Amazing design, memorable music, jaw-dropping views—there’s so much to love about Palm Springs. On the latest episode of the California Now Podcast, designer Dani Dazey and two other Palm Springs insiders help explain what makes this desert city such a feast for the senses.
Dazey is known in part for her participation in the Discovery+ and HBO Max series Trixie Motel, in which drag queen Trixie Mattel renovates an eight-room Palm Springs hotel by the same name. While Dazey describes her own style as “maximalist,” she took seriously her role in helping renovate a piece of Palm Springs’ design landscape.
“I really wanted to honor the original design,” she says. “I loved the beamed ceilings, the glass block, the little pink tiles in the bathroom. So it was a fun balancing act … keeping some vintage elements intact, while also bringing in that new breath of life and more elevated current design.”
Dazey offers plenty of tips about where to shop, dine, and soak up the ambience around Palm Springs—including planning a trip around the twice-a-year Modernism Week, when “you can see some of the most unbelievable homes.” Or, she suggests, you can browse shops in the Uptown Design District, explore the Palm Springs Art Museum, or enjoy cocktails at throwback tiki bars such as The Reef at the Caliente Tropics resort.
Dazey also raves about the rooftop bar at The Rowan (“gorgeous for a view of the city”) and brunch at Norma’s at the Parker Palm Springs (“all these spaces really care about design, and each of them has their own unique perspective”).
Palm Springs’ unique aesthetics aren’t just about visual design, of course. The podcast’s second guest, Mikael Healey, talks about the musical culture embedded in Palm Springs. Healey is the house pianist at Melvyn’s Restaurant at the Ingleside Inn, which has attracted a long list of Hollywood luminaries, including Rat Packers, over the decades. He offers a little insight about why early Hollywood stars loved Palm Springs—it had to do with dodging gossip columnists—and talks about the famous guests who have come to the lounge, from the late Tony Curtis to Rita Coolidge.
Healey plays a few tunes for Johnson and then explains how the music has timeless appeal. “On any given night there will be older people who remember much of this music and there will be very young people … and everyone's caught up in the experience together.”
For those hoping to get a panoramic view of the Coachella Valley, the podcast’s third guest offers an excellent suggestion: Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world. Greg Purdy, the tramway’s vice president of public affairs, tells Johnson about the design and construction of the tram that began in the 1930s—“it was built with slide rules and 20,000 helicopter flights”—and finally opened to the public in 1963.
Today, the 12-minute ride “takes you from the desert sand to the alpine snowcapped mountain” he says, adding that it spans 6,000 feet in elevation and five different biozones, from cactus to pine trees and snow. “It’s basically what you'd see if you go from Mexico to Alaska.”
In addition to the many out-of-town visitors, Purdy says, many riders are locals who come up for hikes, picnics, dining, or evening stargazing. “There are view decks both into Mount San Jacinto State Park, as well as just a spectacular panorama of the Coachella Valley,” Purdy says. “You can see all the way down to the Salton Sea from here. It's just so beautiful up there, day or night.”