Palm Springs, Beyond the Gayborhood

by Brandon Schultz

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday April 12, 2022

Palm Springs, Beyond the Gayborhood
  (Source:Getty Images)

With an estimated 50% of the population identifying as LGBTQ and home of the first all-LGBTQ city council in America (2018), Palm Springs is undeniably the queerest destination in the country. While there's plenty to experience in Palm Springs proper (and you definitely should), it's only one of several resort cities in the Coachella Valley, often called Greater Palm Springs, and it's worth exploring beyond the popular gayborhood along E Arenas Road. Next time you visit LA's favorite desert playground, here's what else to explore in and around Palm Springs.

Agua Caliente Casinos
Agua Caliente Casinos  

The Agua Caliente Influence

The Coachella Valley is the ancestral land of the several tribes who comprise the Cahuilla Indians, and the 500+ members of the Agua Caliente band are a genuine force in Greater Palm Springs hospitality. With offerings including a museum, spa, fuel brand, and canyon exploration, you'll find the tribe's stamp all over the region, but it's the Agua Caliente Casinos enterprise that makes the most obvious splash in this desert oasis. Agua Caliente Casinos operates three properties in Coachella Valley, including Palm Springs and the newest iteration in Cathedral City, but it's the Rancho Mirage location that's also home to the 340-room hotel boasting both Forbes Four Star and AAA Four Diamond status. Base yourself here for an upscale stay a step removed from the pool party vibe of Palm Springs' gay resorts and use its sister properties as local springboards to the cities beyond.

Leslie Jordan takes part in the Cathedral City LGBT Days' Bed Race
Leslie Jordan takes part in the Cathedral City LGBT Days' Bed Race  (Source: Cathedral City/LGBTQ Days)

Cathedral City

While Palm Springs is the clear LGBTQ headline maker of the Coachella Valley year-round, Cathedral City briefly steals the queer spotlight each year in spring. Months ahead of Palm Springs, Cathedral City is home to the first pride celebration on California's annual calendar, celebrating Cathedral City LGBT Days in late March or early April. The three-day celebration includes plenty of parties and performances, but the can't-miss event is in the Bed Race and Parade finale, which is every bit as absurd and wonderful as it sounds. Also appearing this year as special guests are the Old Gays, the four senior men who have amassed a huge following on social media in the past year.

Outside of pride, Cathedral City's top draws are its numerous parks. While not all of the parks here are cemeteries, the most popular is. If you're a fan of Ol' Blue Eyes, you can pay your respects at his grave in Desert Memorial Park any time but, if you're visiting in late October or early November, you'll definitely want to check out the Day of the Dead celebration here, complete with mariachi bands, folk dancers, plenty of traditional food vendors, and dazzling grave displays. More than 60% of the city's population is Hispanic or Latino and this is a top event on the annual calendar, with all welcome and encouraged to come share in the culture.

Whether you're down to try your luck or not, pop into Agua Caliente Cathedral City while you're here. Inside, Café One Eleven is a solid choice for a meal any time of day and you should never overlook the robust dessert menu here, even at breakfast, but imbibers should take advantage of the 50-strong tequila and agave-based spirit selection at Agave Caliente Tequila Bar, where you'll also find a lengthy list of Mexican tapas and regular live music.

A hiking trail outside of Palm Springs
A hiking trail outside of Palm Springs  (Source: Visit Greater Palm Springs)

Rancho Mirage

Rancho Mirage is often credited as the golf capital of the country, and you'll find numerous golf-forward resorts both here and around much of Coachella Valley, but there's more to find here than manicured greens with mountain backdrops. Once favored by Old Hollywood for its vibe of total serenity, Rancho Mirage is experiencing considerable development both in entertainment, modern living, and a unique combination of both (more on that below).

Like Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage is home to abundant outdoor recreation from parks and gardens to hiking trails and even an artificial river running through the outdoor retail district aptly named The River, but much of the entertainment action in Rancho Mirage centers around Agua Caliente. Beyond the 77,000 square feet of gaming space, the 2,101-seat The Show offers the region's top live entertainment, hosting a full calendar of concerts, sporting events, comedy and more. On the calmer side, Agua Caliente Casino is also home to the Forbes Five Star Sunstone Spa, where mindfulness reaches new heights with thoughtful treatments enhanced by gem-lined treatment beds, copper-grounded flooring, halotherapy facilities, zero-gravity grounding chairs, and tranquil outdoor spaces including a relaxing pool separate from the property's cabana-lined main pool, isolated whirlpools, and quiet gardens.

As the city continues to grow, two world firsts are on the way. The first neighborhood made entirely of 3-D printed homes is underway in Rancho Mirage, and is expected to include 15 houses constructed from low-waste printed materials and powered by solar energy. Also coming is the first Storyliving by Disney community, developed by Disney Imagineers and fully staffed by Disney cast members (the official term for "employees") in the city Walt Disney, himself, once called home.

Trixie Mattel in a promotional photo from her upcoming Discovery+ series "Trixie Motel"
Trixie Mattel in a promotional photo from her upcoming Discovery+ series "Trixie Motel"  (Source: Discovery+)

Palm Springs

The de facto gayborhood of Palm Springs centers around E Arenas Road between S Indian Canyon Drive and S Calle Encilia, where you'll find the densest concentration of LGBTQ-owned and -focused businesses, but the love spreads far beyond this little stretch. Whether you see rainbow flags flying or not, just about every business up and down Palm Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive is LGBTQ-welcoming, from the countless design shops to the many cafés and restaurants in this midcentury wonderland where Bewitched vibes twinkle from top to bottom.

Stroll a bit north from the Downtown concentration of queer activity and you'll find Palm Springs staples like gay-owned Trio, a neighborhood favorite for a streamlined American menu with Italian accents in a chic setting that doubles as a modern gallery for area artists. Further north, pop into Shop(pe) for a few scoops of creative ice cream flavors like pink ginger or pomegranate chip, or simply shop for souvenirs marked with that distinctly Palm Springs brand of pop culture fascination — it's all here. Around the corner, the newly completed Trixie Motel has no confirmed opening date, but you can still catch a very pink preview of Trixie Mattel's property featured in the new Discovery+ motel makeover show bearing the same name (June, 2022).

When you're ready to trade your loafers for your sneakers, take a short ride to Indian Canyons and hike some of the many trails in and around the collection of canyons here. Trails here range from easy to strenuous and include waterfalls, palm oases, wildlife, and striking reminders of the Agua Caliente who once lived here. After an afternoon in the sun, head inside Agua Caliente Palm Springs to replenish. If you're in the mood for lighter fare, try 360 Sports for a large menu of casual dishes and even larger screens broadcasting live games and events. All Agua Caliente properties are home to a 360 Sports, but only this one includes a signature Asian menu in addition to the restaurant's regular offerings. For a heartier meal, look for a table at The Steakhouse, a Forbes four-star restaurant with locations at Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs, but only the Palm Springs location includes an added charcuterie program with custom boards available at dinner Thursday — Saturday and Sunday brunch.

Brandon Schultz is the author of 6 travel and lifestyle books, and his work regularly appears in Forbes, Fodor's, Global Traveler, and Thrillist, with contributions to dozens of others including OUT, Out Traveler, and The Advocate. He lives in New York City.