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California: Palm Springs

Nestled at the base of the Mount San Jacinto Mountains, just 107 miles east of Los Angeles is the desert resort city of Palm Springs, California. The city spans over 94 square miles, making it the largest city in Riverside county by size.

The the drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, you will pass Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa, an Indian gaming casino, of the Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians, located in Cabazon, California

On the drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, you will pass Morongo Casino, Resort & Spa, an Indian gaming casino, of the Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians, located in Cabazon, California

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Downtown Palm Springs (North Palm Canyon Drive)

Downtown Palm Springs (North Palm Canyon Drive)

Renowned for its outdoor activities such as golfing, swimming, tennis, horseback riding, biking, and hiking in the nearby desert and mountains, Palm Springs became a fashionable resort in the 1900s when tourists began to frequent the city with health conditions that required exposure to dry heat. In the 1930s estate building expanded into the Movie Colony neighborhoods, followed by nightclubs with the opening of The Dunes in 1934 and the Chi Chi 1936. Also in 1936, Plaza Shopping Center,  Southern California’s first self-contained shopping center was established in Palm Springs.

The Movie Colony which consists of 170 homes is a neighborhood just east of Palm Canyon Drive which derived its name after many famous movie stars built homes in the area between the 1930s and the 1960s.  Such Hollywood notables as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Dinah Shore, Jack Benny, Marilyn Monroe, Al Jolson and Bing Crosby all had homes here.  This famous neighborhood is within walking distance of Downtown Palm Springs where tourists can find many fine restaurants, shops and live entertainment.

We had the opportunity to see a few of the celebrity homes starting with the one formerly owned by Liberace.  Located on 1441 N. Kaweah Road, the home exudes Liberace with the statues framing the doorway and the baby grand piano mailbox.

Valentino Liberace’s career spanned four decades and included countless concerts, recordings, motion pictures, television, and endorsements. During the 1950s–1970s he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world and embraced a lifestyle of flamboyant excess both on and off stage.  His home in Palm Springs is a clear reflection of Liberace’s personality and style.

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From there we moved on to 335 Camino Norte where the home of the famous recluse Howard Hughes is located.  Hughes who passed away in 1976 was a renown American business tycoon, investor, aviator, aerospace engineer, film maker and philanthropist. One of the wealthiest people in the world, he gained prominence in Hollywood during the late 1920s, making big-budget and often controversial films like The Racket, Hell’s Angels , and Scarface. Hughes is also remembered for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle in later life and his house in Palm Springs is a testament to that.  It is hidden away from the street behind large metal gates and high fences, an ideal place for someone who wanted to remain hidden from the public eye.

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Howard Hughes-1

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Our third stop was the home of the one and only Nat King Cole, located on 1258 Rose Avenue.  Born Nathaniel Adams Coles in 1919, he gained prominence as a leading jazz pianist and later made his mark as a singer and musician performing with big bands and jazz ensembles. Cole was one of the first African Americans to host a television variety show, The Nat King Cole Show, and has maintained worldwide popularity since his death from lung cancer in 1965.

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A little further down the street was Nat’s neighbor, Marilyn Monroe.  Located on 1326 Rose Avenue, Marilyn’s Palm Spring’s home radiates femininity with everything from the white iron mailbox to the floral print Spanish tiles of the stairs leading up to the home.  Marilyn made her mark in society as an actress, model, and singer, but she is perhaps best remembered as a major sex symbol who starred in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Sadly, Marilyn’s final years were marked by illness, personal problems, and a reputation for unreliability and being difficult to work with. Her untimely death in 1962 from a probable overdose of barbiturates has been the subject of conjecture and has propelled the star to become both a cultural and pop icon, celebrated and worshiped decades after her death!

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Another Hollywood starlet’s home can be found on 670 Stevens Road.  This gal’s career was launched into the stratosphere after she starred in the 1952 film, Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.  This can be none other than actress, singer, and dancer, Debbie Reynolds.  An all-white, modern structure behind white iron gates, the home resembles more of a museum than a residence.  Debbie has been a noted collector of film memorabilia since 1970 and it is no wonder her sizeable residence resembles a place where such items can be stored and displayed.

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Not far from Reynolds’ home is a modest home once owned by the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley.  Elvis was one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century and his Palm Springs residence located on 845 Chino Canyon once displayed his larger than life face on the brick comprising the chimney.  These days the large image has been removed but one can still see a smaller version of it on the house number markers.

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Situated fairly close to each other were the homes of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Sammy Davis Jr. and Clark Gable.

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s modern white home located near the foot of the mountains on 550 Via Lola was the first property we visited in this area of the Movie Colony neighborhood.  Goldie gained popularity in the 1960s on TV’s Laugh In with her stereotypical dumb blonde roles and she continued to have an active career in Hollywood through the 1980s.  However, her career slowed down in the late 1980s and she made her final appearance in 2002 opposite Susan Sarandon and Geoffrey Rush in The Banger Sisters.

Goldie was married to Bill Hudson of the Hudson Brothers fame with whom she has two children, Oliver and Kate Hudson.  She has been in a relationship with actor Kurt Russell since 1983. They had first met in 1968 while filming The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, but became involved only after meeting again on the set of Swing Shift.

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Goldie and Kurt’s home is not far from the home of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy.  Located on 369 Hermosa Place, this ranch-style home was the residence of the Reagans while he served as Governor of California. Reagan served two consecutive terms as Governor, his first term began in 1967 and his second term began in 1971.

It was during his first term that Reagan tested the presidential waters. Unfortunately, by the time of the convention rolled around, Nixon had garnered 692 delegate votes, 25 more than he needed to secure the nomination, followed by Rockefeller with Reagan in third place.

