Celebrity Tours: A visit through Hollywood's Playground

See famous neighborhoods, legendary secret spots, and wondrous homes

Posted By: Monday, March 25, 2019

By Kevin Perry

Rub elbows with Elvis. Get Frank with Sinatra. Walk in Marilyn’s heels. And do all of the above with the guidance of a tour company that was founded during a golden age of Palm Springs stardom.

“It started on June 22nd, 1963,” recounts owner Tim Bannister, “and it was a lady who took her friends around in a station wagon. They liked it and told their friends, and before long she was taking groups of people around in her station wagon and that’s when Celebrity Tours got started.” With a proud punctuation, Tim notes, “We’re the oldest tour company in Palm Springs by nearly 20 years.”

Celebrity Tours

Bannister is a pillar of local history, spouting it effortlessly and amiably. “There were horse ranches and equestrians here to support the polo industry, but the stars were the ones who actually put the place on the map and really began the explosion of Palm Springs as a destination.”

Dimming the proverbial spotlight, Tim illuminates the personal side of these celebs. “I always say, ‘In Hollywood, they were actors and actresses, but in Palm Springs they were just themselves.’ They enjoyed the seclusion and getting away from the paparazzi, who really wouldn’t really chase them out here to the desert. So it gave them some freedom.”

And freedom courses through Bannister’s soul. A biker and former bus driver, he began petitioning the former owner of Celebrity Tours to sell the company to him back in 2006, but he prefers a title other than owner.  “I’m either the sixth of seventh caretaker of the business.”

Tim Bannister
Tim Bannister and wife Celia

 

Tim finally took the mechanical reins of CT in 2009, and he really hit the ground running. “We have over 10,000 people a year that take our tour. I see Palm Springs through their eyes.” A born conversationalist, he continues, “I enjoy listening to their stories, so for me it’s all about the visitors. And Palm Springs is full of visitors.”

Stories are a two-way street for Bannister, who revels in both the hearing and the telling. He praises his staff for bringing the legends of Palm Springs’ past to life for their grateful customers. “The stories that our drivers tell are the glue that holds the whole thing together for ya. We try to paint a picture from the beginning to the end.”

Collaborating with his wife Celia and two of the Inland Empire’s most celebrated tour guides, Ann and Jeff, Tim gushes, “All of us that work here are like a family. They’ve been here for a long time. We work like a family, we work together, we have common goals. I always say that you can’t satisfy 100% of the people 100% of the time, but I work 100% of the time to satisfy 100% of the people. So, knowing that I will fail in my effort, I continue to do so and I feel like all of us here at Palm Springs Celebrity Tours, we have that same attitude.”

Trip Advisor

That attitude is a mirthful mix of passion, loyalty, and dedication to our hometown. “The tour is so much more than the stars and the celebrities; it’s developed into an overview of Palm Springs. We show about 50 homes on our tour – it’s a two and a half hour tour. During that time, we talk about the history of Palm Springs.”

Mapping out a virtual tour with his words, Bannister narrates, “As we’re doing that, we head up to our midway point, where we stop at a little market on the north end of town. It’s what I would classify as a hole in the wall… but they make the best date shake in Coachella Valley. We give everybody on the tour a date shake.”

Savoring the very thought of it, Tim admits, “That’s always a treat.”

“We’ll always do the Celebrity Tour,” promises Bannister, “but we’d like for people who are staying in town for a while to see those really unique places in Southern California and the desert. This year, we put together a San Diego tour, we put together a Joshua Tree tour, we went to Oak Glen for the apples and the laid back little town up in the mountains. We’re gonna do a lot more of that next year.”

Celebrity Tours

When asked for a teaser of what guests might experience on one of his desert adventures, Tim digs in. “I always say, ‘Discover what the house of wax is in Palm Springs,’ or ‘Discover the mushroom house in Palm Springs.’ In another line I like to use, I ask, ‘What’s tall and slender and always gets the dates?’”

The suspense is as delicious as our ubiquitous valley shakes, but Bannister doubles down and delivers more intriguing questions. “There’s some fun things they’re gonna learn, like why were Sonny Bono and Frank Sinatra NOT buried in Palm Springs? Both were very prominent residents, in fact Sonny was the mayor, but there are reasons why they’re not buried in Palm Springs. Discover those reasons on the tour.”

Like a true showman, Tim always leaves us wanting more. And for a heaping helping of more galore, book your tour today!

Palm Springs Celebrity Tours |  4741 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Suite B | 760.895.8005