Food and Fun: Historic Palm Springs

Article by Noreen Kompanik

“Playground of the Stars” is what Palm Springs, California has been called for years.

Royalty of the movie industry flocked to play in Palm Springs where they could still honor their contract stipulations to remain “within two hours of the studio” in case they were called back for another take or shoot. But more importantly, this alluring desert oasis offered them privacy from the watchful eyes of their studios and the press. Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Sammy Davis Jr. to name a few all had homes here.

Palm Springs still embraces its role as legendary desert hideaway for celebrities and other visitors looking for relaxation. Perfect weather, Hollywood glamour, an intimate downtown village atmosphere, vibrant culinary scene, art and culture and jazzy boutiques all uniquely combine to assure Palm Springs a spot on the definite A-list of interesting places to visit.

It’s no wonder this sun-drenched super hip mecca is so popular with tourists. And on this long weekend trip we immersed ourselves in its fascinating history.

Legends & Icons Tour
For anyone curious about the Palm Springs- Hollywood Connection, Five Star Adventures Tours is the way to go. The four-hour comprehensive narrated tour takes visitors on a trip back in time through the glamorous “Movie Colony” days.


Historic architecture made Palm Springs famous. And many award-winning architects were called in to build homes for the rich and famous. Homes of legends like Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Mickey Rooney, Elvis Presley, Bettie Davis, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor to name a few are on the tour with some juicy stories to accompany them.

But it’s not only past Hollywood legends who own homes here. Leonardo DiCaprio, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell all have swanky desert abodes as well.

Palm Springs Tramway
One of the best ways to see Palm Springs is from a birds-eye view. And every visitor should experience the aerial tramway. One of the most unique adventure attractions in the world and a true engineering marvel, the tram transports passengers from the sands of the valley desert to a lofty mountain station surrounded by Alpine wilderness and invigorating breezes.

The world’s largest rotating tram car ascends two-and-one-half miles up the steep, almost vertical slope of Mt. San Jacinto to an elevation of 8,516 feet within ten minutes. At the top, visitors have spectacular views of Palm Springs and its environs from a variety of observation decks and terraces. For those seeking more outdoor adventure, the San Jacinto State Park ranges down the mountain and nearby slopes, encompassing 14,000 acres of pristine wilderness and features 54 miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, and an adventure center.

A word to the wise regarding the weather. No matter what’s happening temperature-wise in Palm Springs, you can be assured the thermometer will drop at least 30 degrees once you reach the mountaintop. You can leave the desert valley in summer-like weather and step off the tram to snow and ice. We know because it’s happened to us.

Discovering History, Hollywood and Hot Boutiques
To visit Palm Springs and not spend time in its eclectic downtown means visitors are missing an incredible experience—and a chance to really get to know what this town is all about.

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum is the perfect place to start in downtown to learn about native Palm Springs and the Cahuilla tribe of Agua Caliente Indians who were its early inhabitants. The museum features engaging exhibits, lectures and hands-on classes like basket weaving that draw from the tribe’s rich cultural heritage.

Ruddy’s 1930’s General Store Museum transports visitors back to the time of the 30s and 40s with its extensive 35-year collection of nostalgia.

More than 6,000 unused items and individual products—95% of them filled with their original contents line the shelves and counters of the store. From antique grocery items and tobacco to medicines to cleaning products, it’s fun to see visitors ooh, aah and “remember when.”  The Walk of Stars in downtown Palm Springs pays homage to its famous Hollywood counterparts. Its path is a literal walk

of fame honoring notable personalities who have lived in the area. Honorees include not only Hollywood and music stars like Rock Hudson and Elvis Presley, they also feature Medal of Honor recipients and former presidents. It’s fun to see who can find the most famous star of all.

Breakfast at Elmer’s Restaurant
The line to get into Elmer’s is always long on weekends, especially at breakfast, and there’s a darn good reason.

Elmer’s has been serving hungry loyal Palm Springs patrons since 1966. Walt and Dorothy Elmer launched the first restaurant as a pancake house in Portland, Oregon in 1960. And it was Walt’s secret recipe for buttermilk pancakes that drew clamoring customers to the door.

Each restaurant is individually owned and according to Palm Spring’s owner operator Jacky Donnell “I truly believe it’s not just good food, but our customer service that keeps them coming back here in the desert.”

Jacky is a superstar in the industry who’s made it her personal quest to keep the Palm Springs Elmer’s at the top of the heap among all competitors inside and outside the famous franchise.

We just had to try those Famous Buttermilk Pancakes—light and fluffy, large-portioned and served with a choice of eggs and meat item. Our second entrée, the Lingonberry Crepes, consisted of three freshly-made crepes topped with sweet, tangy lingonberries mixed with butter then dusted with powdered sugar.

