It has been over a century since Hollywood put Palm Springs on the map. Rudolph Valentino may have been the first to bring it to national recognition when he honeymooned with Natacha Rambova at Florilla White’s Palm Springs Inn. What’s so newsworthy about that? Well, he was not quite legally divorced from his first wife, actress Jean Acker, and he was arrested for bigamy. Escándalo! 

Since then, a lot of privately owned resorts in Palm Springs have opened, and they are all very special. Some had a prior life as private homes for recognizable Hollywood names, others were built by starchitects, and many have wonderful stories about well-known people who stayed there. Each has its own personality and all of them are charming. Several have that old Palm Springs feel and some are classic mid-century modern retreats, but there is one men’s resort that has combined the old Hollywood feel with the new Hollywood aesthetic: the Descanso Resort near the Uptown Design District.

Courtesy of Descanso Resort

The English translation of the Spanish word “Descanso” is “break,” as in “you deserve a break,” and young professionals looking for that Hollywood Roosevelt pool feel with a tropical vibe will definitely appreciate the look, feel, and social amenities at Descanso. The resort has only been open for a few months, but the reviews are already in — and they’re five-star raves.   

Built in 1946 and last known as East Canyon Resort, the property has good bones — a classic, sought-after exterior design, with its large suites around a beautiful pool and spa — but by the time 2020 rolled around, it was very much in need of some TLC. A “group of guys from Portland” (who now live in my head as the Portland Authority [the Authority™]) recognized its potential, paid the man, and got to work.

They started by tackling the landscaping. The view of the pool was completely obstructed by greenery covering the eaves, so straight away they cut some Louise Brooks bangs, or fringe if you’re posh (and we are), and began finding out what was underneath the overgrown flora.

Now landscaped for maximum comfort and privacy, every lounge chair, every structure, every spot in the resort has a clear eyeline to the shimmering (saltwater!) pool, the majestic palms dotting the horizon, and the grandeur of the San Jacinto Mountains backdropping the picturesque view. 

Courtesy of Descanso Resort

The property is swanky but not fussy; it has a casual elegance that makes you feel like something special is about to happen. Two white columns flank the entrance, which leads to a breezeway filled with lush exotic greenery and white wrought iron and frosted-glass gates. 

The all-glass lobby is cheerful with its funky 1970s green and white flowered front desk and attached sitting room. All of the wall art is mid-mod style, including photos by Slim Aarons and current local William Dey. Paintings are by Shawn Savage, who is known around these parts as the “Palm Springs Lifestyle GURU and the go-to guy for top interior designers.”

Courtesy of Descanso Resort

Varying in size from 400 square feet to 515 square feet, with either a poolside or balcony view, the 16 suites are festooned in the hues of the desert —  armless couches wrapped in palm tree green, rich charcoal and cloud-white checkered accent chairs, sleek platform king beds dressed in crisp white linens, accent walls in blues and greens, and desertscape seagrass floor tiles. It is sleek mid-century modern design with a firm nod to minimalism. 

The suites also come with a fridge, a safe, an iron, and a hairdryer, but let’s talk about the bathrooms. You guys, they have freestanding deep white porcelain tubs, Gilchrest & Soames luxury bath products, and little white tables on either side of the tub to rest your cocktail. Big fluffy green towels are for après bath. 

Courtesy of Descanso Resort

Because a vacation should be all about the aaaahhh, and not about waiting for an available table, Descanso provides a full-on craft services breakfast: fruits, yogurts, croissants, ham and cheese, granola, etc. Lunch is ordered in from a Palm Springs eatery, like Aspen Mills Bakery, with offerings including delectable sandwiches and salads. Snacks and beverages are readily available in the 24-hour cantina, but dinner is all about going out to one of our fabulous restaurants and joining in the merry at the many bars that cater to the gay community. Of course, you’re not restricted to gay establishments; the world is your oyster in Palm Springs. So, spice it up, throw on some Tabasco, and enjoy. 

If you’re looking for recommendations, the Descanso’s staff is more than accommodating, so just ask. The Wi-Fi is strong with this one — if you want to do your own research on where to go for drinks or dinner, or have to work on that script or secure that deal, you’re in the money.

Courtesy of Descanso Resort

Feeling adventurous? Grab one of the bikes (complimentary use for guests!), tool around downtown, then pop back for a quick outdoor shower and have that massage you’ve been looking forward to (the one you booked from Descanso’s well-curated list of male massage therapists).

