Lovers of old Hollywood are drawn to Sinatra's playground, writes Laura Ivill

"Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away," sings Frank Sinatra on the speakers of my red open-top Jeep as I zip along the highway to one of his desert homes.

Ol' Blue Eyes was born in the rough end of New Jersey but it was in his playground of Palm Springs, 170km east of Los Angeles, he lived the life envied by millions around the world.

It's still a playground — golf, tennis, horse riding, hiking in the mountains, cocktails and pool parties. But it's also a global hotspot for lovers of the golden age of Hollywood.

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At the western end of the Coachella Valley, protected on all sides by mountain ranges soaring from the desert floor to 3300m, the city claims 350 days of sunshine a year. Native palms spring from the vast natural reservoir beneath the dust, and the drive into the ultra-low-rise city feels like a journey back in time.

Tour guide Bob Gross shares anecdotes about Sinatra's life in the desert as we tour the neighbourhood where he lived, Vista Las Palmas on — yes, Frank Sinatra Drive.

Twin Palms, Frank's first desert home, is an architectural peach. The story goes that in May 1947, Frank wanted a house as a badge of his arrival. Twin Palms, with its piano-shaped pool (rent it at sinatrahouse.com), was ready for his wife, Nancy, and their three children to move into that Christmas.

His reputation as a drinker, womaniser and a gambler, prone to violent outbursts when drunk and with connections to The Mob, which he always denied, only added to his appeal.

He was also extremely generous. At one of his favourite hangouts, Melvyn's at the Ingleside Inn, the maitre d' tells me he liked to sit in a booth by the kitchen (he was as fussy about his food as he was about his cleanliness) and would pop back-of-house to hand out $100 bills to staff.

I go for lunch and order a fresh crab and avo salad in the shape of a wide-mouthed frog.

After its mid-20th century heyday, Palm Springs lost ground as its stars migrated to other cities. In the past decade, however, the area has shaken off its "golf and retirees" reputation.

Cool, laid-back boutique hotels have opened, and recreated the pool-party vibe.

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Historic buildings have been saved from the bulldozer and are being given a new lease of life; downtown is buzzing and uptown, once deserted, is now the Uptown Design District of boutiques.

Take the aerial tramway or hike into the mountains for the views, go horse riding in the desert, visit the splendour of Sunnylands Centre & Gardens, and enjoy Italian dishes at Johnny Costa's, run by Frank's personal chef.

Or just hang out by the pool, as Frank did.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Palm Springs is a two-hour drive from Los Angeles.

Further information: See visitpalmsprings.com.

- AAP