Food here is top-notch. Customer service is amazingly attentive and it was of no surprise to hear that our server Tony had been with the restaurant for 32 years. As a matter of fact, several of Elmer’s employees have been with the restaurant for over 25 years.

Photos of presidents and famous stars line the walls. Looking around, if a patron wasn’t scarfing up Elmer’s incredible breakfast foods, they were smiling, laughing and sharing with one another. “This is so good, you have to try this” was heard on more than one occasion. Truth be told, we said those words ourselves.

Lunch at Purple Palm
Located on site of the historic Colony Palms Hotel, this exotic Moroccan-themed bistro exudes a throwback glamour that warms the heart. Striking chandeliers, cranberry red and white wallpaper and colorful floor tiles make this lush cabana-lined poolside Hollywood hideaway setting an absolute perfect place for a weekend brunch.

Allen, the restaurant’s manager is engaging, service is impeccable and entrees are gutsy and innovative.

Seasonally changing menu items are the theme here ensuring the freshest ingredients possible. Beginning with an Orange Mimosa made with a Spanish CAVA, we then ordered the Heirloom Beet and Burrata Salad. Medjool dates and opal basil with balsamic strawberries and grilled shrimp combination absolutely exploded with flavor. This is an entirely new twist on the beet salad and it really worked well together.

Our second shared entrée was a Smoked Pork Belly Cuban Sandwich—once again an incredibly creative flavorful entrée made with smoked ham, Swiss, pickles, and Dijon mustard. Who would

have guessed adding pork belly to this traditional Cuban delight would be so good? This imaginative friendly bistro was one fun dining experience we won’t soon forget.

Dinner at Melvyn’s
History is all around us and we savored every moment at this amazing dining establishment built in the 1920s. Melvyn’s is located at the Ingleside Inn, originally built as a Spanish-style estate for the heirs to the Pierce Arrow Motorcar Company then known as the “Rolls Royce” of America.

The restaurant not only brought in the entertainers from Hollywood who had their favorite tables but sports stars, and politicians. Even seven presidents have dined here. Not necessarily because Melvyn’s was the place to see and be seen but they came to let their hair down and relax among friends.

Seated in the elegant dining room at Frank Sinatra’s favorite table and immersed in Melvyn’s grandeur we keep our eyes peeled on the entrance half expecting to see someone famous come through the door. Meanwhile we could almost sense the lingering presence of great stars and movie industry icons that over many years have flocked to this secluded dining establishment hidden behind the Ingleside’s hedges.

We’re starting to feel like stars tonight as everypatron here is treated like one. Guests with

martinis and champagne in hand talk, laugh and share stories The dress here is not quite coat and tie, but it’s definitely a step or two up from the usual Palm Springs casual attire. There is a palpable air of omfortable sophistication here. Tuxedoed waiters are professional, unobtrusive and charming. They know the menu well and aren’t afraid to make recommendations.

Escargot in Puff Pastry with chopped walnuts and spinach in a classic garlic-shallot butter sauce is a must-have.

The menu, though not extensive is classic. There’s something there for every palate and some items have been here for decades.

Steak Diane, filet mignon medallions served tableside is a Sinatra favorite and melt-in-your-mouth tender. Sole de Piccata sautéed with Chardonnay, fresh lemon and capers cooked to perfection is pan-seared and like most entries here, prepared and served tableside.

A dropped napkin is immediately replaced in our lap with a new one. A finished plate leaves the table almost unseen. And new silverware appeared without our noticing. It’s as if magic was at work here but we know it’s just plain top-notch impeccable service. Some of the best we’ve ever seen.

After a shared delightful dessert, the Chocolate Bomb described as “Surfing the Chocolate Wave” we headed to the Casablanca Lounge for cocktails, dancing and entertainment. A classic martini, complete with reen
olive fits the mood.

Round tables with white tablecloths just like in the past face the piano and dance floor in a semicircle. The only thing missing tonight is the cigarette-smoked haze of yesteryear. The entertainer turns back the hands of time, honoring our requests to play Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Strangers in the Night.”

At the end of the evening, we’re ushered to the door  and a polite valet takes our ticket to bring our car around. Though it might as well be a golden chariot. For tonight, we received an intimate invitation to a bygone era and storied past that will live forever.

This visit was historic Palm Springs at its very best and it was more than spectacular, it was magical.


Noreen L. Kompanik is a Registered Nurse and published freelance travel writer and photographer based in San Diego, California. Traveling with her husband, children and grandchildren is her absolute favorite pastime. Her articles include inspirational writing, sustainable, healthy living, family travel, history, wine and food. She is a member of the International Travel Writers and Photographer’s Association and International Food and Wine Travel Writers Association. She maintains a Facebook page What’s In Your Suitcase? where readers can find her published articles.


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