When your massage is finished, have a soak in the spa beneath the courtyard’s misters — a lovely combination of cooled air and steamy body, but not so wet as to douse the flames from the fire pit. If it’s the weekend, you might like to time it around Wine O’Clock, Descanso’s happy hour. Mix it up with new friends, or have an intimate date for two, or three — no one’s judgy here. We’re too busy spending every day in paradise. 

Courtesy of Descanso Resort

A destination for movie stars since the silent film era, Palm Springs has also long been on the short list for location scouts in search of substitutes for desertscapes around the world.

In 1918, Salome starring Theda Bara was filmed in the Indian Canyons (now the preserve with crazy good hiking). It wasn’t the first documented movie shot in Palm Springs — that was The Heir to the Hoorah in 1916 at the same location, directed by Cecil B. De Mille’s brother, William Churchill De Mille. The only copy of this film is in the Library of Congress. You can find the somewhat bizarre synopsis here.

The next two movies are both on streamers, and both shot in Palm Springs at Tahquitz Canyon’s waterfall. This area was used as a stand-in for Shangri-la in the 1937 film Lost Horizon (starring Jane Wyatt) and subbed for the Sahara Desert in The Sheik (1921) starring silent film heartthrob Rudolph Valentino. He became a frequent guest at The Palm Springs Hotel after it was purchased by the White sisters.

Tahquitz Canyon waterfall

Tahquitz Canyon’s waterfall. Courtesy of Visit Palm Springs

Cornelia White was integral to Valentino not being convicted in a crime of a scandalous nature. Here’s the story: Valentino’s divorce decree to actress Jean Acker stated he could not remarry for one year after their divorce, but Valentino’s love for costume designer Natacha Rambova was reckless and apparently lawless, because one day before the year was up, they eloped to Mexico. Their honeymoon was spent at The Palm Springs Hotel, and somebody snitched. At trial, White testified that Rambova spent the night with her and not Valentino, who slept on the porch. As the marriage wasn’t consummated, Valentino was acquitted of bigamy.

But we’re not here for salacious stories (at least not today). We’re here for the movies that were filmed in and around Palm Springs and I’m gonna give you the locations of some of the places that still remain today. Let’s go!

The Damned Don’t Cry! (1950) starring Mommie Dearest herself, Joan Crawford, playing a gangster’s moll. This film noir is set at her boyfriend’s “Desert Springs” getaway. The home was actually the Twin Palms Estate, a.k.a. the main residence of Palm Springs’ most famous resident, gangster-friendly Frank Sinatra. It’s in what is called The Movie Colony neighborhood where — you guessed it — a lot of movie stars had homes. 

Frank Sinatra standing next to a microphone

Frank Sinatra. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Sinatra’s is a class one historic site designed by E. Stewart Williams and built by the Alexander Company, the one/two punch that solidifies its mid-century modern provenance. You can drive past it at 1148 E. Alejo Road, and if you get to the website fast enough, you can book a tour of it during Modernism Week. A wee bit of apocryphal gossip: a crack in the vanity of the main bathroom supposedly happened when Ava Gardner threw a champagne bottle at Frank during one of their famous fights. (Rent the movie on Prime, Apple, YouTube, Vudu.)

Palm Springs Weekend (1963) — Forget Daytona Beach and all the other Floridian hotspots where the spring break beach movies were set, this film has Connie Stevens, Troy Donahue, and the Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Stephanie Powers, partying in Palm Springs. Still standing locations: the police station at 200 S. Civic Drive and Margaritavilla (known as The Riviera at the time) at 1600 N. Indian Canyon Drive. (Rent on Vudu, Apple TV, Amazon Prime.)

Diamonds Are Forever (1971), starring Sean Connery as Bond, used Palm Springs as a stand in for the South African portion of their hijinks. Most importantly, the marvelous summer home of billionaire brainiac Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean) is still standing and also a class one historic site. The Elrod Home at 2175 Southridge Drive is architecturally significant, designed by starchitect John Lautner. Unfortunately you can’t go in, and you can’t really get to it. It’s way up on a bluff and it’s gated. The best way to see it is from East Palm Canyon and look up. (Do not do this if you are the driver, ‘k?) 

The "Diamonds are Forever" poster

The “Diamonds are Forever” poster.

