Palm Springs, California is a desert oasis located about a two hours’ drive from Los Angeles and San Diego. A popular getaway for the Hollywood elite in the early-mid 1900s, Palm Springs is renowned for its mid-century modern architecture, plentiful golf courses and dry climate. In the past several years, the city has seen a resurgence of tourism partly due to Coachella, the annual music festival which takes place nearby in the Coachella Valley. As a result, many historic hotels have undergone million-dollar renovations and dozens of restaurants and bars have popped up to cater to the vacationing crowd. Luckily, the majority of these restorations and new developments have maintained the design-focused, eclectic character of historic Palm Springs. All in all, this resort city makes for an ideal weekend retreat to soak up some sun and relax.
WHEN TO VISIT
Prime season in Palm Springs is winter, January through March, when you’re freezing your tail off in New York and temps in Palm Springs are a lovely 70 degrees and sunny. As a result, some airlines, like JetBlue, offer seasonal direct flights from East Coast hubs (like NY) to Palm Springs. Unfortunately, this also means you’ll pay top dollar if you decide to visit then and likely encounter larger crowds. Shoulder seasons (fall and spring) can be slightly more economical while still offering ideal pool-side weather. The summer (June-August) is the low season in the area and many restaurants and shops close for about a month to escape the heat which can hit 100-115 in the peak of the day. However, the humidity is still low-to-non-existent so if you can handle a little heat, the prices in the low season are worth it. Besides, when you’re floating in a pool with a cocktail, who cares if it’s 100 degrees out? I chose to visit in early August as a last minute long weekend getaway and had a blast. Plus a $200/night price tag on a 5 star resort can’t be beat!
WHERE TO STAY
There are so many hotels to choose from in Palm Springs! And many of them house awesome restaurants, so even when you stay at one place, you have an easy excuse to visit others. We chose to stay at L’Horizon Resort & Spa, an adults-only hotel just outside of town, with 25 custom-designed bungalows. The property was originally developed as a private residence in the 1950s by famed architect William Cody and the compound’s 20 guest houses were frequented by Hollywood A-listers, Presidents and business tycoons. In the past few years, it was redesigned by Steve Herman and quickly named one of 2016’s Best New Hotels on the Planet by Travel + Leisure.
Tucked away behind a high privet hedge, the resort entrance is one small lobby building. Greeted with a glass of champagne in the library, guests are ushered through a large wooden swinging door into a verdant oasis centered around a luxe pool, spacious lounge chairs, daybeds and fanned cabanas. The bungalows are spread around the 3 acre property, each with their own private patio and some with an outdoor shower. Nestled around the estate is a large fire pit, a bocce ball court, an open-air spa and an abundant number of water and fire features (42 water and 14 fire, to be exact). Adjacent to the pool is the pool bar serving top-notch cocktails poolside (or literally in the pool in case you’re floating around there for an hour or two) and food. There is also a full-service fine dining restaurant, SOPA, for a more upscale dinner option, although this was closed while we were there.
Everything about our stay at L’Horizon was top notch: The bartenders bring you frozen grapes and cold towels by the pool. Turndown service includes a small tray of freshly-baked cookies. They provide complimentary yoga on Saturday mornings. There are Apple TVs in every room so you can maintain your Netflix habit on vacation. And did I mention how they serve you cocktails IN the pool?
WHERE TO EAT
Aside from sipping cocktails by (or in) the pool and some activities (see below), we certainly did a lot of eating. This was a highly researched topic before the trip and I largely referenced these two blog posts for tips and recommendations:
So here’s where we ate:
- Appetito Deli – A cute Italian deli/restaurant with awesome risotto and a nice outdoor patio. Great for lunch.
- Workshop Kitchen + Bar – One of the nicer spots in town, the menu is filled with interesting options and everything came out looking like a work of art. See below for the masterpiece that is the octopus carpaccio! Our favorite dishes were the heirloom tomato/burrata/pesto number and the homemade bread with truffle butter. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of either one because we scarfed them down too quickly.
- Barn Kitchen at Sparrow Lodge – We actually got this tip from one of our Uber drivers who was a Palm Springs local. Barn Kitchen at Sparrow Lodge (also a recently renovated hotel) is a hidden gem. The chef hails from The French Laundry and he serves up killer sandwiches for lunch. Plus everything in the barn was so cute I couldn’t stop taking pictures of all the little details. They also serve a family-style steak dinner every Saturday night which is supposed to be amazing and also pretty fairly priced.
- Reservoir at ARRIVE Hotel – It’s California so you must eat tacos and guacamole. This spot has large portions and a nice outdoor patio, plus after dinner you can pop next door to the Ice Cream Shop(pe) and top your homemade scoops with goodies from the DIY sprinkle bar (a personal favorite).
- Norma’s at The Parker – This place is a bit overpriced but still worth a visit for brunch and to check out the famous entryway to The Parker’s lobby. Make sure to reserve a table in advance since this is a brunch hot spot.
- King’s Highway Diner at Ace Hotel – A converted Denny’s, King’s Highway Diner evokes an old timey roadside diner and is perfect for a casual brunch or lunch. The soft egg & grilled corn cazuela is one of their signature breakfast dishes and though our waiter sort of tried to convince us not to order that, we loved it and scraped the dish clean.
Ok so that’s a lot of food but we were there for 4 days….
WHAT TO DO:
- Joshua Tree National Park: Just 45 minutes from Palm Springs lies the West Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, home to the Dr. Seuss-like Joshua Tree, desert wildlife and miles of hiking trails. Summer is also low season in the park but you can still visit earlier or later in the day. There was actually a nice breeze the day we were there. Park rangers recommend shorter hikes for the summer months, so you can combine a couple of 1-mile loops with breaks in-between to soak up some AC in your car. We did Hidden Valley, Barker Dam and Skull Rock for a total of about 4 miles. The landscape here is very surreal and well worth a visit. I’d love to come back and camp overnight to see the stars.
- Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – The world’s largest rotating tram car! I honestly had no idea what to expect from this but it seems to be one of the main activities offered in the town of Palm Springs aside from golf. For $25, you can hop on this massive tram, which runs every 10 minutes to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. The two-and-a-half-mile ascent brings you to 8,500 feet where the temperature is 20-30 degrees cooler. In the winter, you can be playing golf in shorts in Palm Springs and then ride up the tram for sledding and cross country skiing. In the summer, it is a welcome break from the high heat. At the top, you can dine at Peaks Restaurant or explore Mt. San Jacinto State Park which encompasses 54 miles of hiking trails and campgrounds. We spent a few hours hiking and enjoying the wilderness and cooler climate.
- R&R – Aside from morning hikes and yoga, we really came to Palm Springs to relax and get away from it all. We spent afternoons by the pool reading, evenings watching Netflix in our bungalow and just generally being lazy. Palm Springs is the perfect place to indulge a little and enter full-on vacation mode.