Take the scenic route to an oasis of ’50s glamour

A pool at Riviera Palm Springs.
A pool at Riviera Palm Springs.
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If you’ve ever taken an interest in the lives of the great and good of 1950s Hollywood, you’ll know Palm Springs was one of the stars’ favourite retreats.

Even from a distance, it’s very easy to see why the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, George Hamilton, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Benny, Kirk Douglas and Cary Grant enjoyed relaxing there.

Get a little closer and the appeal of this lush oasis in the middle of the desert – or Hollywood’s playground as it’s often referred to – is everywhere you look.

Archaeologists state the Cahuilla people were living in those parts as far back as the 16th century. Mexican explorers familiarised themselves with the area some 300 years later, while the first-known use of the name Palm Springs on a map dates back to 1853.

The city as we now know it, however, was officially founded in 1938, meaning Palm Springs is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. And there’s never been a better time to visit.

There are plenty of flights into Palm Springs, although chances are you’ll be driving from either LA to the north or San Diego to the south. It’s certainly the best way to experience the landscape.

If you’re driving north east from San Diego, make sure you take Highway 74 rather than sticking to the monotonous Interstate. It will take a little longer, but the snake-like pass makes for a much more fun drive.

More importantly, you’ll pass through the Santa Rosa mountains. Stop at Vista Point and take in the sprawling cities on the valley floor.

From here you can get a taste of just how green Palm Springs looks. For example, there are 38 golf courses, grass-banked streets, parks, and, as you might expect, palm trees everywhere.

We stayed at the Riviera Palm Springs. The hotel doesn’t so much nod to its glamorous legacy – Frank Sinatra used to rehearse in the gorgeous ballroom before Vegas residencies – but bask in it.

The room I stayed in came complete with cow-print bedhead, overly ornate lamps and fittings that even Liberace might have thought were pushing it a bit.

The Joshua Tree National Park is on your doorstep and you’d be a fool to not pay a visit. To get the best of the area, go on one of Desert Adventures’ jeep tours.

Such is its location, if you visit Palm Springs, it probably won’t be the only place you stay.

San Diego, just a few miles from the Mexican border, is a perfect place to start or end up.

The Hyatt Regency is a fantastic place to stay, right next to a harbour and close enough to SeaWorld that you can hear the dolphins splashing around. Breakfast on their marina is a perfect start to the day too. Or if you prefer your animals more land-based, head to SanDiego Zoo.

You could head west from Palm Springs and visit Los Angeles. Here of course, there’s no shortage of things to do, whether you just want to stroll down Venice Beach, dodge the wannabe actors outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, drive through Laurel Canyon, home to the best of 1970s singer songwriters or visit Universal Studios.

Los Angeles is busy and huge, but teamed with trips to calm and measured Palm Springs and laid-back San Diego, southern California can cater for whatever mood you’re in.

Travelbag has town nights in the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, San Diego, two nights at the Riviera Palm Springs, two nights at the Andaz, West Hollywood, seven-day car hire and flights with US Airways, into San Diego and out of Los Angeles, from £1,089 per person based on travel between January 1 and March 31, 2013. To book call 0871 703 4698 or visittravelbag.co.uk.

For more information on visiting California go to visitcalifornia.co.uk or call (020) 7257 6180.