Skip to main content

Experience Desert Modernism in Palm Springs

With its palm tree-lined streets, gorgeous desert landscapes, high-end resorts, impressive golf courses, stylish boutiques, and an average of 350 days of sunshine per year, it’s easy to see why Palm Springs is an ideal winter destination for those looking to escape the cold. But it’s more than just a holiday that attracts many visitors to Palm Springs. With the highest concentration of mid-century modern architecture in the world, design-lovers flock to the desert to experience the unique architectural style that sets Palm Springs apart.

The rise of Palm Springs from a sleepy health resort destination to a celebrity holiday hotspot was due in part to the Hollywood movie studio system in the 1920s and 30s. During that time, studios contractually obligated their biggest stars to stay within 100 miles of the Hollywood studios during production, and Palm Springs was just within that radius. The rich and famous were attracted by the warm weather and seclusion offered by the desert location and began building a community of luxury homes and estates. Visionary modern architects, inspired by the stark desert landscape and modernist schools like Bauhaus and the International Style, flourished with commissions from wealthy and celebrity clients to design sleek, modern homes. This style, which peaked from 1945 to 1975 is now called Desert Modernism. Influenced by the dictates of desert living, Desert Modernism is notable for its use of glass, clean lines, indoor/outdoor spaces, inventive materials, and modern construction techniques. In addition to private residences, this wave of mid-century modern design included notable buildings of every type including commercial, civic, religious, hotel, and school buildings.

Wells Gray Tours has led many tours to Palm Springs, but if you’re a fan of mid-century modern architecture, you’re in for a treat this year! Our annual tour to Palm Springs this February overlaps with Palm Springs Modernism Week, an annual ten-day event focusing on the mid-century modern design and architecture that makes Palm Springs so unique. The tour has plenty of free time, so you can definitely fit in one of over 75 Modernism Week events, including the Palm Springs Modernism Show at the Convention Center; house tours, lectures, films, parties, and other special events.

If you would rather explore on your own, there are many excellent examples of desert modernism you can view on a self-guided tour. Make your first stop at the Palm Springs Visitor Center and pick up a copy of their free map of mid-century modern landmarks to use as a guide. The visitor center is also one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Better known as the Tramway Gas Station, the former Enco service station was built in 1965 by Albert Frey and Robson C. Chambers, two of the most notable Palm Springs architects. The service station was the first landmark visitors would see when they arrived in Palm Springs via Route 11 and has a very distinctive cantilevered canopy.

If you want to experience the Mecca of mid-century design for yourself, join Wells Gray Tours on our Palm Springs Winter Escape. We spend six nights at the Palm Mountain Resort, located just a block away from Palm Canyon Drive with its many shops and restaurants. We visit the spectacular Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which ascends nearly 2,000 metres into the San Jacinto Mountains. We also tour Joshua Tree National Park and explore The Living Desert, a 1200-acre preserve featuring exotic birds and animals, botanical gardens, nature trails and the Wildlife Wonders show. There is a choice of one of two attractions: The Palm Springs Air Museum which features a large collection of flying World War II airplanes or The Palm Springs Art Museum which features a sophisticated and diverse art collection. There is also plenty of time to enjoy the sunshine and activities of your own choosing.

For more information on this tour, click the links below

Itinerary from Interior BC

Itinerary from Victoria

Itinerary from Greater Vancouver

If you’d like to learn more about Palm Springs Modernism Week click HERE

Written by: Pam Jensen