Thursday, January 13, 2011

Palm Springs revisited

A view of the mountains in Palm Springs.
by Jamee Gregory

Who could resist a trip across the country,
from freezing Manhattan to sunny California, if it meant sharing a baby’s first Christmas? Not me! So 2010 ended with a visit to Palm Springs instead of the Bahamas. Travel is no fun for infants, so the Parental Unit set off on December 22 for LA, missing the torrential rains that plagued the West, as well as New York’s blizzard of 2010.

Our first night is spent at Shutters, home-away-from-home in Santa Monica. This cozy hotel, inviting as a private beach house, faces the ocean. The staff greets us by name and even stores our sneakers. We fall asleep and by 6:30AM are up, speed walking along the beach promenade. After breakfast we head for our daughter Samantha, son-in-law Roberto and baby Carolina, staying with them until dinner. Then off to the very glamorous Tower Bar, giving a dinner for twelve, enjoying a delicious feast and the company of our West Coast pals. Early the next day we head for the desert.
Leaving Shutters, armed with Christmas gifts.
Carolina, read to set off on her first trip!
Allow me to backtrack a bit. About 25 years ago my husband, Peter, found himself seated beside his childhood hero, Ginger Rogers. She suggested her favorite resort, La Quinta, in Palm Springs. Following her advice, a casita was soon rented and filled by my father-in-law, my grandmother, my sister and us. We arrived in the beautiful sunshine and swam and played tennis and lunched by the pool. By 3:30, as this was December, the sun sank behind the mountains and the temperature dropped to 30 degrees. Totally unprepared for the dramatic shift, we shivered in our summer clothes, running to the dining room, as frost covered the grapefruits and lemons that hung along the paths. In the morning it remained cold, until temperatures rose midday.

We observed grown men driving around in what looked like pajamas, our first brush with the now ubiquitous track suit. The shivering group was not happy. My sister left early and my father-in-law begged to follow. At lunch my grandmother muttered that Tony Bennett did not look well as he walked past, surrounded by his henchmen, one of whom turned to say, “And you don’t look so young either!” Needless to say, this was not our favorite holiday. With some trepidation we return to our old stomping ground, assured that old Palm Springs would be different and only a two hour drive. Being pushovers, we rent a home on the internet, a first for us. (I confess to sending a friend to check it out.)
Hundreds of windmills just off the freeway.
We leave Santa Monica on the 24th, stopping to pick up a turkey and all the trimmings, a giant ball, a stroller, etc. from our daughter, following them to Palm Springs. The ride is easy, on freeways, past the city and valley until our ears pop in the mountains. We drive until sighting hundreds of energy-creating windmills, calling the concierge service that directs us to our house, situated on a charming street called Rose.

The homes are mid-century style and low slung, in case of earth quakes which sometimes strike the Coachella Valley. All the furniture inside ours is 50’s inspired, with a beautiful swimming pool, terrace and barbecue area, hedged in for privacy. After unpacking and organizing we set the table for Christmas Eve, dressing Carolina up in a red plaid jumper. The market, Jensen’s, sent us a small decorated tree with lights as well as our groceries. We are in business.
The steps leading up to our house, studded with cactus.
View from our house towards the mountains.
An afternoon walk in old Palm Springs.
All wrapped up, ready for the 48 degree weather.
A double-hedged corner in old Palm Springs.
The sun over the mountains on an early afternoon walk. By 4:45 the temperature drops with the setting sun and it is dark.
Desert Santa decorations.
The Willows, a guest house, covered in beautiful flowers.
Desert foliage in full color.
Every morning begins with the baby’s happy gurgling noises. After breakfast and a stop in town for the NY Times, we drive to hike in Agua Caliente Reservation, in the Tahquitz Canyon, owned and operated by the Band of Cahuilla Indians, paying $25 for the privilege. (Seems the Indians are all handsomely rewarded and own 32,000 acres. Many live on their stipends in the Riviera! ).
Our favorite entertainment, Carolina smiling!
The mountain trails are magnificent, with sweeping views, giant palms, a waterfall and streams. The well-marked trails provide magnificent vistas. Hikers choose between moderate and strenuous paths. The alarming sign “Rattlesnake Habitat” gives me pause, but I step fast, believing that the cold weather will keep the creatures below ground. Rangers offer guided tours and patrol the area.
Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, 32,000 acres deeded in trust to the Cahuilla Indians in 1876.
Palm Canyon is considered the largest California Fan Palm Oasis in the world.
A moderate  hiking trail.
Samantha and I pause, as the path heads uphill.
Oh oh! Rattlesnake habitat!
View down the canyon.
On our way to forge a mountain stream.
Ancient palms, slippery rocks, winding streams-a challenging hike on a strenuous path.
We see no signs of the Rat Pack or anyone else for that matter. Samantha and Roberto tell us about all the good restaurants: Cheeky’s for brunch, Johannes for Austrian, El Mirasol and Les Casuelas Terraza for Mexican, Le Vallauris for country French, but the only one we try is Billy Reed’s, full of banquettes and decorated to the nine’s for brunch on Christmas Day.

