Colony Palms Hotel
Palm Springs, California
Modern Classic, $$ (From $193)
Palm Springs gained its legendary status as a go-to for celebrities with mischief on the mind long before there was even a freeway to get there. Like any bona fide refuge, its remoteness in the California desert, beneath snow-capped mountains and palm-lined boulevards, equaled exclusivity and freedom. As word spread to Hollywood in the 1930s, stars of the silver screen packed their convertible coupes and headed east, retreating to sleek, low-rise mid-century homes and glamorous hotels where they bathed in the dry heat with an equally dry martini in hand. And once the sun set, stars crowded one place in particular —The Colonial House — built by Al Wertheimer, a notorious mobster from Detroit's Purple Gang. For several years, the hotel seduced the rich and famous with an underground gambling den, speakeasy, and brothel, accessed by a secret staircase in the manager's residence. Eventually, Al and his parties were busted by the police, and the property was purchased in 1940 by Robert Howard, whose family owned the champion race horse Seabiscuit.
Eighty years and a multi-million dollar renovation later, a new star has risen from the old bones: Colony Palms Hotel. Opened in 2017, the 57-key boutique hotel maintains its Southern California charm. Inside, rooms are decorated with colorful mosaics and Moroccan-inspired tiles; outdoors, soaking baths and brick fireplaces add modern sex appeal. The 65-foot saltwater pool, itself a destination, is all Hollywood glam, with chaise lounge chairs, private striped cabanas, and a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant overlooking the mountains. For a break from the scene, guests can retreat to the dark and serene spa, where bold stripes of pale khaki and dusty rose fabric tent the “quiet room,” while sounds of trickling water soothe and the scent of Moroccan fig wafts through the halls. And while Wertheimer's underground playground is now abandoned in the depths of the property, its scandalous spirit lives on — channeling the best of a desert escape all in one place.
At a Glance
The Vibe: Palm-dotted oasis in the California desert.
Standout Detail: Just as Hollywood's stars found retreat from their silver-screen lives, you can be whoever you want to be in the desert. The hotel's spacious and well-designed rooms, many with their own outdoor patios, allow for the freedom to create your own agenda of leisure in the desert heat. Don't forget a pair of oversized sunglasses to match your new Palm Springs persona.
This Place Is Perfect For: Couples, friends, and winter-weary travelers who love an old Hollywood vibe, poolside pampering, and desert adventures.
Rooms: 57 rooms, including five casita-style suites, highlight Spanish colonial influences with mosaic tiles, brick fireplaces, and vibrant wallpaper inspired by Indian wedding blankets. Larger suites include balconies or terraces with spacious lounge areas, Moroccan lanterns, and outdoor soaking tubs overlooking the snow-capped mountains. The ultra-luxe Winner's Circle Suite, on the top floor of the main building, is a bright space with vaulted ceilings, a clawfoot tub, and French doors that open to a private patio overlooking the pool. The suite is named after the legendary race horse, Seabiscuit, who was owned by Robert Howard, the former celebrity owner who entertained Frank Sinatra and his famous Rat Pack pallies.
On Site: You'll want to spend the majority of your day at the 65-foot saltwater pool flanked with tall palm trees, sun loungers, and private cabanas with cocktail service. After all, you came to Palm Springs for its 350 days of sunshine and luxurious dry heat, and there are few better places than the Colony Palms to enjoy it. When it's time to cool off, the spa offers massages, facials, and scrubs made with desert botanicals, including a popular salt scrub made with locally-grown dates. Couples massages can be arranged in the various flower gardens.
Food + Drink: Poolside restaurant Purple Palm is open from breakfast to dinner, serving California fare in a colorful, open-air space with vibrant patterned wallpaper, Spanish tile flooring, and retro-style vinyl booths. The bar hosts a three-hour sunset cocktail affair, with specials including the Purple Gang, shaken with vodka, muddled grapes, lemon, and a red wine float.
What to Do Nearby
Colony Palms is tucked away only one block from the uptown design district and close to downtown Palm Springs, creating a nice balance away from the busy avenues, within walking distance of vintage shops, restaurants, and galleries. With so many artists retreating to the desert, Palm Springs Art Museum needed three locations — two downtown and one in Palm Desert — to showcase their impressive collection of contemporary art from 1960, focusing on California artists working throughout the US and internationally.
While most think of the Coachella festival as having the biggest names in music and crazy fashion (it does), many visitors may not know about the larger-than-life art installations (including Desert X, the Coachella Walls, and other large-scale murals and installations) that are free to the public with DIY walking tours. When golden hour strikes, make like a local and decamp to the mountains on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a rotating cable car that scales the cliffs of Chino Canyon up to Mount San Jacinto State Park, offering a stellar view. There are plenty of hiking trails nearby, including Joshua Tree National Park, where two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together to form wacky extraterrestrial trees and wildlife.
If you'd rather stay local, fuel up before pool day at Koffi, a popular local coffee shop where beans are roasted in-house and their iced or frozen cold brew is the ideal cool-down. Rooster and the Pig is perfect for a hot evening, with Vietnamese classics of tangy papaya salad and chicken lettuce wraps. After dinner, embrace the retro side of Palm Springs at Bootlegger Tiki, where large punch bowls flow overboard and are paired with flavored popcorn, like Sriracha or peppered asiago cheese.