I’d booked flights to LA some time ago – at least in part to try Air New Zealand’s new Club seat – but then totally forgot to plan anything else for the long weekend.
Time was short but you can pack a lot into four days. I briefly considered whether it might be possible to drive across the States – Gumball Rally style. Or whether I should try my luck getting to the summit of Mount Whitney in winter. Or even run a section of the Badwater Ultramarathon (somewhat easier in December than July)
But after a rather high-octane few months, I thought it better that I re-learn the skill of lounging by a pool. I had an uncharacteristic urge to sit quietly and read a good book by day, before gorging on high-calorie American food by night. If that’s what you want, there’s no better place to do it than at the Parker in Palm Springs.
Famous as the late-1950s hangout for the Rat Pack, Palms Springs is very much cool again. Nestled at the bottom of the Coachella Valley, it’s dwarfed by the San Jacinto Mountains to one side and the San Bernardino Mountains to the other.
Two hours East from LA, Palm Springs and its Mid-Century Modern architecture, felt like the appropriate destination to celebrate what I was trying to pretend wasn’t a significant birthday. Still a little sore from a race earlier in the year, I figured this would be the first step in my rehab. So I flew to LA, picked up a rental car – a little two-seater cabriolet since you ask – and headed East on Interstate 10.
Today Palm Springs is a retro-chic resort town. With wide main streets and an easily walkable centre, it’s got the best of American motorcar culture, without all the downsides. There’s something charming about resort towns just outside peak season (it’s why I love Chamonix in May). The restaurants, shops and hotels are still open, but you virtually have the place to yourself. It’s like the whole town has a moment of breathing space.
And what air to breath. On the edge of the desert, Palm Springs has that crisp dry desert air, somehow every breath feels restorative.
And so to the Parker. A quirky 1950’s motel that’s been tastefully restored into a full-service resort hotel. It feels like a Conde Nast photo-shoot. Yet out of peak-season, you don’t have to put up with the celeb hangers on.
So I took on the Parker’s manifesto, raided the minibar and spent the next two days having a good steam and a nice soak in the hot tub, and generally pampering myself in the whimsically named Palm Springs Yacht Club. The grounds of the hotel are perfectly setup for doing very little – the hammocks were my favourite. I had the odd gentle run up into the mountains – I couldn’t resist. Sea level to 3000ft in one hard slog.
Palm Springs might fail my ‘Provincial Test’ – it’s impossible to buy a copy of the FT, or any international paper for that matter – but it feels more open than many American towns of its size. It reminded me of the Short North in Columbus – artsy, interesting buildings and good food. Throw in a nice pool and good room service, and you’ve got a perfect lond-haul weekend getaway.