We head to Palm Springs every April to visit family. It's a destination where we are guaranteed sunshine and lots of time in the swimming pool. While Palm Springs will always draw sun seekers and retirees, a new demographic of young entrepreneurs have moved into town, re-energizing the food, hotel, and design scene, and breathing new life into this once shiny part of the California desert. So here's a hit list of what is cool, fun, and delicious in Palm Springs.
Le Meridien Parker Palm Springs: I love the Parker. I have been coming here since it first opened. Once the ranch of American performer, Gene Autry, the Parker is a sprawling complex of buildings, pools, and lush landscape. I love the pebbled paths lined with hedges and palms that lead to hidden green spaces dotted with white canvas butterfly chairs and fire pits. Year after year, I have watched the landscape of the Parker grow, and for some reason it always reminds me of Alice and Wonderland (or maybe its because of the life size chess set?). The lemonade stand is a great spot for a drink (or three). Take it back to the pool and jump into the scene, or pretend that you know how to play petanque and try not to hit someone when you start fooling around with the metal balls in the gravel courtyard. In Palm Springs, if you are of a certain age, The Parker is the place to be. It's whimsical, playful, quiet, and lively; all at the same time. One evening we stopped by for drinks with our gaggle of friends and kids. The kids had ice cream and played in a courtyard with a guest's mastiff (can you imagine sharing a hotel room with a mastiff?), while we enjoyed cocktails and the fading light on the lawn in our bare feet. Whether you are 20 or 50, kids in tow, or solo, you can't go wrong with a stay at The Parker. 4200 East Palm Canyon Drive
Smoke Tree Ranch: Developed in the shadow of the San Jacinto Mountains, Smoke Tree Ranch is a really special place that most people don't know about. Set on 375 acres, Smoke Tree Ranch was developed in the 1930's, and has since been the seasonal home of 85 families from all over the country. A visit to Smoke Tree Ranch feels like going back in time. Communal meals in the Ranch House, swimming in the Ranch pool, riding horses at the adjacent Smoke Tree Stables, and lawn bowling on the green are just a few of the things that make Smoke Tree unique. Peace and quiet are abundant here; the roads are virtually empty save for the occasional golf cart or bicycle, and children are encouraged to roam freely. The landscape of the Ranch has been painstakingly preserved to reflect desert living; there is no golf course, and desert plantings are favored over green lawns. In addition to the privately owned residences, the Ranch has 49 guest cottages and communal facilities that it operates as a resort. Those who know about Smoke Tree Ranch come back year after year; it is not uncommon at holiday times for the Ranch to feel like it is hosting a homecoming (the annual Easter Hoe Down is the mother of all outdoor parties!). This is probably not the place for a hipster retreat, but if you are looking for a unique family friendly experience in the desert, look no farther than Smoke Tree Ranch. 1850 Smoke Tree Lane
Sparrows Lodge: A recent addition to Palm Springs, the Sparrows Lodge is an intimate retreat just a stones throw from the main drag. Originally built in 1953, the Lodge was fully restored in 2013, creating 20 cozy rooms with stone fireplaces, rain showers, and private patios. Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Napa), is an investor, so it's no surprise that the food prepared for guests is wonderful. There is no restaurant on site, but I wouldn't be surprised if something is in the works. In the meantime, the Sparrows Lodge is where you go to check out of the scene and relax. No kids. No televisions. No telephones. 1330 East Palm Canyon Drive
The Ace Hotel & Swim Club: DJ's spinning, raucous pool parties, and paper thin walls sum up the Ace Hotel (a refurbished motel). Ever the hot spot if you are looking for a party, the Ace is the perfect place for a fun getaway with friends. It is not, however, the place to stay if you are seeking sleep, quiet, and relaxation. Be warned. Party on. 701 East Palm Canyon Drive
Cheeky's: Located in downtown Palm Springs, Cheekys is the best breakfast in Palm Springs. Farm fresh eggs, boozy baked french toast, juevos rancheros, and chilaquiles with homemade chorizo. Need I say more? Cheekys is a known entity among locals, so get there early to avoid a long wait. 622 North Palm Canyon Drive
Birba: From the same outfit who brought Cheekys to Palm Springs, Birba is their answer to dinner. It's a casual spot with lots of outdoor seating in a nicely lit courtyard. Come here for killer cocktails, wood fired pizza (they do a GF crust), and delicious salads. How about a white pizza with crispy prosciutto, fig, argula and balsamic? It's as good as it sounds! 622 North Palm Canyon Drive
Workshop Kitchen + Bar: Recent winner of the James Beard Award for restaurant design, Workshop is a beautiful, sleek, modern restaurant that brings fresh, California cuisine to Palm Springs. When Workshop opened a few years ago, Palm Springs foodies were abuzz about the new restaurant offering true farm-to-table fare. Hip Angelinos now have a spot to eat when they escape to the desert for the weekend and design conscious, food fanatics finally have a place to munch on kale. No doubt, the food is great, but the plates are small and the food is expensive (if you are in from L.A. or New York, you won't be phased). If you are planning a trip to PSP, Workshop should be on your hit list. 800 North Palm Canyon Drive
Johannes: I find that Palm Springs has a lot of "California cuisine," so why not take a break and go out for Austrian? Johannes has been a Palm Springs mainstay for many years. Fine dining in a contemporary space, chef Johannes Bachter cooks fabulous Austrian fare made with organic, sustainable ingredients. Think you have had good schnitzel, you will think again when you try the schnitzel at Johannes. Second to none outside of Austria! Johannes also has an expertly curated wine list with deep selections from the Tyrol region of Austria. Don't hesitate in trusting your somm, this is great place to step back from your comfort zone and try something different that complements the origins of your meal. 196 South Indian Canyon Drive
Rio Azul: When you are in Palm Springs, you can't leave without having at least one great Mexican meal. We usually show up at Rio Azul when they unlock the door at 5:00 pm. In most cases, we have at least one other family and half a dozen kids in tow, so to avoid offensive looks and snarky comments from other diners we get in and get out before the dinner rush. Ironically, instead of seating us in the corner or in the back, they always put us right in the middle of the restaurant, as if to encourage bad behavior (or maybe so that they are in ear shot when we need another round). Rio Azul is dark, casual, and completely lacking in atmosphere, but the food and margaritas kill it every single time! The guacamole made table side is not just for show, it actually tastes amazing, and any dish incorporating tender slow cooked pork is a must. Don't be shy with the margaritas. 350 South Indian Canyon Drive
If you still have it in you after an afternoon by the pool, here are a few places where craft cocktails, cult beer selections, ping pong and house music can be found.
