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Tour Palm Springs mid-century modern homes

Modernism Week in Palm Springs, CA, each February (with a smaller version in October) is a celebration of the many beautiful mid-century modern homes – both old and new.

If you love architecture and design, and mid-century modern is your vibe, you’ll want to get tickets to tour these homes with fascinating, famous and secret pasts. But even if you don’t particularly love mid-century, you might be turned!

I personally wouldn’t fit out my house with mid-century furniture, for example, but seeing these homes that are all-in from colour to design, decor and inspiration, is so fabulous.

I’ve also recorded a podcast with my friend Joyce at Greater Palm Springs tourism and we chatted about hidden gems and more things to do that you might not know about!

The breeze-way connects the garage to the house

Palm Springs is about a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles, so makes for nice a day trip from LA – if you pick the day right and don’t try and return at the end of a long weekend! There are so many wonderful things to do in Palm Springs, that you’ll want to spend at least the weekend. I was here on my fourth visit.

This time I found Spa Séc-he, a most fabulous day spa built upon a natural hot spring, right in the middle of town and you can use the entire facilities for the whole day if you wish, just for booking one treatment.

And I went on a mid-century modern architecture tour with David Dixon, who runs Modernism Week and knows everything there is to know about these houses. Including who built them and who used to own them!

Because it’s the stories behind them too. Did you know Elvis Presley and Priscilla were planning on have a low-key wedding here in Palm Springs in the house below, where Elvis had been renting for about a year in 1967, when the neighbour caught wind of it. Unfortunately for the love birds, she was editor of a magazine and pretty soon the cat was out, so they borrowed another neighbour, Frank Sinatra’s, jet and flew to Las Vegas and got married there.

Elvis Presley's honeymoon house

They returned to this house for their honeymoon in the William Krisel, 1960 designed house. Inside the walls are curved with lots of glass and lined with exposed rock. It has an octagonal shaped swimming pool. It sold in 2022 for $5.65 million and is undergoing restoration.

Tour group outside Elvis Presley honeymoon house
Elvis’ honeymoon house features on the tour maps!
Palm Springs Visitor Center
Your first welcome to Palm Springs is from this former gas station, now a Visitor Center and ticket office

Pop into the Visitor Center, here at the corner of the road that leads up to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which will take up the 10,000m mountain where you’ll still see snow in early summer.

Not only is it a great example of function and design of the mid-century, but you can pick up a self-guided tour booklet to take your own driving tour of the houses I’ve photographed below – and a whole lot more.

Palm Springs Visitor Center roof
The mid-century design has been preserved as the gas pump area is now the entrance to the welcome centre for the Aerial Tramway.
Coachella Savings and Loan Bank
Coachella Savings & Loan, formerly Chase Bank, features inverted parabolic curved columns and a water feature.
Alexander House Palm Springs
The Dr. Franz Alexander House (1955), designed by architect Walter S. White.

The Alexander home (above), completed in 1955, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and features innovative construction methods (particularly the V-bent steel frame “skeleton” which makes up the structural support system), as well as the unique cambered roof, which appears to lift off from the structure’s southern façade.

Franz Alexander residence plaque
New houses are being built with more than a nod to mid-century design
Frank Sinatra's house in Palm Springs
Frank Sinatra’s house. If the gates were open you’d seen modern lines of a pergola leading to the front door.
Folded plate metal roofline house
Signature folded-plate roofline and innovative steel construction by by Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison

Visit Modernism events in Palm Springs

Each February Modernism Week (which runs for 11 days) is one to get to. It’s a celebration of midcentury modern design, architecture, art, fashion and culture in the Palm Springs area. Over 100,000 people visit each year participating in more than 350 events.

“Highlights of the festival include the Modernism Show, Signature Home Tours, films, lectures, Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tours, nightly parties, live music events, walking and bike tours, tours of Sunnylands, fashion shows, classic cars, modern garden tours, a vintage travel trailer exhibition, and more.”

Each October a similar four-day event called Modernism Week – October runs as a taster for the big February one and is also great to visit if you don’t have the time to see everything. “Mini-Modernism Week” offers some of the most popular tours from February, talks, and of course parties, highlighting midcentury and modern architecture in the Palm Springs area.

Inside mid-century modern home, Palm Springs
During Modernism Week you can take tours inside houses, like this one

Driving tour of mid-century modern homes

Any time you visit, you can take a self-driving tour (pick up a map from the Visitor’s Center at the Aerial Tramway entrance), or take a private guided tour through any time by checking this calendar of tours.

Or just drive past and admire the architecture and the desert gardens. Get inspiration for your own home or while away a couple of nosey hours!

Palm Springs mid-century modern home
The breeze block passage way adds privacy to the rooms behind
Palm Springs mid-century modern home
I had these very same breeze blocks in my room as a kid as the ends of a bookshelf! This is also a new home with modern day mid-century design elements too
Palm Springs mid-century modern home
Minimalist mid-century
Palm Springs mid-century modern home
Sleek, white, clever designs for privacy and minimalising the hot desert heat
Palm Springs mid-century modern home
A cheeky pop of colour on the mail box
Palm Springs mid-century modern home with oversized front door
Oversized front doors are feature
An original mid-century modern home. The top glass windows will be the living room
One of the few houses built up the mountains, as this is now banned in Palm Springs
Peek through the front entrance into the courtyard
Leo DeCaprio’s house, built by Donald Wexler in 1964 for Dinah Shore.

Stay in Leo DiCaprio’s house!

432 Hermosa (above) was built in 1964 for Dinah Shore and rumoured to cost Leo $5.32 million in 2014. He sometimes holidays here, but so can you!

If you have a cool $3,750 per night, you can stay here. Or if you just want to nosey (virtually) through it, it has its own website: 432 Hermosa.

What a view!
The Kaufmann Residence (architect Richard Neutra) at 470 West Vista Chino Road
Clearing away the boulders is the first part of the build in Palm Springs!

Visit the Modernism Week website to read more and buy tickets for coach tours and events during the festivals. You can also buy tickets for an architectural tour year round.

If you want to hear more about Palm Springs, click on my podcast link below where I talk to Joyce Kiehl from Greater Palm Springs about the big events and the little hidden gems to ensure you don’t miss anything.

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!