Destination 2016: Palm Springs

This summer’s millennial look was probably sealed when model Kendall Jenner wore a sheer bra top and choker necklace to the Bootsy Bellows party at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival this spring. More than 2 million people “liked” one of her Instagram shots from the event, then celebrity media outlets pushed her sun-kissed selfie out to the rest of the world. If you see her style recreated at pools, beaches or nightclubs in the coming weeks, remember—it all began in Palm Springs.

For two weekends in April, throngs of young people descend on greater Palm Springs—a term that refers to the nine closely connected cities in the area, including Palm Springs—to attend what has become the largest music event in the world. In 2015, Coachella grossed $84.3 million over six days, with an average of just under 100,000 attendees per weekend. The 2016 festival crowds, about half of concertgoers under 35 years of age, had an estimated economic impact of roughly $704 million on the area. “It is an iconic event that’s really influenced fashion and culture,” says Scott White, who lived in the Coachella Valley from 1988 to 1996 and returned to become president and CEO of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2010.

Local governments are courting young professionals and luxury brands to create a cosmopolitan environment.
With numerous museums and more than 200 winter and spring festivals, greater Palm Springs is a cultural hub.
Relatively cheap real estate, balmy winters and springs, and access to nature make this an attractive place to live.
[two_third]But Coachella isn’t the only youth-focused event in the area. More than 450,000 people attended the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in nearby Indian Wells, Calif., in March, and more than 210,000 tickets were sold to country music fans for the Stagecoach Festival in the last weekend of April. “We have over 200 events that happen between January and April now,” says White. “They have changed the landscape of the destination.”

There’s another way to put it: Palm Springs is getting young again.

Wealth has been a constant in the Coachella Valley for nearly a century, but by about 2000, the desert oasis was generally considered a home for the elderly. The region developed in the early 1900s as a sort of medical tourism destination, a retreat prescribed to sufferers of respiratory conditions that doctors believed would improve in the area’s dry heat. Hollywood stars glamorized Palm Springs in the 1920s and the decades following, making it a place to see and be seen. Ralph Bellamy, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope all had homes here, though none of them, even in their prime, were really pictures of youth. In the ‘60s, the low cost of travel to greater Palm Springs made it a popular spring break destination even as its Hollywood cachet faded and businesses closed down as a result. But the college kids occasionally got out of hand with drunkenness, water balloons and bared breasts—so much so that in 1990 then-mayor Sonny Bono criminalized water toys and thong bikinis, effectively stamping out youth from what was already considered by then a retirement community.

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