This desert oasis isn’t just a resort town for the rich and famous. Palm Springs, California, just a few hours outside of Los Angeles, is a popular destination for LGBT travelers around the state and country.
History and Culture
The city started as the gay heaven it now is in the early 20th century. The Hollywood influence is what is said to have given rise to the great queer community in Palm Springs. The gay elite of Hollywood would come to Palm Springs for a vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city beginning in the 1920s, and after retirement from the industry, many of these same folks found themselves seeking out Palm Springs to spend the rest of their days. Despite this, in that time, the city was said to be rather conservative, encouraging queer folks to keep their queerness “out of sight.” The stars were said to have been attracted by the privacy of the hidden desert town, according to Palm Springs resident and LGBTQ author, David Wallace. Over the course of the 20th century, more and more of these closeted Hollywood stars were drawn to the privacy of Palm Springs where they could live their lives as they pleased, according to Wallace.
The city now is one of the most LGBT friendly little towns in the country, a little, hidden oasis in the desert, overlooked by tourists by bigger cities on California’s coast. The town has an almost all-LGBT city government, and is home to some of the biggest LGBT events in the country, drawing in thousands of visitors for each event. Plus, with resorts, amazing natural beauty all around, and plenty of rest and relaxation available, you can’t miss out on a trip to Palm Springs, California.
Things to do
Palm Springs is full of outdoor adventure. Check out the Coachella Valley Preserve for acres upon acres of desert landscape, hiking paths, and wildlife. Joshua Tree National Park is a sight you truly can’t miss. Between the paths and trails, cactus garden, and the some of the most picturesque sights, this national park is worth the trip. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway lets you rise high above the desert to admire it from up above. The tramway takes you to the peak of the San Jacinto Mountains that surround the city of Palm Springs. At the top, you can ski, hike, or just admire the stunning views of the city below before hopping back on the tramway down into town. Palm Springs Art Museum is a perfect way to spend some times indoors to escape from the desert heat and to see some works from around the globe. The Living Desert is a zoo and botanical garden space that providing fun for all ages, and the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway lets you take a tour of the king of rock ‘n’ roll’s Palm Springs home.
Santiago Resort is a popular spot amongst gay men. The elegant, chic, modern resort provides guests with soft beds, warm, calming decor, pet-friendly options, cantina, free wi-fi, continental breakfast, and a staff that will go out of their way to provide you with perfect service to match your specific needs, it’s no wonder the Santiago Resort stands out. During your stay, you and your bae can enjoy the romantic atmosphere at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, hammocks strung between palm trees, and the swimsuit-optional heated pool area.
Ace Hotel is another popular option in the desert area. The hotel and swim club in the middle of the desert offers a luxury, private resort experience for guests in Palm Springs. The kid-friendly, dog-friendly space has over 100 cozy rooms of various sizes, fireplaces, or patio space, two pools for you to cool down from the scorching desert heat, spas to relax in after a day of exploring, and a filled up events calendar for you to enjoy. Events include weekend DJs at the pool area, music events, karaoke, and an annual Craft Beer Fest. The Ace Hotel has won awards for the quality of their service, letting you rest assured that you’ll be in good care.
Men will like the Bearfoot Inn. The resort is a private, clothing optional hotel for the bear community and just the general gay-male community. Set on the north side of town, in the historic movie colony, Bearfoot Inn is close to everything that Palm Springs has to offer. With modern, cozy, yet charming rooms, kitchens and private patios in the suite-style rooms, a spa, a heated salt-water pool, breakfast, and wifi, this hotel has everything you need for your stay in Palm Springs.
Alcazar Palm Springs gives guests the ultimate rest and relaxation. Enjoy the sleek, modern hotel, the four restaurants, private patios extending from some of the rooms, salt-water pool, jacuzzi, courtyard with incredible mountain views, bar service, and easy accessibility to the best of Palm Springs’ Design District. The restaurants at the hotel serve up gourmet dishes. Birba is known for small plates and great wine, Cheeky’s is known for hearty breakfasts and lunches, Mr. Lyons is perfect for a good steak dinner, and Seymour’s is the place to go for a good cocktail.
After the sun sets on sunny Palm Springs, keep the party going at some of the town’s classic gay bars. Streetbar is the oldest gay bar in the desert area. Opened in the late 20th century, Streetbar welcomes in queers of any identity, locals and visitors alike, for drinks on the patio, drag shows, or parties that go well into the next morning. Described as a lively crowd, Streetbar is truly an icon of the town and the happy mixing place of all of the town’s gay community and visitors.
Tool Shed is a popular spot amongst LGBT men in the city. During the day, the bar is a casual spot for some drinks outside or inside to cool off from the desert sun. But at night, the bar transforms into a huge party spot, most popular as a leather bar. It’s a hole-in-the-wall type of spot, with themed nights various nights of the week.
