byJolene Rae Harrington, Director of Creative Content
Palm Springs is HOT and we’re not talking about the temperature. Recent years have seen a veritable explosion in the number of destination events celebrated in this vacation mecca; and not only is tourism at an all-time high, but more and more singles and families are adopting the Greater Palm Springs area as their year-round residence.
Yet despite the influx, the area’s relaxed, uncrowded appeal is here to stay, since development is expanding outward into the vast stretches of land that surround the original town. Nowadays, when one refers to “Palm Springs,” they could be talking about any one of the nine cities that make up the sprawling Coachella Valley. The early village of Palm Springs sprang up in the late 1800s with the coming of the railroad, and during Hollywood’s Golden Age became a favorite playground of the elite. In more recent decades, the area lost a tad of its luster, and got a reputation as a sleepy retirement community for old-timers and golfers.
Now all that has changed. The celebrities are back, and many come here for a honeymoon hideaway or a wild wedding weekend. Tempted by the region’s stunning natural scenery, lavish resorts and first-class shopping and entertainment, many bridal couples are skipping Hawaii and opting instead for a destination wedding in this desert oasis. Only about a 2-hour drive from anywhere in Southern Cal, Palm Springs is simply bursting with activities—so guests traveling to the wedding from out-of-state (yes, there’s an airport here) also enjoy a mini-vacation. While you’re recovering from the festivities and sneaking off for some private time with your sweetie, a tempting array of diversions will keep everyone happily occupied, from your Cousin Ned “the Jock,” to your snooty Aunt Irma…and you won’t have to do a thing.
“The Valley” really does have something for everyone. You’ve got to love a place that has city ordinances against excessive illumination that interferes with the spectacular starscape. Stargazing isn’t limited to the night sky, though, and the “Walk of Stars” on Palm Canyon Drive, as well as many a street name, pays homage to the rich and famous that have contributed to the area’s legendary glamour. The rest of us humble folk can sample a cavalcade of culture that includes museums, theater productions, concerts, and comics performing regularly at casinos and swanky nightclubs. Seasonal offerings like January’s International Film Festival and the rockin’ Coachella arts and music festival attract notables from all over the world, while locals flock to the weekly VillageFest, an arts & crafts fair in the heart of downtown. Palm Desert’s El Paseo is one of the most upscale promenades in all of California, featuring posh boutiques and trendy galleries. Designer bargain-hunters have a field day at the Factory Outlet Stores in nearby Cabazon.
One of Palm Springs’ most unusual attractions is the Living Desert, which features a wild animal preserve, botanical gardens, and a re-creation of an African trading village. Other ways to “go native” include hikes along the Indian Canyon wilderness trails. Get a loftier perspective on the Valley by taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which lifts you in a 360-degree rotating car from the desert floor to an Alpine forest at an elevation of 8,516 feet. Ski in the surrounding mountains during the winter, and splash down in Knott’s Soak City, USA any time of year (the kids will love it here).
Of course, P.S. is a golfer’s Fantasyland, offering over 100 challenging—and many championship—courses. Sporting types will also enjoy tennis clubs, polo clubs, and equestrian stables. Why not tour the area in a Jeep? Or a hot-air balloon? Or a covered wagon? Or on a camel?! Not that adventurous? No need to feel guilty about enjoying some precious “down time.” In fact, the desert invites you to relax and rejuvenate, admire the panoramic sunsets, and indulge in cutting-edge spa treatments. After an exhilarating day, sample an impressive range of culinary offerings, including gourmet bistros, sushi bars, and hearty steakhouses.
In an area as exciting and diverse as the Coachella Valley, playing concierge to your out-of-town guests is a breeze. Still, it’s a good idea help them along with packets of informative literature, available from the accommodating folks at the Palm Springs Visitors Bureau.
Now that you’re convinced that P.S. is the preferred locale for you and yours, what about the wedding itself, as well as the attendant mini-parties? Again, choices abound, ranging from intimate bed & breakfasts to luxurious resorts and lots of other venues in between. For many grooms, the typical bachelor party sojourn to Las Vegas has been replaced by a golf or tennis weekend with the boys at Palm Springs. The bride is taking her shower on the road for a fun-filled girls-only weekend in the Desert Empire, replete with spa treatments and that favorite pre-wedding ritual, shopping.
