A Desert Guide to Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs isn’t just for “older” people. At the very least, the food isn’t. It’s gotten a reputation as a place where abundant “flippers” (sunbathers) bask all day—just by a pool instead of on the sand.

But there’s plenty else to do—and eat—in PS. And a little pool time in between to cool off never hurt anyone. Just bring your sunscreen and remember you’re in the desert… Go during the wrong time of year (or stay too long) and you might roast.

It’s a design town at its heart, with architectural influence ranging from Spanish to midcentury, lots of color, design events all year long, and great interiors all over town. It’s also just a hop, skip, and jump from LA, making it a nice tack-on to a couple of days in the city, and there’s more than enough to do to fill a weekend. The real problem is finding enough time to eat everything in what’s becoming a major California culinary scene.

Where to Stay

Sure, you can stay at a big-dog resort, but it’s a missed opportunity—the boutique hotels in Palm Springs are unmatched in design and service. The thing about Palm Springs is that there’s no way to avoid staying where the cool kids hang out—because the cool kids are everywhere:
The Ace (scene-y pool and lobby)
Arrive (newer, with its own ice-cream shop)
The Avalon (one of the bungalows will offer a little more privacy)
The Parker (older, but had Instagram-worthy nooks before Instagram was a thing)
The Rowan (a brand-new Kimpton property with rooftop bar and pool)

If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, it can happen:
Sparrow’s Lodge (a more rustic style, family-style meals, spa treatments, and no TVs or phones)
Holiday House (a restored 1951 blue-and-white gem from the Sparrow’s Lodge owners)
Korakia Pensione (villas are split between Mediterranean and Moroccan-designed)
L’Horizon (downtown, but a totally quiet retreat with luxury bungalows)
Hope Springs Resort (“pampering” is taken to new levels just outside of town)

What to Do

Bike: Palm Springs isn’t huge, and is gloriously flat—which means it’s the perfect biking town (unless you want to challenge yourself in the hills outside of Palm Desert). Borrow bikes from the hotel (many offer them) or rent from one of the downtown shops, like Bike Palm Springs Rentals. The town is known for its midcentury architecture, and there are official architecture tours you can take, but it’s better to explore on your own.

Hike: If you have a car, get out of town and choose your path at Joshua Tree National Park.

Ride: The city’s best views come from the ultimate in touristy activities—the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

Smell: Back on the ground, don’t miss a spin through the Moorten Botanical Garden; you never knew cacti could be this pretty.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

What to Eat

The hotels all have restaurants; some are better than others:

  • Norma’s at The Parker (overpriced and huge portions, but a great patio)
  • King’s Highway at the Ace (Mexican meets midcentury diner)
  • 4 Saints at the Kimpton (one of the only rooftop spaces and great cocktails)
  • The Barn Kitchen at Sparrow’s Lodge (book a family-style “Chicken” Wednesday or “Steak” Saturday)

For old-school Palm Springs:

  • The Purple Palm at the Colony Palms Hotel (opened by a mobster in 1938, and now serves up new spins on its old classics)
  • Copley’s (newer, but set on part of the former Cary Grant estate with great views)
  • Melvyn’s (a perfectly-preserved relic of the Palm Springs heyday)

The dynamic duo:

Go early to Cheeky’s for brunch with a bacon flight. At dinner, next-door Birba has great Italian, a glowing patio, and a killer wine list.

The newbies:

  • Workshop Kitchen + Bar won a James Beard Award for its stark, modern design
  • Rooster and the Pig is a tiny Vietnamese spot that’s well worth any wait you’ll encounter
  • Sandfish is a brand-new sushi and whiskey spot, set in a Japanese-meets-Nordic environment
  • Evzin is the kind of fresh Mediterranean you crave in the desert
  • Farm is pretty for daily breakfast and lunch but magical for weekend dinner

Because it’s a Cocktail Town (in capital letters):

For date shakes, because you have to: