7 Must-See, Design-Centric Sights in Palm Springs

by  Laura Motta | Jul 6, 2016
Sunnylands / Laura Motta

Palm Springs is a classic destination to see American design at its best. From Spanish-style haciendas dating back to the turn of the century, to angular Midcentury modern, the city is a feast for the eyes -- not counting the dramatic mountains and sprawling desert that surround the city. The famous sites -- including the homes of stars like Frank Sinatra, and the art and design museums -- are well-trodden. But here are a few less-typical places where you can see Palm Springs at its stylish, and highly varied, best.

1. Workshop


Designed by NYC’s SOMA architecture firm, Workshop won a James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant design in 2015. Done in poured concrete and black leather, and with soaring 27-foot ceilings, the space balances intimate booths with a lively community table. Chef and owner Michael Beckman curates a rotating seasonal menu that currently includes a rustic pork terrine with roasted apple, green tomato, and poblano, and a sous-vide Texas redfish with eggplant and hedgehog mushrooms.

2. Bootlegger Tiki

Bootlegger Tiki

Local entrepreneur Jaime Kowal is the force behind The Amado and the Junipero, two Airbnb hotels that typify Palm Springs’ sense of minimalist cool. Her foray into the bar scene, however, is anything but monochrome. Bootlegger Tiki, which serves herbaceous riffs on traditional tiki cocktails, along with cheese plates and other small dishes, has lots of low-lit swagger. Belly up to the bar and order one of the colossal cocktails, all served -- naturally -- in tiki-style glassware, complete with paper umbrellas. The (Straw) Berry White is made with rum, house-made orgeat and strawberry syrups, lemon juice, green chartreuse, and club soda.

3. Moorten Botanical Garden

Moorten Botanical Garden, Palm Springs / Laura Motta

A roadside tangle of potted cacti, succulents, and greenhouse plants, this rambling little garden is an Instagrammer’s dream. Pay $4 to explore the rows of prickly plants, and be sure to stand in the nursery area, where doves and hummingbirds zoom past as you peruse the merchandise. The Moorten family has owned and run this garden since 1938, even coining it a “cactorium.” The DIY charm of this place is unmatched in Palm Springs, and you may even be able to catch a guided tour during your visit.

4. Albert Frey House II

Albert Frey House II / Laura Motta

Architect Albert Frey created “desert modern" in the early 1950s and situated his postage-stamp-size bachelor pad on a cliffside overlooking Palm Springs. You can tour this tiny house -- with its corrugated metal sides, bean-shaped swimming pool, custom furniture, and a giant boulder protruding through the living room -- only with The Modern Tour. Take a minute to settle into the built-in outdoor seating, where Frey would contemplate the city whose architecture he influenced. The rest of the tour takes you past the city’s architectural gems and lets you enter other incredible private homes.

5. Mr. Lyons Steakhouse

Mr. Lyons Palm Springs

Put it out of your head that this used to be Lyons English Grille -- a restaurant that featured mini suits of armor and an entryway that resembled the turret of a castle. The new Mr. Lyons is a mellow, velvet-bedecked steakhouse serving up dishes like filet mignon with a side of blistered haricot vert, alongside a host of impeccably faithful classic cocktails. Think of this place as the ultimate symbol of Palm Springs then and now -- a kitschy dive transformed into a modern beauty that still respects and pays homage to the past. An accompanying speakeasy called Seymour’s is also in the works.

6. Sunnylands Estate

Sunnylands / Laura Motta

Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s sprawling desert estate, which hosted everyone from the Nixons to Princess Diana, is now a high-level retreat center for the world's elite politicians, corporate bigwigs, and artists, and is even considered a western extension of the White House. It’s also open to the public. As you tour the art-filled rooms and wander through the peaceful cactus and rose gardens, imagine New Years Eve parties attended by the Reagans, and Frank Sinatra’s wedding, which was celebrated here. You may also encounter a public concert, free yoga, or an art exhibit during your visit. Programming changes throughout the year.

7. Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive

If you’re looking for a place to grab a late-night drink in Palm Springs, this is one of the few places to get one. Everything you see, from the geometric black bar top, to the white vinyl stools, to the ceramic beer mugs -- which are inspired by the shape of a crushed beer can -- is designed by Palm Springs native Anthony Cioffi. Staying open until 2 a.m., the bar’s focus is strictly a curated selection of beer and wine. The centerpiece of the space is the round light fixture at the far end of the bar -- an electronic sunset with colors that shift over the course of nine hours.

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