Now Is the Perfect Time to Head to Palm Springs

Winter is the sweet spot, when the weather is just right for brunch, hiking, architecture tours, and poolside drinks.

The Saguaro Palm Springs
The Saguaro Palm Springs | Photo by Josh Cho

Southern California winter may not cause locals to flee for warmer weather, but it does remind us that the desert is right nearby. This time of year is the sweet spot in Palm Springs, when it’s not too hot during the day and the nights are perfect for a dip in the hot tub. The town is covered in kitsch, with a fun and funky culture that encourages you to lay by the pool and day drink; it’s no wonder Palm Springs has long been a refuge for burned-out Angelenos. And it’s almost too convenient—you can pack and get there in less time than it takes to watch a single episode of The Bachelor.

Palm Springs is home to a vibrant LGBTQ community—including the nation’s first all-LGBTQ city council—plus art and culture, as well as an abundance of mid-century modern architecture. A field of wind turbines welcomes you to town, and once you’ve made it you’re surrounded by leaning palm trees and craggy mountain ranges that keep inspiration flowing. Palm Springs has warm weather, outdoor activities, and an abundance of restaurants and shops, and you’ll also find plenty of opportunities to lounge poolside and do nothing, if that’s your vibe. Use the recommendations below to craft your perfect weekend however you want to set it up. You deserve it.

Courtesy of Trixie Motel

Chill out in style

When planning a Palm Springs vacation, you have to figure out what sort of trip you want first. Hotels run the gamut from kitschy and wild to elevated and tranquil, and there are tons of options to choose from.

You may fall in love with the Trixie Motel, a pink paradise owned by Ru Paul’s Drag Race All-Stars 3 winner Trixie Mattel. The hotel has impeccable retro design that’s over the top but never corny, with themed rooms like a psychedelic space room, and a Pink Flamingo room complete with (you guessed it) tons of pink flamingo accents.

Courtesy of Azure Sky

If your vibe is more minimal, reserve a spot at the new Azure Sky. The adults-only hotel is clad in neutral tones with spacious rooms, beautiful desert landscaping, and views of the San Jacinto Mountains, all designed to cultivate a serene atmosphere. Azure’s sister location Villa Royale is home to the Del Rey, a modern Spanish and Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. The menu features hearty tapas like short rib empanadas, and elevated cocktails like their Del Rey Martini, which has olive oil, orange bitters, chorizo, and an olive.

Check into the past at the Orbit In. The boutique hotel’s design is upscale mid-century, where a record player with vinyl sits next to Eames furniture. The hotel is a fun retro refuge for a relaxing stay, and it’s nestled in Palm Springs’ Historic Tennis Club Neighborhood which means that restaurants, nightlife, and shopping are just a short walk away.

Courtesy of The Saguaro

Those looking for a party atmosphere should consider the Saguaro. The bright, beautiful mid-century property is perfect for groups that want to spend their time lounging at the pool while listening to dance music. Guests can take their drinks and food poolside or venture to their on-site restaurant and bar, El Jefe, for Mexican food and cocktails for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Start your day with chilaquiles with salsa roja, and pair it with their Comeback cocktail, a refreshing mix of cucumber vodka, pineapple, lime, coconut water, mint, and aloe vera. For dinner, make a meal out of their tacos filled with beer-battered Mahi-mahi or pork carnitas and grab a spicy guava margarita.

Courtesy of Front Porch

Explore the Palm Springs food scene

At some point, you might want to stop taking your food and drinks poolside and head into a restaurant. If you’re looking for light bites, try Front Porch, an extension of the ever-popular Farm. The menu pulls influences from French cuisine and adds a California flare, as in their baked brie that comes with hazelnuts, brown sugar, house-made date jam, and pears, served with a baguette. Their take on avocado toast has chevre, cherry tomatoes, arugula, and a balsamic glaze reduction. Their cocktails are similarly creative, like the pistachio old-fashioned with bourbon, house-made pistachio syrup, orange bitters, and shaved pistachios.

