California—For visitors, cycling in Palm Springs is hardly about getting
exercise, it’s about... well, snooping. After all, you’re in la-la-land: behind
those wrought-iron gates and bougainvillea-laden walls are where celebrities
Cupped in the Coachella
Valley beneath the rugged San Jacinto Mountains, Palm Springs began in the
1920s and ’30s as a vacation retreat for movie stars like Mary Pickford,
Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, whose studio contracts demanded they stay
within a two-hour drive of Los Angeles.
Today it’s a playground
for pleasure-seeking adults, who arrive in droves between November and March to
drive golf balls on manicured courses and stay in swanky resorts that offer
hedonists their every wish.
However, beyond the glitz
there is another side to the valley: decadent but charming “old” Palm Springs.
The best way to see it is by bicycle. Bighorn Big Adventures on Palm Canyon
Drive will rent you a bike, helmet, lock and map for $29 per day. The Diamondback
hybrid bikes were terrific and the map we were handed well-thought-out. On a
sun-kissed morning we cycled off to follow the city-wide loop of 24 kilometres.
Okay, I’m ashamed to
admit it, but I also had, a “map of the stars” that I had picked up at the
folksy visitor information centre in the Palm Springs Library. From previous
visits I already knew where George Hamilton lived. We were also familiar with
Liberace’s house, easily spotted with the candelabras at the front door, and
the home where Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned and where Debbie
Reynolds apparently still lives. It’s rumoured that Brad Pitt recently
purchased a home but he wasn’t on the map, which, truth be told, has more the
oldies than current stars.
The route takes you north
along some major roads, but most have bike lanes. There’s a plethora of modern,
gated condos that stretch into the desert; all boast golf courses or access to
a course, swimming pools and tennis courts, along with pretty heavy-duty
By far we preferred the
old Las Palmas neighbourhood. It borders the busy downtown sector, but has
sleepy streets. From a bike you actually can peek over the fences — is
that Victoria Principal’s gardener, I wonder?
The city-wide loop takes
you away from traffic at the end of Palm Canyon Drive where it turns into
Murray Canyon and you get a sense of the canyons — so appealing with
their rust-coloured boulders, desert grasses and oasis-like pools tucked into
shady caverns — that can be explored either by foot on trails or by
enthusiastic mountain bikers.
For architecture buffs,
this cycle loop holds a special appeal. Charming, mission-style abodes dating
back to the late 1800s to mid-century modern façades by locally well-known
architects such as Albert Frey, who designed the picturesque city hall and
other buildings, are all along the route. At the visitor information centre you
can pick up maps that pinpoint some of the architectural landmarks.
At the end of our ride we
dropped off the bikes with big grins on our faces. Pedalling is still our
favourite way to view glitzy Palm Springs.
For more information on
Palm Springs visit the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism website at
For information on travel
in California visit the California Travel & Tourism Commission website at