Blessed by the presence of housekeeper and cook, Karla, who prepares delicious meals for us, we visit the fantastic markets, Jensen’s and Ralph’s, and dine at home. Each afternoon we explore the charming streets, beautifully landscaped with house-hiding hedges, palms, cactus and trees covered with lemons, tangerines and grapefruits.
Koffi, the best coffee shop in town, where newspapers are sold.
Koffis welcoming outdoor garden, a morning meeting place.
Inside Billy Reeds, a great restaurant for brunch.
The scene at Le Vallauris restaurant just before lunch.
Les Casuelas, a popular Mexican restaurant, with large outdoor terraces, draws vistors for afternoon Margaritas.
Ice cream at Lafferty’s is a treat,
In its heyday, all the movie stars came to enjoy the weather, play at the Racquet Club and still be in striking distance of Hollywood’s studios. Their contracts required them to stay within 200 miles. The desert provided a wonderful playground with theatres and nightclubs.

The streets of Palm Canyon Drive, the main shopping area, are inlaid with marble stars, commemorating the glory days, named for the stars that frequented the town, many of whom owned property.
Palm Canyon theatre, showing The Producers.
A sculture fountain and amphitheatre seats give visitors a comfy place to pause.
The beautiful view down Rose Street at noon.
The famous Plaza Theatre, a reminder of the area's glamorous past.
Marble stars, inlaid all along Palm Canyon Drive, reminding tourists of famous stars who visited in Palm Spring’s golden years.
Sometime between then and now spring breakers discovered the area. The downtown became inhabited by large chain restaurants like Denny’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonalds. The original boutiques were pushed out by tee-shirt and sunglass shops.

As the revelers shifted, leaving for Mexican resorts like Cancun, the village began bouncing back. Mid-century furniture fills several chic shops and Palm Springs is reclaiming its status. The shopping was not a major draw, but strolling past terraced restaurants and engaging fountains is fun. Everything is relaxed. Koffi is a popular destination for the papers, and Chocolat has terrific ginger cookies. Ice cream at Lafferty’s is a treat, as was a wonderful masseuse from Two Bunch Palms, the local spa version of Chateau Marmont.
A view of the shops on Palm Canyon Road.
ASI (Art-Style-Innovation), one of the charming antique shops in town, featuring everything re-invented from the '50s, like colorful acrylic furniture.
Mid-century chairs on the street tempt shoppers.
Home 101, a chic gift shop.
Inside Home 101.
At night, we watch my son-in-law’s Academy Award screeners, falling asleep halfway through most. We love Social Network, Inside Job and Waiting for Superman. By 9:45 we’re sound asleep, ready for another day in the paradise that time left behind. Our heated swimming pool steams in the cold mountain air. Carolina loves it.

One day it pours with rain, so off we go to the Cabazon outlet stores, twenty minutes away. Excited by the promise of discounted Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Loro Piano and Yves Saint Laurent, the drive seems short. Imagine the frustration when we couldn’t park! The enormous lot is insane, like a bumper-car game. Persisting, we find a space.
Parking lot entrance to the shops.
Bus loads of Japanese and Chinese are deposited at the entrance, straight from the airport. Mandarin Chinese is spoken on the public address system. Last year’s merchandise, only 50% off, fails to tempt. The only joy is Ralph Lauren, where I snap up baby-sized sweat suits and polo shirts. Thousands of shoppers descend like locusts, dampening my desire for bargains. So much for excursions!
Zillions of cars circling for parking spots.
A sheltered pathway between the stores, needed on a rainy day.
The insanely crowded parking lot.
Desperate rainy day shoppers searching for a space.
The crazy scene inside Burberry’s shop.
Michael Kors, the busiest shop in the entire mall!
Inside the Trading Post.
The freeway sign of Hadleys, a destination for date shakes, the house specialty, our last stop before heading back to Santa Monica.
Inside Hadleys.
Shelves filled with dates and nuts tempt the customers of this giant farm stand store.
Ten days pass in a flash. Back at Shutters, we enjoy dinner at One Pico, watching the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier flash colorfully in the darkness.
Our fabulous view from Shutters at night, Santa Monica’s famous ferris wheel on the pier.

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