Palm Springs: California Sunshine at the End of the Leash

Our leash was feeling tight and, like puppies, we were feeling the strain when we tried to run.

Every getaway destination we looked at had a range of tests, restrictions, and hoops to jump through that made it inconvenient at best, and impossible at worst. With winter raging at its hardest in the Midwest, our flight response was in full gear, and we were struggling.

Taking the majority of the world out of contention, we put a map of the United States and a (large) bottle of wine down in front of us and began the search. Criteria: Daytime temps topping 60 degrees, direct flight, not a lot of drive time, activities (hiking, biking), walkable, and restaurants and bars worth the trip.

It’s amazing how small the country starts to feel.

We found the end of our leash in Palm Springs. Historically (and ironically), it was known in the mid-20th century as the end of Hollywood’s leash, too. Actors were obliged by contract to be within driving distance in the event of reshoots, so many chose Palm Springs as a short-term getaway.

What makes Palm Springs so desirable? The hiking is great, it’s kind of walkable, the little airport is fantastic, and (burying the lede here) in the winter its always sunny and usually at least 75-80 degrees. Translation: You can be outside and actually breathe without ice crystals forming on your eyelashes.

Covid disclaimer (boy, I hate that phrase): As of February 2022, California overall is still very much in the camp of masks indoors and vaccine-card requirements.

Other disclaimer: We don’t actively golf (only when forced by family), but Palm Springs is quite obviously known for its golf courses—so if you do, it’s another point in that column.

Hiking and Biking:

One of the best things about the Palm Springs area is the hiking. It’s surrounded by hills and there is an amazing number of trailheads, whether you chose to stay in Palm Springs or Palm Desert. In Palm Springs, check out Tahquitz Canyon or the Lykken Trail (trekking from the south to north is a little easier than north to south). The Garstin Trail is also close to there. In Palm Desert, the Bump and Grind or anywhere in the Indian Wells region are great options. Even just walking around the neighborhoods in Palm Springs proper is kind of fun (although very flat) to admire the architecture and meet all the happy dogs that live there. Further afield, Joshua Tree is pretty amazing, and usually under an hour drive.

The biking is also mostly flat if you want it to be, and there is no shortage of bike options. 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.

Eating and Drinking:

There are a lot of restaurants options in the area, mostly landing along a scale of “fine to pretty good.” The opinions on this vary widely between the somewhat-frequent weekenders (mostly LA- or West-Coast-based) to the short- or long-term residents (including many Midwesterners that who are clearly smarter than us). So we’ll break it down by popular opinion.

Everyone agrees:

  • Bar Cecil is the hot new kid, and impossible to get into. The food is pretty good, and the atmosphere/space is one of the best in the area. As a short-term resident put it, “It’s the coolest we’ve got.”
  • Workshop is perhaps the most visually notable due to its very architecturally forward space. The food is pretty consistently good, and the service is really good.
  • Counter Reformation is a fun little hidden spot in the Parker, great for interesting wines and small plates that can all be done in a turbo chef.
  • Koffi, the local coffee chain, is the best morning option (along with some opinions that Townie Bagels is a good alternate, obviously with a bagel specialty—a novel West Coast notion).
  • Cheeky’s is the place to go for breakfast.
  • Birba (from the same owner as Cheeky’s) is great for woodfired food, especially if you’re a pizza person.
  • Tac/Quila for upper-casual Mexican

Most people agree:

  • 4Saints in the Kimpton is a good rooftop option (there are surprisingly few in town), mostly for a drink.
  • Jake’s and 1501 Uptown Gastropub are really good brunch options, and both have crowd-pleaser menus (good if you’re in a brunchy kind of group).
  • Tyler’s is a great lunch spot, especially loved by short/long-term residents.
  • SO.PA in the L’Horizon hotel is pretty consistently good.
  • Sandfish is the only place to go for sushi
  • Rooster and the Pig is a great Vietnamese spot.
  • Spencer’s is a pretty good brunch or dinner spot, in a great location (defying our usual ethos of “The better the location, the worse the restaurant.”)
  • Lyon’s is a fun choice if you’re in the market for a steakhouse.

The polarizing opinions most polarizing opinions are on Copley’s: The weekenders like it, and the residents say it’s a no-go. Same for Farm, which always seems to have a long line.

Staying and Sleeping:

The hotels, for the most part, are equally fine (yet another disclosure: We are very discerning guests, who critique and observe pretty much everything).

For the more expensive experience the Ritz Carlton is the clear choice—although the walkability score goes way down, as you’re trapped in the hills. The Parker is also at the top of many lists as a classic choice, with a bunglalow-type setup.

For the more expensive boutique experience, L’Horizon (which is opening a brand-new hotel-within-a-hotel concept March 2022) is a good small option (although the original rooms are a little worn), as well as La Serena Villas, which give the perfect Palm Springs experience.

For the mid-level boutique experience, there is Holiday House (brighter and airy), Korakia Pensione (a bit heavily designed/themed), or Sparrows Lodge (which is a little more faux-rustic, rather than the usual Palm Springs midcentury white swank).

For mid-priced, brand hotels, Arrive (a small, growing brand) or the Kimpton Rowan. (Also note, the above-mentioned Parker is a Le Meridien brand, but it’s definitely not a mid-price point)

The one common denominator of every hotel is a central pool, packed with hotel guests no matter the weather. If that’s not your scene, you can either bypass (as we did) or opt for a vacation rental.

I’ll end by reiterating the entire point of Palm Springs: Almost always sunny and at least 70 degrees. Enough said as I put on my knee-length parka, shivering already.