I’ve just returned from a weekend in Palm Springs where among other things, I filled my Prius rental car with diesel fuel and found myself stranded at the Chevron at 11pm on a Sunday night.  Mishap aside (yes I know the nozzle doesn’t fit!), I wondered how my only experience with Palm Springs up to this point (let’s not forget the 14 years I lived in L.A.) had been hot Coachella weekends where I shuttled between the fairgrounds and The Parker.  Not to mention, who doesn’t love a town where directions to a hiking trail include taking a right at the giant Marilyn?

STAY

Since this is the year I’m mixing things up, I decided to pass on The Parker and try The Colony Palms Hotel.  That was my first good move.  Although I missed the sprawling lawn and kitschy Palm Springs decor of The Parker, I was thrilled to discover the magic of this little in-town Spanish Colonial oasis.  My room was big with a perfect bathroom including a roomy glass shower, and was on the first floor close to the pool.  Never mind that by 7:55 a.m. every poolside sun lounger was accounted for, I still managed to find two loungers in the garden where I read my Sunday New York Times and marveled at all the hummingbirds and butterflies flitting about.

I visited friends at the nearby Korakia Pensione which had a real hippie vibe, no restaurant on the property, and overgrown grounds with a bocci ball court and a couple of pools.  A great spot if you want to get away from the scene and have a private, romantic weekend.

Then it was on to The Viceroy where I was surprised to see such a big in-town property, with lovely little orange door villas and lush landscaping throughout.  I didn’t get a chance to peek into the rooms, but they appeared to be classic Kelly Wearstler regency style (and likely a bit ornate for my simple taste).  I discovered three pools on the property, two of which had a real sceney vibe and were marked ‘adult only.’  A third ‘family’ pool was tucked into a niche in one of the gardens, where splashing toddlers aren’t likely to bother the other guests.

I totally fell in love with The Horizon Hotel.  Originally built by William Cody (desert modernism) as a retreat for the Wrather Family and their Hollywood guests (Marilyn stayed there), the property consists of the main residence and multiple bungalows on a 2.5 acre property.  All transformed now into guest rooms with clean lines, white sheets and sexy outdoor showers.  Central pool and a badminton net.  Excellent example of mid-century modern architecture.  Perfect couples retreat as children under 21 are not allowed.

Hotel Lautner is a bit off the beaten path and is tiny with only four rooms.  If you are serious about your architecture this may well be your only opportunity to sleep in a John Lautner designed home.

EAT

As soon as I arrived a friend declared that Cheeky’s is the ‘best breakfast west of the Rockies,’ so of course I had to start my days there.  The line is impossible.  Get there by 8 and be seated on the patio before the heat hits.  A pretty to-die-for cinnamon bun should be on your list whether you are eating wheat these days or not.

Birba – which means ‘little rascal’ in Italian – is an open-air simple box attached to a giant shaded patio with misters keeping it cool.  Expect a line here too, but go for dinner and enjoy their light Italian fare which includes yummy pizza.

Johannes is a local favorite for dinner, and you can’t beat Norma’s at The Parker or the poolside patio at the Purple Palm, for weekend brunch.

DO

Hike if you can stand the heat and bike everywhere.   Some hotels have beach cruisers for you to borrow or you can rent from Bike Palm Springs.  Golf (if you must) and definitely get your early morning tennis game on.  Of course poolside reading is a given, and on my trip it seemed no one was embarrassed to show how far into the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy they were.  This is not on my reading list but feel free to comment on why it should be.

Call Palm Springs Modern Tours (760-318-6118) and take in all the Albert Frey, Donald Wexler, Richard Nuetra, William Cody, Victor Gruen, and John Lautner to see.  I did a self-guided tour and as I was taking a photo of the Nuetra Kaufmann house I was surprised (and maybe a wee big embarrassed) to see the owner waving at me through my camera lense.  If only the Lautner designed Elrod House, where Bambi and Thumper met their match in Diamonds are Forever, was available for public viewing. . .

Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up 8500 feet for stunning views, or if heights aren’t your thing, stay on the ground and marvel at the Albert Frey designed former gas station that now houses the tourist office.

Under no circumstances are you to miss Sunnylands, the Annenberg Estate.  RSVP is a must and if by chance you can’t get in, then absolutely see the Annenberg Gardens next door with its immaculate rows of succulents and desert flowers.

PACK

Sunscreen of course.  Multiple hats, shorts, breezy dresses, bathing suits (I’m partial to Eres), and sneakers for a hike, run or tennis.  Don’t forget to stock up your Stephanie Johnson Palm Springs Tote with reading material and perhaps an Evian spray.