We were getting the winter blahs in Los Angeles and decided to take a trip out to the desert. Time to get some dry heat and pool time. Off we went past the crowded cities, busy freeways and out to the wide-open desert. We knew we were getting close when we saw the windmills. That is one landmark everyone recognizes. So after arriving, unpacking and getting into the desert vibe, we went exploring–looking for some Paris in Palm Springs.
Time For Some Sun!
Palm Springs, with is 350 days of sunshine a year, has always been a getaway for Southern Californians. It was also a hangout for the Hollywood set. Palm Springs had the good fortune of being as far away from Los Angeles as actors could go. The former Hollywood contract system required actors to be no further than two hours away in case they were needed.
Hollywood stars hired the most visionary architects of the times to design their modern Palm Springs homes that embraced the desert environment. Their creations were suited to the desert climate, using lots of glass, clean lines and innovative materials to create indoor/outdoor living space. It continues to attract A-list stars even today, including Leo DiCaprio, Robert Downy Jr and Brad Pitt. Even former President Obama is rumored to have bought a home here.
These days Palm Springs is world renowned for its mid-century architecture. In fact Palm Springs Modernism Week draws people from around the world each year. Palm Springs has one of the largest collections of mid-century homes and commercial buildings anywhere.
Architects like John Lautner, Richard Neutra and Albert Frey all built some of their best-known works in the city. Photographer Julius Schulman also helped shape the image of the Southern Californian lifestyle during the 1950s and 1960s.
Another California Modernist is Donald Wexler who built the The Steel Houses. Steel was economical then and Wexler thought it to be the perfect building material for desert housing. It stood tough against the heat, wind and sun of the desert. The first three of the seven built houses were started in 1961 and opened to the public in 1962. He planned a subdivision of 28 prefab glass and steel houses for Palm Springs, but with the sudden skyrocketing price of steel, only seven were completed. The houses were rediscovered in the early 1990s and today the have been restored to their original appearance–perfect example of what is called “desert modernism”.
Driving in, we came across one of the first mid-century structures in Palm Springs. It was designed to be the first Palm Springs building people would see on their way into town. It was originally an Enco gas station, designed by architects Albert Frey and Robson C. Chambers. Its distinctive cantilevered wedge-shaped canopy is hard to miss, and is another prime example of modernist architecture. It is now the Palm Springs Visitor Center and is called the Tramway Gas Station because it is just down the hill from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which Frey also designed.
Paris in Palm Springs
After all of the sight seeing and shopping, it was time for a snack, but where should we go? Believe it or not, there are several choices that will make you feel you are back in France! One of our first stops was at the L’Atelier Deli in La Plaza Shopping area downtown Palm Springs.
Charlotte and Raphael Farsy came to Palm Springs from Paris for their honeymoon on March 2012 for the first time. They loved Palm Springs so much that they decided to stay forever! Charlotte, interviewed earlier for Palm Springs Magazine, said, “The weather, the mountains, the downtown and very friendly people here gave us the idea to open a French bakery/deli.”
Raphael is a pastry chef who began creating delicious pastries in his bakery in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. He decided to bring some of his best recipes to delight the California palate. Raphael and Charlotte work together on new recipes every day, trying to surprise and please their customers.
They are both united by a common love of food and a desire to let guests experience the ambiance and energy of the bistros they’ve enjoyed throughout France. The Farsays aspire to create a more relaxed, casual setting where everyone feels at home, with a large selection of French home baked specialties.
Watch The Episode
Finding France in Palm Springs
But now we wanted to take something back with us to our hotel. Wandering around a little further down the street, we really did find a little bit of France in Palm Springs. We were so taken that this is what you will see in our Finding France video segment.
They bake everything from scratch, including a variety of French breads. Not only that, but they import all their flour from France! Tres bien. One of their specialties is kouign-amann a crust cake from Brittany. But it is really hard to choose a favorite among all their delicious treats. This is certainly a great experience and one we would recommend.
Co-owner, Helene Meyer, opened Peninsula Pastries in Palm Springs at the end of October 2014, with husband and pastry chef/baker, Christophe. Owners Helene and Christophe Meyer, expats from Paris, moved to Palm Springs to start a new venture and open their first business, Peninsula Pastries. “Why Palm Springs? Because this is a really small town with fantastic weather, really friendly people and there is really no bakery like our bakery, “ says Helene.
And if you are about to go to France, stop in and practice your French with Helene!
Find France for Yourself
611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Ste. 1,
Palm Springs, 760-832-6486
129 La Plaza,
Palm Springs, 951-764-5627
Wexler Steel Houses
North Sunnyview Drive at East Simms Road
Palms Springs, CA 92262