Check out Chill Bar for a more relaxed vibe in a queer space. With good drinks, smoke-free patio space, views of the mountains all around, and a good mix of locals and visitors, Chill Bar is the perfect spot for a night out with your boo or to get to know someone new. Chill Bar’s happy hour is every day from 10 am – 7 pm and the bar offers up all the best tunes.
If you’re looking for the dancefloor, it’s at Hunters Nightclub. The gay club welcomes anyone, of any identity, queer or straight, with themed events, all-day happy hour, affordable cocktails, and a party that goes until 2 am. Hunters Nightclub was even named the number one gay bar in the Coachella Valley.
Pride in Palm Springs is a weekend-long festival of events and parties to celebrate and honor queerness and diversity in the greater Palm Springs area. The weekend of activities happens each November, with this year’s happening November 4-5. Annual events include the Block Party, Pride 5K/Charity Walk, the Festival, and of course, the Palm Springs Pride Parade. The Pride 5K/Charity Walk kicks off the weekend’s festivities on Saturday morning, with a 3.1-mile walk or run through Old Las Palmas neighborhood. The Block Party usually happens near all the best gay bars in town, with the Dyke March Rally, DJs, and live performances. The Palm Springs Pride Festival happens all weekend long in downtown Palm Springs with music performances, kids activities, food, and more. This year’s pride parade will take place on November 4th at 10 am. Join fellow parade goers for the march and celebration as it goes down Palm Canyon Drive from Uptown to Downtown. The whole weekend is family friendly, unique, and full of fun for everyone.
Palm Springs isn’t just popular for its great pride party. The town hosts some big LGBT events all year round. Between one of the biggest LGBT music events, and one of the biggest queer female parties, Palm Springs draws in thousands of visitors annually to two of the most classic queer events.
Dinah Shore Weekend
Does the biggest girl party in the world sound appealing? Check out the original Dinah Shore Weekend. Dinah Shore was a popular actress and golfer in the 1940s who later moved to Palm Springs and is created the Colgate-Dinah Shore Golf Tournament in the town.
The Dinah Shore Weekend by Club Skirts began during the same weekend as the women’s golf championship in 1991 and has grown to be the biggest lesbian event in the world. The five-day pool party happens every March, bringing in thousands of women from all corners of the earth for pool parties, club events, music performances, and more. Events during the weekend in 2018 included the poolside Official Dinah Pre-party on the Wednesday of, complete with celebrity appearances, DJs, and more, The Dinah Official Opening Party on day two, at a nearby nightclub, with performances and drink deals all night long. Friday continued the party with an afternoon pool party and a celeb-filled night at a nearby club. Saturday’s events included The L Word Pool Party with celebrity meet & greets, live DJs, and the Stuzo Fashion Show, Dinah Comedy House, and The Hollywood Party with music, drinks, celebs, and more, and Sunday concluded the weekend’s festivities with a final pool party, a DJ Battle, and the big closing party.
All attendees must be 21 or over and must wear the official Dinah Shore wristband at all times in order to enter any and all events. While officially a ladies party, men are welcome to come with their female friends, and trans* folk are more than welcome at the weekend party.
Each April, the attendees of the White Party, one of the largest gay music events in the world, take over the streets of Palm Springs. With over 30,000 guests regularly in attendance, The Renaissance Hotel Palm Springs is jam-packed for three days. The White Party consists of pool parties, club events, and more. In past years, events have included the opening pool party to kick off the weekend, “Sleaze”, an event described as a “sensory overload”, a daytime pool party Saturday afternoon, yoga, workshops, a headliner performance (2018 featured Kylie Minogue), the massive White Party Ice World, an after party, circus parties, and the final closing party on Sunday evening. Attendees must be 21 or over to get into the parties and while officially an event targeted at queer men, anyone and everyone is welcome to the three-day party.
Queen of the Desert
Imagine a Miss America pageant and a big, gay, drag party coming together over charity. That’s kind of what Queen of the Desert looks like. The annual event, every June, brings together six drag queens in competition for the title of “queen of the desert.” The winner is decided by a panel made up of local celebs, while fans can put in a vote for the “fan favorite” winner. There are five prizes given to contestants: Queen of the Desert, Fan Favorite, Best Bathing Costume, Best Performance, and Best Evening Gown. Tickets sell out quickly for Queen of the Desert, so be sure to purchase in advance. Tickets are $20 dollars and proceeds from the 2018 pageant benefit the Desert AIDS Project.
Cinema Diverse! The Palm Springs Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, held in September, highlights media by and about the queer community. Come enjoy film screenings, talks, workshops, and more during the course of the festival. You’ll be able to meet and talk with filmmakers, discuss topics relating to film and identity, and learn more about different identities through media. The event largely relies on volunteers and offers a very personable atmosphere for audiences and filmmakers alike.