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Wednesday, 08 November 2017 12:42

Birding in Greater Palm Springs

TASTE News Service, November 8, 2017 -- Bird watching continues to take flight with an estimated 47 million birders in the United States.

Monday, 31 July 2017 17:12

Stargaze Under a “Dark Sky”

TASTE News Service, July 31, 2017 — Visitors can enjoy unmatched stargazing opportunities in Greater Palm Springs and its surrounding deserts, thanks to two International Dark Sky Places and a state-of-the-art observatory set to open in 2018.

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 10:36

Culinary Event Returns For 11th Year

TASTE News Service, May 3, 2017 – Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week, is set to return June 2-11, 2017.

TASTE News Service, November 4, 2016 – Visitors can discover one of the nation's top producing agricultural centers by following the local flavors of Greater Palm Springs.

Palm Springs Foodie illus Picmonkey

TASTE News Service, June 13, 2016 – While Riverside County's Coachella Valley has a well-deserved reputation as a year-round playground, few visitors realize the region is also one of the nation's top producing agricultural centers.

Frank Sinatra 57 PicmonkeyFrank in 1957TASTE News Service, August 20, 2015 - Frank Sinatra left us all on May 14, 1998, but the respect and admiration for the music, talent, and “spirit of cool” he left behind remains. Sinatra would have turned 100 this December 12th.

What many do not realize is that Sinatra called Greater Palm Springs “home” for nearly 50 years – from his arrival in the late 40s through his final days. Today, from his midcentury modern Palm Springs home and Rancho Mirage compound, to restaurants and landmarks throughout the desert, the public can still glimpse places owned and frequented by The Chairman of the Board in our beautiful oasis.

According to Palm Springs-based writer Howard Johns, here are 10 top places in Greater Palm Springs not to be missed by any Sinatra fan:

Sinatra House Palm Springs PicmonkeyTwin Palms Estate1.  Twin Palms Estate  (1148 East Alejo Road, Palm Springs) - Sinatra had this midcentury modern jewel built in 1947 by award-winning architect Stewart Williams. The property boasts four bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a state-of-the-art (by 1947 standards) sound system, movie projectors and sound recording equipment for guests' enjoyment. Huge sliding glass doors open onto an expansive backyard patio leading to a cabana, the two signature “twin palm” trees and a piano-shaped swimming pool. Visitors revel in the property's Sinatra history – right down to the crack in the bathroom sink caused by a wayward champagne bottle, said to be tossed at Ol' Blue Eyes by an incensed Ava Gardner. While the property is not open to public tours, it may be rented for private parties or personal stays.

2.  The Compound  (70-588 Frank Sinatra Drive, Rancho Mirage) – This sprawling 2.5 -acre residence was built in 1954 and includes a main house, movie theatre, five guest houses, an actual train caboose turned into a barbershop and sauna, two swimming pools, tennis courts and a personal art studio. Each building was named after one of his songs: “New York, New York,” “High Hopes,” “The Tender Trap,” “Send In the Clowns,” “Chicago” and “My Way.” The Compound includes the famous guest quarters built in 1962 for (but never used by) JFK and a helicopter landing pad in the circle drive, later turned into a flower garden. While Sinatra fans cannot enter The Compound (it was sold in the late 1990s and is privately owned), it remains one of the most popular drive-by addresses for carloads and busloads of tourists who visit the desert.

3.   Frank Sinatra Drive  (Rancho Mirage) – Easily one of the most recognized street names in the Palm Springs area (although Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, Dinah Shore and Kirk Douglas also have been given the honor), Frank Sinatra Drive begins at the hilltop entrance to The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage, continuing about 8 miles east where it comes to rest at the far edge of Palm Desert. Visitors who travel its path will pass the legendary Tamarisk Country Club, Former Ambassador to the Court of King James Walter Annenberg's “Sunnylands” Estate (still surrounded by a bright pink wall, painted as such at the insistence of Mrs. Annenberg), Wolfson Park, where one can still hear a recorded “welcome” to the park speech by Sinatra himself and, of course, Sinatra's famous compound.melvyns rest Palm Springs PicmonkeyMelvyn's at the Ingleside Inn

4.   Melvyn's Restaurant & Lounge at The Ingleside Inn   (200 West Ramon Road, Palm Springs) - This now legendary hotel and restaurant was the site for Sinatra's pre-wedding dinner to Barbara Marx in 1976. Owner Mel Haber, who still greets guests daily at the inn and restaurant, remembers: “Sinatra invited 80 people. Made all the arrangements himself. He was very meticulous in his selections – he chose the veal and vegetables.” Melvyn's was also a favorite hangout for Sinatra and buddies Jilly Rizzo, Pat Henry and Danny Schwartz, who would hang out in the bar and drink Jack Daniels. Remembers Haber: “Sinatra was very friendly. He'd talk and listen to the music and have a good time.”

