Travel

13 Reasons to Drive to Palm Springs

You deserve a little R&R in the desert.

There’s so much more to Palm Springs than its Instagram image as a destination for millennial music festivals, nostalgic hotels, and bougie pool parties. Experienced visitors and locals know that this Sonoran desert city is something of a cultural oasis. For one, it boasts a thriving LGBTQ community—including the nation’s first all-LGBTQ city council. Artists flock here for the dry desert climate and more-laidback-than-LA art scene (see also: nearby and equally eccentric Joshua Tree), as well as an abundance of mid-century modern architecture—not to mention a backdrop of spinning windmills, leaning palm trees, and craggy mountain ranges that keep inspiration flowing. And yes, of course, Palm Springs is a destination for rest and relaxation. As the self-described “Playground of the Stars,” Palm Springs has been a longtime refuge for Angelenos (it was even the title of a 2020 Hulu movie), with warm weather, outdoor activities, restaurants, and shops aplenty, so choose your own adventure with our recommendations below.

Editor’s note: The Southern California region is currently under a stay-at-home order. Visitors should verify hours of operation and other information prior to booking their trips.

There’s a hotel option for every kind of traveler

If your goal is to immerse yourself in the desert lifestyle and forget about “everything that’s going on,” you’ll want to stay at least overnight—your best bet for lounging by resort pools and ordering from hotel restaurants that are often restricted to guests only. If you decide you want to do all of your activities poolside, The Saguaro has you covered. Order a fresh fruit margarita and taco kits from the on-site El Jefe restaurant directly to your rented cabana, which comes with a dedicated server, stocked fridge, TV, and fan.

Prefer a more rustic option? The Sparrows Lodge sets itself apart from the mid-century modern hotels Palm Springs is known for with cabin-like rooms and an overall adult summer camp vibe. On the property you can find a bar and restaurant, The Barn Kitchen, which serves a simple to-go style breakfast included with your room. Open for hotel guests only, the restaurant offers sandwiches, salads, and small bites created by chef Carlos Arciniega which highlight the area’s local fresh produce. At night, take in the starry sky, sit by the fire-pit, or take a dip in the pool or hot tub. The option to tell scary stories is all yours.

Or check out a boutique hotel from a batch of recently opened or renovated properties. If you’re looking for a Mad Men goes West vibe, stay at The Weekend. The mid-century luxury hotel is located close to Downtown shops and restaurants, but also has rooms with private patios and hanging swing and lounge chairs for socially distanced sunbathing. TBH, Dive had us at “free glass of rosé at check-in” but their generous amenities, spacious rooms, and 1960s French Riviera-inspired decor further solidified their spot. Affordability and chic design meet at Les Cactus. The petit hotel has a whimsical design and caps group reservations at four guests for a price point that makes you say “Yeah, I can swing that.”

Enjoy the best of Palm Springs dining for takeout and delivery

Outdoor dining is still on hold in California for the moment. But luckily, one of the only silver linings of the pandemic is that several of Palm Springs’ most exclusive restaurants are now offering takeout, eliminating the time you would have spent hungrily pacing back and forth waiting to be seated. Case in point: Sandfish Sushi & Whiskey from chef-owner Engin Onural introduced hand-selected and hand-stamped boxes of fresh nigiri, sashimi, and maki rolls, a nine-course omakase deal, plus a Japanese whiskey Old Fashioned kit and other craft cocktail kits available for delivery via Postmates or online for pickup

Order Jalisco-style Mexican food from the recently opened Tac/Quila, which uses fresh and locally grown ingredients in dishes that include short rib enchiladas, a ceviche trio, and grilled lobster tail tacos. Don’t forget to add a craft mezcal cocktail to your order, which they’re now selling in quarts to-go for $45. 

Head to Trio for American cuisine with an Italian twist and yummy cocktails like the P.H.A.T (Pretty Hot and Tempting) with Sombra Mezcal, Campari, orgeat, jalapeño-infused tequila, watermelon liqueur, lemon juice, and tajin. If upscale appetizers and wines are more your style, cozy up to Zin American Bistro

Or become your own mixologist with tiki cocktail kits courtesy of Bootlegger Tiki. And for those that want to truly party with their pod, the bar is offering a monstrous party package to make your own 64-oz Zombie cocktail.

