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There are tons of gay-owned gems and LGBTQIA+-friendly shops to explore in Palm Springs, which is great news if you’re in town for a getaway or live here in the Coachella Valley. Our desert oasis is a cornucopia of quirky gifts, mid-century modern household goods, thrift stores that give back to the queer community, and everything in between. So if you’ve got $500 that’s just burning a hole through your wallet right now, consider making some time for a little retail therapy. Here are my votes for the best queer shopping in Palm Springs:

Adult gifts (for men)

Gear Leather & Fetish

For men who like to play hard, Gear Leather & Fetish on East Sunny Dunes Road carries some of the best fetish products from the top manufacturers in the world. Go grab a beer at the Tool Shed next door for some inspiration first.

Rough Trade Gear Palm Springs

The Arenas District in Palm Springs is home to Rough Trade Gear, featuring some of the sexiest men’s street, fetish, sport, and play wear. It’s just one of many shopping options in the ever-popular Arenas District “gayborhood.”

Antiques shopping

Palm Springs Vintage Market

The Palm Springs Vintage Market features the best selection of Southern California vendors selling vintage and antique furniture, art, clothing, jewelry, and home furnishings. Experience it for yourself on the first Sunday of every month (October through May), from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Palm Springs Cultural Center (formerly Camelot Theatre).

Antique Galleries of Palm Springs

If you can’t catch the Vintage Market, you can discover all sorts of inspiring things at Antique Galleries of Palm Springs. They have one of the largest collections of antique, vintage, and retro everything in the Coachella Valley.

This is just one corner of Antique Galleries of Palm Springs. Photo credit: Gregory Douglass

Clothing (for men) 

GayMart USA

In the heart of the Arenas District, GayMart USA proudly refers to itself as “America’s Favorite Gay Superstore.” Their specialty is swimwear and underwear of all kinds, but they also sell entertaining cards, presents, and toys for adults.

GayMart USA has it all. Photo credit: Gregory Douglass

Division Palm Springs

If you really want to dress the part of a Palm Springs local, Division Palm Springs is the place to shop. Also nestled in the Arenas District, Division always has a beautifully curated contemporary collection of button downs, clever T-shirts, classy swimwear, and ever-popular short-shorts that practically every gay man in town wears with pride.

Division’s storefront gives you a hint of what’s inside. Photo credit: Gregory Douglass

Gifts

Queertique Palm Springs

There’s no shop more unique in Palm Springs than Queertique. They are a queer lifestyle shop dedicated to amplifying the voices of independent queer artists and their art and apparel. You can even take a selfie in the store’s fabulous dressing room (and be sure to tag them in your Instagram post if you do)!

There is so much to see at Queertique. Photo credit: Gregory Douglass

Just Fabulous Palm Springs

Just Fabulous Palm Springs is, well, … just fabulous! Located next to Koffi North in the Uptown District, Just Fabulous is a lifestyle boutique with artwork, original gifts, mid-century modern photo books, and modern home decor items that are as inspiring as they are entertaining. Their greeting card selection alone could keep you entertained all afternoon.

Home furnishings

Ace Hardware

Yes, you read that right. Palm Springs Ace Hardware isn’t just your daddy’s hardware store (or is it)? It’s every gay man’s ideal version of a hardware store, and then some. From beautiful mid-century modern patio furniture to a vast selection of HVAC air filters, Ace is the place (sorry, I couldn’t resist) for all of your desert household needs. And they are as LGBTQ+ community-focused as a local business can be.

PS Homeboys

PS Homeboys are primarily home-staging specialists, but they’ve got a stunning showroom in the Arenas District full of beautiful, reasonably priced indoor/outdoor furniture and home decor. You can even browse through their inspiring wallpaper library to find the perfect look for your desert dwellings.

Design inspiration abounds at PS Homeboys. Photo credit: Gregory Douglass

Thrift stores 

Revivals

Revivals knows how to put the “care” in health care! The most socially-conscious gay locals shop and donate their furniture, appliances, jewelry, artwork, and time at Revivals. This is because all four Revivals store locations in the Coachella Valley donate 100 percent of their revenue, amounting to more than $1 million annually, to support comprehensive healthcare at DAP Health (the Desert AIDS Project).