5.   Lord Fletcher's  (70-385 Hwy 111, Rancho Mirage) -  Lord Fletcher's was for Sinatra's quieter, more personal times. He dined there for more than 30 years and made it the site of his 70th birthday celebration in 1985. Manager Michael Fletcher said, “He liked the casual atmosphere. He could be himself, and nobody would bother him.”

6.   Barbara Sinatra Children's Center  (39000 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage, on the Eisenhower Medical Center campus) - Founded in 1986 by Sinatra's wife Barbara, the $2.5 million, 13,000- square- foot facility continues to be a national leader in the treatment of child sexual abuse. The annual Frank Sinatra Invitational Celebrity Golf Tournament (www.sinatragolf.org) raises money for the Center each year, with a star- studded gala that attracts more than 1,000 players and fans from around the country.

7.   Sinatra's Star (123 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs) – Sinatra is forever remembered on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, which lines the east and west sides of Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. The star was presented to Sinatra on January 15, 1994, in honor of his outstanding achievements on the stage, in the movies and on TV and radio. More than 2,000 people showed up to pay their respects, and traffic stopped dead in the street upon the arrival of The Chairman of the Board.

8.   St. Louis Catholic Church (37-220 Glenn Avenue, Cathedral City) and St. Francis of Assisi Church (47-225 Washington Street, La Quinta) remain today as two houses of worship supported by Sinatra and his family. St. Louis Catholic Church, once frequented twice a week by Sinatra's devoutly religious mother, Dolly, is still known as “The House That Dolly Built,” because of her many financial contributions. Sinatra's daughter Nancy (“These Boots Were Made for Walk'n”) held her second wedding there in 1970. St. Francis of Assisi, built in 1974 and designed by famed Italian opera director Franco Zeffirelli, was frequented by Sinatra himself, as well as fellow parishioner Frank Capra, who directed Frank in the 1959 movie, 'A Hole In The Head.'

9.   The Riviera Resort (1600 North Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs) – was where Sinatra organized big charity shows featuring such fun-loving buddies as comedian Jerry Lewis and fellow crooner Bing Crosby. Crosby, a longtime Sinatra idol, owned a home at Thunderbird Heights in Rancho Mirage.Sinatra gravestone Picmonkey

10.   Desert Memorial Park (69-920 Ramon Road, Cathedral City) – The final resting place of Ol' Blue Eyes. Sinatra's body was buried at the Park in a family plot next to his parents. His grave is located near the entrance in front of the waterfall. Frank's closest friend Jilly Rizzo, his uncle Vincent Mazzola and composer Jimmy Van Heusen are buried close by. Hundreds of Sinatra fans make the vigil to Sinatra's burial spot each year to pay their respects. His simple headstone, which reads, “The Best Is Yet to Come,” is almost always adorned with fresh cigarettes, dimes (a favorite giveaway of Sinatra's, as a reminder of tougher times) and, often, mini bottles of Jack Daniels.

Editor’s Note:  In the Desert listings of Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in the greater Palm Springs area.

Thursday, 04 December 2014 10:53

Outdoor Art in the Desert

Palm Springs Art Museu in Palm Desert PicmonkeyPalm Springs Art Museu in Palm Desert

TASTE News Service December 4, 2014 - Greater Palm Springs is a thriving center for visual arts—both inside the museums and galleries and outside. In high season, art fairs are plentiful, but you can also enjoy free public art year-round, any time you like. Thanks to plentiful Art in Public Places' programs in many cities, there are maps and tours of public art, and much to see – from murals to mosaics, fountains and sculptures.  Self-drive art tours are a great way to discover the Coachella Valley. 

In the agricultural town of Coachella, Coachella Walls was launched in April 2014. The first mural completed, by acclaimed LA artist El Mac, is a moving portrait of a farmworker, on the side of a downtown Pueblo Viejo building.  Nearby is the Casa de Trabajador by Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez, founders of Coachella Walls.  Check out the multiple murals opposite Dateland Park.

