If Palm Springs was good enough for Doisneau, it is good enough for me!

If Palm Springs was good enough for Doisneau, it is good enough for me!

In 1960, iconic French photographer Robert Doisneau came to Palm Springs on a mission… The famed artist, best known for his black and white portraits of Parisian street scenes, arrived in the California desert and shot away, capturing the essence of a unique city, created from scratch in the middle of the Colorado Desert, at the base of the magnificent San Jacinto mountains. 

Palm Springs. 350 days of sunshine a year (that’s fewer than 15 days of rainfall for all of you math-challenged folks out there!) The international jetset’s and the Stars’ playground since the 1940s. A golf mecca. Palm Springs: A historical and ecological wonder. 

One can only imagine the culture shock Doisneau experienced when he discovered Palm Springs, leaving behind la grisaille (the grey skies) of Paris, and still depressed, post-war France. He took hundreds of color photographs for Fortune Magazine. Only a handful were eventually selected by the publication… until a few years ago, when the rest of the collection was discovered and published by Flammarion

His take on the desert belle was at times humorous, ironic, or poignant. His fascination with Palm Springs’ colors, obvious. Blue (the sky! the swimming pools!) Green (the sprawling golf courses!) Red (the glorious sunsets!) 

Doisneau was likely fascinated with the wealthy residents; the silver-haired retirees; the glamorous Hollywood stars; the fur coats worn at parties in air-conditioned houses while summer temps exceeded 100F outside; the ubiquitous swimming pools lying peacefully in the blazing sun…



As a long time fan of the California coast, I have only ventured inland on a few occasions, and drove through Palm Springs once. As I recall, it poured during that first trip, so many years ago. All I remembered were long, straight streets, bordered by strip malls; many cars; and giant wind turbines sprawling outside the city limits. 

So when mid-winter break came last month, and friends invited us to join them on their annual trip to the California desert, Junior and I replied “Pourquoi pas?” then booked our flights.

I will be honest. I did not think I would like Palm Springs. Too artificial. Too glitzy. Too car-oriented for this enthusiastic walker. But 350 days of sunshine a year is a tempting proposition when one lives in the Pacific Northwest. 

I was wrong about Palm Springs.

The desert belle was good enough for Robert Doisneau, and it was good enough for me.

My favorite section (and the most walkable:)  downtown Palm Springs, and its cheerful streets lined with boutiques, restaurants and palm trees. I even met an old friend there and could not get enough of her!


While mom is window shopping, the budding photographer gets his fill of collectible cars

Oh la la! This is even better than watching “Top Gear!”

The Village…
It does not take long to figure out where Palm Springs got its name…
Norma Jean, and a gorgeous backdrop
“Forever Marilyn:” a 26-foot tall statue by J. Seward Johnson

Eating outside and watching the world go by on popular Palm Canyon Drive quickly became a favorite thing to do for Junior and Maman. It probably was no coincidence that the first restaurant we located was European “Pommes Frites…” 

I felt I was back in Belgium where I spent many happy weekends with my family as I was growing up in Lille, France…



Moules Marinières – Frites, bien sûr!

When in Rome, do as the Romans do… We did not forget to enjoy California delicacies…




Shopping was not too shabby either. In an all American city like Palm Springs, shopping is available almost around the clock. Forget le lèche-vitrine (window-licking:) Most shops are tucked away on both sides of busy avenues, in strip malls of various sizes, accessible only by car. A notable exception: the local Rodeo Drive, known as “El Paseo…” Elegant, exclusive, walkable… a feast for the eyes… hurtful to the wallet…  In short, incontournable (a must-see.) 

Chi-chi pooches on El Paseo…
Everything looks a little bit cooler on El Paseo:
“J. Crew in the Desert…”

It has only been a few weeks since we returned to the lush and glistening Pacific Northwest, and as I look back on our short trip, I realize it is not the glitz and glamour of Palm Springs I remember fondly; the Rat Pack; Frank Sinatra Drive; Elvis’ honeymoon hideaway; or even the old Plaza Theater… The most amazing part of the desert city is not in Palm Springs, but around it. 

