Rent a Mustang convertible and hit the road for a retro-good time. Here are three destinations and suggestions for where to stay, eat, drink and browse.
Retro route: Highway 247 to Interstate 15 (distance from San Diego: 366 miles)
Stay: The Stardust and Sahara are no more, but the Spanish Ranch-style El Cortez is. Built in 1941, the Las Vegas Review-Journal describes it as the city’s “oldest continuously operating casino.” The hotel’s been “gently” renovated; that includes mid-century-modern, space-agey suites that go for an affordable $144 a night.
Eat: Hugo’s Cellar. Salad prepared tableside? Check. Cherries Jubilee for dessert? Check. Waiters in tuxedos, dark-wood tables, dim lighting and an abundance of meat on the menu? Check, check and check.
Drink: The Peppermill Fireside Lounge. Call it swanky (waitresses in gowns) or tacky (they sell J. Roget champagne—referred to as “Jacque Roget Champagne” on the menu—by the bottle). All that matters is that you’ll be sitting next to your very own fountain / fire-pit combo.
Go see: Experience a simulated atom-bomb blast in the Ground Zero Theater and learn how to survive a nuclear war. It’s all at the National Atomic Testing Museum, which just added the exhibition Area 51: Myth or Reality?
Retro route: Highway 79 (distance from San Diego: 132 miles)
Stay: Each of the nine rooms at the Orbit In—former studio apartments built around a swimming pool—is decorated in a mid-century theme. There’s the Eames Studio, the Atomic Paradise and the Frey Lounge (with views of the Albert Frey house). It’s also within walking or biking distance of the Palm Springs Art Museum (see below), and the poolside bar hosts a daily happy hour.
Eat: Sherman’s Deli’s been around since 1953 and offers everything you’d expect a Jewish deli to have. For a newer throwback, King’s Highway at the Ace Hotel offers tasty eats from breakfast through dessert.
Drink: Melvyn’s Piano Bar (at the Ingleside Inn) is reportedly where the Rat Pack used to hang. And, back at the Ace Hotel, The Amigo Room features DJs spinning ’60s garage tunes, “sissy bingo” on Monday nights and the occasional live band stopping through on the way to or from L.A.
Go see: The Palm Springs Art Museum is one of California’s best mid-size museums. Through May 27, check out Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography 1945-1982, part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945-1980 initiative. Opening May 26 is Pop Goes the Humor, an exhibition of pop art from the ’50s and ’60s. And, you can’t go to PS without checking out the architecture. Stop by the Palm Springs Modern Committee’s kiosk at the Palm Springs Visitors Center (2901 North Palm Canyon Drive) to pick up a map.
Retro route: Take the train.
Stay: Since you took the train, your hotel choices are limited. Pony up some cash (rooms start at $245) and stay at the Standard. It’s new, yes, but it’s decorated all old-school cool like Don Draper’s new apartment.
Eat: Traxx Restaurant, with its art-deco-meets-modern decor is located inside Union Station and is a nod back to when train riding was a more elegant affair. Dinner items range from a curried quinoa stew to gorgonzola-crusted, pan-roasted beef tenderloin. If you’re looking for something less expensive, walk over to the Grand Central Market (317 South Broadway; open ’til 6 p.m.) and order a couple of tacos from Tacos Tumbras a Tomas.
Drink: Yeah, the Bonaventure Hotel (404 S. Figueroa St.) was built in the early ’70s, but who cares. It’s got a lounge-y vibe and a rotating top-floor bar that gives you a 360-degree view of Downtown L.A.
Go see: Head over to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Grand Avenue location for The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol, on view through Aug. 20. Afterward, hit up The Flea Store on Spring Street, which sells everything from vintage syrup jars to Bakelite knives to retro clothes.