Memphis, Reno, and Palm Springs
The Biggest Little City in the World is all about kitsch, which reaches its apotheosis at the Peppermill Hotel Casino. Video poker and slot machines compete for your attention with endless mirrors and neon lights in every imaginable color. Walk into the Fish Bar, where tiki cocktails such as a Blue Hawaiian ($5.50) come surrounded by tropical fish aquariums lining the walls (2707 S. Virginia St., 866/821-9996).
At William F. Harrah's antique car collection in the National Automobile Museum, hundreds of vehicles are displayed in vignettes, like a powder blue 1954 Buick Skylark getting a tune-up at a Union 76 station (10 S. Lake St., 775/333-9300, $9).
Wind down with a Prom Queen cocktail--made with citrus vodka, rum, and cranberry, pineapple, and lime juices--at the retro lounge Satellite (188 California Ave., 775/786-3536, $6). The Green Room regularly hosts cabaret performances in the back of the bar (144 West St., 775/324-1224, cover $5). If you get kitsched out, the Siena Hotel Spa Casino is more of a boutique hotel (1 S. Lake St., 877/743-6233, sienareno.com, from $100), and Reno has plenty of good restaurants.
The daily specials at The Cheese Board include salmon salad with pancetta, blood oranges, and pecans (247 California Ave., 775/323-3115, $10.75). Exposed brick walls help create a country French atmosphere at Beaujolais Bistro, where the duck breast is made with Calvados and apples (130 West St., 775/323-2227, $26).
And decadence reigns at the Chocolate Bar; scenes from the original Willy Wonka movie play on miniscreens embedded in the bar, distracting only slightly from the creamy cocoa amaretto martinis (475 S. Arlington Ave., 775/337-1122, martini $8).
Palm Springs, California
Lounging by a pool in the desert heat with a cocktail in your hand, it's easy to imagine you're back in the Old Hollywood heyday of Palm Springs--especially at one of the city's newly restored hotels with modernist designs from the '50s.
Hotel Zoso is the most recent addition to the retro-chic wave; after a multimillion dollar renovation of the 1984-era Marquis, Zoso now contains rooms with plasma-screen TVs and Herman Miller's Aeron chairs. At the poolside bar, a quartzite fire pit heats up chilly evenings (150 S. Indian Canyon Dr., 760/325-9676, rooms from $139).
You don't have to pay the $300 price tag for a room at the Parker Palm Springs to sip a fruit-infused vodka martini by the fireplace in the Jonathan Adler--designed lobby (4200 E. Palm Canyon Dr., 760/770-5000, martini $15).
One of Palm Springs's most famous modernists, Albert Frey, designed the Tramway Gas Station at the north end of Palm Springs; it now houses the Palm Springs Visitors Center (2901 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760/778-8418), where you can pick up "A Map of Palm Springs Modern" ($5), listing other midcentury architectural landmarks--or, if you'd rather stare at Liberace's house, a $5 map of 64 celebrity homes. Frey also designed the building that now showcases Trina Turk's swimwear and outerwear lines (891 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760/416-2856).
When you get hungry, stop in at Cary Grant's former estate. It's now a restaurant called Copley's on Palm Canyon. On the stone patio, enjoy the charred prawns and scallops with corn puree and shitake mushroom dressing (621 N. Palm Canyon Dr., 760/327-9555, $14).
Home to Elvis and Sun Studio--where Johnny Cash and B.B. King recorded--Memphis sure knows the value of history. Arcade Restaurant is the oldest café in town. You might recognize its turquoise vinyl booths from one of a dozen films that were shot there, including 21 Grams (540 S. Main St., 901/526-5757).
The intersection of Cooper Street and Young Avenue forms the nexus of an area called, appropriately enough, the Cooper-Young District. It's filled with consignment shops, art galleries, restaurants, and antiques stores. Flashback has vintage furniture and clothing (2304 Central Ave., 901/272-2304). On weekends, live music and Pabst Blue Ribbon get double billing at HiTone Café, a venue where Cat Power and Elvis (Costello, that is) have both played (1913 Poplar Ave., 901/278-8663). The former Atkins Beauty Salon, also in Cooper-Young, is now Beauty Shop restaurant. Beehive-wigged waitresses in diner-style uniforms serve international twists on Americana dishes--like ahi tuna pizettes (966 S. Cooper St., 901/272-7111, $10).
Sun Studio is still a working studio behind a brick facade in downtown Memphis; on the 40-minute tour, you can listen to master recordings, stand on the masking-tape X where Elvis stood to record his first song, and touch that original microphone (706 Union Ave., 800/441-6249, $9.50).
No visit is complete without a tour of the King's remarkably modest castle, declared a National Historic Landmark in March. Lisa Marie's audio recording accompanies you on a tour past the Jungle Room (with a shag-carpeted ceiling) to the raquetball building, where Elvis's rhinestone-studded leather jumpsuits are on display in a glass case. The dozen-plus cars Elvis owned are parked across the street in the Automobile Museum. Also displayed there are Elvis's two planes, including the Lisa Marie jet with its gold-plated seat and belt buckles. All of the buildings have separate entrance fees, but all are fantastic and worthy in their own ways (3734 Elvis Presley Blvd., 800/238-2000, elvis.com, Graceland tours $22; Automobile Museum $12; jets $8).
At Heartbreak Hotel, the pool is in the shape of a heart, and channel 17 broadcasts Elvis movies 24 hours a day (3677 Elvis Presley Blvd., 877/777-0606, elvis.com, from $99).