Indio's public art program preserves the cultural heritage of the valley's oldest city with its nine dramatic murals, created by the Historic Mural Project.  Don't miss the History of Water in the Coachella Valley, 140' long and 15' high, painted by Don Gray.  New sculptures and artworks are regularly installed. Indio-based artist, Philip K Smith, named a 2014 “Face to Watch” by the LA Times, created the inspiring Teen Center Sculpture.

Public Art in La Quinta is as important to the city as the annual Arts Festival and seasonal Art under the Umbrellas fairs. Edie Hylton of La Quinta's Community Services recommends a self-guided walking tour, using the public art map, around the Civic Center Campus, City Hall, Library and park.  Don't miss the recent 9/11 memorial Never Forget that incorporates steel from the World Trade Center, designed by a local artist and paid for with funds raised by a local Boy Scout.  Drive to Andalusia to see the Horse & Rider – an impressive bronze sculpture, more than 20' high. 

Palm Desert was the first city in Riverside County to adopt a public art ordinance (in 1986).  Now, more than 150 public artworks grace roadsides, parks, shopping districts and buildings.  The El Paseo International Invitational brings together artworks from all over the world, displayed along the median of the popular shopping strip.  “We change them every two years; 18 new works commenced installation in November for 2015/2016,” explained Donna Schwartz of the city's Public Art Program. 

Free, guided Public Art walking tours take place from September to May, or go it alone using downloadable maps. Don't miss Civic Center Park, home to more than 20 artworks.  Some are surprising, like the Fisherman embedded in the lagoon's bank, or moving, like the impressively detailed Holocaust Memorial by Dee Clements.  The Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert is also home to the free Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden, open year-round, just off Hwy 111.  It is a delightful oasis set in four acres, with winding walkways through palm trees, desert plants, water features and rock formations, interspersed with 10 major sculptural works.  Don't miss: Dave McGary's beautiful Walks Among the Stars bronze painted sculpture of a native American Indian woman.

In Rancho Mirage on Hwy 111, don't miss the Cancer Survivors Park, next to the City Hall at Frank Sinatra Drive.  The pretty, shaded park features tiled benches, a pyramid kiosk, waterfall, a moving artwork comprising life-size sculptures representing cancer survivors and their families.  It is one of only 22 such parks in the USA . Rancho Mirage Public Library features regular exhibitions by local artists and photographers.  Cool tip: at Sunnylands, artists can enjoy painting in plein air when the Gardens are closed to the public.  Reservations required. 

Rancho Mirage residents and renowned artists Karen and Tony Barone create large-scale, colorful animal sculptures that can be seen all over the valley: at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, Palm Springs Fire Station #3, Historical Society of Palm Desert, El Paseo Median, University of California Riverside/Palm Desert Center, Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert Rancho Mirage and the Rancho Mirage Public Library.

At Cathedral City's Civic Center, off Hwy 111, you'll find several artworks including the delightful Fountain of Life made of artisan-carved Mexican stone. Designer and artist Jennifer Johnson spent months applying hand- cut mosaic tiles and glass to the stone. Look closely and you'll see animals, birds and flowers.  Enjoy the leaping water displays and surrounding play area.  Actor/musician Buddy Rogers was the first to donate to the fountain; his statue stands nearby. 

Palm Springs public art collection features 60 works throughout the city.  Best known are the much-loved seated statues of Lucille Ball and Sonny Bono in downtown.  In the Uptown Design District, the water feature, Rainmaker by David Morris intrigues and entertains visitors with its tipping waterspouts.  Public Arts Coordinator Jennifer Henning said, “The latest additions are five different artist-designed bicycle racks, weaving art into the urban landscape.  Whether you're arriving at Palm Springs International airport, visiting the Convention Center, strolling through a park or downtown, you'll find artwork nearly everywhere you go.  Art maps available at the Visitors Center, Chamber of Commerce, City Hall or at www.palmspringspublicart.org.

Editor's Note: Thinking of visiting the Palm Springs area? First check out the Desert listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining opportunities.

Lightning in Death Valley PicmonkeyLightning in Death Valley evening sky

TASTE News Service, August 29, 2014 – Every evening before sunset, travelers claim their spots on the patio of the historic Inn at Furnace Creek awaiting a nightly show that is a stark contrast to the neon nights of Las Vegas just 2 ½ hours away. And when the sun finally sets, guests are rewarded with an uninterrupted darkness. Until they see the first of the stars.

Death Valley National Park in eastern California

has been deemed a “Gold Tier” International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. With clear nights the norm and the exterior lights of the resort dim by design, the big sky of the desert shines with starscapes that can be experienced in few places in the U.S.

