A Mid-Century Modern Trip Down Memory Lane: Orbit In, Palm Springs

By Gil Zeimer

Photo by Gil Zeimer.

I’ve been vacationing in Palm Springs since 1958.

The first three years, my family drove from San Francisco to this desert resort area during our school’s winter vacations between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Initially, we stayed in small 1950s-era hotels that only had a handful of rooms in U-shaped buildings surrounding a pool.

The Drifting Sands Lodge and Mar-Roy Manor a few blocks east of Indian Canyon Drive on what was then the edge of town are both long-gone. After that, we moved to what is now the Caliente Tropics Resort on South Palm Canyon Drive.

Some Like It Hot –– And Marilyn Certainly Did. Photo by Gil Zeimer.

Now We Love The Orbit In.
But now, we’re in love with this mid-century modern throwback resort that’s conveniently located a few blocks west of South Palm Canyon Drive. Whether you have a car in PS or not, it’s easy walking distance to the Palm Springs Art Museum and its welcoming Marilyn Monroe statue, the Village Center, as well as dozens of shops, restaurants, bars, and night spots.

Designed in 2011 by Seward Johnson, “Forever Marilyn” is 26-feet tall and weighs 34,000 pounds. It stands majestically in front of this fantastic museum, portraying the starlet in an iconic image from the 1955 Billy Wilder film, “The Seven Year Itch”.

Orbitinis in The Pool Make “Happy Hour” Even Happier. Photo by Susan Mayne.

Retro to The Nth Degree.
Our original encounter with this lovely venue was a decade ago when our friends from San Rafael, California, invited us for Happy Hour before we walked to dinner nearby.

It was a warm February evening, so the manager was blending the not-yet-world-famous Orbitini in a martini shaker with 2/3 orange juice, 1/3 cranberry juice, a few ounces of Saké (Japanese rice wine), and ice cubes. This drink was extremely refreshing then.

Our friends have been going for several years. We decided to join them this April; on their advice, we booked a week one year in advance. To our surprise, the Orbit In was full that entire week. And Manager Bill Manton, as always, catered to his guests’ whims with Orbitinis during a nightly Happy Hour. They’re just as refreshing now.

All Kinds of Amenities We Didn’t Expect.
But Happy Hour is just the beginning of the amenities. The Orbit In has a large, heated freshwater pool that’s perfect for swimming, soaking, or floating – you have a choice of  foam noodles or thick rafts –– and if you so desire, you can walk over to the hot tub that features a hearth fire. There are also free guest cruiser bikes with helmets next by the front gate.

Because of its desirable location one block from the mountains on the western edge of town, this hotel is protected from cold afternoon and evening desert winds, but you still enjoy great views and nearby hiking trails.

Every morning, the gazebo by the pool also offers fresh-brewed coffee, gourmet Keurig coffee pods, tea, granola bars, instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. Adjacent to that is a large refrigerator with complimentary bottled waters, soft drinks, fresh fruit and yogurts. Snacks are offered in the afternoon.

Still bored? Check out the movie, book, and game library, or the vintage vinyl collection in the lobby. I played chess for the first time in decades; unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the Queen’s Gambit. There was even a set of Callaway golf clubs if you’re a swinger.

What’s More Vintage: The Victrola or The Chair? Photo by Gil Zeimer.

 They’re Very Big on Staying Small.
We’ve all stayed at hotels and resorts with dozens, if not hundreds of rooms. It can ruin your vacation with too many loud people by the pool or a shortage of chairs and lounges. Here, there are only nine mid-century-themed rooms in a one-story U-shaped building because small is good.

You can choose between a queen-sized bed like we had in Bertoia’s Den, named after the designer’s famous “bird” chair, or any of the others with larger beds or more expansive rooms.

Each one features a time machine-like feeling of stepping into the past with a 1950s-style pink-tiled bathrooms, original kitschy kitchens, pool views, and private rear patios, plus updated amenities like fast free Wi-Fi, on-demand TVs, and plush robes. The crowning touch for old-timers like me was the in-room Victrola and a few 78 rpm records to play your favorite 50s and 60s Rat Pack recording artists like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Ironically, when I was a teenager and my family visited Palm Springs in the 60s, we ran into The Chairman of The Board several times at his favorite celebrity hangout called Ruby’s Dunes on North Palm Canyon. It run by his friend named Irwin “Ruby” Rubenstein. One time in particular, we were seated in the back at “Frank’s table” –– Ruby didn’t think he was coming in that night. But when Frank, Mia Farrow, Nancy Sinatra, and Robert Wagner all showed up, we were asked if we wanted to move our seats. It was not a rhetorical question! Unfortunately, Ruby’s Dunes was later sold in 1969.

What Else to Do in PS? Take a Hike! Photo by Susan Mayne.

Hiking Trails Nearby.
Because the weather was in the mid-70s to mid-80s, we drove 4.5 miles south to Indian Canyons, which offered an oasis of palm trees and a rushing creek leading up to a 3.5-mile loop of rocks, shale and sand. We ran into a few young ladies from Minnesota who exclaimed it was “prettier than Joshua Tree”. We’ll take their word for it.

The Bottom Line.
If you want a relaxing, mid-century modern hotel that’s low key, has tons of amenities, a perfect location, and outstanding service, check out the Orbit In. Book your room well in advance –– about 70% of its customers are returning guests. We’ll be back next year.

Gil Zeimer lives in Tiburon, CA. Read more at https://zeimer.com/what-i-write/travel-copywriter/

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