Palm Springs, US: The relaxed alternative to LA where all the Hollywood stars go

While today Palm Springs, the desert resort town two hours' drive east from Los Angeles, is perhaps now best known as a beacon for the selfie generation who flock to nearby music festivals such as Coachella, this man-made green jewel in the centre of the arid Californian desert has a rich history.

Palm Springs was the desert holiday destination for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Liberace, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Zsa Zsa and Magda Gabor, Dinah Shore, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

In the golden years of Hollywood, the studios had a100-mile travel policy for its stars, meaning they could not travel beyond a two-hour drive from Los Angeles lest they had to be called back for re-shoots.

That meant Palm Springs, with its abundance of sunshine, became a holiday resort for the rich and famous, with many stars building extravagant holiday homes and some of the best resorts in California flourishing in the desert, with a staggering 100 golf courses servicing a city of just 47,000 people.

And much of it remains intact.

Close to the centre of town is the historic Ingleside Inn, a Spanish-mission property built in the 1920s as a private estate for the heirs of the Pierce Arrow Motorcar Company, once considered the Rolls Royce of America. The estate was later converted into a bungalow hotel which has hosted everyone from Salvador Dali to Spencer Tracy.

When Marlon Brando stayed at the Ingleside Inn, he famously camped out in the car park to escape the desert heat. However he wouldn't need to leave his bungalow today, with its air-conditioned luxury and 21st century comforts.

The Ingleside Inn has retained its intimate and rustic charm, with private courtyard gardens and water fountains, along with manicured gardens and a large swimming pool fringed by the iconic palm trees the desert city is famous for.

Sinatra and his Rat Pack often congregated at Melvyn's, the Ingleside Inn's restaurant and bar.

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The night I was there, long-time waiter Bobby Bolduc, 82, was retiring after more than half a century of service. As a teenager Bolduc worked as Clark Gable's golf caddie, telling me over his flambe trolley "he was a better cigar smoker than a golfer".

Diners can sit at the same table Sinatra always dined at, often with Ava Gardner, under the sparkling chandelier. His favourite dish is still on the menu: steak diane.

Local knowledge is key to unlocking the history of Palm Springs, and no one knows it better than Kurt Cyr, who runs the Palm Springs Mod Squad Tours. I do the Martini and Mid-Century Architecture Tour, which includes visits to the homes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Marilyn Monroe. Though it was only the former home of Magda Gabor includes a tour of the interior, with its sunken terrazzo bathtub. Cyr finishes the tours with a round of martinis – or whatever drink you desire - at Melvyn's. Half an hour drive outside of Palm Springs is the extraordinary La Quinta Resort, where Bette Davis, Diego Rivera and Greta Garbo would escape to. Today you can visit Garbo's "Casita" within La Quinta's manicured gardens, a place where the actress sought refuge and would famously wonder around her private courtyard completely naked. Staff abided by her rule to be "left alone".

La Quinta is at the foot of the spectacular Santa Rosa Mountains. In1926 it had just 20 bungalows. It now comprises of 796 casitas, suites, villas, entire, self-contained holiday homes, nine championship golf courses, a lavish spa, 23 tennis courts, 41 swimming pools and 53 hot tubs.

During the summer months the heat can limit daytime activities to the swimming pool, but at night Palm Canyon Drive, the main street which dissects Palm Springs, comes alive, with stalls and musicians creating a carnival atmosphere, as the city's many bars and restaurants fill up on a nightly basis.

Despite an abundance of five-star international hotels, celebrity guests and fine restaurants, Palm Springs retains the ambience of a relaxed country town and is as good a place to unwind today as it ever was.

TRIP NOTES

Andrew Hornery travelled to Palm Springs as a guest of visitcalifornia.com

MORE

traveller.com.au/los-angeles

visitcalifornia.com

visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

STAY

The Ingleside Inn from $250 a night for a standard room. See inglesideinn.com

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