Mitchells Palm Springs

Mitchells Palm Springs offers contemporary designer clothing, shoes, and accessories from the 1970s through ’90s for men and women. Boasting carefully-curated vintage and iconic designers, like Gaultier and Versace, Mitchells always aims for sleek and sexy. Picture a day of shopping before passing through the velvet ropes to get into Studio 54 — that’s the Mitchells experience!

Fabulous vintage clothing can be found at Mitchells Palm Springs. Photo credit: Gregory Douglass

With summer officially in full swing, hospitality staff at Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels are turning their attention to pampering visitors from all over the world. 

The pools are cool, the nights are warm, and everyone is languid. Yes, it’s hot, but hey, midday, head to the museums, the top of the mountain on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (where it’s always 30 degrees cooler and the views are breathtaking), or hit the air-conditioned stores and galleries to take advantage of their sizzling summer sales. Most Palm Springs restaurants remain open — however, they may adjust their hours, so be sure to check their websites. 

The sooner you book your stay, the better. For the past couple of summers, Palm Springs’ small boutique hotels, many with a vibe to fit your travel style, have been busy. That said, you can save some serious money and time by booking directly with a boutique hotel inside of going through a third-party travel platform. Plus, you’ll have a much better experience in general.

“Small hotels have distinct personalities. That’s one of the things that makes them special,” says Michael Green, owner of the Triangle Inn Palm Springs. “So if you want to stay at one, go direct. You’ll get the best sense of the hotel itself.”

Here are six reasons you should book directly with a boutique hotel or resort:

1. Room choice

Many of Palm Springs’ small hotels and resorts (those with no more than 50 rooms) have been remodeled, often resulting in new additions, removal of walls to make larger suites, and a carefully-curated environment to enhance the guest experience. 

Third-party booking companies are given a block of tickets to sell in a particular area of the hotel, with no knowledge of where rooms may be located or details on the hotel’s total environment. 

“Room choices are often ‘run of house’ with third parties, as opposed to the guest booking directly with the hotel and locking in their room,” explains Sarah Martinez, general manager of Azure Sky, a new luxury boutique hotel in Palm Springs. Green concurs, saying, “Booking platforms generally only get a select piece of inventory from hotels, and especially from small hotels — maybe just one room type — so for the full picture, it’s always better to talk to the hotel directly.”

Sarah Martinez, general manager of Azure Sky.

2. Accountability 

We’ve all been there. You booked a flight through one of the discount sites, and it gets delayed due to weather, there’s a schedule change, or you have a family emergency. You need to contact someone for help, and that’s when the epic nightmare of a time sink begins.

After a long wait on the phone, the airline says they can’t help because you booked through a third party, so you must call them. The person who answers does not understand the situation or doesn’t have the authority to make changes and says there is no way they can help. You push for a higher manager, and the saga continues. The same scenario can happen when you use a third party to book hotel reservations.

“Because third-party reservations lock us out of any changes or adjustments, it’s easier to adjust a reservation that has been booked directly,” says Kent Taylor, general manager at Descanso Resort.

3. Flexibility 

The text arrives: Aunt Mable decides she wants to come along on the trip after all. Great — you have a built-in babysitter! — but now there aren’t enough beds for everyone.

“If you booked directly with the hotel, it’s super easy to call it and modify your reservation … perhaps to a suite or whatever accommodation hotel management suggests. Flexibility is number one,” Martinez says. “Once a guest books a room through a third party, the hotel cannot make changes to the reservation and the guest has to deal with the third party directly. It created a middleman which can lead to frustration because it may appear the hotel is not helpful.”

Taylor agrees, saying, “We try very hard to be as flexible as possible. There are so many unforeseen situations in our world these days, the last thing anyone needs is more complications while just trying to take a vacation.”

4. Packages and special deals

Especially during the summer, when making a reservation with a hotel, ask if there are any packages available. Palm Springs is a very close-knit community, and often attractions work with hotels to offer guests special rates for the abundance of things to experience. 

“Many hotels offer perks to those who book directly, such as upgrades or cancellations without penalties,” one hotelier revealed. “But it’s usually on a case-by-case basis, so you’ll never find them on one of the third-party booking platforms.” Martinez is more blunt, declaring, “Hotels offer various deals and packages not found on third-party sites.”

5. Pricing 

Being a responsible traveler and planner, you are probably accustomed to checking out third-party websites. Always a good idea, but do not stop there. Once you have selected the hotel that appears to meet your needs, check out their website and call the number listed. Be ready with your accommodation needs and ask them for their advice and the price. If it appears the price is higher than you found online, tell them — they would rather give you the discount than pay the third party a fee. 

