Palm Springs is a chic desert oasis in the Coachella Valley. It’s been a glamorous destination since the heyday of Golden Age Hollywood. The major contract players were obliged to stay close to their studios and Palm Springs, just a two-hour drive from LA, offered them a retreat from the flashbulbs. Marilyn Monroe, Liberace, Great Garbo and Elvis Presley had homes in Palm Springs. Today luminaries such as Leonardo DiCaprio spend a lot of their downtime there. It’s also home to the hilaaaarious Ross Mathews. (Names drop very loudly in this part of the world).
Small desert towns don’t usually have a reputation for being liberal, but the decadent, sexually ambiguous stars of Tinseltown brought their “alternative” lifestyles to Palm Springs and made it their own. There was a lot of innuendo about Garbo’s sexuality. She used to visit her female lover, Mercedes de Acosta, in Palm Springs. Tab Hunter, a friend of Dorothy, as Netflix viewers will recall, was a regular visitor. As for Liberace… you get the picture.
Palm Springs was a draw for gay people long before being gay was legal or accepted. It remains a gay mecca and Hollywood outpost to the present day.
The Gay Scene In Palm Springs
The population of Palm Springs is just over 48,000. It’s estimated that around half of the local population is LGBTQ. What’s more, as of 2017, the entire council is LGBTQ – which is unprecedented. The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive is just how gay it is; especially downtown and along E Arenas Road, packed as it is with gay bars and restaurants.
Palm Springs has a reputation for being a retirement home for well-heeled gay men, but that’s something of a caricature. The gay scene is, however, largely male-dominated – aside from April when the legendary Dinah Shore festival comes to town! Whatever your age and wherever you fall on the LGBTQ spectrum, you’re guaranteed to feel welcome in Palm Springs.
You’ll see some twenty-somethings cascading in and out of gay clubs. But you’ll also see gay bars where the over-40s very much outnumber the younger crowd. In this respect, Palm Springs offers much-needed respite from the gay scene’s notorious ageism. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a 25-year-old disco dolly or a 55-year-old disco daddy. You can do your thing in Palm Springs.
Bars And Restaurants
Toucans Tiki Lounge is one of the best gay bars in town. It’s a tiki-themed bar serving Hawaiian realness and regular drag shows. Some of the best drag performers in California perform here. The Sunday Revue is not to be missed. Don’t forget to bring some change to tip the queens.
The gay-owned bar and restaurants Oscar’s is worth checking out. They host regular drag dinners and the Sunday Tea Dance is usually packed. Stacy’s is the most recent addition to Palm Spring’s gay scene. It’s an art deco-style piano bar with a speakeasy vibe. There are usually live musicians playing jazz or great American classics.
Melvyn’s at Ingleside Inn is a great choice if you want a taste of old school Palm Springs. It’s the former stomping ground of Frank Sinatra, Joan Collins and Cher. They still serve Steak Diane exactly the way Sinatra liked it. Melvyn’s is an institution. It somehow captures the essence of Palm Springs: all the glitz, glamour and pizazz. Please don’t show up in flip flops – this is a classy establishment. Liza used to drink here, for heaven’s sake! Advanced booking recommended.
Gay Resorts in Palm Springs
Palm Springs is home to many gay men-only resorts, probably more so than anywhere on the planet. Many of the owners live in the resorts and create a communal feel, hosting social events around the pools. These resorts tend to be clothing optional.
The best luxury option for gay men is The Hacienda At Warm Sands. It’s considered to be one of, if not the best hotel in town. It’s surrounded by tropical gardens and it offers uninterrupted views of the San Jacinto Mountains. The Hacienda is one of the most upmarket gay resorts in the world.
La Maison Hotel is also a great choice. It’s located in the Deepwell Neighborhood and it has a Mediterranean vibe. The scent of freshly baked lavender scones will greet you each morning. It’s an intimate, boutique hotel with just thirteen rooms. La Maison also has a 40-foot heated pool surrounded by lush gardens. It’s just a short cab ride away from all the downtown action.
Parties And Events
Palm Springs is home to a huge arts scene. Stereotypes are best avoided, however, in a gay-majority town you’re likely to have a lot of artists, fashionistas and designers! VillageFest takes place in Downtown Palm Springs every Thursday from 7 pm. It’s a lively arts and crafts fair that covers several blocks. This is not your average small-town fair. You’ll notice a high standard of artistry. VillageFest has a great community feel and it’s a great way to meet some locals.
The Dinah Shore Weekend is the biggest lesbian festival on the planet. It takes place over five days at several locations. One of the featured events is the “Thank God it’s Dinah” Pool Party at the Hilton Hotel. Every friend of Sappho should do Dinah Shore once in a lifetime.
Oh, did we mention Coachella? America’s biggest, most iconic music festival takes place in the valley just east of Palm Springs.
Palm Springs Pride is one of the latest events on the annual Pride calendar. By the end of June you might feel a bit Pride-d out, but by November you’re ready to get the rainbows and glitter back out. Naturally, it’s the biggest Pride event in the Coachella Valley.
Palm Springs enjoys 330 days of sunshine per year, so they can hold their Pride festival whenever they want. Then again, it’s Pride every day in this city.