Outdoor seating at StreetBar on Arenas Road
Palm Springs has weathered the pandemic, and the breaks are coming off
Despite Palm Springs’ tourist dependency, the desert city is emerging from the pandemic with all of its legendary gay resorts intact. All of the city’s gay bars have also survived, and the three gay bars and gay resort in neighboring Cathedral City have also managed to stay afloat despite California’s restrictive closures. Palm Springs has long been one of the gayest cities in the world, and LGBT visitor loyalty combined with the fact the city is within easy driving distance from Los Angeles has been enough of a lifeline to keep the city’s small LGBT businesses from going under.
The brakes are expected to be taken off on June 15 when California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to remove all restrictions and allow businesses to reopen at full capacity. But visitors were already returning to the city in large numbers by last month; March and April are traditionally the busiest times for tourism in Palm Springs.
The first post-pandemic LGBTQ event will be the Cinema Diverse film festival Sept.16-30. It will overlap this year for the first time with The Dinah, a lesbian-centric extended weekend usually held in early spring. This year Dinah runs Sept. 29-Oct. 3.
The traditional Halloween block party happens on East Arenas Road. The street party will be on Halloween Eve, Saturday, Oct. 30. Leather Pride 2021 overlaps with Halloween, Oct. 28-31, and Palm Springs Pride runs Nov. 5 -7, highlighted by a parade on Nov. 7.
Palm Springs has 11 gay resorts, or an even dozen if you count the area’s largest gay resort, CCBC, in Cathedral City. All are marketed to gay men, and all are clothing optional. Most serve a free continental breakfast and most, thankfully, do not have resort fees.
The gay resorts are one of the biggest draws for many gay men who return to the same resort every year and often several times a year. The social atmosphere in the resorts makes it easy to meet other gay men from all over the world.
The Triangle Inn, about a 15-minute walk from downtown Palm Springs, deservedly attracts a big repeat crowd. Gay couple Michael Green and Stephen Boyd own and live on the mid-century-modern property and make new and repeat visitors feel like family. Green is one of the driving forces behind Cinema Diverse as the executive director of the Palm Springs Cultural Center. The Triangle Inn is kitty-corner from the Santiago, a beautiful hacienda-style property with two floors overlooking a huge pool and hot tub.
The biggest cluster of gay hotels is in the Warm Sands neighborhood, about a mile east of downtown. It includes the city’s oldest gay resort, El Mirasol Villas, which was once owned by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. It is next door to All Worlds Annex, a cruisy resort that is open for day passes.
The fabulous Vista Grande Resort is just around the corner and offers two pools, a huge hot tub grotto, cooling waterfall grotto and steam room. The Hacienda is one of Palm Springs’ most luxurious resorts and it really pampers guests. Desert Paradise, kitty-corner from the Hacienda, changed ownership recently but still offers the top-notch quality for which it is famous. And InnDulge, just across from Desert Paradise always attracts a crowd, even in the slower summer months.
On the north end of downtown is the Canyon Club Hotel, which includes a huge outdoor maze and koi pond and is open for day passes. The Barefoot Inn welcomes all men, not just bears, and it has a loyal clientele.
Most of the gay nightlife in the Palm Springs area is on East Arenas Road. That is where you will find Hunters, the block’s largest gay club with a main bar and patio and adjacent dance space. There are no lesbian bars in Palm Springs since the closure of Delilah’s years ago, but Hunters is women-popular. StreetBar is just a few steps away and always attracts a big crowd of locals. The Levi-leather popular Eagle 501 and piano lounge Stacy’s are the newest bars on the block.
Quadz is a very popular video bar that keeps regulars coming back on its show tunes nights. Chill has a great open-air feel and always attracts a crowd. BlackBook is known for its gourmet bar food and is the place to eat late. The pandemic has resulted in bars and restaurants expanding outdoor spaces, and many of the businesses are hopeful they can convince the city to make those outdoor spaces permanent.
The Toolshed is on Sunny Dunes Road, about a half mile south of downtown. It is next to the gay stores Q Trading and Gear Leather and Fetish. Toolshed is popular with bears and the leather crowd but attracts a wide variety of gay men. Its Thursday underwear night is legendary.
On the north end of town, you will find the fabulous Toucans Tiki Lounge. The women-popular club is known for its drag shows and dancing. After a continued closure, the owners say they will re-open soon.
A must-do for any visitor to Palm Springs is a trip to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which takes visitors to the summit of Mount San Jacinto in just ten minutes. It typically gets up to 110 degrees or more in the summer in Palm Springs, but it will be about 30 degrees cooler on the summit. There are a number of trails you can explore at the top as well as a couple of restaurants at the summit tram station.
Every Thursday evening, Palm Springs shuts down the city’s main drag, Palm Canyon Drive, for the VillageFest street fair. Local businesses sell food, art and crafts, and you can enjoy live music on every block. Even in the hot days of summer, the heat becomes bearable once the sun goes behind the mountains.
The Palm Springs Art Museum is in the heart of downtown and free on Thursday evenings. Be sure to stop by if you are going to VillageFest anyway. The museum benefits from artwork that is donated or loaned to the museum from many of the city’s wealthy residents who call Palm Springs their first or second home.
The Indian Canyons oasis showcases a palm tree-lined stream where Native Americans lived for generations. The Indian tribe that owns the property has recreated the huts where California’s first residents lived. The fee to enter is $9. The free ranger-led hikes are temporarily suspended because of the pandemic.
There are a couple of great free hikes in Palm Springs, including the Museum Trail, which starts in the parking lot of the Palm Springs Art Museum in the heart of downtown and zigzags up a mountainside offering great views of the city. The Araby Trail starts south of downtown and makes its way up to the famous Bob Hope House, with a roof that is shaped like a gigantic turtle shell. The trail goes along and above the house where you can take in a birdseye view of the putting green and golf course the late comic built on the property.
Getting there, getting around
American Airlines offers nonstop flights from Dallas/Fort Worth International to Palm Springs. Flight time is a little over three hours. Palm Springs International Airport is just two miles east of downtown. Renting a car at the airport couldn’t be easier. The rental car lot is just steps from baggage claim. Both Southwest and American offer nonstop flights from Dallas to the Ontario airport, which is about an hour’s drive away from Palm Springs. Los Angeles International is about a two-hour drive in good traffic — but the traffic is seldom good.
You can easily get by in Palm Springs without a rental car. Uber and Lyft operate in the city and are allowed to drop off and pick up at the airport. The city’s public transit, SunBus, has a stop a block from the airport to downtown. The city also offers a free shuttle bus called Buzz that operates Thursday-Sundays in a loop through the tourist-popular spots in the city.
If you do rent a car, driving around Palm Springs is very easy. You will have no trouble finding free parking anywhere in the city. The city has no parking meters but has a posted time limit on parking in some areas.
For more information, the Greater Palm Springs’ official tourist Web site is VisitGreaterPalmSprings.com. It includes a great LGBTQ travel guide.