According to Martinez, hotels will often price match, except when the third party is directly undercutting the hotel or is packaging the room with other sales, such as airfare or car rentals.

“We prefer direct bookings to reduce the commission cost of 18 percent from the OTAs (other travel agencies),” says Robert Hunt, general manager of Alcazar Palm Springs. This alsoallows the front desk agent to discuss the type of room that best fits the guest’s needs, since we have 10 different room types available on the property.”

Plus, sometimes a “deal” from an OTA or booking platform really isn’t. Taylor shares this cautionary tale: “I had a small group call about booking a specific weekend with several rooms. After giving them the information they needed, they decided to all book themselves on the website. Everyone but one booked directly with the hotel. One member of the group booked with a specific website that offers a portion of a free hotel night, if a certain number of rooms are booked in the year. The one guest who booked with that third-party website was paying approximately $25 more a night than everyone else in his group. I was shocked to see it! He was paying in advance for his ‘free night’ … and then some.”

“Some OTAs use tricky, misleading tactics to make it appear the guest rate is lower than the hotel,” Martinez warns. “The initial average room rate can sometimes look less expensive but as the guest books, there are large fees added to the booking and the guest is not actually paying a lower rate.”

Kent Taylor, general manager of Descanso Resort

6. Book direct and make better memories

The special touch offered by front desk agents at Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels will make your stay more memorable.

“The very nature of a third-party booking website removes the personal touch,” Taylor says. “We take many reservations over the phone and people ask a variety of questions that inform their vacation on the whole. Where can we go for our special dinner? Is there a gym close by? Do you serve vegan yogurt at breakfast? Only someone helping you at the hotel will know the answers to these types of questions. It is like having a direct connect to a local for help in creating the best vacation you can have.”

Pro tips to remember:

If you book your hotel directly and need to make a change, they can help you do so with one short phone call.

A direct relationship with the hotel gives you a lot more flexibility because they are in the hospitality business, not the booking business.

When you speak to an employee at a boutique hotel, they can answer your questions about the property, unlike third-party agents who are not familiar with the offerings.

Some booking platforms make it look like you’re getting a lower price, but they tack on hefty fees at the end, increasing the final total.

The art of tipping can be confusing. How many times have you asked a friend how much they tipped the hotel housekeeping staff or how much of gratuity to give a parking attendant?  International travel writer Linda Milks shares everything you need to know about gratuities when you travel to Palm Springs or elsewhere.

How Did Tipping Begin?

Tipping actually began as a custom in Europe. The belief is that wealthy Americans traveling abroad saw tipping and brought this custom home to “show off” their aristocratic class.

The beginnings of tipping started in taverns of 17th Century England where money was slipped “to insure promptness” (or T.I.P.) After all, these tavern imbibers didn’t want to sit around waiting for their next drink.

Mixologist Preparing Cocktails

In America, in the late 1800’s, there was a movement against tipping. The reasoning was that it created an aristocratic class. In fact, six states attempted and failed to pass an anti-tipping bill to make gratuities unlawful. Who knows if this was their true motivation?

What Are Tipped Minimum Wage Employees?

When I started exploring tipping in the United States, I found that there is a tipped minimum wage which is an hourly pay rate for employees who receive tips on a regular basis, and it is often lower than the general minimum wage.

Believe it or not, the U.S. federal government requires tipped employees to be paid at least $2.13 per hour in direct wages, as long as this amount equals the federal hourly minimum wage when combined with tips. To be a tipped employee, an employee must receive more than $30 per month in tips. This tipped minimum wage applies whenever the state-tipped minimum wage pays less than the U.S. tipped minimum wage.

Small Barn Restaurant Server with Tomahawk Steak

The good news for tipped minimum wage employees in California is that at the current time, California requires employers to pay tipped employees full state minimum wage before tips. Currently, in California that wage is $13 with 25 employees or less and $14 with 26 or more employees. This minimum can even be higher in some parts of California, such as the Bay area.

How Much Is The Acceptable Tip At A Hotel?

Just who qualifies as a tipped employee? Yes, it’s the person retrieving your car from valet parking, the person who provides spa treatment, and the hotel housekeeper, in addition to the bartender and server at a winery or a restaurant.

