Palm Springs’ pool culture remains an inviting oasis

  • Fri Feb 10th, 2012 12:38pm
  • Life

By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer

It doesn’t take a week of snow and ice to make swimming pools in Palm Springs sound inviting.

The bad weather doesn’t hurt, though.

Even in the winter, Palm Springs, the Southern California desert getaway, promises clear, sunny skies, warm days and the ubiquitous backyard swimming pool.

Any visit to Palm Springs, or the neighboring cities that dot the Coachella Valley with golf courses, tennis courts and, yes, swimming pools, should include some poolside downtime.

A new exhibit, “Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography, 1945-1982,” on display through May 27 at the Palm Springs Art Museum is a way to soak in the water without getting wet.

The exhibit invites viewers to dive in to more than 140 photos taken by some of the most important artistic photographers in the post World War II era, including Slim Aarons, David Hockney, Herb Ritts, Edward Ruscha and Julius Shulman.

“It was an easy idea to use the swimming pool as the symbol of modern culture in Southern California,” said Bob Bogard, a spokesman for the museum. “At one point, Palm Springs — due to its climate and late ’50s-early ’60s housing boom — had the largest collection of private swimming pools in the world, so it seemed appropriate to use the idea of the pool as a metaphor for the overall development of Southern California culture.”

The exhibit is organized around themes: California Architecture and Design, Hollywood and Celebrity Culture, Suburban Life, Bodies of Desire and Conceptual Interventions.

In many ways, the collection reflects the best of Palm Springs itself.

The city, a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, had its heyday in the 1950s and still evokes that period. While no longer the winter destination for Hollywood’s elite, Palm Springs remains a city steeped in glamour and midcentury design.

Many of the homes have fabulous architecture, the allure of Hollywood still permeates the scene and golden, tanned bodies often are on display along the city’s shopping streets.

Nonstop flights from Seattle to Palm Springs make it easy to get there, and the weather offers relief from winter rains.

Beyond the swimming pools, tennis courts and golf courses, there are terrific hiking trails in the Indian Canyons, a preserve run by the Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Rent bikes and take routes to look at former homes of movie stars or follow the labyrinth of bike paths that wind through golf courses, the desert mountains providing a dramatic backdrop.

Palm Springs isn’t exactly a culinary destination, but there are a few restaurants worth checking out.

Cheeky’s has terrific breakfast and lunch specials. Try their bacon flight, a sample of four different cured slices of pig.

Down the street in the center of Palm Spring’s shopping district is Tyler’s Burgers. It took 90 minutes to be seated and for food to finally arrive. Was it worth it for a $7.25 turkey burger? You bet.

However you spend your time, save an hour or two to visit the Palm Springs Art Museum to see “Backyard Oasis.”

“Some people will come to it just to see the fantastic images of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Rock Hudson or Richard Gere lounging poolside,” Bogard said. “There is something for everyone and anyone viewing the exhibition will come away enriched and enlightened.”

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;

If you go

Palm Springs Art Museum: 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs.

Admission ranges from $5 to $12.50. It’s closed on Mondays and free on Thursdays. For more information, go to or call 760-322-4800.

Indian Canyons: Head south on S. Palm Canyon Drive to reach the gate. Admission is $5 to $9. The Indian Canyons is open daily from October to June and Fridays through Sundays July to September. For more information, go to or call 760-323-6018.

Cheeky’s: 622 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-327-7595,

Tyler’s Burgers: 149 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. 760-325-2990,