Skip to main content
snowbird trail

There are a wealth of consignment shops, auction houses, thrift stores and boutiques in Palm Springs, Calif.

Snowbird Trail is a 12-part series on unusual or different attractions for snowbirds in the Sunbelt.

Thanks to its balmy weather and sunny skies year round, Palm Springs has been attracting the rich and infamous since the early 1900s. Back then, those needing to improve their health in a drier climate took refuge in retreats or, in the language of the times, sanatoriums.

Fast forward to the post-Second World War era. Celebrities from nearby Hollywood (less than a two-hour drive) came calling to enjoy the resort vibe and laidback attitude toward sex and booze. They commissioned vacation homes from star architects, such as Albert Frey to Donald Wexler. Those designs have endured, so many that Palm Springs can now boast it has the highest concentration of mid-century architecture in the world. It's now what fuels the city's tourism business, with new generations discovering the aesthetic and older ones wanting to relive it.

Palm Springs' history and well-to-do residents are key factors in what makes the city a phenomenal destination for those who love antiques, second-hand and vintage goods. Throughout the area, there's a wealth of consignment shops, auction houses, thrift stores and boutiques selling mid-century modern designs. Shop low or shop high. Vintage and consignment stores have already done some of the digging for you and ditched the junk. You'll pay higher prices for a curated selection of goods. If you're willing to scrounge, you could earn bragging rights for years to come for your score. "It's a Pucci scarf! I only paid six dollars!"

The Uptown Design District, located between Vista Chino and Alejo Dr., has gathered two dozen antique, resale and retro galleries, heavy on the decor offerings, into a burgeoning retail corridor. Just Modern offers fabulous contemporary furniture inspired by mid-century modern originals, which cause less sticker shock than buying the real deal. Check out designs by Atomic Living (especially its sleek tables and credenzas) and wall art created from black walnut hardwood by Frederick Arndt. Meanwhile, Modern Way showcases the best of the 1970s with Swedish glass vases, graphic heavy movie posters, and Eames leather and polished steel chairs.

Fans of retro fashion should head to the Déjà Vu Vintage Finery, where gently-used designer goods from names like Lilly Pulitzer, Nina Ricci, Valentino, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Fendi find new owners. This is the place to find a vintage twin set from the sixties, fitted silk taffeta dresses, or a 1950's tulle ball gown and tiny patent leather handbags to go with them.

Another worthy stop is Resale Therapy in Cathedral City, a popular consignment shop beloved for its stellar lineup of designer clothing priced at just one-third to a half of what it would cost new. Owner Caroldean Ross has a keen eye for beautiful things of high quality. Don't be surprised to find an original Tom Ford for Gucci gown, or one from Azzedine Alaia circa 1980. She has some retro labels, but also current names like Stella McCartney.

As a vintage shopper herself, Ms. Ross suggests asking the staff at stores you really like for their recommendations of other consignment and vintage retailers to visit. "You have to think of this kind of shopping as a treasure hunt," she says." If you have the patience and are willing to dig, you'll be rewarded with something truly special."

Sparkly baubles of many descriptions can be found at Route 66 West, run by vintage jewelry guru Mark Burkholz, who has lectured and written books on the subject. His shop is known for its ample stock of Bakelite, celluloid and acrylic costume jewelry. He sells to collectors around the world. It's not cheap, but his selection is top notch. For a bit less, nab pieces from the 1970s, like Judith Hendler's chunky, space-age acrylic numbers, bound to appreciate in value.

If you're more the thrill-of-the-hunt type, then hit the thrift stores scattered between Palm Springs and Cathedral City. But go in the morning before the pickers arrive. They scour the shelves for gems they can sell to vintage stores, who, in turn, flip them again for bigger profits to customers. Some don't have change rooms available to try on clothing, so come armed with your measurements and a tape measure.

Check out these highlights: For clothing, visit the Stroke Recovery Center Thrift Store (2800 East Alejo Rd.); for house wares, books, accessories and some furniture – Revivals (611 S. Palm Canyon Rd.); and for reasonably priced antiques and kitsch – Little Shop of Treasures (616 Sunny Dunes Rd.) Also watch for Angel View Resale Stores. These thrift stores are a cut above many others, well designed and neatly laid out. Proceeds fund programs for developmentally disabled children.

Where to shop

Just Modern: 901 N. Palm Canyon Dr, #101,

Modern Way: 745 N. Palm Canyon Dr.,

Déjà Vu Vintage Finery: 664 N. Palm Canyon Dr.,

Resale Therapy: 67800 E. Palm Canyon Dr.,

Route 66 West: 465 N. Palm Canyon Dr.,

Angel View Resale: nine locations,