Quel cadre exceptionnel! What an exceptional environment! As we found out, there is a lot more to do in Palm Springs than shopping or playing golf: Nature is the real star there. From the desert to snow capped mountains; from expansive native California palm groves; Palm Springs is surrounded by dramatic landscapes. 





For history buffs, the story of the native Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians – the original settlers – is fascinating. Junior and I were lucky enough to hike in the Indian Canyons, on  the reservation grounds. Treading carefully on steep trails in the middle of a lush palm grove one minute; we would often end up climbing on a windy plateau in quasi-lunar landscape a few moments later. We had found it: Le grand ouest américain! (the American far west.) 

This was rollicking good fun for Junior and maman. A time to just be together and enjoy the moment, away from house chores; homework; and car pools… As I watched him snap away, I thought: “Old Robert Doisneau would be happy: a new generation has stepped up!

 I would not have been surprised to see John Wayne show up on his horse…


I know we will be back. Seattle is so far away from just about everywhere… but flying to Palm Springs only takes a couple of hours. Quelle chance! What a treat!

A bientôt, Palm Springs:  Stay eclectic. Stay sunny and warm. Stay cool!

Only in Palm Springs do they seem to blend in:
Les Eoliennes (wind turbines) 




All photos except Doisneau series by French Girl in Seattle.




46 Responses to If Palm Springs was good enough for Doisneau, it is good enough for me!

  1. OK Veronique – now that’s a post RIGHT up my alley. Our last home in the US before moving back to Europe was in Palm Springs. I always wanted to live there for a year or two in a mid century modern pool home. We did it and thoroughly enjoyed our two years living a boyhood dream there (I could do without the hottest 3 summer months but the pool was a life saver then)!
    Guess what – we ate at Pomme Frite many times, we loved it and our house was only a mile away.
    Did you eat at Wangs in the Desert is PS? If not, go next time. It’s on Indian Canyon drive. They serve modern fusion Chinese – the food is brilliant, it’s quite reasonable and the place is uber cool (just like you guys)!
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane – now I’m all nostalgic.

    • Now that is an interesting coincidence… Two years in Palm Springs would be quite a unique experience for two Europeans! So funny you used to eat chez Pomme Frite too! The other place is definitely on my “must-see” list for next year. It is the perfect escape out of Seattle during Monsoon season 🙂 Thank you for stopping by, Craig.

  2. J’adore le grain spécial qu’avaient les photos dans les années 60. Et Doisneau avait ce don d’observation qui lui faisait sortir de n’importe quel endroit l’âme du lieu, saisir ce qui en faisait l’esprit , l’essence.
    Vu mon aversion pour la chaleur, Palm springs ne serait pas mon 1er choix de villegiature, mais ça doit neanmoins être typique d’une certaine Amerique, comme le sont certains endroits mythiques.
    Je trouve surprenante la façon dont sont taillés les palmiers.Et si ton fils est autant fan de belles voitures , c’est à Monaco qu’il faudra l’emmener pour qu’il trouve son compte de Ferraris et de Porsches Cayenne.. :o)
    A bientôt et grosses bises!

    • Bonjour Madame la Niçoise. Ravie de te revoir ici. Très bien dit (écrit!) au sujet du grand Doisneau. Le livre en question vaut le détour si tu peux le trouver quelque part…

      Un habitant local m’a confié que le temps à Palm Springs est parfait “neuf mois sur douze…” – “Ah, ai-je répondu, l’inverse de Seattle, alors…” 🙂 En fait tu t’y plairais beaucoup, à condition d’éviter l’été, comme moi d’ailleurs.

      Les palmiers sont incroyables. Palm Springs détient le record du plus grand nombre de palmiers californiens des Etats-Unis. Ils sont absolument magnifiques. Des géants…

      Pour Monaco, c’est prévu 🙂 A bientôt!

