Palm Springs’ remarkable makeover

It’s hard to know what to expect from a destination when you’ve visited only once before, for a shopping day trip, when you were 15. My memories of Palm Springs were, like the opening sequence of Miami Vice, a montage of palm trees, pastels, highways and (unlike in Florida) desert scrub.

At least one memory of Palm Springs reflects its new reality: palm trees!

At least one memory of Palm Springs reflects its new reality: palm trees!

I had heard the Southern California city, just a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles, had undergone a transformation in the past decade, thanks in large part to the annual Coachella music festival and the hip, young demographic associated with it.

Canadian transplant Jaime Kowal, who owns several businesses in the trendy Uptown Design District, relocated to Palm Springs from Vancouver because she saw its potential. Yes, it still reels in what the town jokingly calls “gays and greys” (referring to the LGBT visitors and golf-loving retirees that flock there), but Palm Springs also appeals to younger couples and even families — I have friends who have taken the kids and had a blast.

My husband Blake and I visited on a working holiday — I’m writing some Palm Springs stories for WestJet Magazine — and, as if to prove its new versatility, the city delivered five holidays in one.

The Spa Holiday

If you want a massage, facial, wrap, pedicure, mud bath — or even a spiritual healing session with a shaman — Palm Springs is your place. I spent a morning at Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs stewing naked in a warm bath of mud and wondering what had possessed me to submerge my birthday suit in a mixture of peat and mineral-rich clay. After a nice long shower and anti-inflammatory arnica wrap, I relaxed in the hot springs Grotto and contemplated joining a yoga class or meditation session.

Soaking in a mud bath at Two Bunch Palms.

Soaking in a mud bath at Two Bunch Palms.

The Active Holiday

While I was spa-ing, Blake was pedalling over 30 kilometres on a mountain bike ride in Palm Desert. The following day, we drove the hour to Joshua Tree National Park and explored a piece of this famous natural landscape. We vowed to return and camp there among its awesome rocks with the kids.

Acres of rocks, cacti and Joshua trees all to myself at Joshua Tree National Park.

Acres of rocks, cacti and Joshua trees all to myself at Joshua Tree National Park.

The Drink-Beer-in-the-Pool Holiday

You don’t have to fly to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico to do this. Blake and I managed to imbibe a selection of American microbrews from the comfort of our weekend vacation house, The Junipero. It’s not a hotel, per se; it’s more like a dedicated short-term vacation rental property complete with all the amenities including a BBQ, fridge, coffee, comfy bed and, most importantly, swimming pool. You can book the main house, or one of three bungalows.

Every afternoon we hit the pool at The Junipero Palm Springs. With beer.

Every afternoon we hit the pool at The Junipero Palm Springs. With beer.

The Foodie Holiday

I think I gained five pounds while eating my way from south Palm Springs north to the Uptown Design District. We hit institutions such as King’s Highway Diner at the Ace Hotel, Tropicale and Cheeky’s, and we tried some new spots like Eight4Nine.

The ahi poke at Eight4Nine beats the Hawaiian deli equivalent any day! The shrimp crackers were a nice touch, too.

The ahi poke at Eight4Nine beats the Hawaiian deli equivalent any day! The shrimp crackers were a nice touch.

The Shopping Holiday

I’m no longer 15, so I didn’t hit the mall for clothes. Instead, I browsed the vintage, mid-century modern and modern boutiques and galleries that make up the revitalized Uptown and ogled eye candy from retro flower lapel pins and cheesy pink flamingo lawn ornaments to funky wall clocks and bronze ashtrays.

I loved the cool wall art in Just Modern.

I loved the cool wall art in Just Modern.

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