Palm Springs

Even though the celebrities who had once made Palm Springs famous as a vacation destination have since moved on to smaller and lesser known towns in the same area, the city’s name still has a somewhat elite sound to it. Palm Springs, an oasis in the desert with a population of 44,500, averages more than 350 days of sunshine in a year, proudly showcases itself by hosting high-profile festivals, events and exhibitions and today thrives even more on tourism than before. This particular form of tourism though still shows itself here from its exquisite side and the city’s hotels, restaurants, galleries and boutiques may not always be the perfect fit for each and every visitor’s wallet.

CA Palm Springs

Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism

But Palm Springs is not only the home base for stars and starlets. In 1896, the American government designated a reservation for the native Cahuilla people here while awarding other pieces of land to a railway company. To this day, Palm Springs is the seat of the Agua Caliente Reservation which only has about 400 members nowadays, roughly one fourth of the reservation’s total land area is within city limits. But even before the Indians got their land here, the cornerstone for the modern Palm Springs had been laid when San Francisco lawyer John McCallum ordered water pipelines built from the Whitewater River and built a hotel here. Seeing his sick son’s health improve in the dry desert climate, McCallum recognized area’s advantages and started, in cooperation with others, to promote Palm Springs as a health and wellness destination. The strategy was a success, only a few years later, the first famous guests came into town, which in turn woke the interest in the desert location for many more tourists. The somewhat less popular students who infamously came to town each year for Spring Break, numbering in the thousands, have in contrast not been spotted anymore after former mayor Sonny Bono put in rigid measures against them in the 1990s.   

Several hotels and larger resorts have been built in Palm Springs, especially in the first three decades of the 20th century. While many of these have since been demolished, others are still there and in business. One example is the Colony Palms Hotel (572 North Indian Canyon Drive) that had been constructed in 1936 as the “Colonial House”.

Until a few decades ago, Palm Springs was virtually deserted in the summer months due to temperatures around 35-40 C in that time. Today, it has become a medium-sized city with constant population numbers throughout all seasons, but with one distinctive feature: the town’s population has the highest percentage of  gays and has since the 1990s grown to be an important location for the LGBT community which continues to be courted by the city administration. There are about 35 accommodations in Palm Springs specifically geared towards gay travelers and those are usually very well booked for the Gay Pride Parade and Festival in November and for the annual White Party in the spring. Equally popular as these events is the annualInternational Film Festival which is usually visited by many celebrities and the famous revue show of the Palm Springs Follies, exclusively cast with performers between  55 and 80 years old.

The main tourist attraction of the city undoubtedly is the Aerial Tramway, going up some 4000 metres onto Mount San Jacinto. A one way trip takes about twelve minutes during which the cars slowly rotate to afford views in all directions for passengers. The tramway climbs up an altitude difference of 1800 metres and passes through various habitats and vegetation zones. In the winter months, there is often snow on the top of the mountain and temperatures may be as much as 25 C lower than at the base. The views from up top on a clear day can be as far as 300 kilometres. The tramway operates daily until 8 pm.

Many of the more than 1.5 million annual visitors also enjoy visiting the Casinos operated by Indian tribes in the area - the Cahuilla people has one within Palm Springs city limits - and the exklusive shops, boutiques and restaurants on Palm Canyon Drive, where a fine mist is being sprayed from the buildings’ faces to provide some relief from the heat. Since the beginning of the 21th century, a revitalization program for downtown has been in place which includes the demolition of several old buildings. Also within this program, the Palm Springs Convention Center (North Avenida Caballeros) has been fully renovated in 2005.



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