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Queens Chronicle

On the Road Again: Palm Springs

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Posted: Monday, February 4, 2019 2:02 pm

Palm Springs, located about a two-hour drive away from both Los Angeles and San Diego, is an oasis in California’s Sonora Desert. Its dry climate and fresh air have long made it a favorite place for celebrities to have second homes.

Given Hollywood’s role in the development of Palm Springs, harking back to the earliest days of movie making, it’s a good idea to take the two-and-a-half-hour Celebrity Tour bus ride. Don’t let the cheesy, touristy name fool you as it is surprisingly educational. Yes, you’ll see the old homes of such legends as Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Elvis Presley and many more, but you’ll also learn about the area’s history starting with the Native American Agua Caliente tribe, which still has a strong presence in the area. If you are a fan of old Hollywood gossip the tempestuous tales of the Frank Sinatra-Ava Gardner relationship alone are worth the price. The tour also includes a sampling of the area’s signature beverage treat, the date shake.

Speaking of celebrities, be sure to stroll Palm Springs’ main thoroughfare, North Palm Canyon Drive, whose sidewalks are filled with copper stars that contain the names of the area’s most famous residents in its history, a la the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You can also observe its world-famous modernist architecture. On Thursday nights, Village Fest takes place here as musicians perform for free while artisans sell their wares and pet shelters try to find homes for our furry friends.

The Palm Springs Art Museum, which opened 80 years ago, has quietly amassed one of the nation’s best collections of modern art. You’ll find sculptures and paintings by Frederick Remington, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso and Charles Russell. My favorite pieces were sculptures of Ronald Reagan and a 1960s Clint Eastwood, both on horseback, from actor-turned-artist George Montgomery.

The most famous landmark in town is not a building but rather the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which takes you 8,500 feet up into Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The ride is thrilling but you have to dress appropriately because the temperature is generally about 40 degrees colder than it is at the base. Once you get to the upper terminal you can enjoy breathtaking views, go hiking or enjoy a meal at Peaks Restaurant. 

Happily, you don’t have to go more than a mile high for a great meal in Palm Springs, as there are plenty of options for fine-dining connoisseurs at street level.

Sinatra was a fussy eater, particularly when it came to Italian cuisine, but he enjoyed Johnny Costa’s Ristorante on South Palm Canyon Drive so much that he was a regular there from 1976 until his death 23 years later. Costa was de facto Sinatra’s personal chef. Johnny’s son Vince now runs the place, though he’s helped out by other family members. Steak Sinatra and linguini with clams, Frank’s two favorite dishes are still on the menu, as well as practically every meal you’d expect from a top-notch Italian restaurant. The mahogany paneling, soft lighting and background music make dining there a great romantic experience with the right person.

If you want to replicate the Rat Pack era in Palm Springs in a different way, be sure to enjoy a night at Tropicale Restaurant & Coral Seas Lounge. Its high-back seats and circular tables combined with neon lighting, glasses clinking everywhere in the background, well-dressed and friendly serving staff and five-star entrees make you feel that Frank, Dean, Sammy and Joey are about to enter at any minute. It was packed on the Tuesday night I stopped by.

Antigua Kitchen offers a more modern take on dining with its well-lit high ceilings and Mediterranean motif. The menu has a wide array of seafood, meat, poultry and pasta options. 

There are plenty of options for those who prefer lighter meals. Grand Central, named after the famed Manhattan train terminal though its interior reminds one more of a Tribeca eatery with its brick walls and exposed pipes, has excellent salads and chicken burgers. Nearby Pinocchio’s in the Desert has generous-sized breakfast options such as scrambled egg whites and chopped salmon. And it’s renowned for its bottomless champagne option.

Palm Springs has no shortage of lodging that fits a budget. The La Maison Palm Springs (lamaisonpalmsprings.com), located in the quiet residential Deepwell Estates neighborhood is a boutique hotel that makes you feel as if you are in a villa in the south of France with its palm trees and ornate courtyard with a heated swimming pool and Jacuzzi. La Maison Palm Springs offers complimentary continental breakfast and beverages throughout the day, along with an early evening happy hour. Parking is free as well and the room rates are quite reasonable for the luxury that you are getting.

Getting to Palm Springs, which used to be a chore, is now quite easy thanks to Queens’ hometown airline, JetBlue, which has daily round-trip service between JFK and Palm Springs.

Log onto visitpalmsprings.com for additional information. 

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1 comment:

  • Clickster posted at 11:29 pm on Fri, Feb 8, 2019.

    Clickster Posts: 1

    Love this! Now I'm ready to go, know where to stay, and what to eat!