Palm Springs, California A Gay Friendly Vacation Destination
By Victor Weinblatt
The surrealistically beautiful San Jacinto mountains rise straight up at the desert’s edge, like a cosmic, not quite to be believed movie set, Nature’s version of the ultimate special effect.
Forget everything you know about Palm Springs: this is not the PS of Dinah Shore, Gerald Ford, or rich Aunt Martha. Forget the renowned golf courses and the Rodeo Drive like shopping (unless you are a gay golfer in need of a pair of Bruno Maglis).
Palm Springs first came on the map as a place for Howard Hughes and Hollywood moguls to keep their mistress du jour, as well as a retreat for stars to dry out and lose weight at the fat farm.
35 Gay Resorts
There are 35 gay resorts. Estimates run as high as 40% for the permanent gay population. The mayor is an openly gay black progressive, and this in a very conservative region.
For the butch among us, it is an outdoorsman’s paradise. Few places on earth can boast over 120 superb hikes in such a concentrated area, ranging from easy and wimp-like (o.k., I have an excuse, just four weeks out of arthroscopic knee surgery), to advanced iron-man caliber.
First on your list should be Indian Canyons, a short ride by car or bike from town. Indian owned and run, you will pay a $6 charge at the gate house. A paved road will take you to several different parking areas, jumping off points for your hike. Start at Palm Canyon, with its tiny Trading Post stocked with all kinds of useful pamphlets. Bond with the Indian ranger guides who are all about: they are friendly, eager, habitat interpreters with a wealth of information.
Head the short distance next to Andreas Canyon, a lush oasis with 150 species of plants within a half-mile radius. The rock formations here are otherworldly in their graphic, geometric compositions: Nature as the ultimate sculptor, with a bold, modernistic sense of form and a dynamic flow of line, color, light and shadow. Think Georgia O’Keefe. The Andreas creek winds throughout the area. This is the best spot for bird watching: a few inept amateur bird calls will quickly draw an avian crowd scene. Check out the bedrock mortars and metates used by the native Agua Caliente Indians for preparing food.
At the more strenuous end of the spectrum are the Tahquitz Canyon hikes, which are ranger guided only. If you are old enough, or if you are a Frank Capra aficionado, you will remember the stunning 100 ft. waterfall here from the 1937 LOST HORIZON with Ronald Colman & Jane Wyatt. Also remember that this was a movie about Shangri-la. They had to winch the horse to the top of the waterfall for that famous scene. The winch is still there, the horse, mercifully, is not.
Consider horse back riding with Smoke Tree Stables. Before you shake your head, Wrangler Paul Cusenza will tell you that the majority of his customers are novices or those who have never ridden before. What a blast! Grab a bunch of friends, head out on the trail, and finally put that dusty old Village People cowboy hat to some manly use. Telephone Casey Johnson, owner, at 760-327-1372.
With 35 gay hotels, the diversity and range of choice is remarkable. The hotel owners camaraderie and lack of competitive spirit is a godsend to all. Many owners live at their inns, and 99% are owner managed. As one pointed out, coming to stay in a Palm Springs Inn is like being invited into the owner’s home. Owners will often interview a prospective guest on the phone and recommend another inn instead: the practice, unheard of in the industry, almost guarantees a good match between host and traveler, and in the long run has paid dividends in making this a repeat destination. Each Inn has a distinct personality, and it requires the wisdom of Solomon to narrow the list.
Triangle Inn is Tops
My top personal choice is the Triangle Inn. Designed by renowned Palm Springs architect Hugh M. Kaptur and built in the 1950s as the Impala Lodge, it is the only gay inn with a historical preservation designation. It is perfectly scaled (9 beautifully appointed, spacious suites, all with kitchen amenities) with a lush garden setting, charming pool and Jacuzzi, spectacular mountain vistas and a stone patio where an extensive Continental breakfast is set up each morning.
But the VERY BEST TRAVEL SECRET in all of Palm Springs , which I would confide only to my best buds, is the unique four bedroom house which directly adjoins the Inn.
My next personal favorite is the Las Palmas Hotel, designed with a Moroccan inspired aesthetic. The Indonesian furniture of teak and mahogany is offset with sisal carpeting. Casual, laid-back, but very upscale, the hotel is built around a large pool, with a Tuscan garden setting: citrus trees, Queen Palms and bougainvillea create a feeling of California hip & cool. It is situated in Palm Springs Uptown Neighborhood and is blessed with hotel co-owner Tony Spleen’s wit, intellect and easy charm.
Sharing top billing is the very distinctive East Canyon Hotel & Spa, the only gay hotel with an on-site Day Spa offering massage, facial and body treatments staffed with licensed professionals. It is luxe to the enth degree, an understated vision of elegance and comfort at the stylistic intersection of Ralph Lauren and the Ritz. Just stepping onto the property conveys an instantaneous sense of manly pampering. Sexy New York corporate veteran Richard Weiss, detail oriented host, runs a very tight ship. It is the only gay resort that is not, interestingly enough, clothing optional.
Down the street from the Triangle Inn is Tortuga del Sol, with a strong Southwestern flavor and a turtle theme. Spectacular views, lush landscaping, and 12 charmingly appointed suites and studios make this a top choice. Here, as in each of my favorites, it is the personality of the owners that infuses the property and makes it a winner: Ricky and Rob set the stage for a wonderful stay the minute you arrive. A warm, relaxed, friendly and unpretentious resort, you are immediately made to feel as if you are at home (you should be so lucky!).
The women luck out with Casitas Laquita, situated on one of the most stunningly beautiful properties in all of Palm Springs. Almost makes a guy jealous. Old Spanish Mission in style, cozy fireplaced casitas with full kitchens are furnished with a handcrafted décor and with Tribal Indian Artifacts. The Rustic Tranquility points towards a more profound sensibility: there is a spiritual sense of place here, a feeling of being in a special, nearly sacred spot that I am at a loss to further describe.
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