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Palm Springs Art, Architecture & More

Desert Modernism Palm Springs California

Palm Springs, an easy two hour drive from Los Angeles, happened to be one of the few well known Southern California cities our family had yet to explore, which made it the perfect choice for a quick getaway! The desert climate, landscape and architecture are all quite different from what we’re used to over on the coast, which really added to the feeling of being far from home, even if we really weren’t. We spent three relaxing days and two nights exploring and photographing the city and surrounding Coachella Valley.

Palm Springs Architecture

An architecture lover’s heaven, Palm Springs is famous for its distinctive Desert Modern architecture, and I found myself focusing the camera on many of the city’s unique architectural details.

It’s large concentration of historically important mid-century modern buildings put Palm Springs on the 2006 list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual national list of only 12 cultural tourism destinations for architecture.

Another notable architectural style found in the area is Googie. Confesion, I’d never heard the term Googie before my teenage son mentioned it, which is somewhat embarrassing since I’m married to an architect. Though I’d never heard the term, its unique style wasn’t new to me. Influenced by car culture, jets and the atomic age, Googie later became part of the more commonly known mid-century modern style.

Many guided architecture tours are available, and self guided maps can be purchased in the Palm Springs Visitor Centers both Downtown and at the Tramway Gas Station Visitor Center. “My architect” opted for neither and instead we spent a lovely afternoon wandering through residential neighborhoods admiring the various examples of desert modernism and landscaping.

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway

A masterpiece of mid-century modern, The Alexander Estate was at one time referred to as the Home of Tomorrow. Elvis Presley’s farther thought it would be the perfect place for Elvis and Priscilla to relax and get away from Hollywood life. They leased the home for one year in 1966 for $21,000, and honeymooned there on May 1, 1967.

Elvis and Priscilla honeymooned here in 1967

Located at 13500 Ladera Circle tours are offered daily at 1:00pm and 3:30pm. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ups are welcome (space permitting). Adults are $35, and children under 12 are $15.

The Tramway Gas Station

Considered a perfect example of modernist architecture the Tramway Gas Station was designed by Albert Frey and built in 1965. In 2015 the building was designated a National Historic Landmark and is now operated by the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism as the Palm Springs Visitor Center.

The visitor center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and located on the corner of North Palm Canyon Drive (HWY 111) and Tramway Road.

Palm Springs Art museum

The Palm Springs Art Museum, with three locations, is the largest cultural institution in Coachella Valley. The Downtown location features modern art and is spread out over three floors.

Palm Springs Art Museum

We all enjoyed this museum, which has a nice easy flow, a wonderful selection of art, and a lovely cafe. I loved all the different textures within the building.

The Museum Courtyard and Cafe

At the time of this writing the main exhibition was a very impressive private collection of works by Andy Warhol, which took up one entire floor of the museum.

The Warhol Exhibit took up the entire 1st floor of the museum.

The Kids enjoyed flopping down on these Warhol inspired cushions in the middle of the ground floor, and poking around the exhibit specific pop up shop!

Some of our favorite works included, Yoshitomo Nara’s Your Dog, Chul-Hyun Ahn’s Tunnel, and Subodh Gupta’s Untitled, Duane Hanson’s Old Couple on a bench were so lifelike we all thought they were real people! Anthony Gormley’s Mother’s Pride was made completely of bread and wax.

The museum is located at 101 Museum Drive. Its operating hours are: Sun, Mon, Tue, Fri, Sat 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thu 12-8 p.m.; free 4-8 p.m. 

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

If you’re visiting the Palm Springs area with younger children consider a visit to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The animals featured here are from North America and Africa, and there are some unique and endangered species.

The desert gardens are beautiful and unique. A first at any zoo I’ve ever visited there were hiking trails and even the opportunity for camping overnight.

Open every day October 1 to May 31 9:00am to 5:00pm. Closed December 25 Summer Hours: Open every day June 1 to September 30 8:00am to 1:30pm Last admission at 1:00pm

You might also be interested in: 25 Zoos Around the World

Palm Springs Street Art

There is a very limited amount of street art in Palm Springs, possibly because of a backlash after this Fin Dac/Starfightera piece appeared on Bar in 2013, but I did manage to hunt down a few pieces.

Artist(s): Fin Dac  & Starfightera
Location: 340 North Palm Canyon Drive

Fin DAC x Angelina Christina “The Mountain Charmers”

Artist: James Haunt
Location: The Corner of N. Canyon Drive & W. Racquet Club Road

Artist: Mad Man Art
Location: 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive

Fireborn painted on the back of Trio Restaurant

Batman and Robin painted on the back of Trio Restaurant


Relaxation and a dip in the pool were two of the main reasons we chose Palm Springs for our mini vacation. The desert climate ensuring that at least one of those activities would take place.

Our hotel, The Riviera, had two separate pool areas, spacious rooms, and a welcoming lobby area complete with a pool table and a bar.


Date Shakes

During our visit to Palm Springs we learned that 90 percent of the world’s dates are grown in the Coachella Valley, and that the Date Shake is the unofficial official beverage.

Date Trees in Coachella Valley

Of course I had to try one, and as just about every establishment in town sells their own version of the shake there are multiple opportunities. Had we more time I would have loved to visit and tour one of the area’s nearby date farms.

Lapperts Ice Cream Date Shake

Day Trip to the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California and one of the world’s largest inland seas. Located just one hour east from Palm Springs, a drive around the 130 mile shoreline can easily be completed in one day making a great day trip destination.

You may not think the ruins of a once thriving resort town seem like a great day out, but many people (200,000 every year) are drawn to the Salton Sea, and the remnants of what it once was…

You might also be interested in: Day Trippers: The Salton Sea

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