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Andrea Bennett Forbes Staff
Palm Springs has always been a restorative destination, even before health resorts and sanitariums popped in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to lure away city dwellers from industrial centers to the therapeutic benefits of the dry climate. But Palm Springs became the ultimate getaway in the 1930s, when Hollywood stars—likely not quite as plagued by paparazzi as today—took weekend homes here to escape the gossip of Los Angeles. (Fun fact: Palm Springs was the perfect distance for a break during Hollywood’s golden era when the movie studios instituted a rule stipulating that actors under contract had to be no more than two hours from the studio at any time.) Palm Springs, at just over 100 miles away from Hollywoodland, was the perfect escape for Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and a raft of others who came to luxuriate in the area’s 300-plus days of brilliant sunshine.
The early neighborhood of the Movie Colony, home to Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and Tony Curtis had the luxurious El Mirador Hotel as its social center, with its Olympic-size swimming pool and the desert’s first golf course, perfect for pool parties and the visiting elite. Early established neighborhoods like Las Palmas, The Tennis Club, Vista Las Palmas and Smoke Tree Ranch, with their increasingly recognizable desert modern style, became an inspiration and landing pad for famous architectural modernists like Albert Frey, John Porter Clark, William F. Cody, Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison. Do note that Palm Springs hotels are notoriously happier to welcome pets than children; kid-friendly hotels are the exception, not the rule, so make sure to check hotels’ rules before you book.
Today, gorgeous hotels and their great design are still the social centers and cultural commerce of Palm Springs—even more than ever. Here are 8 that do it best.
The Most Romantic Hotel For Couples: Korakia Pensione
Who Will Love It: Romantic bohemians who want to be transported
All-Star Amenities: Nighttime movies, included breakfast
What Not To Miss: The library, where the former owner entertained guests like Errol Flynn, Rudolph Valentino and Winston Churchill.
Built as a Moroccan hideaway in the 1920s by Scottish painter Gordon Coutts, Korakia Pensione is a unique little getaway that occupies buildings on both sides of a street in the Historic Tennis Club neighborhood, within walking distance both of Tahquitz Canyon’s hiking trails and downtown Palm Springs. Anyone with an Instagram account will recognize its iconic keystone-shaped grand entrance on the Moroccan side, with its bubbling rose petal-strewn fountains. Across the street, the artist’s neighbor, early silent-screen star J. Carrol Naish, owned a 1930s Mediterranean villa containing a rare 1918 California adobe cottage with a private courtyard and citrus grove. The two villas are now combined as Korakia Pensione, comprising 28 private and beautifully restored guest rooms with features like wood-burning fireplaces and high, wood-beamed ceilings.
On the Mediterranean side, most open right onto a tranquil little pool. On the Moroccan side, there’s a gorgeous pool grotto as well, with private courtyards and blooming vines. The staff light more more than 100 candles around the hotel every evening, and both sides are surrounded by citrus trees, olive trees, date palms and vibrant bougainvillea. An included breakfast in the fountain courtyard, nighttime outdoor classic movies, bocce courts and private little nooks make the stay even more special.
Best Hotel For Design Lovers: Holiday House
Who Will Love It: Art and design lovers who want a location close to hiking and the museum
All-Star Amenities: Thoughtful amenities, Nespresso machines, kitchens
What Not To Miss: Outdoor showers and mountain views from the “Best” rooms
Those who come to Palm Springs for midcentury design, a vibrant pool scene and fantastic art will want to check in to the 28-room Holiday House and never leave. Architect Herbert W. Burns, famous for his pool-centric apartment hotels and residences, designed it in 1951. It was reimagined by interior designer Mark D. Sikes in lively blue and white, with a wild pop of color from the “Big Red Poppies” garden sculpture by Donald Sultan. Art lovers will love the impressive collection in the cobalt blue lobby, with works by John Baldessari, Alex Katz and Herb Ritts. Rooms, too, are awash in whimsical art and bold-patterned cornflower blue and white décor with Mark D. Sikes custom textiles.
Holiday House, in its perfectly situated Tennis Club location close to downtown and with gorgeous views of the mountains, has a million things to do. You can take out its adorable blue and white bikes for a spin, cuddle up in the library with all the art books you desire or walk five minutes to the Palm Springs Art Museum. But you’re missing the best part if you don’t spend a whole day by the massively long pool under a (what else?) blue umbrella, soaking up the vibe—and some rosé. You might limit your commute on such a day to the poolside honor bar or the tiled Pantry patio café for classic “Americana” cuisine (Holiday House is famous for its fried chicken, which is a must).