Support an LGBTQ bar and grab drinks to go

For as long as Palm Springs has been a tourist destination, it has welcomed the LGBTQ community, and while many of the clubs have temporarily closed, there are still a lot of bars that you can support with curbside pickup. Street Bar is one of those cozy and fun bars that prides itself on being the friendliest place in town with the most attentive bartenders. If you’re in the mood for a gastropub, order from Blackbook Bar’s excellent menu of refined bar food, craft cocktails, and beer. True to its name, Chill Bar provides a laid-back environment, with rotating chefs from throughout the Coachella Valley taking turns on the menu.

Order a dinner and show to your door

Since you can’t go to a drag show, you can have the show come to you with Roly China Fusion presents Drag & Dine Delivery. Not only can you arrange for a drag queen to come to where you’re staying for a short (socially distanced, of course) performance, you can also order some delectable modern Asian fusion foods like popcorn lobster, kimchi fried rice, and Mandarin chicken.

Shop vintage and mid-century wares

Look for retro wares in the land of mid-century modern majesty. Palm Springs may not have invented the style but they sure do embrace it. Go on a vintage crawl on Palm Canyon Dr. and gander at shops like Bon Vivant, Modernway, and Revivals. There you can find eccentric accents and mid-century modern furniture to buy or give you major design inspo. While you’re around, you might as well spruce up your wardrobe at vintage boutiques like The Frippery, Iconic Atomic, and Bazar.

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 aka 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.

While the Sunnyland estate is currently closed to the public (for you know why), you can still roam around the 1.25 miles of outdoor hiking paths and see 53,000 individual arid-landscape plants totally free. The grounds will take you on a flora tour of the world with 70 species of plants from North and South America, Africa, and the Mediterranean.

Take to the sky

Get a bird’s eye view of the Coachella Valley in a hot air balloon. For those that want a bit more adventure, take an open-air cockpit ride in a vintage 1940 Stearman biplane a la Indiana Jones.

Check out some outdoor art

We’ve pushed Robolights before and for good reason. The outdoor art exhibition is impressive, unique, and answers the question: what would a Candy Cane Lane look like shoved into one property that also happens to be a sci-fi dystopia? Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth another look as there’s something new to be seen every time. Robolights is open by appointment only from 9 am–5 pm Saturday through Thursday and from 8-11am on Fridays. Appointments can be made by texting 760-774-0318. 

Art crawl throughout the Coachella Valley courtesy of Desert X, which will re-emerge from February 6–April 11. The outdoor exhibition features site-specific installations by international artists. Every year artists surprise and delight audiences with large scale works that pop-up throughout the area. The artist list has yet to be released but it has been reported that this year’s lineup is more diverse than previous years.

Saddle up and hit the dusty trail

Reenact your favorite Western films by riding a horse through the desert at sunset. Family-owned Smoke Tree Stables offers guided trail rides throughout hundreds of miles of trails for first-timers and rugged cowboys alike.

Take a windmill selfie

The rows and rows of windmills off the 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 and see these 300-foot behemoths up close on a Palm Springs Windmill Tours and learn how they power the entire Coachella Valley.

Cruise through the desert landscape on two wheels 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.

Hike historic trailheads

If you prefer to see the desert terrain by foot, the Indian Canyon Trails offers 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.
 

Tee off after the sun goes down

If you burnt too much daylight at the pool or on hikes and weren’t able to get a round of golf in during the day, The Lights at Indio Golf Course has you covered. The Desert’s only night-lit course allows you to hit the links after dark.

Go for a date shake

Palm Springs is more than just golf courses and resorts, it’s also home to many date farms making the sweet brown fruit a symbol of the town. What better way to take in the fruit of the city than blended in ice cream? Before you head home, grab a date shake for the road at Great Shakes. You would be offending the town if you left without indulging in the literal fruits of their labor.

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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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