Don’t think Palm Springs only comes alive for White Party. This once-sleepy oasis known for golf, geriatrics and getting sober has grown up to become one of the world’s premier gay resorts. Nestled against the dramatic San Jacinto Mountains, its proximity to L.A. and San Diego (two hours by car) makes it easily accessible. Dozens of gay guesthouses, restaurants, bars, clubs, and retail shops not only serve the thousands of gay tourists, but also residents. While the (gay!) mayor of Palm Springs estimates the gay and lesbian population at 40 percent, unofficial reports put the number closer to 60 percent.
Palm Springs’ gay roots date back to the early 1920s, when Hollywood stars came here to relax. Some of them ventured across the city line to what is now Cathedral City. In this unincorporated part of the county were gambling halls, whorehouses and, yes, underground gay bars. In the 1970s, these bars became legitimate establishments; however, due to its conservative attitude, it would take more than a decade for gay bars to be welcomed in Palm Springs.
By the mid-‘80s, a few small hotel complexes in the Warm Sands area of town were turned into discrete, gay-owned, clothing-optional gay men’s retreats. Soon, tourists from all over the world discovered Palm Springs’ never-ending sunshine. Gay-owned businesses and bars opened up nearby on Arenas Street, sometimes dubbed WeHo East or Castro South. The year-round gay population blossomed as well. Many were mature men seeking a comfortable environment in which to retire. At the same time, many guys with HIV/AIDS took advantage of the low cost of living to stretch the money earned from cashing out their life insurance policies.
In 1988, Jeffrey Sanker threw his first party here, Wet and Wild. It was an instant hit and started to attract party boys from around the globe. The name change to White Party better reflected a major Circuit party. Today, White Party reigns as the largest gay dance event on the West Coast. Over 20,000 revelers crowd into town for the long weekend succession of parties. The success of White Party Palm Springs has cemented the town’s status as a gay mecca.
There are plenty of other activities than partying or working on a tan poolside. Aside from some of the best golf courses in the world, visitors can enjoy biking, hiking, tennis, and the increasingly popular backyard gay croquet. For architecture buffs, Palm Springs is a Mecca of the Mid-Century Modern house style. The revival of interest in this architectural style has helped fuel Palm Springs’ recent popularity among both gay and straight tourists.
Of course, there's the weather — one of the city's chief attractions. Winter months, the highs tend to stay in the 70s; spring and fall in the 80s and 90s. Summers do heat up into the hundreds, but with extremely low humidity, it is not as oppressive as it sounds. Year-round the temperature always drops at least 20 degrees at night to create a seductive and sensual mood. Average rainfall barely reaches five inches annually.
Palm Springs is home to over 20 gay guesthouses, almost all clothing optional, although most guys keep the bathing suits on during the day. The level of sexual activity is generally directly related to the cost and quality of the rooms. The less expensive, the higher the sexual temperature. Some offer day and night passes to non-guests, which makes them de facto bathhouses — but with real motel rooms and private baths. They all serve at least a continental breakfast and host a social hour in the late afternoon. With its sexually charged atmosphere, great weather, sophisticated restaurants and all the fun things to do, Palm Springs should be on every gay man’s “must visit” list.