Poolside in Palm Springs

Carouse and cavort in one of California's hottest winter playgrounds.
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At 2 p.m. on a winter weekend, it's the hottest place to be in California.

The pool scene of Palm Springs comes alive with hip Los Angeles exports attempting to regain their summer bronze amongst the shade of swaying palms and the background of the San Jaciento Mountains. Starlet-wannabes strut their stuff in Marc Jacobs bikinis as board-shorts-wearing guys watch on with margaritas in hand.

Halfway between a 30-something frat scene and truly jetset destination, Palm Springs is awakening with a fresh new level of luxury including designer hotels and be-seen restaurants.

Get Outdoors

With the exception of a round of tennis or morning of golf, the city is best enjoyed at a choosy pool equipped with a full bar and loungers topped with eye candy.

Architecture enthusiasts should tour the local neighborhoods near Palm Canyon Drive, dotted with preserved residential wonders from architects Neutra, Shindler and Lautner. Try to avoid spending too much time on the main thoroughfares, which are infested with terrible strip-mall architecture and sprawling chain resorts.

Those looking for something a bit more strenuous should hit the nearby Tahquitz "Indian" Canyons (500 W. Mesquite Drive, Palm Springs), a real-life desert oasis with flowing streams and spectacular desert topography.

Jonathan Adler vs. Kelly Wearstler

There are only two hotels we can truly recommend. In one corner we have The Parker Palm Springs (Merv Griffin's former Givenchy Resort) redesigned by pottery doyen Jonathan Adler. The property promises glitz and glamour, and even delivered a short-lived reality show about the staff's efforts to please picky guests.

If you can afford an upgraded room, hit the Parker's sprawling villas, which contain well-quaffed terraces and living room swings that were even good enough for Brangelina.

In the other corner is Kelly Wearstler's desert oasis known as the Viceroy Palm Springs. It's a stylish, decadent motel-cum-bungalow resort perfectly situated near downtown Palm Springs.

If you're an average weekender and booking a standard guest room, the Viceroy will give you the most fabulousness for your funds and won't stick you in a remote '70s building propped up on trendy design and a party philosophy.

Their PSYC (Palm Springs Yacht Club) is the best spa in town, with separate clothing-optional pools for men and women. For a truly luxury resort, travelers will have to wait for the Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage, which is set to reopen in early 2008.

Got Shopping?

With a shuttered '80s mall on Palm Canyon Drive and redundant T-shirt shops, shopping is virtually nonexistent in Palm Springs. For those looking for the desert version of Rodeo Drive, hit the posh El Paseo walking mall in Palm Desert, which offers semi-upscale boutiques and a desert branch of Saks Fifth Avenue.

A 10-minute drive in the other direction is the Cabazon Outlets, just west of Palm Springs, which features North America's best collection of designer outlets including Fendi, Bottega Venneta and YSL.

Great Greens

Unless your NetJets rep or Goldman broker lands you a tee time at The Quarry in La Quinta or Big Horn in Palm Desert, you'll likely be playing on one of Palm Springs' ever-packed public or semi-private courses. Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert features two beautiful public courses designed by Michael Hurdzan, Dana Frye and John Cook.

Firecliff was our favorite of the two, featuring numerous large water features amongst a red desert landscape with more than 100 bunkers.

For something a little closer and a bit more challenging, try Westin's Mission Hills Course. The Pete Dye-designed course boasts signature railroad ties, pot bunkers, elevated tees and hidden pin placements.

Desert Dining

After a day on the golf course or by the swimming pool, weekenders are inevitably ready for a hip meal outside of their chosen resort. Spencer's, located in the posh Racquet Club enclave of Palm Springs, is best described as "be-seen eatery meets country club dining," and offers the hottest dining scene in the desert. A mixture of former First Ladies and dressed-up Hollywood types carouse through a lava-rock dining room and stunning patio at the foot of the San Jaciento Mountains.

For something a bit more grown-up, locals hit chef Bernard Dervieux's Cuistot in Palm Desert for a virtuous French menu and haute dining room. A bit further out is Azur Restaurant, the former Eric Ripert kitchen now under new management but still offering a consistent seafood tasting menu at the La Quinta Resort.

Party Time

If you drive the streets of Palm Springs after 11 p.m. you'll inevitably find nightlife, but mostly in the city's gay area and inside the sprawling Spa Casino Resort. For something a bit more refined, hit the Viceroy's Citron with its poolside bar and seductive fire-pit popular with professional singles. The in-crowd invades around happy hour and doesn't succumb until well after midnight.

For something even wilder, the legendary lobby lounge at The Parker Palm Springs attracts a diverse society crowd that overflows onto the resort grounds around midnight with a lively mix of house DJs and locals looking to party 'til 3 a.m.

Michael Martin is managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.