Hotel Housekeeper Preparing to Clean a Room

How much should you be tipping each of the people who are taking care of you? The tipping rate per day for a Hotel Housekeeper should be $3-5 per day or as much as $5-$20 per day in exclusive resorts. It’s best to tip this housekeeper every day rather than at the end of your stay so that the person who does the work for each day gets the tip.

What about the person who brings your luggage to your room? The suggested amount is $1-$2 per bag. If they give you a great orientation, you may want to tip a little more. A flat rate of $5 plus $1 per bag is customary for storing your bag and then taking them to your room.

Shuttle service to and from a hotel should run between $1-$2 per person or $4-$5 per party.

A concierge or front desk attendant giving you detailed information such as obtaining a desirable restaurant reservation or hard-to-get tickets should be tipped at least $5.

How much for valet service? Tipping when your car is delivered is recommended to be $1-$5. Tipping when your car is parked is up to your discretion but not necessary.

How Much Do You Tip Outside The Hotel For Service?

That special hairdresser should be tipped between 18-22%, especially if you have received excellent service.

Hairdresser Blow Drying Customer’s Hair

How about a massage therapist or manicurist? Tipping with cash is the most desirable way for these professionals to receive a tip. A massage therapist should receive between 15% and 20% of the cost of the treatment. For a manicure or a pedicure, a 20% tip is the norm.

Bartenders should get a $1 tip for a drink like beer, but $2 for a cocktail. If it’s a 2-for-1 special, you still should tip on two drinks. Cash is much appreciated rather than putting it on a card. And, whatever you do, don’t wave your money around. This will not get you faster service.

Do you really need to pay 20% tip on a bottle of wine? The answer is “yes.” That bottle is part of the atmosphere where you are dining, it has probably been selected and described by your server, and has been carefully stored for your enjoyment.

Wine Server Pouring a Glass of Wine

Now let’s talk about restaurant servers. Please don’t be one of those persons who deducts the sales tax when calculating a tip at a restaurant. Many times your server shares the tips with the bussers, the dishwashers, and runners in a “tipping pool.” That server creates a special mood while you are dining and deserves to be compensated for that experience. Think of the difference between a pre-tax tip on a $100 meal and an after-tax tip. If the tax is 10% (the highest in the country), then you are paying an extra $2. That is just not worth the thought or effort.

Is a Service Charge A Tip?

Group of Ladies at Lunch Where They Will Be Charged a Service Charge

Be aware that when a Service Charge is tacked onto your bill in California, that Service Charge belongs to the employer. That employer can either give the money to the employees, give part to the employees, or keep it all for themselves. Perhaps that would be a good question to ask the employer when booking a large group where a Service Charge is required.

Traveling, hotel stays, special treatments, and dining are all wonderful ways to treat yourself and enjoy time with others. Make sure you provide an adequate tip for those working in the service industry to keep everyone happy and receiving a decent pay.

If you’re looking to plan the ultimate boys gaycation weekend with your besties, there’s no doubt that Palm Springs, California, is on your short list of places to go. It’s one of the few LGBTQ+ safe havens in the country that caters to the queer community year-round — and it’s a mid-century modern desert oasis of fun in the sun. In fact, the entire Coachella Valley is one of the most welcoming places for you and your boys to stay, play, and slay (yaaass, queen).

Ready to start making an itinerary? Here are a few of my suggestions for Palm Springs boutique hotels, restaurants, and activities:

Stay

Santiago Resort

The intimate and luxurious Santiago Resort is a paradise for men if you and your boys want to let down your guard – and your swimwear. If you haven’t yet experienced a saltwater (saline) pool, you’re in for a genuine treat at this ever-popular clothing-optional resort. If they happen to be all booked up, check out their brother resort Descanso for a similarly sophisticated experience. From their complimentary poolside lunch to the new friends you’ll meet poolside, you won’t want to stay anywhere that isn’t clothing-optional again after this.

The Santiago Resort at dusk. Photo courtesy of the Santiago Resort

INNdulge Palm Springs

INNdulge is a popular men’s resort in the Warm Sands district of Palm Springs, with a 24-hour heated saltwater pool and 12-man jacuzzi. It’s a more economical option as well if you and the boys are on a budget (or holding out for more of the fun stuff). They have 25 years of experience assisting men with their first time at a clothing-optional resort, but you can also watch the alluring videos on their website in advance if you’re curious.

