Mad for Mid-Century in Palm Springs

The final stop on our Tin Sheets in the Desert trip took us to the mid-century modern (MCM) mecca of Palm Springs. Home to the largest collection of mid-century modern architecture in the U.S., Palm Springs has so many great examples that we could spend weeks just driving around and drooling over the neighborhoods of cool houses and blocks of famous buildings. While we did spend much of our two days there checking out the architecture, we made sure to set aside some time to eat, drink, and make some giant new friends.

What to See: Mid-Century Modern Architecture
Walls of glass, exposed beams, cantilevered roofs, clean lines, and open floor plans are all hallmarks of mid-century modern architecture. While these features are cool, they aren’t the primary draw to MCM architecture for us; rather, it’s the bright colors, space-age inspired designs, and how easy it is to imagine stepping back in time. In our minds, we’d be at a gathering with friends in a sunken living room or around the pool, gimlet or old fashioned in hand, and Frank Sinatra spinning on the record player.

Even if MCM architecture isn’t your bag (baby), it would be impossible to ignore some of the striking buildings and and Jetsons-style houses. One of the more famous homes in town is the Elrod House, designed by one-time apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright and famed mid-century architect, John Lautner. Famous in its own right, the architecture is super cool; but we love it because it makes an appearance as Willard Whyte’s House (admit it, if you’ve seen the movie you totally just said that in your head with a southern twang) in Diamonds are Forever. We have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that we are huge James Bond fans and we dare anyone to take Jay on in a Bond trivia challenge (by the way, if such a thing actually exists, please let us know!). Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to drive by the Elrod House, but just knowing it’s there and is where James successfully fought off Bambi and Thumper, makes it a huge draw in our book.

As for buildings that you can actually see, the Palm Springs Visitors Center housed in the former Tramway Gas Station, so named because it was located at the base of the road that leads to the aerial tram, is one of the most striking buildings in town. It’s a great stop for local information, photo ops, and the gift shop inside that sells dozens of books about Palm Springs and MCM architecture, along with other touristy souvenirs. Another great example of MCM architecture is the Palm Springs City Hall. Built in 1952, it is particularly striking because of the giant metal screen, designed to block the morning sun, that adorns the front of the building. We could go on and on about more cool buildings and their fascinating history; but really, we recommend that you channel your inner Don Draper or Joan Harris and plan a trip to Palm Springs.

What to Do: Eat Dinner at Copley’s on Palm Canyon
You’d be hard pressed to find a leading man from the golden age of Hollywood movies more debonair and charming than Cary Grant. North by Northwest, Charade, To Catch a Thief, His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story? Ok, you get the point. We love Cary Grant, so finding out that one of the finest dining experiences in Palm Springs was at a restaurant located in the guesthouse of Cary Grant’s former estate, made it a necessity for us to have dinner at Copley’s on Palm Canyon.

Managing to get a reservation with relatively short notice for the first seating of the evening, we found ourselves a table in the corner of the patio, perfect for us to enjoy some shade, and for Finley to relax without fear of being in the way of other diners. Little did we realize that the patio was just the beginning of a fabulous dinner. We are very fortunate that as result of having lived in Vail with its myriad of fine dining options, as well as having been in the wine industry for many years, we have had the opportunity to enjoy some pretty spectacular dining experiences. We frequently quiz one another to see if we can pinpoint the best 2, 5, or even 10 meals that we’ve had (it is way harder than you’d think), and both agreed that our dinner at Copley’s was easily in the top 10 of meals we’ve eaten. For the appetizer, we enjoyed the Hawaiian Ahi Tacos and Braised Berkshire Pork Belly. Both were good, but the ahi tacos were some of the best we’ve ever eaten and we’ve had more than our fair share. For our entrees, we chose the specials- the Seared Ahi and the Veal Shank, both of which were divine; but the real winner was dessert of Lemon Lavender Scented Pound Cake with Basil Ice Cream and Lavender Sauce. Looking back on the notes we kept from the trip, all we find is “OMG! OMG!”. Enough said.

If you are looking for a great meal in a beautiful and dog-friendly setting with a cool history, go to Copley’s. Don’t even think twice, just go. Trust us, you’ll love it.

What to Drink: Date Shake from Shield’s Date Garden
Where have date shakes been all of our lives? Seriously? We’ve traveled through Southern California many times and were aware of date shakes, but never really gave them much notice. Big mistake. With our trip geared towards the kitschy, touristy, and Americana-themed, we made a stop at Shield’s Date Garden in Indio a priority.

Founded in 1924, with a goal to educate customers about dates, most notably through the viewing of their famous film, “The Romance and Sex Life of a Date”, Shield’s has been selling multiple varieties of dates, including two created in-house and only sold there, since long before Palm Springs was the Rat Packy epicenter of all things mid-century. With a huge gift shop and cafe, as well as its reputation for having the “original” date shake, we imagine that Shield’s is busy all of the time. We visited in early February on a Monday afternoon and had at least a 10-minute wait for our shake. We could have waited for another 30 minutes and it would have been worth it.

