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California cruisin’

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PALM SPRINGS, 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 reside.

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 looking security.

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.

ACCESS

For more information on Palm Springs visit the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism website at www.palm-springs.org .

For information on travel in California visit the California Travel & Tourism Commission website at www.visitcalifornia.com .

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