Best New Boutique Hotel: Fleur Noir
Who Will Love It: Those who want a little something new in their creatively redesigned midcentury hotel
All-Star Amenities: A pink Keurig in every room, a lovely communal clubhouse, a location across the street from the terrific Cartel coffeehouse.
What Not To Miss: The speakeasy-style La Boisson (behind pink doors on the side of the clubhouse)
Just when you thought there were no more picturesquely derelict midcentury motor inns to creatively rethink in Palm Springs, along comes Fleur Noir, a gorgeously colorful collection of 21 casitas, studios and guest rooms emblazoned with large-scale floral murals by artist Louise Jones (known as Ouizi). The tiled roof bungalows, painted in black (hence the “noir”) with their oversized desert flowers blooming seductively off the walls, are a distinct change from the clean-cut, preppy, mid-mod scheme of Palm Springs. Fleur Noir opened in 2021 in the old 1940s Burket’s Trade Winds Hotel. The original pool remains its center, and around it the landscape has been rethought with native desert plantings. The rooms retain some original elements, like white beamed ceilings, with cool Saltillo tile floors. But their focal point is the wild floral wallpaper designed by Ellie Cashman and inspired by 16th century Dutch Golden Age still life works. La Boisson, a little speakeasy Champagne and rosé bar, opened a few months after the hotel, and it is precisely what you want on a lazy day around the pool—or evenings around the fire.
The Most Opulent Hotel: Sands Hotel & Spa
The Sands Hotel & Spa
Who Will Love It: Those who love a transporting design moment
All-Star Amenities: Full, gorgeous custom mini bars, some rooms with their own patios and fountains
What Not To Miss: The Pink Cabana restaurant, one of the most stylish restaurants in Palm Springs
If anyone could turn a once rather unremarkable beige condo timeshare in Indian Wells into a Moroccan kasbah worth of Talitha Getty, designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard is that person. The 46-room hotel, transformed in 2018 into a desert pink oasis with a central pool and high arches, is one part Palm Springs, two parts Moroccan fantasyland. Its lobby is a patchwork of Bullard’s own black and white “Eastern Promise” tiles, and a signature Moroccan spa with shimmering tiles is completely transporting. But this is no Epcot Morocco. The rooms, outfitted in midcentury furniture with pops of blue, pink, yellow and bright white, also contain amazing custom minibars with vintage crystal stemware—just enough mid-mod to remind you that you’re in the greater Palm Springs area. Luxe touches like Dyptique bath amenities and Carrara marble countertops complete the picture. One of the toughest-to-get dinner reservations in town is here: the hotel’s Pink Cabana restaurant is a fresh pink and green take on tennis clubs of the 1950s and ‘60s (it’s close to the tony Indian Wells Tennis Gardens), and serves Moroccan-inflected Mediterranean cuisine that, like the design scheme, just magically works (the harissa chicken is a favorite). Palm tree wallpaper and 1960s fashion shots of Veruschka in the desert complete this wildly wonderful design.
Best Location: Arrive Palm Springs
Arrive Palm Springs
Who Will Love It: Design fanatics who love the walkable location
All-Star Amenities: Poolside firepits, bocce court, cruiser bikes, complimentary welcome drink
What Not To Miss: Shopping in the Uptown Design District
Where nearly every hotel you see in Palm Springs is a funky/elegant/artsy creative redesign, Arrive Palm Springs is a rare new-build hotel, opened in 2016. Happily, Arrive didn’t stray far from the winning P.S. communal formula, which in this case includes a central 42-foot-long pool, studded with communal areas and fire pits, around which its 32 guest rooms are arranged. (Don’t miss summer dive-in movies.) This is a true homage to the desert, with rusted steel and wood planks that feel both industrial and salvaged, and clerestory windows under angled butterfly roofs, through which you have amazing views of the San Jacinto mountains. The hotel is both energy efficient and high-tech, good for those who don’t need everything to be vintage. Guest rooms have rain showers and wet rooms, crisp Bellino linens, TVs with all the streaming you can handle, and some have private patios and ModFire fireplaces. Arrive sits on the north edge of the Uptown Design District, a two-mile stretch of mid-century modern art, furniture (both vintage and contemporary), style and design.
Hotel With The Best Views: Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs
Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs
Who Will Love It: Those who want to get as close to the San Jacinto Mountains as they can without actually camping in them.