Made with Shield’s own creation of date crystals on an old-school milkshake/malt machine, the shake had a slightly grainy texture with subtle flavors of egg, and more pronounced flavors of dates and vanilla. Very sweet, it had a creamy, thick texture, almost too thick for the straw initially but rather quickly melted to the perfect shake consistency. To quote Jay, it had a “ridiculous essence of date and certainly wasn’t the pits”, he’s pretty proud of that one, by the way. If you are in the Coachella Valley, be sure to make it a date and head to Shields’s Date Garden to indulge in this masterful marriage of flavors.

Where to Stay: Del Marcos Hotel
One of our favorite parts of traveling is finding fun hotels and motels, particularly those of the vintage variety- the more mid-century, the better! Just a block off of Palm Canyon Drive, the main street through town with tons of great shops and restaurants, is the mid-century awesomeness that is the Del Marcos Hotel. Designed by famed Palm Springs architect William F. Cody in 1947, the Del Marcos’ design was said to be inspired by the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose prairie style architecture was influencial in the development of mid-century modern style. We’re big Frank fans and it does incorporate a few details that could definitely be FLW-inspired (Cherokee Red painted trim, asymmetrical doorways); however, it’s the lobby with a furniture setup straight from a 1960s living room, the orange lounge chairs circling the saltwater pool, and suites filled with classic pieces like the Eames Molded Side Chair, Marshmallow Sofa, and Nelson Bubble Lamp, that make us feel like we’ve stepped through a spectacularly colorful time warp.

Both times we’ve stayed at the Del Marcos (the first was back in 2012), we have stayed in the Eames Poolside Suite. Located just off the pool, it is dog-friendly and offers tons of a room to spread out. Named for mid-century designers, Charles & Ray Eames, and decorated with Eames-era furnishings, the suite has a full kitchen, beautiful spa-like bathroom, and huge private back patio. If we could live here, we would! The hotel is very pet-friendly, with friendly staff and a dog welcome package that includes treats, toys, and waste bags. The ceramic dog bowls complete with Del Marcos logo available in the room make the experience even more impawssive.

The amenities for people are equally as awesome, with a continental breakfast each morning, daily happy hour, and the use of cruiser bikes to get around town. We love that it’s centrally located in town, making it a short drive to hit a trail (we love the dog-friendly South Lykken Trail), grab a coffee at Koffi with their dog-friendly patio, or just head out the front door and stroll through the surrounding neighborhoods to check out the houses. There are quite a few vintage mid-century hotels in Palm Springs and we always like to try new places, but the Del Marcos is just so cool that we have a hard time convincing ourselves to stay anywhere else when we’re in town. Maybe next time…or maybe not.

Roadside Stop: Cabazon Dinosaurs & Hadley Fruit Orchards
Made famous by Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex have been watching over motorists on I-10, a few miles west of Palm Springs, since 1975 (Dinny) and 1986 (Rex). Construction of these concrete and steel critters was begun in 1965 by Claude Bell, a sculptor for Knott’s Berry Farm and portrait artist, to draw customers into his restaurant, the Wheel Inn. In addition to being a roadside photo stop not to be missed, there are also a number of other attractions in and around the dinosaurs.

Inside Dinny’s belly is a small creationist museum and gift shop. We didn’t have the opportunity to check it out because we had Finley with us; but we still got some great photos, made especially dramatic by the cloudy sky. Outside of Dinny, there is also an exhibit with a number of “lifelike” dinosaurs, gemstone and fossil panning, and the chance to climb up into Mr. Rex’s mouth. While we didn’t partake in any of the extras, we still loved the chance to take some photos with the famous Cabazon Dinosaurs.

Once you’ve exhausted your dog by making him pose for a couple of dozen photos with the dinosaurs, head across the parking lot to Hadley Fruit Orchards store for a date shake for you, not the dog. Almost as famous for their date shakes as Shield’s Date Garden, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to undertake a “Date Shake Smackdown”, which was really more like a date shake comparison since we only had two to review. While both are date shakes, the offerings from Hadley and Shields were almost like two different products. The shake from Hadleys came from a soft serve machine and was made with actual dates, as opposed to the shake from Shields which was made on an old-school mixer with date crystals. The Hadley’s shake didn’t have as much of the date flavor present, but more of a mix of vanilla and a cola. It was still a tasty shake and an opportunity to taste for “research purposes” shouldn’t be passed up, but if we had to choose just one date shake to consume for the rest of our lives (sounds like a challenge we’re willing to take on…), we’d go with the “original” from Shields.

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