The Tropicale exudes Palm Springs cool, with sleek mid-century modern design and a 60s supper club vibe. Their menu offers a little bit of everything, from an Italian meatball pizza to a miso-glazed steelhead Loch salmon rice bowl to a steak with a loaded baked potato on the side. Their happy hour menu has plenty of options and runs all day Wednesday and every other day from 4-7 pm.

Courtesy of Clandestino

Enjoy your dinner in moody and lush interiors at Clandestino, a modern Mexican-style restaurant. Their fried squash blossoms filled with Oaxacan cheese are particularly popular, and they’ve also won fans with creative tacos featuring proteins like arrachera steak and fried calamari. Their margaritas are a real highlight, and if you can’t decide on one, you can always get their margarita flight, which comes with tastes of pineapple, cucumber, watermelon, tamarind, and Jamaica.

Courtesy of Bar Cecil

Grab a cocktail or two

Palm Springs has plenty of restaurant openings, but few have generated as much buzz as Bar Cecil. It can be hard to get a table, but their bar takes walk-ins; it’s the perfect place to check out their signature burger, or the smoked bone-in pork chop. Or order from their “Why Not” section of the menu, where you can find swanky items like their infamous $50 martini—Beluga vodka with a kiss of Alessio vermouth, poured tableside in a perfectly chilled glass. The drink is listed on the food menu for a reason—it’s served on a silver tray with a Regiis Ova caviar-topped deviled egg and a bowl of sunchoke chips.

After dinner, sneak away for a drink in the cavern that is the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel. The bar has a superb selection of craft beers and specialty cocktails like their Cactus Rosa, which comes with vodka, Aperol, pineapple, and lemon. They also have pina colada and Paloma slushies.

Spencer's Restaurant

Brunch it up

Palm Springs might be the brunch capital of America, and no visit to the desert is complete without a rowdy mid-morning meal. Marvel at the San Jacinto mountains and massive menu at Spencer’s, where you can find unique and upgraded takes on brunch favorites like an omelet with Maine lobster, and a benedict served with Maryland crab cake and prime sirloin steak.

If the words “bottomless” and “champagne” make your heart sing, you’ll love Pinocchio’s, where it can be all yours for $6.95. You’ll want to get food, and luckily, they have the greatest hits of brunch items like pancakes and omelets, but their standouts are their various benedicts, including the classic and also smoked salmon.

Or come see the “Bitchiest Brunch” in Palm Springs at Oscar’s. The drag brunch features fun and glamorous hosts and food that rivals any brunch in town, so it’s no wonder why it’s not only the “bitchiest” but the longest-running drag brunch in the city.

Photo courtesy of Fantasy Balloon Flights

Take in the scenery from above

From September to May, Fantasy Balloon Flights will show you the world… or at least the vastness of the Coachella Valley from the sky. The hot air balloon company has been at it since 1981, and for those that need a bit of liquid courage to float through the air in a tiny wicker basket under a plastic bag that’s lifted only by a single massive flame, there are champagne balloon adventures available too.

Courtesy of Visit Palm Springs

Hop on the world’s largest rotating tramcar at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The car takes you on a ten-minute ride up and along the cliffs of Chino Canyon for picturesque views of the desert until you arrive at your destination, Mt. San Jacinto State Park. At the top, there are places to grab food, observation decks, and over 50 miles of hiking trails. And if you go during the winter there’s a good chance there will be snow.

Courtesy of Market Market

Load up on new-to-you goods

Palm Springs may not have invented mid-century modern style, but they sure do embrace it, and there’s no better place to shop for mid-century treasure.. Go on a vintage crawl on Palm Canyon Drive and gander at shops like Bon Vivant, Modernway, and Revivals, where you can find eccentric accents and mid-century modern furniture to buy or give you major design inspiration. While you’re around, you might as well spruce up your wardrobe at vintage boutiques like The Frippery, Iconic Atomic, and Bazar.