  3. Oh this was lovely. Vero, there is a crazy mistral blowing outside (130 km/hr!!) and it felt so good to be swept away! And I love that your son enjoys photography so much–I can see that he is really looking to find his shot–bravo!

    • Bonjour Heather. The crazy Mistral has nothing on the wind that almost blew us away the morning we hiked in the desert. You can tell Junior’s hair was all ruffled on the last picture! 🙂 The Palm Springs wind, of course, was a lot warmer. I will pass on your comments to the budding photographer. He cracks me up. I’d be walking along the trail, and then realized he had stopped. I’d walk back and find him lying flat on his belly, capturing a shot of the nearby creek… 🙂

  4. What a fun getaway for the 2 of you..the main actually looks like it could be several little places in Florida..Venice for one:)..
    Susan..a great longtime blogging friend of mine just returned also..
    What a golfer’s paradise too..
    Your son ..is adorable..don’t use that word when you tell him I thought so though:)

    Handsome..let’s say handsome:)

    • Merci Nana. Handsome that boy is… He just does not know it yet, and does not believe me when I tell him because “I am his mom, and of course, i have to say kind things about him!” 🙂 Yes, there are similarities between downtown Palm Springs and other American sunny locales. Yet, it is not common to go shopping on a palm tree-lined street, look right or left and see such majestic mountains nearby. Absolutely breathtaking. Thank you for stopping by!

  5. Bonjour! Love Palm Springs and especially enjoyed learning about Doisneau. Made me ready to hop a plane and head south. Now that you are back in the glistening Northwest shall we try for a coffee date one day in the next few weeks?
    Jackie

  6. Never been, although have visited the area. A good time of year to visit I would thhink, before the desert temperatures get too extreme. Beautiful photos Veronique!

    • Welcome back, Liene. A good time of year indeed. It was almost “chilly” the last two days when temperatures barely reached the mid-60s. Of course, coming from Seattle in the middle of February, we were still happy to get sun and blue skies, even if we needed a light jacket in the day time 🙂 Bon weekend!

  7. Eh bien ma chère Véro, I think Doisneau has nothing on you. I would stack your photos up next to his any day of the week. Has Flammarion contacted you yet???

    I must agree with Malyss when it comes to “la chaleur. J’en ai horreur.”

    I notice that Junior is a “Top Gear” fan. I am a mega-fan of the show….wouldn’t miss it. It’s one of my weekly pleasures. I introduced Dan to my favorite TV trio, Jeremy, Richard and James, and he has become a huge fan, as well.

    BTW, we will be out your way this summer. Would love to get together, si c’est possible.

    Bizzzzz, M-T

    • Spoken as a true friend, M-T. Thank you, but really, my modest snapshots can’t possibly be put “dans le même panier” as the great Robert Doisneau’s collection. Still, I believe it is impossible to take a bad landscape shot in that incroyable part of the country – even more impossible if one uses the extraordinaire Lumix LX5, my faithful sidekick 🙂

      Top Gear does grow on you even if you don’t really like cars, doesn’t it? Junior tapes all their shows, and we watch them together several times a week. I do adore the three (very British) hosts. They make me laugh out loud. We each have our favorite and argue over who is right and wrong 🙂

      Would love to see you and Dan this summer. Send me a note and tell me when you will around my neck of the woods, ok?

    • Thank you Suzanne. It must be such fun for Los Angelinos to take off and spend a weekend there! Each big city has a similar “refuge.” As a former Parisian, i remember visiting the Normandy coast on a regular basis. Of course, the weather was not any better there than in Paris, but at least we got a lot of fresh air in the resort towns of Deauville and Trouville…

  8. I’ve never been to Palm String (yet!) and to be honest, it’s never been high on my list. But I might now reconsider it, because of your article (and also Doisneau’s pictures).

