Editor's update: The Palm Springs Riviera was closed in 2006

Stress-free

Off-season Palm Springs warms you with bargains

By CARY ORDWAY

The best getaway bargains — and often the best Southern California vacation experiences — will almost always be found when you observe one simple principle: Plan to take your getaway when and where other people aren’t taking their getaways.

Stick to this rule and you avoid crowds, traffic, high prices and the overall stress that you’re trying to remedy in the first place. Palm Springs Riviera pool

Summer in Palm Springs is a great example – although things are changing. Apparently people are catching onto the idea that a desert getaway does not have to be confined to the winter months. It still gets hot in summer but recent visitor counts are showing a surprising trend toward higher hotel occupancy in summer and a much stronger year-round retail economy for Palm Springs vacations.

"Ten years ago summer would get really dead," explains Mark Graves, director of communications for the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority. "Now some hotels are selling out Thursday through Sunday."

According to Wheelers Desert Letter, the summer quarter once accounted for between 5 and 9 percent of the total annual revenue from room sales. But since many large hotels were built in the late 1980s, that percentage has steadily inched upward to between 12 and 14 percent today. Retail sales in the valley are now more than $750 million a year – triple what they were back in 1987 before competition from new hotels began to force local shops to stay open during the summer.

Helping that along is the summer travel deals that bring the price of a room down to as little as half of what you would pay in the busier winter months. As Graves points out, "when the temperature goes up, the rates go down."

So what about Palm Springs vacations in summer? Are they worth it, or will the heat make you miserable?

We visited the area in July and found the resort area just as beautiful as any other time of year and, yes, a little hotter than would be ideal. But the dry heat of the desert cities does not seem as oppressive as a heat with high humidity, so temperatures hovering around 100 degrees were at least bearable.

Even with the heat, we were still able to Palm Springs Riviera Resort bungalowenjoy the "Palm Springs Experience." Part of the reason is that we chose a hotel steeped in the history and legends of the city's Hollywood connection. WHEN it opened in 1959, the Palm Springs Riviera immediately set the standard for entertaining Hollywood entertainers. That history is very much in evidence today as you browse the Riveria Resort’s Hollywood Wall of Fame. Pictures of Sinatra and Elvis top the list of dozens of entertainers and political celebrities who have stayed or performed at the resort.

The style and elegance of the desert cities are just as apparent in high temperatures. In fact, if it’s simply relaxation you’re after, the folks at the Rivieria – and one would guess most major hotels in the area – have provided all the creature comforts you would need to either keep you out of the heat or in the water.

In our case, the largest of two Riviera swimming pools provided plenty of opportunity for refreshment. This, after all, is the swimming pool appearing prominently in "Palm Springs Weekend," with Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens, a kind of movie tribute to this Hollywood playground. Accustomed to a much smaller pool at home, we found swimming laps in this pool – the largest in the city – almost like swimming in the ocean. Nearby is a bar, a café, even a place to get fancy coffee drinks.

Also nearby was our poolside suite that opened out to a private patio area just footsteps from the pool. But lest all this talk about the 50’s and 60’s give you the idea that this is an old resort with tired, smelly furnishings, nothing could be more wrong. All the rooms and suites as this hotel were just remodeled as part of a two-year, $5 million renovation completed last summer. Everything in our suite was top-drawer, new and tasteful.

It’s pretty easy to step into the Hollywood lifestyle when you have your own wet bar, your own hot tub, your own jacuzzi tub, multiple phones and TVs and – with just the nudge of a curtain – a view out to the Resort’s main gathering place, the "Palm Springs Weekend" swimming pool. The people-watching here is better than any TV show. Palm Springs Riviera bar

And now we come to one of the chief advantages of a summer trip to the Palm Springs Riviera: the money you save. This suite – opulent by almost anyone’s standards – will cost you about $600 during the winter season. Come when there’s a little heat and you pay only about $300 – a cool $300 savings. Everything’s air conditioned, the pool’s refreshing and a couple feeling the romantic urge could do a lot worse for a quick weekend escape from everything.

For those who want more out of the weekend, just a few blocks over is the main shopping district – lots of designer shops, boutiques, restaurants and one-of-a-kind stores. It’s all within walking distance and, to help you beat the heat, there are even sidewalk misting stations to cool you down.

The nearby cities also have developed many more shopping options in the past several years – a trip to Palm Desert’s main shopping area, for example, is quite like a visit to La Jolla in terms of the caliber and trendy flavor of the merchandise.

Surprisingly, only about one in five visitors to the area participates in the area’s world-class golfing. But those who do will find 111 courses altogether, about half of them public. With 230 hotels and inns throughout the desert cities, that means there is an average of about one golf course for every two hotels. The Palm Springs Riviera has a tennis club and exercise facility right on the property, and you’ll find other major resorts offer similar types of amenities in what has become a very competitive market.

There are many tourist attractions in the area and, if you’re careful to time them for early morning or evening, the weather really won’t be a factor. Jeep tours and horseback rides will get you out in the desert; rides in hot air balloons or on a local aerial tramway will take you above it. Celebrity home tours also are fun year-round.

According to Graves, a summer visit to the desert cities area can be a rewarding experience that is easy on the pocketbook: "It’s all about being smart and knowing how to manage the heat. You probably don’t want to schedule a tee time at 1 p.m. in the middle of July."

But then he adds, just as if he was talking more about the Palm Springs Experience itself: "You’re never far away from cool around here anyway."


AT A GLANCE

WHERE: The desert cities area is about 110 miles east of Los Angeles, less than a two hour drive from anywhere in the LA Metro area. If your Southern California vacation itinerary includes L.A., it's easy to also include the desert resort communities.

WHAT: This is where Hollywood stars and others go to get away from the city. Over the past few decades, several other cities in the valley have grown up so that the city of Palm Springs is only one of several "desert cities," all with excellent resorts and other attractions. People looking for golf or spa vacations won't have to look far to find many options available.

WHEN: November through May is usually considered the prime season because of moderate temperatures. But the desert cities area also is viable during other times of the year when prices are much lower. Great travel packages are offered to stimulate more summer visits.

WHY: Style and elegance in a beautiful desert area surrounded by picturesque mountains. Some of the country's finest spa resorts and destination hotels are in the area.

HOW: For more information on the Palm Springs area, contact the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitor Authority at (800) 967-3767 (www.palmspringsusa.com). Ask for their Chill Out in Summer brochure, which includes several lodging packages and discounts. For information on the Palm Springs Riviera, phone (800) 727-8311 (www.psriviera.com). For a recommended list of Palm Springs area lodgings and spa resorts, please click here. If you're traveling right away, be sure to ask about last minute travel deals.


OTHER DESTINATIONS: Another great resort in the Palm Springs area is at La Quinta. If Palm Springs is your preferred type of California vacation, be sure to check out the lodgings and spa resorts in La Jolla, Napa Valley, Laguna Beach, and Santa Barbara.


California Weekend Logo

Click here for more great California Getaways!