it’s common for mainstream hotels in Palm Springs to charge a resort fee, most of the gay resorts do not, despite all the extras. In comparing prices of hotels, be sure to check the resort fee charge, which can be hefty in the mainstream hotels. Among the gay hotels that charge a resort fee are CCBC, Santiago and Hacienda Warm Sands, but Hacienda’s fee is inclusive of all tips.
All are male-only resorts, and clothing optional. (The last lesbian resort, Casitas Laquita, closed a few years ago.) With the exception of All Worlds, all offer free continental breakfast and free WiFi; Santiago, Hacienda and Vista Grande even offer a free lunch. InnDulge, Vista Grande and the Bearfoot Inn all throw in a nice perk: free use of the WorkOut Gym, a great small gym that unabashedly promotes itself as gay. The gym also sells day, week and weekend passes, so you can still check it out if you are not staying there.
One of Palm Springs best resorts, InnDulge (InnDulge.com), attracts a very loyal following even in the slower summer months. It’s owned by couple Jon Jackson and Sandy Miller, who make everyone feel like family. The nightly free happy hour is a great way to meet fellow guests. Sandy has a knack for remembering names and is great at introducing guests to one another. InnDulge, like most of the Palm Springs gay resorts, attracts guests from all over the world. It is also home to a wonderful play, Electricity. The two-actor show is set in a hotel room in the resort and follows the lives of two men from their class reunion in 1983 to 2013. Before the play starts, the audience is invited for a wine and cheese reception in the lobby, and each audience member is given a name of a character referenced in the play. The actors interact with the audience in character before the play begins. Be sure to check out the play even if you are not staying at InnDulge.
The Triangle Inn (Triangle-Inn.com/triangle-inn-palm-springs) is a great example of why the gay resorts enjoy a big repeat business. Married couple Michael Green and Stephen Boyd have owned the property since 2000 and live on site. That personal touch shows in the quality of the resort. Triangle also has a very unique offering. You can rent the stunning house that adjoins the property with its own private pool with all the privacy you desire, and you can also wander over to mingle with the hotel guests if you desire.
Santiago (SantiagoResort.com) is kitty-corner from Triangle and has undergone extensive renovations in recent years taking an already beautiful property up a notch. The two-story resort overlooks a huge pool and spa and is reminiscent of a Mexican hacienda. The resort offers bicycles for guests and is an easy half-mile walk or bicycle ride to the heart of downtown. (For more information and a complete list of the gay hotels in Palm Springs, visit the city’s official travel website, VisitPalmSprings.com, and click on LGBT.)
Gay nightlife first took hold in downtown Palm Springs in 1991 with the opening of StreetBar on E. Arenas Road on what has now become the city’s gayest block. But nightlife options are not limited to that block. Just south of downtown, on the edge of the Warm Sands neighborhood on Sunny Dunes Road, is the leather/bear bar Tool Shed and just east of that is the gay store Q Trading Company and Gear Leather and Fetish. On the north end of the city, be sure to check out Toucans Tiki Lounge. The bar has a popular tiki-themed dance floor and live entertainment. The second, fourth (and fifth) Sundays welcome the very popular drag review Tommi Rose and The Playgirls.
E. Arenas is home to Hunters nightclub, the video bar Quadz, the piano bar Stacy’s, the fabulous bar and restaurant BlackBook, the modern glass-walled Chill bar, and the new kid on the block is Eagle 501 bar, a Levi-leather bar that replaced Score. Shopping options on the block include GayMart, Bear Wear Etc and Rough Trade Leather and Gear.
You can find four gay nightspots in Cathedral City: Barracks, Trunks, Studio One 11, and Runway, which recently opened at Cathedral City Boys Club. By the way, CCBC is the only gay resort in the Greater Palm Spring Area that is outside of the City of Palm Springs.
Since Delilah’s closed and eventually reopened as Studio One 11, there are no full-time lesbian bars in Greater Palm Springs. Search Velvet-PS and HerShe Bar Palm Springs in Facebook for a list of special events geared towards gay women. Velvet and Her/She Bar Palm Springs host events at various bars in Palm Springs and Cathedral City.