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Not far from the former Reagan residence is the former home of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, located on 776 Mission Road.

Respected for his natural style and versatility, Tracy was one of the major stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In a screen career that spanned 37 years, he was nominated for nine Academy Awards for Best Actor! His personal life was troubled, with a lifelong-struggle against alcoholism and guilt over his son’s deafness. Tracy became estranged from his wife in the 1930s but never divorced, conducting a long-term relationship with Katharine Hepburn in private.  Katharine Hepburn was known for her headstrong independence and spirited personality, her career as a Hollywood leading lady spanned more than 60 years. Her 26-year off screen relationship with Tracy was only rivaled by her on screen alliance with him. The screen-partnership spanned 25 years, and produced nine movies.

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Within 6-minutes of walking distance from Katharine and Spencer’s love nest is the home of Sammy Davis, Jr.  As a member of the Rat Pack, one can only imagine what kinds of parties took place here at 444 Chino Drive! Davis who began his career at the tender age of three in Vaudeville went on to earn the nickname of Mister Show Business after becoming a huge star in Las Vegas. He reunited with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987and toured with them internationally before he passed away from throat cancer in 1990. He died in debt to the Internal Revenue Service, and his estate was the subject of legal battles.

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Just down the street on 222 Chino Drive is the clearly obvious “pink” house of movie legend, Clark Gable. Though best known for his role as Rhett Butler in the epic Gone with the Wind, he started his career as a stage actor and appeared as an extra in silent films between 1924 and 1930.  He eventually went on to become one of Hollywood’s best leading men and starred in more than 60 movies over three decades.

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It is obvious that tourism plays an important role in the city’s economy with over 1.6 million visitors taking advantage of the over 130 hotels and resorts, numerous bed & breakfast inns and over 100 restaurants and dining spots annually.

A giant statue of Marilyn greets tourists in downtown Palm Springs

A giant statue of Marilyn greets tourists in downtown Palm Springs

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Palm Springs is home to several notable public and private golf courses including the Mesquite Golf Club and Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort to name a few.   The city’s other attractions include the Art Museum & Annenberg Theater, The Moorten Botanical Gardens, Knott’s Soak City U.S.A., The Palm Springs Air Museum, Spa Resort Casino, Palm Springs Walk of Stars and the Aerial Tramway.

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Desert Princess Country Club & Resort

Desert Princess Country Club & Resort

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On our way to the casino

On our way to the casino

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The Moorten Botanical Garden is a one acre family owned botanical garden specializing in cacti and other desert plants, located at 1701 South Palm Canyon Drive. The gardens were established in 1939 by Patricia and Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten.  Chester portrayed one of the original Keystone Cops featured in the Mack Sennett silent film comedies between 1912 and 1917. The Moortens collected many of their own specimen plants from Baja California, mainland Mexico, and as far south as Guatemala. To recognize their contributions to the community, the Moortens were awarded “Golden Palm Stars” on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars.

The Keystone Cops

The Keystone Cops

Entrance to Moorten Botanical Gardens

Entrance to Moorten Botanical Gardens

The Moorten residence is on the property

The Moorten residence is on the property

The Palm Springs Walk of Stars is perhaps not as extensive as the Hollywood Walk of Fame but the stars featured in Palm Springs include such greats as William Powell, Ginger Rogers, Bob Hope, Mary Pickford, Liberace, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley just to name a few.  The stars are situated primarily along Palm Canyon Drive with additional stars found along Tahquitz Canyon Way, Museum Drive and La Plaza Court.

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The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world.  The cable car system was opened in 1963 as a way of  transporting people from the floor of the Coachella Valley two-and-a-half miles up a steep incline to a station located at 8,516 feet, relatively near the top of San Jacinto Peak. Before its construction, the only way to the top of the mountain was to hike a number of hours from Idyllwild.

One of the original tram cars used between 1963-2000 is on display at the station

One of the original tram cars used between 1963-2000 is on display at the station

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As you are waiting to board your tram car, visist the Johnson Falls outside of the cafe area

As you are waiting to board your tram car, visist the Johnson Falls outside of the cafe area

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Do Beware!

Do Beware!

The twelve-and-a-half minute ride begins at the Valley Station at 2,643 feet and passes up North America’s sheerest mountain face through five life zones on its way to the Mountain Station. Travelers start in the Sonoran Desert and ultimately arrive at an alpine forest. The temperature difference between the floor and the summit can vary 30 degrees!

The floor of the 18-foot-diameter aerial tram-car rotates constantly, making two complete revolutions throughout the duration of the journey so that the passengers can see in all directions without moving. With a maximum capacity of 80 passengers it is the largest of the three rotating aerial trams in the world. The other “Rotair” aerial trams are located in Cape Town, South Africa and Titlis, Switzerland.

Once at the top visitors can walk along nature trails, take a burro ride, or enjoy the snow at the mountaintop during the winter months. There are two restaurants and a lounge at the summit. The Peaks restaurant offers fine dining above the clouds while the Pines Café offers cafeteria-style dining with a variety of menu selections. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway offers a special Ride ‘N’ Dinner combination ticket for the Pines Café.  Located on the same level as the restaurants is the Lookout Lounge, a full cocktail bar offering a variety of alcoholic beverages and appetizers.

The view at the top can stretch northward for more than 200 miles on a clear day, all the way to Mount Charleston north of Las Vegas, Nevada. Views to the east and west can stretch as far as 75 miles. California’s Salton Sea is plainly visible to the southeast.

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Palm Springs can be a great day trip from Los Angeles or a nice weekend jaunt.  The temperatures soar during the month of August; it was 108 degrees when we were there, but the dry heat can be tolerable for most.

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