“Although our guests gather nightly on the Inn patio to watch the sunset and the stars come out, the best seat for the show is practically anywhere in the park,” said Denise Perkins, director of sales and marketing for Furnace Creek Resort. “And after the stars come out, our guests find plenty of ways to enjoy the nightlife in Death Valley.”

Inn at Furnace Creek Fireplace Picmonkey 2 Poolside fireplace at the Inn In addition to the luxurious Inn, which is open mid-October through mid-May, the resort includes the family-friendly Ranch at Furnace Creek located about one mile from the Inn and open year-round. The Ranch and Inn are accessible via a free resort shuttle that runs between the two locations. Both locations offer not only great vantage points for serious stargazing but a variety of ways to while away the evening hours as well.

The Inn at Furnace Creek Dining room is known for its eclectic cuisine, elegant atmosphere, attentive staff and quiet sophistication, which encourages guests to linger and relax. The famous date nut bread, served with three types of flavored butters, has been a favorite signature treat for decades. Guests looking for an energetic and entertaining evening often head to the Ranch at Furnace Creek and the Corkscrew Saloon for pizza and drinks is an atmosphere reminiscent of Wild West saloons – without the gunfights. Beer-lovers should be sure to try the local favorite, Badwater Ale. And steak lovers will find their beef nirvana and more a The Wrangler, also located at the Ranch.

Families staying at the Ranch at Furnace Creek often gather at the spring-fed pool for one last energy-busting swim before bedtime. While those staying at the Inn frequently gather around one of two stone fireplaces for a quiet nightcap or a late-night swim in the spring-fed pool before enjoying a casual, starlit stroll back to their rooms along paths that meander through date palm-lined gardens.

Lucky guests staying at the resort when there is a full moon can join one of the free guided moonlight hikes led by the National Park Service. Called Full Moon Festivals, these monthly events include ranger-led walks in moonlit canyons, salt flats or sand dunes. Participants can view the moon’s surface through telescopes and learn about the habits of nocturnal wildlife in the park.

Guests can also take a moonlight horseback ride with Furnace Creek Stables located at the Ranch at Furnace Creek.

Death Valley is a photographer’s otherworldly heaven, and amateur and professional shutterbugs alike gather for both sunset and sunrise shots in several locations. Among the most popular are Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point and the Sand Dunes.

Editor's note: Links to the websites of Lodging and Dining options, including the Furnace Creek Resort can be found in the Desert section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

Palm Springs Art Museum PicmonkeySoon to open Palm Springs Art Museum

TASTE News Service August 25, 2014 - As one of the best destinations in the world for midcentury modern architecture and the international architectural and design movement of the mid-20th century, Greater Palm Springs is getting ready to welcome a new museum dedicated to the art of architecture.

The Palm Springs Art Museum, which purchased the historic 1961 Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan building in downtown Palm Springs, is finishing up rehabilitating the iconic building. Set to open in fall 2014, the iconic building will house the new Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion. Designed by renowned midcentury modern architect E. Stewart Williams, the building was constructed in classic midcentury international style and was recently designated a protected Class I Historic Site. It features a ground level glass pavilion space that will showcase architecture and design exhibitions and will house a store and curatorial offices. The building's lower level will contain a vault, storage space, kitchen, restrooms and more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space. When completed, the center will be the country's first free-standing architecture and design museum housed in a historic, midcentury modern building.

Desert Modernism

Midcentury modern art/architecture in Greater Palm Springs is particularly noted for its own regional offshoot, known as Desert Modernism, which features a distinctive style that includes ample glass walls and windows, open floor plans, dramatic rooflines and the flow between interior and exterior spaces. In addition to the new architecture center, visitors may celebrate the area's distinctive form of midcentury modern architecture by attending the annual event known as Modernism Week, held every February, or by participating in customized area tours.

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway PicmonkeyElvis Presley's Honeymoon Hideaway

Modernism Week

The hugely popular annual event, Modernism Week, which celebrates all things midcentury, including design, architecture, art, fashion and culture, is an exciting 11-day festival held every February. The celebration features more than 100 events including home tours, films, lectures, double-decker architectural bus tours, Modernism Show, nightly parties and live music, walking and bike tours, a prefab Showcase and Modern Living Expo, tours of Sunnylands, vintage fashion, classic cars, garden tours, a vintage travel trailer exhibition and more. In addition to the events in February, Modernism hosts a “Fall Season Kick-Off” during Columbus Day weekend in October. Partner organizations collaborate to produce a “mini Modernism Week” to commence the season in Greater Palm Springs.

