Finding an Ace in Palm Springs

When it comes to glamour, the desert resort of Palm Springs is sweating it out. But the coolest and hippest place to be for the young is the Ace Hotel.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Glamourous Palm Springs

In the romantic days of Hollywood, decades ago, when movie stars were glamorous and mysterious, rather than trashy and mass-produced, there was a desert hideaway where they would gather to get away from the lights of the big city.

Two hours drive from Los Angeles, in the middle of the scorching desert, the biggest stars in the business built themselves an oasis.

It was called Palm Springs, the name apt for the illusion of shade and water that was so artificially replicated.

Bob Hope, Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers and Clark Gable were some of the stars who found relief in Palm Springs early on. Coming later were the likes of Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor.

The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California, USA

Today, the city is still popular with the Los Angeles movie and music sets but the A-list shimmer has faded. It seems to be more about money than talent – a fitting parallel to the way many describe the entertainment business itself.

Everything about Palm Springs is artificial – the green grass opposite the desert; the palm trees that were shipped in; the water mist at the outside terraces to cool customers when just getting out of the sun would be much more effective.

Even the thousands of wind turbines on the landscape as you drive in just reinforce the feeling that this strange place is, in some ways, on permanent life support.

The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California, USA

That’s not to say there aren’t little pockets of glamour in Palm Springs. On a quick overnight trip there with some friends, we found a reminder of how it once might have been.

The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs

The action for the immature and successful revolves around The Ace Hotel, a renovated mid-century motel. But when I say ‘renovated’, don’t think I mean ‘modern’.

This hotel has retained all its old-school charm and it’s this style that creates the mood.

The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California, USA
The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California, USA

It’s a large open collection of buildings with views of the mountains and paths that burn your bare feet in the middle of the day. Around the pool, the young and hip gather.

Cheap beer or cheap cocktail in hand, they float and watch the surroundings with a nonchalance that belies the intensity with which they are studying each other.

Cigarette alit, they laze on sunbeds and talk with friends, raising their voices ever so slightly when discussing a recent success or promising project.

The whole area smells like chlorine, booze, smoke and vanity. It is how it should be in Palm Springs.

The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California, USA

Some nights of the week, we’re told, the parties at The Ace Hotel will go through the evening and into the morning.

A diner to one side will keep everyone fed with classic but healthy food. A bar inside is where the pool party will retire to, although there will be nothing retiring about the celebrations.

And the 180 hotel rooms, designed with a nod to the past, will be the last resort for those who can fight fatigue no longer.

The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California, USA
The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California, USA

The equivalents of Bob Hope, Ginger Rogers and Elizabeth Taylor may not spend their time in Palm Springs these days, and they certainly wouldn’t join the parties at The Ace Hotel.

But for those who do, there is a sense that this is how it was for those desert pioneers.

The dry air; the buzz of insects; the stars at night unobstructed by smog – these set the scene for the out-of-LA experience those celebrities sought.

And, for just one night, we can pretend we’re one of them.

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