Then hit up Market Market to make your way through their massive selection of vintage and repurposed goods, including apparel, accessories, housewares, furniture, art, and design in a 40,000 square foot warehouse.

Courtesy of Descano Resort

Support the LGBTQ community

Palm Springs has a long history as a hotspot for LGBTQ+ travelers, with signature events like Pride in November and Dinah Shore in September, a five-day music festival catered to lesbian/queer women audiences. But there’s plenty to do the rest of the year, too.

For a bar that has a mission statement as good as its food, try Blackbook. Named after the black book in Nevada, a list of notorious people not welcomed in casinos, owner Dean Lavine explains, “We like to think that everyone has been on a blacklist at some point in time. Gay, bullied, racially excluded, Raiders fans, etc.” The bar prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming to all, with some of the best food in Palm Springs. We’re partial to their Palm Springs-style nachos, a version they invented that ensures every chip has cheese so no one is left with a cheese-less chip when sharing. They also have a full bar with the largest whiskey selection in the valley, over 450 bourbons, ryes, scotches, and international whiskeys, along with beers and other canned and bottled beverages.

After eating, sing your heart out at Quadz, where VJs are playing clips of beloved musical theater. After a few of their notoriously strong and affordable drinks, you may find yourself belting out Streisand with the best of them, even if musicals aren’t normally your thing.

Reserve a spot at Toucans to see a performance at Palm Springs’ longest continuously running drag show. Drag shows are Thursday-Monday with a different theme each night, and Monday nights are free. Or for those looking for a more relaxed stay, check out the mens-only resort, Descanso. The small hotel is going for a chill vibe with spacious rooms, a salt-water pool, and lush landscaping.

Photo courtesy of Palm Springs Art Museum

Get your art and culture fix

It may be hard to peel yourself away from basking in the sun, but take a break and explore the Palm Springs Art Museum. You can find modern and contemporary art, architecture, and design objects that reflect Palm Springs’ unique history, culture, and place.

Big Wheel Tours

Go on a tour

Cruise through the desert landscape with a bike, Jeep, or hiking tour with Big Wheel Tours. If your interests are more architecture than nature, check out Modern & More Bike Tours and see architecturally and historically significant homes in South Palm Springs.

Palm Springs Mod Squad | Photo by Kurt Cyr

If biking is not your style, hop in Palm Springs Mod Squad’s van and take part in a mid-century modern architecture tour. Choose the martini option to learn more about the cocktail and cap off your tour with James Bond’s favorite drink. Their expert will explain why martinis are shaken and not stirred.

Indian Canyons & Tahquitz Canyon

Hike historic trailheads

If you prefer to see the desert terrain by foot, the Indian Canyon Trails offer a plethora of hiking options that include cool streams and lush oases. You may even see a Bighorn Sheep. Indian Canyons is the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and you can learn more about their history through preserved rock art, irrigation ditches, and food preparation areas.

The Living Desert

Explore desert plant life

See desert animals and plants thriving at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The world-class wildlife and botanical park has almost 430 animals, including cheetahs, giraffes, and camels as well as creatures native to the area. After that, head to Moorten Botanical Garden, also known as Cactus Castle, and explore over a dozen arid biomes and thousands of specimens sourced from all over the world. Plus, see rocks, crystals, fossils, gold-mining relics, and desert tortoises. If you feel inspired to become a plant parent after your visit, Moorten’s has a nursery for you to take home your own prickly bundle of joy.

Palm Springs Windmill Tours

Take a windmill selfie

The rows and rows of wind turbines off the I-10 on your way to Palm Springs are almost as iconic to the area as palm trees. If you’ve ever been curious about what they do, reserve a tour with Palm Springs Windmill Tours to see these 300-foot behemoths up close and learn how they power the entire Coachella Valley.

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Keisha Raines is a LA-based freelance writer born and raised in the Palm Springs area with a tattoo of the San Jacinto mountains to prove it.
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