Architecture Tours

Local companies, The Modern Tour and Palm Springs Modern Tours, offer guided itineraries that are packed with information about the meticulously preserved historic neighborhoods that capture the glamour, sophistication and flair of California's swingin' midcentury modern lifestyles.

Palm Springs Modern Tours: Personally guided small group tours (maximum 6 guests) share the stories of the talented architects, designers and builders who contributed to the city's modernist legacy and the sun-loving Southern Californians who lived and played here in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

The Modern Tour: Michael Stern, author of the best-selling book “Julius Shulman: Palm Springs,” leads small group tours that showcase some of Greater Palm Springs' finest examples of midcentury modern architecture, while discussing the works of such noted architects as Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Donald Wexler, E. Stewart Williams and William Cody, to name just a few. The 2 ½- hour tour uniquely includes visits to residential interiors of selected homes on the tour.

Editor's note: More information about Palm Springs architecture can be had at www.visitpalmsprings.com. If you're planning a visit, check out the Desert listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area craft beer specialists and Southern California wineries.

Death Valley Desert Flowers Picmonkey

DEATH VALLEY, Calif., April 10, 2014 – Monet would have a field day. California’s Death Valley National Park is enjoying a colorful spring and looking forward to a vibrant summer thanks to a surprisingly good emerging wildflower season. In recent weeks, the rugged desert park has become reminiscent of a Monet painting, with shades of gold, pink, purple, orange and white dotting the landscape of the 3.3 million acre park.

“We’d heard from the National Park Service that 2014 wasn’t going to be a particularly strong wildflower year, but happily, those predictions were not accurate, and we are now enjoying a wildly colorful spring,” said Denise Perkins, director of sales and marketing for Furnace Creek Resort. “The ruggedness of the desert has a certain kind of magic to it year-round, and the wash of vibrant color this year has added a much-appreciated dimension to the beauty of the park.”

Most wildflower-watchers at the National Park Service and the park’s Furnace Creek Resort didn’t expect a banner year this spring because the trifecta of conditions needed for a good bloom – moisture throughout winter and spring, sufficient warmth and minimal winds – did not occur. Yet colorful desert gold, monkeyflowers, golden evening primrose and other blooms have been sprouting up along the park’s roads and hillsides.

Perkins said she’s seen numerous visitors stopped at roadside viewpoints throughout the park photographing the flowers. “If visitors take away anything, it should only be a photograph,”she said. “It is illegal to pick wildflowers in the park. Every seed is needed to repopulate the park the next year.”

According to the National Park Service’s Wildflower Update, the bloom is a result of rainfall in the higher elevations of the park, especially in the Panamint Mountains. And the Park Service is predicting the colorful show will continue through the summer.

Death Valley Cactus with flowers PicmonkeyDuring an especially good bloom year, the first desert gold wildflowers begin to bloom on a hilly, volcanic area north of Ashford Mill, near Furnace Creek Resort. They are joined by flowers with such evocative names as desert star, evening primrose, verbena and poppy.  By late April, the Panamint Mountains and other higher climes welcome paintbrush, lupine and panamint daisies. Even the spiny cacti and Joshua trees may blossom. The Mojave wild rose, hardy rabbitbrush and delicate mariposa lilies join the show.

Most desert wildflowers are annuals, sometimes called ephemerals because they are so short-lived. But this limited lifespan is exactly what ensures their survival. Rather than struggle to stay alive during the desert’s most extreme conditions, annual wildflowers lie dormant as seeds. When enough rain finally does fall, the seeds quickly sprout, grow, bloom and go back to seed again. By blooming all at the same time during good years, wildflowers can attract large numbers of pollinators – butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds – not normally found in Death Valley.

During the month of April, the average daytime high is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature falls to the low 60s in the evening. In May, the average daytime high is around 100 degrees and the nighttime average is in the low 70s.

The Furnace Creek Resort has been welcoming guests since the 1930s. The historic Inn at Furnace Creek is open from mid-October through mid-May. It features 66 rooms, including two suites with a full array of amenities, fine dining, massage therapy, tennis courts and a spring-fed pool. Open year-round, the Ranch at Furnace Creek is situated adjacent to the golf course and features 224 rooms in a casual setting.

Editor's note: The Deserts section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory will have a link to the website of the Furnace Creek Resort, as well as links to other Loding and Dining opportunities in this beautiful part of Southern California.

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