All-Star Amenities: A superlative pet program, where dogs are free, get welcome treats, and now a free month of a mobile Wag! membership
What Not To Miss: The new culinary direction at 4 Saints: Latin-inflected Southern comfort dishes
The Rowan, another rare new build, opened in 2017 on a corner in downtown Palm Springs that has since exploded with every retail opportunity you could imagine. At seven stories high, the hotel, which anchored downtown’s revitalization plan when it was built, is the tallest building downtown, and nearly backs right into the San Jacinto mountains. Where the traditional hotel layout around Palm Springs is a central pool with one or two levels of hotel rooms arranged around it, this is a modern hotel tower topped with a rooftop pool. Although this is a decidedly contemporary arrangement, the hotel nods to its mid-century surrounds in mid-mod-inspired furniture, natural materials and the occasional piece of intentional kitsch (like a monumental macrame wall hanging behind the front desk).
The best guest room views are the mountain view premium rooms, with floor-to-ceiling windows that look right to the side of the mountains. But to get the very best views, you can rent rooftop cabanas either during the day or in the evening for cocktails. The rooftop 4 Saints restaurant is now helmed by Southern California powerhouse chef Ysaac Ramirez, who took the restaurant in a new direction with Latin-inflected Southern comfort dishes (think charred maitake mushrooms with grits, Marsh Hen Mill cornbread, a bone-in pork chop with radicchio, mustard blossom and plum agrodolce.
Best Creative Rethink: The Ace Hotel & Swim Club
The Ace Hotel & Swim Club
Who Will Love It: Those attending Coachella; those in their 20s or reliving their 20s
All-Star Amenities: Activities and more activities, like Monday night bingo, sunset yoga, open mic night at the Amigo room, DJs spinning old-school vinyl
What Not To Miss: The Amigo Room hideaway bar, with a few fun throwbacks, like a very adult Orange Julius
Fun, young, and fab, the Ace Hotel was built on the foundation of a 1965 Westward Ho Hotel, and much of the hotel is a creative rethink—or in the case of the unearthed terrazzo floors in the restaurant, actual reuse—of the original five-building structure. When most people think of the hotels that set off a tidal wave of classic hotel restoration in Palm Springs, the Ace comes to mind. Each room embraces indoor-outdoor living, opening onto patios with outdoor fireplaces. Two pools (one, the very deep Swim Club pool, which was unearthed in the renovation) provide lots of room to play, and one quieter, more secluded area. The hotel’s very fun King’s Highway restaurant celebrates the classic roadside diner with specialties like blueberry waffles, fried chicken sandwiches and a very good Twin Palms burger—but also throws in a few California necessities like avocado toast and an acai bowl. More importantly, it’s in a remastered Denny’s, whose original terrazzo floor was sandblasted, and whose flagstone walls and leather booths will remind you of your childhood in the ‘70s (or your mom’s childhood).
Best Hotel For Families: JW Marriott Desert Hot Springs
JW Marriott Desert Hot Springs
Who Will Love It: Golfers, families with small kids, but most of all, teens.
All-Star Amenities: Boat rides, a great mix of upscale and more accessibly priced restaurants, tons of kids’ activities
What Not To Miss: A visit to Flamingo Island
Palm Springs is largely an adult destination; in fact, allowing kids is an exception, not the rule. Which is not to say there aren’t fantastic places for families nearby. JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa, about 25 minutes southeast of Palm Springs, is a massive resort with 884 rooms, five huge pools, tennis courts and approximately 1,000 activities for kids, all around two golf courses. It’s the antithesis of the tiny Palm Springs boutique, and families will love kids’ programming like nature walks, craft classes, ice cream socials and even a tour of the property’s own flamingo island. (Yes, there are real pink Chilean flamingos that live in and around their own island on the lake that surrounds the property’s two golf courses.) The waterways are big enough that you can reserve free boat rides to tour you around—and they dock, in novel fashion, right on the golf course side of the lobby. There’s even a new entertainment zone for tweens and teens that are too cool for flamingos, with a 12,000 square foot arcade, air hockey and plenty more activities to keep the family’s least easily-satisfied members happy when they’re not at the pool.
About Andrea Bennett, Your Palm Springs Guide
I have covered travel for more than 20 years, identifying trends, vetting mileage programs and travel hacks, and sussing out the best in hotels. As the anonymous hotel critic for The New York Post, I enjoyed spending Rupert Murdoch’s money in the name of public service in the early 2000s. I’m a former longtime contributing editor and columnist for Travel + Leisure and The Wall Street Journal, the former group editor-in-chief of Vegas and Modern Luxury San Diego magazines and a contributing writer for Condé Nast Traveler. My writing has also appeared in O: The Oprah Magazine, Town & Country, Departures, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Fortune, Money, Outside, TripSavvy, TripAdvisor and many others.