BEST OLD SCHOOL: INGLESIDE INN
Spanish style casita looks? Check. Bar and restaurant that’s barely changed since the 1970s? Check. Rooms (and guests) that you could probably say the same about? Check. The Ingleside Inn is everything that Palm Springs used to be. Built in 1925 with rooms dribbling around a pretty courtyard, it’s been poppin’ since 1975 when Mel Haber bought it, revitalized it and turned it into the Ingleside.
Haber is a local celebrity now, his restaurant, Melvyn’s, is a delicious 80s throwback, and the drunken Sunday afternoon jam sessions at the bar are even more amazing than the 60-something leopard-printed, boob-jobbed ladies propping it up. Rooms are retro in that they appear to be stuck in the 80s/90s, but charmingly so; the pool is quiet, the property is gorgeous, and the deliciously timewarped atmosphere is made for relaxation. Rooms from $98.
BEST RETRO: ORBIT IN
Plenty of hotels work the retro vibe in Palm Springs, but none as assiduously as the Orbit In. Built as a motel in 1957 in the (central) tennis club district, it’s the perfect midcentury hangover, with nine rooms tucked around a saltwater pool in the shadow of the mountains. All rooms have vintage furniture by the likes of Eames, Bertoia and Saarinen, functioning record players, and – the best bit – original bathrooms tiled powder pink, baby blue and mint green. Because this is the real midcentury deal, the Orbit can seem almost a little muted in comparison to some of the more kitsch, neo-modernist hotels, and it’s a slightly older (though lively) scene. Sister property, The Hideaway, is half a block away. Rooms from $139.
BEST CHAIN: RENAISSANCE
I’m not one for chain hotels at the best of times, but especially not in Palm Springs, with its plethora of immaculate, one-of-a-kind independent properties. The one exception to that is the Renaissance, which wowed me with its superb rooms, enormous pool and absence of resort fee. If I wanted to chain it in PS, this is the one I’d go for. Rooms from $89.
TRENDIEST: SPARROWS LODGE
There was a time when everyone who was anyone wanted to stay at Korakia Pensione. Then the place to stay was the Ace. Now the wheel has come full circle with those in the know raving about the Sparrows Lodge, on the busy 111 stretch of Palm Canyon, which was opened last winter by Doug and Josie Smith, the original owners of Korakia (they actually just sold Sparrows the other week, though the new owners plan to keep it as it is). Rooms are hipster barn-style with redwood walls, pebbled floors, horse troughs as bathtubs and seriously comfy beds. Nearly all of them have private terraces, but most guests prefer to congregate round the pool and hot tub. And congregate is the right word – the clientele is a mix of creative and LA types of varying ages, but something in the air makes everyone very amiable. If it wasn’t for the non-existent soundproofing, this would be perfect; as it is, bring earplugs. Rooms from $115 plus $9 resort fee.
BEST VALUE: MOVIE COLONY HOTEL
There’s nothing not to like about the Movie Colony, a short walk up Indian Canyon from the main strip. Immaculate (if ever so slightly generic boutique) rooms, Aveda goodies in the bathrooms, and a stunning, stark modernist pool area (if the rooms don’t scream Palm Springs, the public areas do). It’s by no means the cheapest hotel in Palm Springs, but it’s definitely the best value – especially at weekends, when, in my experience, there’s a relatively marginal rate rise, while everyone else is jacking them up ridiculously ($75 midweek to $125 weekends this month, for example). Great, private atmosphere, too, and they deserve a medal for the cactus-lined entrance. Rooms from $75 + $25 resort fee.
BEST FOR PARTYING: HARD ROCK
Honorable mention to the Riviera, which, poolside, was Vegas at its best when I stayed; but for hardcore partiers, it’s all about the Hard Rock now. I stayed earlier this month and checked out just as the Fourth of July pool party was gearing up – it was every bit as loud and raucous as you’d imagine (oh, and I found a tautly rolled $20 tucked away in my bedroom cupboard by the previous occupants). There are weekly weekend pool parties; if you really want to hit it hard, get a Premium King Pool Front Patio room – on the ground floor, their fake-grassed patios open directly out onto the pool area, and – heaven! – have roof fans.
Pro tip – obviously it depends on who’s staying, but it appears to be really quiet midweek (I stayed on a Thursday, and had the pool to myself with a young family that evening). Rooms are actually first rate, so if you’re just looking for a comfortable sleep and quiet pool, this could also be the one for you. Rooms from $64 plus $30 resort fee.
BEST GAY SCENE: SKYLARK
As we told you when it reopened, in technical terms, the Skylark is as gay as it gets, with The Dip pool party every Sunday the main event. Heteros are welcomed though – I stayed last December, and while they could have made the rooms more retro (they’re slightly motelly as it is), the building is gorgeous, the pool is relatively large, and the palm-shaped hot tub is perfect. The highlight, though, is the customer service – my luggage was carried to my room, I was told to check out whenever I liked, and handed a $10 coupon for the best breakfast place in
the world Palm Springs, Pinocchio's. Rarely have I felt so welcome. Rooms from $169 (pro tip – Skylark tends to discount heavily – really heavily – on HotelTonight).
BEST PHOTO OP: DEL MARCOS
For a good year or two, the Del Marcos was my favorite place to stay if I couldnt afford the Parker. Then it ruined it by offering me a “discounted” rate that was clearly not discounted and our relationship cooled. However, if you don’t have personal beef, it’s a great place to stay. Probably the most fabulous, Flintstonesy midcentury building in Palm Springs, simple retro rooms, a nice pool and free hot dogs and wine every night. It’s supposed to be adults only (though some teenagers were allowed in during my stay once), decent value at the cheaper end, and it’s so close to Palm Canyon that you can walk to dinner even in 118-degree heat. Just check you’re getting the correct rate. Rooms from $129.
BEST BUDGET: CALIENTE TROPICS
I’ve actually never stayed at the Caliente Tropics because I always assumed its absurdly low prices meant there was something terribly wrong with it. Last week I visited; there is nothing wrong. Huge pool, fun tiki theme (it opened in 1964) and unbelievably plush rooms for the price, with waffle bedspreads, comfy beds and modern bathrooms. Why the almost offensively low prices? Apparently they like keeping it full. See you there. Rooms from $39.
BEST IN SHOW: THE PARKER PALM SPRINGS
Iconic, expansive, private… I’ll save my full love letter to the Parker for another time; suffice to say that I have stayed here 11 times since I first came in January 2011. The Jonathan Adler-designed rooms are almost spartan compared to some of the newer hotels, and soundproofing could be better, but what makes this probably my favorite hotel in the world are the never-ending gardens hiding a croquet lawn, hammock area, fire pit, petanque court, lemonade stand and two pools amid the bougainvillea, jasmine, olive and palm trees. The result? Absolute privacy – the hotel can be full and you’ll still feel alone. Pro tip: make sure you’re signed up to the Starwood Preferred Guest program, as they’ll always try to upgrade you, whatever level you are. This has worked for me all 11 times. Rooms from $199 + $30 resort fee.
[Photos: Juliab, except for Ingleside Inn and Movie Colony, courtesy of the hotels]