Scrapbook: It’s a Mod, Mod World in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is old Hollywood glam in the California desert, just a couple of hours’ drive from Los Angeles. There’s plenty to make both the swanky cocktail party set and the Patagonia-wearing nature lover happy. And there is simply no better place to wrap oneself in the kitschy-cool mid-century modernist style characterized by glass, chrome, shag rugs, and psychedelic colors. Come with me on a little tour; it’s groovy, baby! (Also check out the story I wrote for AARP: The Magazine.)


Beginning the descent into Palm Springs. The captain says it’s 101 degrees F. Looks a little dry.


The colors, the sunset light of this desert oasis! Checking in to the Saguaro Palm Springs, California.


I’m looking at the childhood Barbie beach condo play set I never had. Saguaro Palm Springs, California.


Ping-pong, pastel cruising bikes, plastic blow-up flamingo floaties, candy-colored frozen cocktails. At the Saguaro Palm Springs, it’s Annette and Frankie, Brat Pack nostalgia for a new generation.


Still life with air plant. Table decor at the Saguaro Palm Springs.


Palm Springs offers a trove of Mid-Century Modern architecture and design. You can thank preservationist activists for saving this 1965 Alfred Frey beaut, a former Esso station. It’s now the Visitors Center. On a tour with Mod Squad.


El Mirador Tower: The It hotel in the late 1920s and 1930s, it was turned into a military hospital during World War 2, then became a hotel again in the 50s, burned down, and reopened again as a hospital. The tower is on the National Register of Historic Places. “Greta Garbo was here and didn’t want to be alone,” jokes guide Kurt Cyr of Mod Squad Tours.


House of Mirrors: “Mirage” is a temporary art installation in the desert by Doug Aitken. It’s a house in which every surface, inside and out, is made of mirrors. The interplay of interior and exterior, nature and architecture, is mind-bending and dizzying. Palm Springs, California.


The Coachella Valley is so much more than the popular Coachella Music Festival. This place is hot in more ways than the 104 temperatures suggest. From the San Jacinto mountains and the Sonoran desert, I’m headed to Joshua Tree National Park and the Mohave. Southern California.


Big boulders and oddly shaped trees. Seussian or Flintstonian? Whatever, Joshua Tree National Park is a deserty delight. It’s about a 40-minute drive from Palm Springs.


The Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto mountains, as seen from Joshua Tree National Park. Mexico lies beyond.


This unassuming honky-tonk cantina is the liveliest place in Pioneertown, an unincorporated southern California town that started life as a film set built for actors Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. The bar and barbecue grill has hosted Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Lucinda Williams, Ricki Lee Jones, often in surprise appearances.


Cool drinks for a hot day. With 105-degree temps, this column of sodas at the Windmill Market in North Palm Springs looks quenching. The one in the middle seems made for someone we know. California.


The dessert drink of the desert: Date shakes. These are from the Windmill Market in North Palm Springs. The majority of the country’s dates come from this region. Owner Lee Cohen’s not-so-secret recipe: freshly chopped local Medjool dates and Thrifty vanilla ice cream, blended into a blissfully icy treat. Southern California.


Downtown Palm Springs harbors a trove of mid-century Mod architecture. This former bank was designed by Stewart Williams in 1961 and is now an extension of the Palm Springs Art Museum. There’s a seemingly obvious appreciation for it now, but it was not always so. We can thank the hard work of foresighted architectural and cultural preservationists.


The light-filled and lofty Palm Springs Art Museum, a cool respite from the heat and a celebration of the creative culture cultivated by this desert region. Southern California.


Arty surprise: the Palm Springs Art Museum delights the senses. This is one work in an ambitious temporary exhibit on women abstract artists of the 20th century.


Look closely at the artist's medium, implement, and portrayal. What do you see? I love the way art can blow your mind. Palm Springs Art Museum, Southern California.


Jetsonian still life: Unsurprisingly, the Palm Springs Art Museum has a particular emphasis on the mid-20th century.


Twin robes at Dinah Shore’s house, now owned by Leo DiCaprio. And available for weekly rentals and fancy garden parties. It was designed by renowned Mid-Century Modern architect Donald Wexler. The house itself is like a set from a James Bond movie (Sean Connery period). Palm Springs, California.


On the rocks. Joshua Tree National Park. Southern California.


It was a treat to see travel pals in Palm Springs. A few are pictured here, in Pioneertown (top), on Leo DiCaprio’s bed (bottom right), and after dining in downtown Palm Springs (bottom left).


Photos © Norie Quintos