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The Desert Collective’s Jaime Kowal’s guide to Palm Springs

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The Vancouver native was drawn to the desert’s architecture and energy

A pool party at The Saguaro hotel.
All photos by Jaime Kowal

The People's Guide offers tours of Los Angeles neighborhoods led by loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. Have a piece to say? We'll be happy to hand over the megaphone.

With the return of Coachella this weekend, we’re turning the spotlight on Palm Springs, LA’s favorite weekend getaway and a destination for festival-goers. Our tour guide is Jaime Kowal, a talented photographer who founded The Desert Collective, a Palm Springs hospitality company that includes boutique hotels, a tiki bar, and coffee shop.

How long have you lived in Palm Springs?

Since January 2013. I was living in Vancouver. It was a big adjustment. But I came here on Christmas vacation with my family in 2012 and basically never left.

Why didn’t you leave?

It was a combination of the weather and architecture. The idea of going back to Vancouver in January was not appealing. It was also a good time to invest from a real estate and business perspective. I met my business partner on that trip, and he was telling me about all of these things that were about to happen in Palm Springs, and that’s what confirmed it. I could feel the energy here.

The bar at the The Colony Palms Hotel.

So, you bought a house. What’s your house like?

I bought The Amado and my house; they both needed major renovations. I did The Amado first, and I just finished my house last week. My sister was getting married, so I offered to throw a pool party for her, and that was my internal deadline.

It was built in 1959 in the Racquet Club Estate. It’s a classic example of Meiselman architecture: a butterfly roof, a nice big swimming pool, palm trees. I did structural things to it, but it has also been really fun to decorate it with vintage finds from all over Palm Springs.

The Amado.

What's the neighborhood housing stock like?

Palm Springs has always been much more affordable than LA or larger cities, which is one of the reasons it appealed to me. The value is there, and the architecture is really appealing. There’s probably some really good finds right now.

Local customs of note?

Cocktail hour! It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Generally when people are in Palm Springs, they’re on vacation. So a lot of the customs involve relaxing pool-side, going out for drinks, going to Coachella, Modernism Week.

Hidden gems?

Customs Coffee at Arrive Hotel serves Joshua Tree Coffee Company, which is actually roasted in Joshua Tree. Driving through Joshua Tree, the roaster is hard to see from the street, but there’s a little counter that’s open to the public. In Yucca Valley, Promise Land on Highway 62 is an amazing vintage clothing shop.

In Palm Springs, two new shops just opened that I love. One is the clothing store Elizabeth and Prince. It has amazing curated selection of clothes. And, H2O Closet Apothecary has some really nice lines. One more cool little spot for vintage clothing, The Frippery, on North Palm Canyon. It's awesome

Melvin’s. That bar is classic. It has not changed since it opened in the 1950s. There’s a dance floor and a pianist. There’s also a great bar and restaurant Le Vallauris. It has been around for 50 or 60 years, and the same maître d' has been there for decades. There’s a great outdoor patio with ficus trees and lanterns. It’s a sexy bar for champagne or cocktails.

Tell us something we don’t know about Palm Springs.

The lure of Palm Springs isn’t obvious on the surface. But as you experience The Parker ... the Avalon .... some of the restaurants ... as you open closed doors and connect with friends, you see the richness of the history of the architecture and the culture. It’s subtle.

As a local, do you welcome Coachella? How does the festival change the city?

Definitely. I’m a music-lover. I’m a musician myself. Every year I’ve lived here, I’ve gone both weekends. It’s exciting. Coachella puts a focus on Palm Springs, and people want to be part of it.

To be honest, I’ve heard other people be like, ‘Oh, Coachella? Been there, done that,’ because it has become a little scene-y. But if you’re going to see the music and see your friends, it’s great.

No city is perfect. What do you like least about the city?

We definitely need more restaurants. We have a lot, but there are only a handful that I go to regularly and recommend to my friends. We need places to grab a quick bite for lunch.

And, the heat can be pretty oppressive.

What do you like best?

It’s like a little launch pad: If you’re staying in Palm Springs, you can drive 45 minutes in every direction and be somewhere new: Idyllwild for this cooler, mountain experience; the Salton Sea; Joshua Tree, which, in my opinion, is one of the best national parks around; LA, of course.

L'Horizon Palm Springs.
Photo by Jaime Kowal
The San Jacinto Mountains.

Stereotypical residents?

Realtors. Relaxed creatives from LA with second homes. The modernism crew. The preservationists. The gay residents. There’s a very free sexuality here, which is great. We all co-exist relatively well.

Who wouldn’t be happy living here?

Someone who likes variety, a variety of entertainment and dining options or that big city vibe or energy—if you love a metropolis and the diversity of that and the expanse of options available to you at any time. People who are burnt out on LA end up here.

Most common sight?

Beautifully designed hotels, people tooling around on bikes. As a photographer, I see in still images, and the image of the classic car driving in front of a beautiful A-frame with the sun setting behind the mountains ... That actually happens.

Final word?

Don’t forget your swimsuit.