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Out's Favorite Oases In Palm Springs

By Andrew Belonsky

More than just an "It" hot spot, The Ace Hotel and Swim Club (pictured) became an institution almost overnight. Opened by a trio of gay owners in 2009, The Ace's retro camp aesthetic, bohemian vibe, and comfortable rooms have made it a favorite for young artists, celebrities and stylish travelers looking for refined environs with dollop of wholesome kitsch.

Similar in clientele but more sleek, The 74-room Viceroy Hotel's interior reflects its decades-long relationship with Hollywood. Crystal chandeliers hang above mirrored tables. Bursts of yellow are interspersed among the predominantly black-and-white furniture. And the pool, cabana and lush lawn seem pulled from Tinseltown's Golden Age, and so too do their luxurious villas, complete with parlor and fireplaces.

The Willows is open September until May and remains one of the most magnificent of luxury hotels in Palm Springs. Built in 1924 as a winter retreat for prominent California businessman William Mead, The Willows became a hotel after Mead's death, and for years hosted a parade of famous faces, from Shirley Temple and Albert Einstein to Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers. Though it fell into disrepair over the decades, it has since found new ownership but lost none of its luster. Rooms adorned with cherry wood and mahogany open onto private gardens brimming with garden flowers, and the views of the San Jacinto Mountains can't be beat.

The Ingleside Inn's well-manicured grounds and 1920s Spanish-style architecture are ideal for both weekend warriors or lovers looking for privacy (pictured). Hosting many famous faces of its years, including Frank Sinatra and Liberace, this boutique hotel rents rooms both affordable, like 135/night suites, and pricier, such as $395/night villas.

Back in the realm of trendy stays, the vibrant Saguaro is becoming increasingly popular with younger city-dwellers. Lounge by their extra large pool, dine at their restaurant, El Jefe & Tinto, take one of their daily yoga classes or book an appointment at the on-site spa. And those of you who go to Palm Springs regularly may want to join their social club, membership to which can help you get special rates.

If you're on a budget, you'll want to check out the art deco-infused The Canyon Club Hotel. You'll get all the retro aesthetic for which Palm Springs is known without missing out on the simpler pleasures, like free breakfast, a sprawling pool and cooling vapor misters for the summer months. And with rooms starting at $89/night, it's a pretty great deal, as is Caliente Tropics, where less discerning guests can snag a room for as low as $69/night. The Movie Colony Hotel is slightly more elegant and slight more expensive, about $117/night, but its clean, modern design make it worth the extra bucks.

And if you want a gendered excursion, The Bearfoot Inn lets men let it all hang out, while women looking for a female-only experience should try Queen of Hearts.

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There's nothing dry about the culinary scene in this desert town.

If you've gone to the desert to cleanse yourself of city toxins, try the vegan menu at Palm Green Cafe or Nature's RX. Meanwhile, Cheeky's breakfast and lunch menus are stocked with locally sourced organic fair, and the popular joint Native Foods also offers vegan meals, including a seitan Reuben sandwich and portobello burger.

Elsewhere, Wang's In The Desert, a de facto gay spot for years, serves strong drinks and delicious Pan-Asian, such as Korean spare ribs, cashew chicken and Mongolian beef. Down the road a bit, you'll find a blend Asian and Austrian flavors at the sophisticated Johannes. Ahi tuna tartare, escargots and endive salad help prepare your palette for entrees of Thai curry, seared Shetland Island salmon or Wiener Schnitzel (pictured below). The intimate atmosphere, attentive service and prices, about 28 bucks for an entree, may make this more of a date spot than a go-to, but it's definitely one you won't regret.

 

For delectable Italian and a charming atmosphere, try Amici Italian Trattoria in Rancho Mirage, or for breakfast all day, grab one of the inventive and tightly packed omelets at Patrick's Roadhouse.

Another pricier option for a potential romantic meal is Le Vallauris, which boasts one of the most delicious French-Mediterranean menus -- roast half duck in cherry sauce, wild boar pate -- in all of Palm Springs. Think honey baked Bucheron goat cheese, grilled blue note sea bass and a trio of fruitful sorbets on an open-aired patio with a chilled glass of white. It's a meal to remember. And for more open aired dining, check out John Henry's, a favorite for locals looking to sup on affordable and fresh food under the open sky.

And after dinner, be sure pair your wine with cake at Crave, a dessert restaurant that also doubles as a pretty swinging bar.

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Most visitors to Palm Springs are typically there to do one of two things: take in some tunes at Coachella or soak up rays by the pool. But this city is so much more than just rocking and relaxing. If you really want to understand the region, you must head to The Living Desert. Yes, this park and preserve is geared toward families, but the exhibitions on desert plant life, daily visits with on-site giraffes, butterfly garden and easy-to-moderate trails are great for adults traveling alone or in a pack like the desert coyote.

The Palm Springs Air Museum has dozens of vintage planes on hand, including a Boeing-Stearman PT-17 from the 1940s, that gives visitors a view into the region's past as a military hub. For a wide selection of contemporary, Native America, Mesoamerican and modern art, head to the Palm Springs Art Museum, where the permanent collection features works from iconic artists like photographer Edward Ruscha, sculptor Henry Moore and painter Helen Frankenthaler.

In terms of shopping, those looking for vintage wares will want to head to one of the many Angel View resale stores, proceeds from which go to an organization that aids developmentally disable children and adults. Resale Therapy is home to a wide range of clothing and goods from years gone by, as does Route 66 West. For upscale shopping, drive over to the El Paseo shopping district, where you can find well-known stores like Gucci, J. Crew and Burberry.

And architecture aficionados will without a doubt get off on the various Palm Springs walking tours. If you want to ride through town, hop on a segway with PS Modern Tour, or if you don't mind hoofing it old school, sign up for one of the Historic Society's in-depth tours to get the real meaning of Desert Modernism.

No matter who you use, almost all tours will take you by the brightest examples of Palm Springs' modern architecture, properties designed by groundbreaking architect Richard Neutra. One of his most famous, the Arthur Elrod House in Palm Springs (pictured above), was seen in the 1968 James Bond adventure Diamonds Are Forever.

Most of the hotels have vibrant bar scenes, but there are plenty of bars and clubs for those hoping for adventure in town. For simple drinks, head over to Streetbar, where nighttime breezes and a bevy of attractive men help start the evening on the right note. Those into leather will want check out the scene at Tool Bar, while those hoping to snatch a cub should have great success at Cub Meat.

Badlands also serves up an uncomplicated bar scene, and adds pool tables and video games to the mix for some added play. And sports are always on the menu at low key Scores.

If you want to hit the dance floor, check out Hunters Video Bar, where go-go boys help you keep the beat, or pop into one of Digs Bar's many themed nights. Tuesdays and Saturdays are county western, while Fridays are saturated in a disco beat. Sundays, meanwhile, are all about the wieners at Digs' weekly barbecue.

Or maybe you want to revel in some tropical-themed kitsch on Toucans Tiki Lounge's patios before getting on stage for karaoke at SpurLine Video Lounge? The patio at Georgie's Alibi above Azul Tapas Lounge, a spin-off from the popular Florida chain, also offers exceptional views of the mountains, and the fresh air is essential to keeping cool on hot summer nights.

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