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Become a Mid-Century Design Nut in Palm Springs

Leave your golf clubs at home. Shopping for mid-century modern wares is the desert city’s newest pastime.


Raymond Lawrence

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Palm Springs' Uptown District

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Colony Palms Hotel

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Indian Canyons

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If you picture Palm Springs as a retiree enclave trading on the faded glory of its Hollywood past, think again. The city has transformed in recent years, and the new Uptown Design District is exploding with bars, galleries, and vintage stores opened by “expats from bigger cities who’ve moved here for the artistic sophistication of desert life,” says J.R. Roberts, managing director of the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center. Spend your weekend exploring the refreshed capital of desert cool.

The mid-century shrine Flow Modern has everything a Dick Whitman needs to become a Don Draper. That’s not hyperbole—it’s actually where the Mad Men costume designer peruses wares like Sinatra-era cuff links, vintage skinny ties, gold sunburst earrings, and tinted barware. Or you can scrap the spending spree and crash one of the shop’s intimate but extravagant art openings, like the recent Moroccan bazaar, or the raven-themed bash that featured noir- clad guests and black feathers covering the floor. 

Dressing for Palm Springs doesn’t have to mean polo shirts and tennis whites. Shake up your country club wardrobe at Raymond Lawrence, a boutique whose new pop-up arcade sells cheeky pool- party wares from a dozen local designers: fluorescent swimsuits, comically oversize beach balls, and scrubs, peels, and creams to take care of your new sunburn. Channel ’50s Sunset magazine spreads with patio necessities like neon acrylic coasters, martini glasses, and tiered pool service trays. 

The shops on Palm Canyon Drive cater to wacky-souvenir seekers. Skip the silly hats and neon visors and head uptown for genuinely cool swag, like the Frank Lloyd Wright collection sculptures and clocks at Haya Modern Art Gallery. Be sure to check out the owner’s photograms, too—psychedelic Raymond Lawrence prints splashed on aluminum, plexiglass, ottomans, and mobiles that would be right at home in the Haight. 

The eclectic decor at Bootlegger Tiki is just about as Desert-Polynesia kitsch as you can get: taxidermy blowfish chandeliers, thatched walls, retro postcards, and Pacific Island wood statues. But silly and touristy as that might sound, Bootlegger has quickly become the best dive bar in the Coachella Valley, known for drinks like the Poison Dart, a cocktail of bourbon, Cynar, cinnamon syrup, orange bitters, and lemon. Given its small size—just three leather booths and five barstools—the bar packs a mighty punch. Or maybe that’s just the rum cocktails talking. 

The neon-lit outdoor patio at Dish Creative Cuisine feels a little more South Beach than Palm Springs, but that’s the point. Despite its setting in a historic building, Uptown’s newest restaurant escapes the town’s mid-century pigeonhole with an edgy design in tones of gray, black, and neon. And the food itself—al dente wild mushroom spaetzle with brined lemon, or coq au vin with pork belly—is a far cry from the soggy quesadillas that plague South Palm Canyon Drive. 

With scores of hotels and scenes ranging from retirement retreat to Coachella blowout, you’ll want to choose your roost wisely. Think of the 1936 Colony Palms Hotel as the Goldilocks of them all—not too crazy, not too dull, with an old-school Palm Springs vibe. The boutique Spanish Colonial bungalow’s mellow pool, surrounded by daybeds and citrus trees, sits alongside a restaurant whose cool stems from the era when it was a hangout for celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. From $149

Take a break from architecture fatigue and get moving on the nearby epic hiking trails. (No, not Joshua Tree. Closer.) Cab it to Indian Canyons, just five miles south of Uptown on Agua Caliente tribal land. Multiple paths wind through lush foliage and palms, occasionally passing a waterfall. Opt for the ambitious 15-mile Palm Canyon trail, which has it all, including the world’s largest California fan palm oasis. 


Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco

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