Planning the actual wedding ceremony and reception is made easier with the advice of the Greater Palm Springs Wedding Association, an organization of local vendors dedicated to providing quality wedding services. However, most wedding sites come with professional coordinators who will not only refer you to trustworthy vendors, but also carry out your wishes to perfection. Here are some of our own suggestions for “can’t miss” ceremony and reception locations.
Miramonte Resort and Spa
Styled after a luxurious Tuscan villa, Miramonte is a place where the natural beauty of the desert merges with the sensual allure of Northern Italy throughout eleven acres of flowering pathways, tiled fountains, mountain vistas, and gracious hospitality. Before the wedding day, the bride and her attendants unwind and beautify in the hotel spa. Al fresco ceremony sites include an olive grove, a fragrant herb garden, and a garden lawn. Gourmet receptions unfold in one of the beautiful, Italianate ballrooms; or celebrate by an Old World fireplace in the outdoor Piazza, with a bird’s eye-view of the ever-changing desert horizon. At this boutique resort, guest rooms are discreetly spread out among gently downlit garden lanes, lending a feeling of seclusion, calm and romance.
Desert Springs, a JW Marriott Resort and Spa
This award-winning, four-star resort comprises 450 acres of lushly landscaped grounds, glistening lakes and flowing waterways filled with graceful swans and pink flamingoes. A spectacular waterfall cascades right through the 8-story atrium lobby, where colorful exotic birds preen on their perches. A gondola-style boat brings brides to their outdoor ceremony site, a lawn at the water’s edge. For intimate weddings, the secluded Serenity Pond fosters a cozy, natural atmosphere. An array of ballrooms, dramatic chandeliers and a palette of rich earth tones offer a polished, upscale ambiance. The Desert Springs also has a spa, a multitude of both sophisticated and casual dining venues, and onsite activities galore. Newlyweds will have no problem savoring their “alone time” in this tropical oasis.
The Historic Cree Estate
Some of Palm Springs’ most lavish private homes can be rented for your own celebration through select coordinators like Sylvia Schmitt of Locations Unlimited. One of her most engaging properties is the Historic Cree Estate, a delightful embodiment of Old World charm. A Mexican-style adobe hacienda spreads out on 21/2 acres of lush lawns, enchanting gardens, fruit trees, and date palms. Stage your reception around the spectacularly tiled black-bottomed pool, then unwind amidst the estate’s romantic atmosphere. Reserve the Cree for the whole weekend, and the six bedrooms, three kitchens, and cozy Bridal Suite (featuring a skylight and fireplace) can become your personal desert paradise.
Indian Wells Country Club
Opened in 1955, this prestigious club’s earliest members included Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Today, the Club welcomes non-members to wed on its beautiful grounds, and receive the same “white glove service” that has made the Club a favorite of four U.S. presidents. Ceremonies blossom on the 18th hole, where waterfall fountains feed a sparkling lake, encircled by flowers, palm trees and the rugged silhouette of the Santa Rosa Mountains. The contemporary Southwest-style Clubhouse, decked out with imported marble, rich woods and cut stone, makes a classy reception site. Your most lavish gala comes alive in the Grand Ballroom, where an entire wall of windows lets in a view of the lake, seen up-close from the adjoining veranda. Distinguished yet congenial, Indian Wells Country Club invites you to share in their tradition of excellence.
Another reason to consider Palm Springs is value. Less costly than the Caribbean and more accessible than Paris, you’ll get greater luxury for your dollar in the Coachella Valley. And off-season rates can make Palm Springs an exceptional deal. In the summertime, outdoor events generally unfold in the cooler evening hours; during the day, incorporate lots of umbrellas and refreshing “misters” for a tropical ambiance.
Palm Springs and its surrounding hamlets just keep on getting better, so you’ll want to return for important anniversaries year after year to rekindle past memories, and create some new ones.
For more resources and information on events in Palm Springs, visit the Greater Palm Springs Wedding Association website.