    Bee.

    • Thank you Bee. Take a closer look at the Doisneau book. I got mine at the local library. Well worth it. Things have changed a bit since (at least some…) but the magnificent scenery remains… I would not stay there for a month, but a great place to visit over a long weekend at least.

    • I will, always been a Doisneau fan (difficult not to be). Thanks for all these little snapshots of French (and not so French) culture. Sometimes I think I should ask my husband to read your blog (he is American and I’m French), he might get a better feeling of where I come from 😀

  9. Doisneau’s images are wonderful – an example of “a picture speaks a thousand words. I still think that I couldn’t be enticed to Palm Springs but the surrounding areas in the dessert look fantastic. Bisous.

  10. Your photos make me want to book a flight. I’ve never been to Palm Springs. Thanks for sharing another excellent “travel review. ‘-)
    Happy Spring to you! ~ Sarah

  11. Super post Veronique, lovely to see the Doiseau images ofvPalm Springs, ‘like chalk and cheese’ compared to his Paris shots..I’ve really enjoyed seeing PS through your eyes, the surrounding desert is spectacularly beautiful. I must admit though when I do muster up enough couage to board a plane it would still definitely be Paris, our summers are so hot here in Perth I could never go somewhere even hotter for a holiday. marvelous to see your son enjoyng photography so much, my daughter Aimee and I go often together taking photos, very speial times shared. Happy weekend…

    • Bonjour Grace, and thank you for your visit. Palm Springs may seem out of the way, but I am grateful it is so close to Seattle! Otherwise, like you, I’d probably fly to Paris first. :- )

      I see you and Aimee enjoy “shooting” together. I do not consider myself a skilled photographer and use an advanced compact camera, but I see skills in Junior, who learned with his father. And that is how it should be…

    • That is great news Janey. Will it be your first visit there? I hope you have a lot of fun, and hopefully, summer temps will have started going down by then… My understanding is that life gets really tricky in the desert June-August. At least air conditioning is everywhere…

  12. There is something wonderful about a sun break in the middle of the gray season! We visited back when I was 7 months pregnant with #4 and enjoyed walking in the sunshine and simply lounging by our cute motel’s pool. It is a great spot to go as it isn’t terribly far and has so much character. Thanks for the reminder~
    (I don’t seem to be able to sign in as name/url- any idea why not?)
    K.

    • Hello Kim. You’re right, Palm Springs is not far at all– and definitely has character!

      Sorry you had some problems leaving a comment. I noticed there was a duplicate one, so I am guessing good old Blogger worked in the end…

  13. I love this post. One of my dreams is to visit Palm Springs some day, because of all the old-Hollywood history behind it and the cool hotels and whatnot. It’s nice to know it’s definitely worth a trip!

  14. Wow French Girl! You went to a desert – who knew! You really captured the place. I’ve been but I never had the chance to try Pomme Frite! Tres jealouse! I love the oldy photos. I like how you described the richies in their fur coats.. meanwhile it’s 100 degrees outside.LOL Crank up the A/C. I bet Vegas was some what like that too. This post is very sunny. Liked it a lot. xo

    • Merci Sandy. I did not really describe the old richies: Doisneau did, with his lense. How good was he?! You’re right, a very sunny post. A Seattleite (real or imported) has got to do what a Seattleite’s got to do to survive the winter. 🙂

  15. I am not sure that Doisneau would recognize much of the Palm Springs you saw. Most of the stars and money have migrated up the valley to Palm Dessert and Rancho Mirage. Palm Springs is trying to revitalize itself but it’s struggling. I have spent quite a bit of time there helping some friends with a senior housing project they are doing on Palm Canyon.

    • Good for you, Michel. I can tell you know the area very well.

      We stayed in Palm Desert. With the exception of the beautiful shopping district, I did not find it that special. As you could be expected, this French Girl preferred “the old Palm Springs…” — I hope the downtown part bounces back fast.

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