Second homes: Palm Springs is Coachella Valley hub of golf, shops, sun

— -- Palm Springs is the best known of nine adjacent cities that make up the Coachella Valley in the mountainous desert of south-central California. Several of the cities in a 30-mile stretch have attracted droves of second-home owners, yet each maintains a distinct character.

In the late 1970s, an influx of retirees turned what was a winter destination into a year-round community.

Today, when people think of the region, the images that spring to mind are of gated golf communities, tennis and the arts. All the preconceptions are valid. The cities are flush with spas, golf courses, dining and shopping. Annual events include major professional golf and tennis tournaments, film festivals and art shows.

"It's golf first, weather second, tennis third," says real estate agent Janine Stevens of Discovery Land Properties. "Christmas can be 70 degrees and sunny."

The most popular cities for second-home owners are La Quinta, Indian Wells, Palm Desert and Palm Springs.

"La Quinta is really known for its golf," Stevens says. "Palm Desert is the hub, the biggest city, with the shopping and dining, vibrant. At the other end of the spectrum is Indian Wells, which is the smallest, but probably the wealthiest, and quieter. Palm Springs has cleaned up and modernized, and it is very attractive to the gay community.

"Most of La Quinta and Indian Wells is gated communities," Stevens says. "There is also a huge rental market here, and something unusual is that most homes are sold furnished."

Bring your pocketbook. "The entry-level price is about $500,000 for a condo, up to about $5 million," Stevens says. "But the vast majority of second-home buyers I see are spending between $2 million and $3 million."

A look at three Coachella Valley neighborhoods:

• The Hideaway. One of the most successful of the many large private golf communities, the Hideaway ( has two good courses, and, says real estate agent Janine Stevens, "it's known as a very fun active club with a lot of parties and events. There is an Olympic pool with cabanas, tennis, something for everyone." The smallest properties are three-bedroom villas with private pools and four-bedroom bungalows; both start at $1.7 million. Custom homes start at $2.5 million.

• Stone Eagle. Harking back to a more traditional country club, this small community ( foregoes spas, tennis and pools for a pure golf aesthetic. Some properties are built around the course by designer Tom Doak. Sites begin at $400,000, finished custom homes from $1.9 million. Stone Eagle also operates a fractional residence club with shares starting in the high $200,000s.

• Palm Springs. Unlike its neighbors, Palm Springs is a city with mostly single-family houses and very little golf. Many buyers seek out an architectural style known as Desert Modernism, which bloomed in the mid-20th century. The most coveted are Alexander homes, named after the builder who popularized them; prices range from $600,000 to $3 million. Condos and single-family houses begin as low as $200,000 or less.