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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CLOSEUPS : A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE
TO PALM SPRINGS AND ENVIRONS

Truly an oasis in the desert

The Coachella Valley beckons with mountains and sun, shopping and glamour

November 25, 2012|Christopher Reynolds
  • Dinny, a 150-foot-long apatosaurus, is one of two towering concrete dinosaurs standing guard in Cabazon, Calif., the western gateway to Palm Springs and beyond.
Dinny, a 150-foot-long apatosaurus, is one of two towering concrete dinosaurs… (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)

Sure, you could go to the beach again. Or you could turn your back on the Pacific and head instead for a desert land of date shakes and camel races, jumbo windmills and creationist dinosaurs, native palms and gay parties, mountain views and midcentury buildings. We'll get to those details later, but by now you know we're talking about the Coachella Valley.

It's about 110 miles from Los Angeles City Hall to Palm Springs -- a few miles longer than the drive to downtown Santa Barbara, a few miles shorter than the drive to downtown San Diego. But the light here is different from that on the coast. The pace is different. The entire man/landscape relationship seems to change as you slip through windy San Gorgonio Pass and find Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta and Indio lined up along State Highway 111 (a.k.a. Palm Desert Drive) like camels in a caravan.

Just don't come in July, unless you're looking for an average high of 108 degrees.

Here are nine desert micro-itineraries, designed to get a newcomer started or remind an old-timer that things keep changing even in a territory that dearly loves the 1950s. This package is part of our ongoing series of Southern California Close-Ups. (To see others, go to latimes.com/socal closeups.)

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, November 27, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Southern California Close-Ups: An article in the Nov. 25 Travel section about the Coachella Valley reported that California 111 is known as Palm Desert Drive. It is that in the city of Palm Desert, but in Palm Springs and Cathedral City, it is known as Palm Canyon Drive.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, December 02, 2012 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Travel Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Southern California Close-Ups: A Nov. 25 article about the Coachella Valley reported that California 111 is known as Palm Desert Drive. It is that in the city of Palm Desert, but in Palm Springs and Cathedral City, it is known as Palm Canyon Drive.

Designers and dinosaurs

Even before you get to Palm Springs, the spending opportunities begin. A little east of Banning on Interstate 10, the Desert Hills Premium Outlets (48400 Seminole Drive, Cabazon) include about 130 upscale retailers with names such as Armani, Ferragamo and Gucci, along with a few more that aren't Italian. Then come the Cabazon Outlet Stores (48750 Seminole Drive, Cabazon), about 15 retailers with a sporty slant, including Puma, Rip Curl, Oakley and Columbia. It's a generic atmosphere raked by gusty winds, but the prices are good. If you have a child in tow, reward his or her patience with another stop just beyond the towering Morongo Casino Resort & Spa -- at the looming Cabazon dinosaurs (50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon). Created by sculptor Claude Bell in the '70s and '80s from leftover freeway-building materials, the towering creatures Rex (a Tyrannosaurus rex) and Dinny (an apatosaurus) these days are presented by new owners with a creationist spin. "By design, not chance" is their slogan, and management has printed a children's picture book to explain how the dinosaurs were created, not evolved, thousands of years ago, not millions. Unless somebody in your traveling party really needs to climb up and look at the freeway traffic through the gaps in Rex's teeth, don't bother with the Robotic Dinosaur Exhibit and T-Rex Museum (adults $7.95, children $6.95). Instead, admire the concrete beasts for free from the parking lot or flop on the grass at their feet.

Long live Modernism

On the way into Palm Springs, stop at the Palm Springs Visitors Center (formerly the Tramway Gas Station) and marvel at its Midcentury Modernity. Browse the brochures for free, or plop down $5 for a map of Modern architecture landmarks in the Coachella Valley. From the visitors center, continue down Palm Canyon Drive to the Uptown Design District, a formerly grim stretch now humming with stylish design shops and galleries, including Not Neutral (pillows in cool patterns; 800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs) and Shag (modernist beach towels; 725 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs). You might grab breakfast or lunch on the patio at Cheeky's (622 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs); lunch or dinner in the bold, white interior of Workshop Kitchen & Bar (800 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite G, Palm Springs); dinner or a nightcap in the buzzing dining room of Trio (707 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs). To sleep amid yet more Modernism, head for the vintage Orbit In (562 W. Arenas Road, Palm Springs), its sibling the Hideaway (370 W. Arenas Road, Palm Springs) or perhaps the Del Marcos Hotel (225 W. Baristo Road, Palm Springs), which has been splendidly updated in recent years. To wallow more deeply in all things modern, come during Palm Springs Modernism Week (Feb. 14-24, www.modern ismweek.com). But if you want a quiet time, don't visit during those days -- or during Dinah Shore Week (April 3-7, www.thedinah.com) or the weekend of Jeffrey Sanker's White Party (March 29-31, www.jeff reysanker.com), when the city's lesbian and gay party scenes rev up like Formula One Ferraris.

Soar up Mt. San Jacinto

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