To give travelers an entree to the scene, Robarts and her husband, Fraser Robertson, both Brits, led a vanguard of design-minded entrepreneurs who opened small, midcentury motels. The couple debuted Ballantines in 1999 and followed up with Ballantines Movie Colony in late 2000 - both motels outfitted with '50s furnishings, chenille bedspreads, and Sinatra playing by the pool. Hipsters began pouring in, chased by other new hotels and businesses, and Palm Springs was resuscitated. And today the pulse is stronger than ever.

Credit first the architecture. "Four Seasons style with puffy beds works in the city, but out in the desert, life is more spare," says Steve Samiof, co-owner of the Hope Springs Resort in neighboring Desert Hot Springs. He and wife/partner Misako Samiof fell for the hotel's 1958 look and nursed it into a fusion of modernism and minimalism.

"The more we took out, the better it felt," says Samiof of the Hope Springs' rooms, sparsely populated by a platform bed, one modern chair, and a cantilevered shelf. Inside the compound, 10 rooms encircle a palm-and-rock-gardened courtyard, where three hot-spring-fed pools hover around 105 degrees. Good-looking couples with only-in-L.A. bodies drape chaises or wrap up in waffle robes.

"Palm Springs is as much about being out on the pool deck as inside the room," says Christy Eugenis, owner with husband Stan of the funky newcomer Orbit In Oasis. To furnish it, she trolled the now-hot Palm Springs resale shops like Modern Way, depository of the wealthy's redecorating castoffs. Isamu Noguchi coffee tables and Harry Bertoia diamond chairs outfit Orbit rooms, boasting evocative names like Leopard Lounge and Atomic Paradise. Mixed with George Nelson bubble lamps and valances fitted with Ray and Charles Eames atomic prints, the effect is truly transporting. At cocktail hour, guests throw open their doors to gather around the boomerang-shaped pool bar, where the lava-lamps-cum-dataports intensify as light seeps from the sky.