Explore Palm Springs: the top things to do, where to stay and what to eat
Set amidst dramatic desert-scapes and soaring peaks, California’s stylish oasis offers year-round sun, hip hotels and sophisticated cocktail culture, just a couple of hours from Downtown LA.…
Why go to Palm Springs?
One of nine cities in the Coachella Valley, 120 miles east of the City of Angels, Palm Springs is a paradise of the desert-cool kind, a world away from the urban metropolis and its Pacific Coast beach towns.
Once a playground for the Hollywood elite, the city has retained its sophisticated sheen with chic hotels, golf resorts and pristine, palm-lined avenues, while pulling off the difficult trick of being friendly and inclusive at the same time.
Just as some stars of the silver screen flocked here in the 1930s seeking a discreet desert retreat for their fun, frolics and affairs, today’s Palm Springs also has a hedonistic, ‘anything goes’ vibe that will have you feeling relaxed and at home from the moment you sink your first dirty martini.
And what a spectacular home it is. With the world’s largest collection of mid-century modern architecture, Palm Springs’ distinctive, low-lying 1950s and 1960s buildings and Spanish colonial estates set it apart from any other city in the United States, influencing and shaping the design ethos of hotels, restaurants and stores.
But with 360 days of sunshine a year, glamorous pool parties, classy shopping and dining, and incredible mountain and desert adventures on the doorstep, Palm Springs is much more than a monument to its heady days of drama and design: the city’s real ‘Golden Age’ could be just about to begin.
Where to stay
Hotels in Palm Springs are all about the pool, baby. Cool kids bounce between the city’s infamous pool parties with DJ sets and live music, while those seeking a more relaxed vibe will find secluded escapes that allow you to bask in style without the beats.
For the former, check in to the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, a Hi-de-Hip hot spot with boho rooms and a holiday-camp-kitsch pool, where a younger crowd sip margaritas and splash on inflatables against a backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Ace Hotel & Swim Club
For a more private affair, luxury boutique hotel The Weekend is the place to stay. A multimillion-dollar renovation has transformed a 1960s single-storey motel into a chic, mid-century modern classic.
The Weekend Palm Springs
Stroll through the orange front door into a fresh, white courtyard with a turquoise pool, surrounded by one- and two-bedroom villas, beautifully furnished in retro Palm Springs style. Private back patios draw on desert design, with sand and cacti surrounding bubbling water features, while swing chairs provide the perfect spot to chill or chow down on your complimentary breakfast.
The Weekend Palm Springs
What to eat and drink
Palm Springs’ streets are sprinkled with great eateries and bars, and whether you’re after a lazy bottomless brunch with some of the city’s favourite blueberry pancakes, or a top-end tasting menu, you’ll find a place to love.
The weather offers plenty of options to eat and drink alfresco on patios or around the pool, with water misters and canopies keeping things cool in the heat of the day, while year-round food, craft beer and wine festivals celebrate local produce and makers.
In Downtown, the terrace at Zin American Bistro is as good for eating as it is for people watching. Join the locals for a laid-back brunch, lunch or dinner of seasonal dishes with some great vegetarian options, like the panko-crusted fried blue cheese olives and cauliflower steak with tahini, paired with an award-winning selection of Californian and international wines.
A low-key mall off East Palm Canyon Drive belies the culinary gem 533 Viet Fusion, which surprises with innovative Asian cuisine, bursting with garden-fresh ingredients and unique flavours. Try the Spring Roll Bar’s made-to-order, hand-rolled delights, before diving into an exciting curry, pho, salad or crepe, and raising one of the restaurant’s speciality drinks, infused with kaffir, Thai basil or lime.
Any time is cocktail time in Palm Springs, but catch an official Happy Hour at one of the patios or pool bars as the sun drops over the mountains, and you’ll be transported back to the city’s original heyday.
The Riviera Palm Springs
Ask Joe to ‘set ’em up’ at the Rat Pack’s former stomping ground The Riviera, which offers half-price martinis and mojitos at the Soleil Pool on Martini Monday. Or get a taste for Palm Springs’ tiki tradition, with a tropical tipple at the Bootlegger Tiki bar on the former site of Don the Beachcomber, a 1950s favourite of the Hollywood elite.
Top things to do
Mingle with the stars
Palm Springs has been a favourite escape of Hollywood’s glitterati since the 1930s, and a P.S. Walk With Me tour of Las Palmas with infinitely knowledgeable local guide Jade Nelson offers a fascinating glimpse into the luxury lifestyles of some of the city’s famous residents, from Clark Gable and Liberace to Leonardo DiCaprio.
Design fans will relish the neighbourhood’s mid-century modern and Spanish colonial architecture too.
Join the street party
It may be known as a city, but nothing makes Palm Springs feel more like a friendly, desert community than its weekly VillageFest.