It’s right next to Bob Hope’s house (also designed by Lautner), the spaceship looking residence you can spot while heading east on Highway 111. Your best chances to go in, or at least see the outside closer, are during Modernism Week, but it’s not a sure bet. A definite bucket list item for any Bondophile though. (Movie is available on premium streaming subscriptions only.)

American Gigolo (1980) — Besides the fact that this is about a male prostitute, a bit of a switcheroo for Hollywood, it is remembered (fondly) by many for its full-frontal nude shots of Richard Gere. As for Palm Springs? When he and Michelle (Lauren Hutton) come for the weekend they stay at 2389 S. Yosemite Drive in the Indian Canyons neighborhood. If you’re a golfer, you can actually play a round at Indian Canyons North Course and get closer than a driveby. If you’re a man who enjoys full-frontal nudity, check out our men’s swimsuit-optional boutique hotels. (Movie available on premium streamers Paramount & MGM and to rent on Prime, Apple, Vudu.)

We’re only up to the 1980s, and I actually skipped through a few decades of films that aren’t particularly recognizable in name or star, and we’ve still got plenty more to go, but we’ve run out of space this month. And I haven’t even told you about the films shot at some of our small boutique hotels yet.

While planning your next Palm Springs getaway, why not peep a few of the above films, then visit the locations when you get here. Fun! And when you stay and shop local you keep Palm Springs keeping on which means good karma!

I’ll see you next time because this will be continued…

The Palm Springs International Film Fest (PSIFF) is a very big deal, and not just to Palm Springs. It is, in fact, true to its name, international. Filmmakers and cinephiles come in from all over the world to see the showcased films.

And there are movie stars. So many movie stars. We are lousy with movie stars. (That’s an expression meaning “we have a lot,” we treat them great, not to worry.) You might run into one at a restaurant, because they have to eat, even if it is just a tiny bit. And we have some pretty great restaurants. They’ll be all up and down the valley, just like in the old days. Ah, the old days…

“Picture this: Palm Springs, 1958, Desi driving the latest model Cadillac convertible down Palm Canyon Drive, Lucy in the passenger seat, a pink polka dot scarf keeping her red hair in place, which is good, because the fire department might have thought her head was on fire without it and had to take action. And she had these big white sunnies that made her look like a movie star. Because she was, you know.” — Sophia Petrillo (IYKYK)

PSIFF turns 34 this year, and she’s grown into quite the boss — last year, there were around 1,000 entries from more than 60 countries, with only 130 films making the cut. For 2023, some big names will be receiving awards from the festival. Here’s the rundown:

Colin Farrell, Desert Palm Achievement Award, The Banshees of Inisherin

Sarah Polley, Director of the Year Award, Women Talking

Cate Blanchett, Desert Palm Achievement Award, Tár

Michelle Yeoh, International Star Award, Everything Everywhere All At Once

Steven Spielberg, Vanguard Award, The Fabelmans 

Austin Butler, Breakthrough Performance Award, Elvis

Viola Davis, Chairman’s Award, The Woman King

Bill Nighy, International Star Award, Living

Danielle Deadwyler, Breakthrough Performance Award, Till

Brendan Fraser, Spotlight Award, The Whale

Also, I think I missed a memo — and I don’t even know how one might put this in a memo — but one category is Talking Pictures, which appears to be studio backed films with sound. Is that new? Is that because…why is that? Someone forward me the memo, I need the memo! 

There is a category of Gay/Queer Culture films, which is pretty self-explanatory. And then Fully Subtitled Films which is probably where the “International” part comes in because they’re not in English. Just thinking out loud here, but …you know what, you can figure it out. I gave you the links. You may not even care. But if you got the memo, still forward it, please. 

If you’d like to see a schedule by day go here. If you’re curious about the venues, click here.

Some considerations, from the website: All patrons must provide proof of full vaccination and photo ID in person at our vaccination checkpoints to receive a vaccination wristband. The vaccination wristband must be worn throughout the festival to attend all screenings and events. Those checkpoints can be found here.

If I sound like I’m a little bitter, you got me. It’s one of the biggest international events in Palm Springs and I’ve never been. But you can go! Get your tickets here. Then you can blog all about it and tag us so I can live vicariously through you! Plan?

That’s @PalmSpringsPreferredSmallHotels on Instagram, and me @kaykudukis.  

Be sure to take lots of pictures, and if you see a UFO at night, for heaven’s sake, zoom in and hold the camera steady. Tag me in that one, too.

Don’t forget to shop and stay local, and happy 2023!