Like many desert dwellers, Kurt Cyr started out as a part-timer, splitting his schedule between his main home in Los Angeles and second home in Palm Springs. But after a decade of driving back and forth, Cyr and his partner decided to make the leap to full-time desert living.
"There's something in Palm Springs that draws people in," he says. "It's set within this incredible natural environment. You can easily be seduced by the landscape, the weather, and the architecture. It's a vortex for creative people."
Since 2015, the 57-year-old designer has owned and operated Palm Springs Mod Squad architecture tours, a business he started through serendipity, he says.
"We moved out here at the height of the 2009–2010 recession, and I was floating around trying to figure out what to do. I was a designer, so I volunteered as a docent at Palm Springs' Modernism Week."
At the annual gala celebrating the city's mid-century modern architecture, Cyr found himself riding in a double-decker bus and conducting tours of iconic homes and buildings.
"I live and breathe design, and all of a sudden I could go inside these houses that I had only seen in books. I loved it," he says.
To Cyr, the public's booming interest in modernism seemed like an opportunity, so he started Palm Springs Mod Squad. The company offers four different 90-minute tours that showcase the desert modern aesthetic, including an "Essentials" tour that focuses on the work of six renowned desert architects, and a "Rat Pack" tour featuring the homes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
Cyr says taking an architecture tour is one experience that every Palm Springs visitor should have. "Many visitors have heard of mid-century modern, but they don't know exactly what it looks like or what it's about. Going on a tour at the beginning of your stay helps you appreciate and understand what you're seeing," he says.
Cyr's other desert must-dos include rising early to catch the sunrise. "Mornings are absolutely magical—the San Jacinto Mountains turn blazing red as the sun rises."
He also recommends "finding a way to live the Palm Springs lifestyle. Have dinner by the pool or take part in the cocktail culture, which is very big here."
Two of Cyr's favorite local libations include the Manhattan at The Colony Club and margaritas at El Mirasol. For cocktails with a view, he suggests Escena Lounge & Grill. "The terrace has amazing views across a beautifully manicured golf course and stunning vistas of the San Jacinto Mountains."
Cyr's top picks for al fresco dining include brunch in the lush garden at Spencer's and an elegant dinner by the pool at the Colony Palms Hotel. For the full Palm Springs experience, time your reservation so you can watch the sun setting behind the mountains, he says.
"When you live in paradise, it's hard to find anything better than here," he says. "They say that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, but I would tend to argue for Palm Springs."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Cyr recommends you visit a few of his favorite spots in Palm Springs:
Shopping: "The Uptown Design District has wonderful shops. It's on the north end of town along North Palm Canyon Drive. Most of the boutiques are geared toward home decoration, furnishings, and design—like Christopher Anthony for furniture and fine art. Flow Modern also has a wonderful curated collection of retro furniture as well as fabulous statement jewelry. It's a bijou of a shop. There's also some great clothing boutiques like Trina Turk and Wil Stiles."
Local goods: "Destination PSP is always fun for gifts or souvenirs. They have an excellent selection of books on mid-century design and a lot of locally designed housewares and decorative items. They also have a lot of cute, fun stuff that says 'Palm Springs'—ice buckets, glassware, cocktail trays, tumblers, and wine totes. Probably their most famous piece is a tissue box cover that looks like a mid-century modern house. The tissue comes out of the chimney—that's always a big hit."
Tacos: "For tacos, I go to Ruben and Ozzy's Oyster Bar and Grill on Tahquitz, just east of Indian Canyon. It's a really fun environment owned by two brothers, Ruben and Ozzy. They have these sassy chefs who are always throwing quips to the diners seated at the bar. They make fish and shrimp tacos, and they also do oyster tacos. The oysters are battered and fried, then served in a tortilla with cabbage and rémoulade."
Desert scenery: "Tahquitz Canyon has a beautiful 60-foot waterfall and rock formations that are really spectacular. It's a really easy hike, and even though it's right in town, it offers a sense of discovery and anticipation as you wind your way into the back of the canyon."
Cocktails: "One of the best cocktails I've ever had was at Seymour's, which is part speakeasy and part cocktail lounge. Steen Bojsen-Møller, one of the owners, made me a Vesper. It's the original James Bond martini made with both gin and vodka. Many bartenders make it with Lillet Blanc, but Seymour's variation is different. It's an old-school recipe with an updated twist, and it's wonderful."