Sara Bruce spends 48 hours in Palm Springs, the modernist 60s desert town in California.

I'm obsessive about vintage but I don't usually warm to kitschy Americana, it's not my style. I'd just spent a week in Colorado getting upset by bad coffee, the taste of grain-fed dairy products and the use of too much brown in hotel interiors. With low expectations, my two days in Palm Springs on the way back home were a surprising and seductive breath of (warm desert) air.

Here's why.

The hotel

When your husband books somewhere like this without consultation, you've married well. Holiday House Palm Springs (holidayhouseps.com) was like stepping into a Jonathan Adler scene, all blues and whites, colourful, witty art-filled walls and gorgeous design-y art books everywhere. The icy welcome rosé clinched it.

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Our room had a cute kitchenette with boutique gin and salty popcorn in the cane mini-barcart. There were curated books beside the bed that I actually wanted to read. The bathroom was a big black and white penny-tiled New York delight. The toiletries (Malin + Goetz) all made it safely back to New Zealand.

Ideally, you'll be cool, gay and preppy in a Fred Perry-ish way when you roll up to the all-inclusive breakfast served near the pool — granola, thick Greek yoghurt, blueberries and boiled eggs. No greasy hash browns, spongy toast and bad coffee here — yay!

Holiday House Hotel, Palm Springs.
Holiday House Hotel, Palm Springs.

The shops

With only two days in town, time was tight. We skipped the Palm Springs Art Museum and the three-hour guided architectural tour in a van. "We can always come back," reasoned Richard as he eyed up the pool and pulled out his Jack Reacher heavyweight.

Vintage is my thing and I could literally spend days fossicking around shops. And that's pretty much what I did, stopping only to refuel with rum cocktails at the dark and moody Bootlegger Tiki bar, limit two (a strong indication of potency).

Richard's stamina ran out after the Sunny Dunes Antique Mall and the Antique Gallery of Palm Springs, where we bought a 60s yellow plastic ice bucket and a classic Thunderbirds toy in perfect condition for our 5-year-old — the one thing he'd asked for from America.

I trucked on. At A La Mod, you couldn't buy a piece of furniture or an "objet" for less than US$2000 but it was amazing to browse.

Art Deco sofas and bar stools sat beside lucite coffee tables and nickel Italian bar carts. These pieces were movie-star special.

Further down the main drag I agonised over colourful china parrots, leather medicine balls and Charles and Diana engagement plates (my tastes do run to eclectic).

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Three hours later I was still inspecting American pottery, vintage wooden dumbbells and mid-century teak champagne buckets.

For vintage clothes, The Frippery was the most upscale — picture brightly patterned 70s kaftans and statement jewellery perfect for wearing poolside while holding a martini. Not quite ideal for my own Auckland lifestyle but fun to look. I love vintage and antique jewellery and I happily tried on a cabouchon pink sapphire and diamond ring (US$11,500) at the aptly named Diamonds and Dreams and Judith Handler acrylic earrings and bracelets at Route 66 — the renowned home of Bakelite in Palm Springs. The passionate, slightly terrifying owner was too much even for me and I left empty-handed. Even I'm not that intense about clip-on earrings.

The vibe

Rescuing Richard from the pool, we headed to Birba for a contemporary Italian and buzzy dinner — I've never met a charred cauliflower with capers and parmesan I didn't like.

Ditto the lobster ravioli and lemon polenta cake.

Birba's definitely not running with the retro American diner theme but that's quite refreshing. As was our lunch the next day at the Purple Palm in the Colony Palms Hotel, where we sat overlooking the pool scene (a gold-medallioned 20-something resplendent in leopard skintight bathing trunks and some 60-year-olds with big lips sipping chardonnay).

Just driving around Palm Springs was a visual feast in itself. Obviously, it's an ode to American mid-century modernism. I was in raptures over the striking lines of the Chase Bank designed in 1961 — I don't get nearly so excited by my local ANZ branch at Three Lamps.

The seemingly endless retro roadside diners were so enticing. Every hotel was a single or double-storey renovated 60s gem.

The Desert Riviera, the Sunset Grill, the Avalon, Norma's — I loved all the names and the minty, peachy colours.

We also managed to fit in a visit to the Parker, the swankiest hotel in Palm Springs. The grounds are lush palms and vibrant flowers and the interiors an eclectic dream — a large purple resin foot on a coffee table and a green marble and brass art deco bar for starters.

We left the next morning to drive to LA to catch our flight home with much unfinished business.

I'll be returning for the art gallery and to upskill properly on Modernist architecture. I never made it to the Ace Hotel, and its very hip, contemporary take on a roadside diner.

Sherman's Deli also looked fabulous — although I'm not sure anyone needs an eight-egg omelette.

The hook

Finally, an unexpected jewel in the Palm Springs crown — a bespoke gin-making course I stumbled on where I could create my own completely unique blend of botanicals and design my own personal label for the bottle. Bespoke gin and maybe even donning a flowing 70s dress and heading to Coachella in April? Palm Springs: I'm sold.

Sara Bruce is the founder of My Exhibition, an Auckland online vintage interiors shop.

Holiday House Hotel, Palm Springs.
Holiday House Hotel, Palm Springs.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand

flies from Auckland to LA, with one-way Economy Class fares from $939.

DETAILS
visitpalmsprings.co.nz