Jun 27 2008

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Gay-friendly Palm Springs goes upscale

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By Matthew Link

The first time I went to Palm Springs as an out 19-year-old, my boyfriend and I stayed at the La Quinta Resort, a gorgeous red-tiled property that was — like one of its frequent guests Clark Gable — elegant but very, very straight. My next trip a year later, I stayed at a very gay and somewhat seedy resort that was fun, but with a little too much romp for a relaxing weekend. But I just got back from a recent trip to "P.S." where this traveling Goldilocks found a place that was just right.

It was one of those rare commodities in the gay travel world — a queer resort that was not only upscale and subdued, but offered bona fide professional spa services as well as Italian Frette linens, Gilchrist & Soames bath amenities, large LCD flat-panel TVs, his-and-his vanities, and a mellow, social poolside.

The owner of this East Canyon Hotel and Spa, Richard Weiss, explained why unlike the other 30 or so gay resorts in Palm Springs, his hotel did not allow nudity by the pool. "We want this to be the kind of stylish place gay and lesbians can also take their family, their mom, their straight friends to."

The existence of this gay upscale resort is a sign of how far Palm Springs has come from its trashy hetero spring break days during the 1980s, when cars cruising up and down Palm Canyon choked the entire town with blaring music and bikinis. Cher‘s ex Sonny Bono was elected in 1988 and quickly put an end to all that, redeveloped bad areas, and brought a Hollywood sheen to Palm Springs that still sparkles today. And perhaps by being that close to Cher, Sonny was amazingly gay friendly, helping integrate the once-fringe queer community more deeply into the city. Since then, there have been two gay mayors, including the current mayor Steve Pougnet.

Twenty years ago, the naughty gay guesthouses in Palm Springs were the town’s dirty little secret, a place to frolic naked in the sun in complete privacy — never mind the fact they were far from luxurious. Since then, gays have been at the forefront of embracing Palm Springs’ kitschy ’50s past, an era now reverently referred to as "mid-century modernist." Several gay guesthouses have spent a lot of money restoring and revamping their historical properties, including Santiago, Century Palm Springs, and the Triangle Inn, among others. And Robert Imber, a local gay resident and architecture expert, runs PS Modern Tours, where he guides you through the area’s historic neighborhoods and dishes local gossip.

So although I like to get an all-over sunburn just as much as the next gay guy, I will gladly trade it in for Italian Frette linens and sophisticated queer company. After all, who says gay travel needs to be unrefined?

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Matthew Link is the Editor At Large for The Out Traveler magazine, as
well as a contributor to Newsweek. Having been to over 60 countries and
all 7 continents doesn’t keep him from getting on the next plane away
from his home in New York City.

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