Showcasing local artists, designers, entertainers and food, this Thursday-night street fair runs for three blocks along Palm Canyon Drive, with local stores staying open until 10pm.
Explore the mountains
Take a 10-minute journey to the top of the Chino Canyon on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – the world’s largest rotating tramcar – to explore the Mount San Jacinto State Park.
With over 50 miles of pine- and cedar-lined hiking trails, the views overlooking the Coachella Valley from 8,516 feet (2,600m) are spectacular.
Have a desert adventure
Leave the city oasis behind and head into the Californian desert on a Big Red Jeep with Desert Adventures. Explore the ancestral lands of the Cahuilla Indians on the Indian Canyons Jeep and Hiking Tour, drive through the active earthquake zone of the famous San Andreas Fault, or hike through the magical landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park.
Your three-day guide to Palm Springs
Check-in to: Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs. This stylish, downtown hotel is just minutes away from the Palm Springs Art Museum and a short stroll to some of the city’s best restaurants and bars. With the only roof-top pool in Palm Springs, it’s also the place to be with a cocktail in hand, as the sun drops over the San Jacinto Mountains.
Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs
Get your bearings: in the dynamic Uptown Design District. A meander through this microcosm of mid-century modern architecture and design brings Palm Springs’ bigger picture into focus.
North Palm Canyon Drive offers easy wandering and window-shopping, with boutiques and galleries selling retro, vintage and contemporary pieces. Browse Destination PSP for stylish homewares, swimwear and branded Palm Springs apparel, drop in to Ernest Coffee for a pit-stop with mountain views, and pick up local maps and info from the wedge-roofed Palm Springs Visitors Center, another architectural treat.
Dine at: Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge. At the glitzier end of Palm Springs’ dining spectrum, this decadent restaurant and bar in the Uptown Design District – once the city’s post office – is not for the shy and retiring. A backlit bar lights its bright-white interior, shot with hot-pink flourishes and cheeky framed photos in black and white.
Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge
Try the excellent modern-American four-course dinner, or go local with weekend brunch on the terrace.
Take a bike ride to: Tahquitz Canyon and the Indian Canyons. Cycle out to the canyons, which lie just south of the city, and explore the region’s waterfalls, rock art and palm-fringed pools. A place of special significance to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, it’s a spiritual way to start your day.
Lunch at: Las Casuelas Terraza. This family-run, Spanish colonial-style casa on South Palm Canyon Drive serves authentic Mexican dishes in its relaxed restaurant, or on its three shady patios. Come back after dark for music, margaritas and dancing under the desert stars.
Las Casuelas Terraza
Go local at: a festival. For a small city, Palm Springs punches above its weight when it comes to world-class festivals and events. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival lights up nearby Indio in April, and throughout the year, locals and visitors mingle at a host of inclusive, creative gatherings.
Book a hotel in advance to catch Modernism Week in February, which celebrates the city’s mid-century modern design heritage, and Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week in June, with 10 days of culinary treats.
Drink at: the Saguaro. There’s a pool party vibe every day at this eye-popping, kaleidoscopically coloured hotel.
Saguaro Palm Springs
Choose from a rainbow of frozen cocktails and punch bowls at the pool bar, or book a cabana with your own minibar, server and HD TV. Taco Tuesday and Thursday have Mexican drinks and food specials, too.
Brunch at: Trio Palm Springs. Cool and casual, this terraced local favourite – in a renovated mid-century modern bank building on North Palm Canyon Drive – offers a great weekend brunch selection, plus excellent light bites, including daily, uniquely prepped servings of the Coachella Valley’s famous dates. And with an eight-hour-long Happy Hour, what’s not to love?
Head out on the highway to: Pioneertown. Established by actor Dick Curtis in 1946, this living, breathing, movie-set town at the gateway to the California desert is the perfect place to make like Roy Rogers and live out your Wild West dreams.
Read more: 65 awesome filming locations you can visit
Don’t have a ride? Hire a classic 1965 Ford Mustang Convertible or Fastback from Classic Mustang Rentals in Los Angeles, and cruise into this one-horse town in style.
Sip some sake at: Wabi Sabi Japan Living. California’s wines and craft beers shouldn’t be missed, but for a more exotic tipple, try a fruity and floral sake or shochu flight at this North Palm Canyon Drive store. Sessions happen daily, with Japanese beers also on offer and an all-day Happy Hour on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
For those who prefer to leave still standing, there are free Japanese tea and coffee tastings, too.
America As You Like It (020 8742 8299) offers a six-night package from £1,395 per person, including return international flights from London to Los Angeles on British Airways, car hire, two nights at the InterContinental Hotel Los Angeles, two nights at The Weekend Hotel Palm Springs and two nights at The ACE Hotel & Swim Club Palm Springs. Price based on two people sharing on a room-only basis.
Main image: VisitPalmSprings.com
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