The INNdulge grounds. Photo courtesy of INNdulge

Desert Paradise Resort Hotel

The Desert Paradise Resort Hotel is an intimate 12-room boutique hotel that strives to go above and beyond for their guests from check in to check out. Also conveniently located in the Warm Sands district, Desert Paradise is a beautiful, relaxing option for an attitude-free atmosphere with spectacular views.

The Desert Paradise’s pool and spa area. Photo courtesy of Desert Paradise

Eat

Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge

From its chic, colorful interior to fantastic music playlist, Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge is a must for any first-timer’s boys weekend. Their New American cuisine is as contemporary as their Pop Art atmosphere, and it’s a great option for brunch, lunch, happy hour, and/or dinner. It even has Miley Cyrus’ seal of approval, so need I say more?

Grab a drink at Eight4Nine. Photo courtesy of Eight4Nine

AsiaSF Palm Springs

Now with their second location right here in Palm Springs, AsiaSF is a cabaret dinner show that has been dazzling audiences for 23 years in San Francisco. Think of this as an elevated drag show, with the exception that all AsiaSF performers are transgender women, bringing the house down each night with legendary lip syncs, light shows, and choreography. Their Asian-fusion three-course meals are as memorable as their performers as well, so it’s truly a feast for the senses!

Blackbook Bar & Kitchen

Blackbook is located in the heart of the Arenas district and has a reputation among locals for having the best bar food in Palm Springs. It’s a great place to meet new friends during happy hour — and a great place to sober up if you’re bar-hopping throughout Arenas’ many gay watering holes. Try the cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy burger (or the Juicy Lucifer if you want to add some heat).

Experience

Drag shows

What would a boys weekend be without drag shows, hunty? Luckily, there are drag shows all throughout the greater Palm Springs area. Drag brunch is a must, so check out the Mile High Boozy Brunch at PS Air Bar & Lounge, a playful airline-themed speakeasy inside the Bouschet wine store. Then check out Vanity’s Doll Haus every Friday night at One Eleven Bar in Cathedral City. You might even catch a Drag Race Ru Gurl there now and again. Here’s a complete list of drag shows from Gay Desert Guide for more ideas. Shantay, you stay!

MOGO Silent Disco

MOGO Silent Disco is Palm Springs’ latest event where you and the boys can turn up the volume on your headsets and dance your a**es off on a private parade through downtown. Kaftans, sequins, and stunning outfits are always encouraged!

Sunday Funday

Everything gay happens here in Palm Springs on Sunday, which is why the locals call it “Sunday Funday.” Start the day with drag brunch, naturally. Then lounge by the hotel pool or crash a pool party until it’s time for Oscar’s legendary tea dance. After you’ve had enough disco, strap on some leather gear and head on over to the Barracks for their legendary Beer Bust.

Explore

Mid-century modern tours

If you’re as big of a fan of mid-century modern as I am, consider Palm Springs Mod Squad Tours or Mid-Century Modern Tours. If a self-guided tour is more your jam, you and the boys can caravan around some iconic mid-century modern neighborhoods with The Palm Springs Guys’ MCM Architecture Self-Guided Tour Guide (Google Maps GPS-ready!). As a bonus, there are always open houses worth checking out here on the weekends that will have you feeling like you’re at Modernism Week.

The mid-century modern Visitors Center. Photo by Arthur Coleman Photography

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

If you’re looking to cool down, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway climbs up two-and-a-half-miles of Chino Canyon cliffs to the top of Mt. San Jacinto State Park — an elevation of 8,516 feet and temperature drop of nearly 20 degrees. This is the self-described “world’s largest rotating tram car” and riders enjoy spectacular views of the panoramic valleys below. There are 50+ miles of trails — after a hike through the butterscotch-scented Jeffrey pines, take to the observation decks for happy hour before a nice dinner at Peaks Restaurant.

Palm Springs Art Museum

The Palm Springs Art Museum has an incredible collection of 12,000 works of modern and contemporary art, architecture, and design, and is always inspiring to see. So are the installations surrounding the property, like Palm Springs Babies and the 26-foot sculpture of Marilyn Monroe located directly in front of the museum.

When your ultimate boys weekend in Palm Springs comes to an end, you’ll leave with plenty of memories and photos to post on the Gram — be sure to tag them with #gaycation and #ilovegaypalmsprings.

Marilyn Monroe in all of her glory. Photo courtesy of Visit Palm Springs