Downtown Palm Springs (roughly defined as from the north end of Alejo Rd. and south to Ramon Rd.) offers visitors a vibrant combination of the old and the new. The sidewalks are wide, the mid-century and Spanish-style storefronts are charming, and the lovely palm trees sway in soft breezes. This is all enhanced by the weather, which is beautiful, no matter what time of year you visit.
Mary Jo Ginther, Director of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, says, “The City’s goal, along with the business owners and residents, is to retain the character and ambiance of Palm Springs for visitors and locals alike, while providing new development to keep everything up to date. We are all very proud of the way our City has developed over the last 20 years.”
So much has happened in the last two decades. The old-fashioned plaza mall, which had been closed for 15 years, has been revitalized and the area is highlighted by outstanding restaurants and enticing shopping.
A variety of small boutique hotels in the downtown area offer visitors enchanting options for personalized accommodations in lushly landscaped settings. Many of these hotels were favorite getaways for the rat pack during Hollywood’s heyday in Palm Springs and they still exude the charm of that magical era. Some of these beautifully designed retreats, all members of the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels association, include Casa Cody Country Inn, Andalusian Court, Ingleside Inn, Holiday House, La Serena Villas, La Maison, and Alcazar Palm Springs.. Several of these hotels include wonderful restaurants such as The Pantry at Holiday House, Melvyn’s at the Ingleside Inn, Acuzar at La Serena Villas, and Birba and Cheekys at Alcazar.
Plans for future expansion and renovation of the downtown area are underway. Discussions include renovating the historic Town and Country Center to much of its original mid-century modern condition. These plans are important because this area connects Palm Canyon Drive to Indian Canyon Drive, which is becoming two-way instead of one-way. This will improve the area for pedestrian traffic.
The city is expanding eastward toward the airport. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which has been very involved in the economic development of Palm Springs, is developing an exciting new campus with a cultural museum, bath house and spa, and an expanded casino. Construction is also just starting for a spacious 10,000-seat arena.
The Tahquitz Corridor going from downtown to the airport has been preserved. For example, an historical building designed by celebrated architect Hugh Kaptur has been restored to its original mid-century modern design rather than replaced by a high rise that had been contemplated by some developers. The once almost-empty building is now flourishing with retailers, a coffee bar, a wine bar, and offices.
Since the areas being developed are owned by both the city and the Agua Caliente tribe (in a checkerboard pattern), some plots of land are controlled by the city and some by the tribe, but they have worked well together over the years to develop the area. There is also a very healthy preservationist community that is involved in many of these plans and residents are active in decision-making with great value placed on buildings that are unique to the mid-century heritage of Palm Springs. These renovations have brought back visitors who value the historical significance of the area.
Much credit for development goes to the businesses putting their resources back into the city. Ten years ago, there was no real food scene in Palm Springs and now many wonderful restaurants are thriving. Tours have also exploded, with biking tours, mid-century modern tours, hiking tours, and celebrity bus tours. There is even a foodie’s Desert Tasty Tour and the Palm Springs Historical Society has tours every Saturday morning with a focus on the town’s unique history.
Downtown Palm Springs is perfect for walkers. You can walk from many of the small boutique hotels and explore the shops, restaurants, and architecture. People are friendly and the town is safe. The vibe is relaxing with something for everyone.
The city’s slogan — “Like No Place Else” — is so true. And the city’s planners intend to maintain and continue to develop its special character.