Wanderlust must be in my DNA. There are times when my innate desire to travel and explore wells up like hot lava that’s about to burst from a volcano, and I have no choice but to hit the road. Traveling via airplane fills the need, too, but there’s something about being on the open road that feels the most liberating—plus, I can pack as many pairs of shoes and hats as I want without paying extra baggage fees.
Even though the mercury hovered close to 100 degrees, I picked Palm Springs, California, as my fix. The 5½-hour drive was the perfect distance for me to scratch my wanderlust itch yet still feel energetic when I made it to my destination.
My GPS announced my arrival at The Monkey Tree Hotel, and, even if I had driven 18 hours, I would’ve felt refreshed when I set foot on the colorful property. I couldn’t wait to take a dip in the sparkling pool that was surrounded by sunshine-yellow umbrellas and Albert Frey’s iconic architecture with a slanted roofline that mimicked the nearby San Jacinto Mountains. But first, I entered the swanky lobby and met Kathy Friedle, who owns The Monkey Tree Hotel with her husband, Gary. She and the manager, Alex, were both friendly and welcoming and made some phone calls to confirm the restaurants they were recommending for dinner were open since parts of Palm Springs take a bit of a siesta in August.
It was hard to focus on everything Kathy and Alex were saying because I saw so many special details each time I blinked—Eames chairs, a George Nelson coat rack, a brass submarine lamp, stylish artwork and a chrome piece on the wall with small clocks showing the time in Buenos Aires, London, Moscow and six other cities. I had no doubt that each piece had a story behind it.
Alex showed me to my room and explained how the huge windows were mirrored and completely private unless a light was on inside at night. It was such a treat to have a wide-open view of the gorgeous grounds and still have complete privacy. The attention to detail throughout my room was top-notch, including a handwritten welcome note with some snacks and wine. I felt right at home, especially when I saw the retro bathroom tile with small squares and rectangles in a pattern that matched the hall bathroom in my childhood home. After reading about how Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as well as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, among other notable celebrities, stayed at the hotel in its early years, I wondered if any of them stayed in my exact room. It was fun to daydream about how it would have been to sip martinis with them.
After I unpacked my bag, I headed out to Sandfish Sushi and Whiskey per Kathy’s recommendation. I started to peruse the impressive menu and then noticed how the sun shined its last rays of the day across the wallpaper with etched blue waves. The tile backsplash behind the sushi bar resembled pale blue fish scales. I silently gave kudos to the interior designer and continued to take in my surroundings instead of my usual habit of pulling out my phone to occupy myself. I remembered a trick I did on my solo trip to Scotland and pulled out a small notebook instead. I jotted down a few notes to remind myself of trip details so far, and then I gazed pensively into the distance, and eavesdropped on the conversations around me. Although once my craft cocktail (which had Aquavit Venus, apricot, lemon, egg white and cardamom pod), and my sushi roll (with an interesting combination of ingredients including spicy tuna, crab, lightly fried potato threads and black truffle zest) arrived, that became my only focus.
The evening temperature was perfect so I walked several blocks and snapped pictures of the mid-century modern architecture, attention-grabbing storefronts and the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. I took in the creative Trina Turk and Shag the Store window displays for quite some time since I used to dress windows for Macy’s and still hold a fond appreciation for out-of-the-box displays. I may have gone home with a new hat if the stores had been open. I crossed the street and followed the stars embedded in the sidewalk for celebrities such as Natalie Wood, Elvis Presley, Chevy Chase and Lena Horne.
It was nine o’clock when I got back to The Monkey Tree, and I didn’t waste any time before getting into the pool. I loved having it all to myself, and I floated under the twinkling stars and listened to the wind blow through the palm fronds. The 16-room boutique hotel felt like I was staying in a friend’s spacious and uber-stylish home.
I was so relaxed in the comfortable room with the Goldilocks assortment of pillows, that I slept in longer than usual. The morning sun cast a different light on the property than the evening sun had, and I enjoyed taking pictures until the complimentary breakfast was ready. Inside the tastefully decorated dining area, I met a family visiting from China and two French Canadians from Quebec. We chatted a bit about our travels while we ate. The cashew butter with assorted jams was perfect sustenance before I headed to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
The guide in the tram shared interesting tidbits of information as we ascended the mountain, such as that it would be about 25 degrees cooler once we reached the top and that the downhill tram pulled the uphill one up. The floor rotated so all of us could continuously have an excellent view of the breathtaking scenery. After the tram reached the 8,516-foot summit, everyone disembarked and I hiked along the paths lined with pine trees that were so large my arms only stretched around a fifth of the biggest trunks. The smell of pine was wonderful and the views of Coachella Valley below were magnificent.
After my morning on the mountain, instead of having my Uber driver take a direct route back to the hotel, I asked him to show me some of his favorite homes. I lucked out because, as a former realtor, he ended up having a wealth of knowledge about the architecture. I learned that an authentic detail generally associated with George Alexander homes, the ones with the butterfly roof lines, is they have an olive tree in the front yard. Alexander’s wife, Mildred, planted one in front of each of Alexander’s homes as a symbol of peace.
The agenda for my last day started with a 20-mile downhill bike ride—our group pedaled from 1,400 feet above sea level to 187 feet below—along the San Andreas fault line with Big Wheel Tours. While we rode, we listened to Raul, our tour guide, share interesting stories about the fault line and history of the area. The terrain along the tour changed dramatically from desert brush to unusually smooth mountains that looked like a set for Planet of the Apes to rows of grapes near Mecca. We finished the trip with a delicious date shake at Oasis Date Gardens.
After I returned to my hotel, I tried the Scandinavian hot-cold plunge pools. It was a piece of cake to soak in the hot pool. I admired each of the hand-painted rocks that past visitors had painted with messages and names in the stone wall that surrounded the pools. Then I had to psych myself up to take the plunge into the 55-degree pool. Whew! It was exhilarating! I went back and forth a few times and felt like I could easily ride another 20 miles—even uphill.
My time to leave had arrived, and I wished I had more hours to explore Palm Springs. I compiled a list of things I had to do on my next trip, including a visit to Moorten Botanical Garden and the Palm Springs Art Museum, and hiking to the giant waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon, renting a scooter and checking out the custom-designed hot dog wallpaper at Frankinbun Gourmet Sausages.
As I was checking out and thanking Alex for an outstanding stay, I also asked if I could paint a rock in the wall around the plunge pools. She enthusiastically handed me the box of paints and brushes, and I painted a rock purple and added my initials in orange and yellow. Leaving my mark was the perfect way to wrap up my solo excursion, and, even though one adventure was ending, I could feel the spark of wanderlust ignite and was already starting to think about where I might explore next.