Bar: Think deep whiskey list, craft cocktails, unique beer selection, and a good selection of pizzas and bar food. They also host ping pong tourneys... 340 North Palm Canyon Drive
Amigo Room: Artisanal cocktails and a huge variety of tapped and bottled beer, the Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel boasts a huge stuffed bear on the bar and rotating DJ's and live music. 701 East Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Desert Aquatic Center: The Palm Desert Aquatic Center is a great place to step out of the daily routine. It's not a water slide park - although there is a single small waterslide - but a large facility featuring an olympic size pool, giant wading pools for little kids, and everything in between. Set on 8 acres just outside of Palm Springs, the Aquatic Center is a beautiful facility with something for everyone. 73751 Magnesia Falls Drive, Palm Desert
Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert: If you have littles and you need to get out of the sun for a bit, head to the Palm Springs Children's Museum. It is often not very crowded, the kids love it, and while they play you can sit and read the paper on your phone. 71701 Gerald Ford Drive, Rancho Mirage
Palm Springs Art Museum: The Palm Springs Art Museum has a well curated selection of modern and contemporary art, glass, photography, architecture, and design, including Native American and Western art. Its permanent collection, some of which is donated or on loan from area residents, includes works by Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Ansel Adams and Roy Lichtenstein. A visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum is a great way to escape the desert heat for a few hours if you are looking to experience a slice of culture. 101 North Museum Drive
Palm Springs Architecture and Design Museum: Seeing as Palm Springs is home to the world's largest collection of mid-century modern architecture, it was only a matter of time before the Palm Springs Art Museum expanded its emphasis to incorporate architecture and design. In 2014, the Palm Springs Art Museum opened the Architecture and Design Museum to showcase its growing collection of architectural drawings, photographs and models. In addition to exhibiting its collection, the Museum also offers curated and intimate tours of the interiors and exteriors of many of Palm Springs' greatest mid-century modern architectural gems. 300 South Palm Canyon Drive
Architectural Tour: Palm Springs is home to one of the world's best preserved collection of modern architecture. Take a tour of the area and experience the unbelievable works of some of the best 20th century architects, including private homes and civic structures. Palm Springs Modern Tours in just one great outfit that offers small, personal tours of the desert's mid-century gems.
Vintage Shopping: Palm Springs is ever the destination for those in search of vintage mid-century modern treasures. Instead of making an exhaustive list of shops you should visit, here are a few articles from Vogue, Elle Decor, and Refinery29 that should point you toward Palm Springs' best vintage haunts.
Smoke Tree Stables: Near Smoke Tree Ranch, the stables not only board horses, but also offer rentals and guided rides. Horseback is a great way to see the Indian Canyons which are based just beyond Smoke Tree Stables. 2500 South Toledo Avenue
Hiking Indian Canyons: The Indian Canyons just beyond downtown Palm Springs are a beautiful place to get out for a hike among the towering palms and the trickling streams. Bring a picnic, as there are great spots along the way to stop for lunch.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: Experience the 30 degree fluctuation in temperature from the desert floor to the top of Mount San Jacinto by taking a ride in the Palm Springs Aerial Tram. A ride in the tram assures incredible views of Palm Springs, and you never know, when you step out there may just be snow on the ground. 1 Tram Way
Joshua Tree: About an hour from Palm Springs, the Mojave and Lower Colorado Deserts collide in the form of Joshua Tree National Park. Check out the hiking trails, the five palm oases, or try your hand at rock climbing. If you are looking for an experience beyond the sun and fun in Palm Springs, a side trip into the park will not disappoint. When you are done trapsing around the desert, check out the communities in the area. A new breed of artistic bohemians, inspired by the desert landscape, have settled into Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley, and Pioneertown (don't be surprised if you run into some transplants from Brooklyn), breathing new light into these faded outposts. Galleries, artist spaces and vintage shops (think cowboy vintage) are popping up everywhere, and there is even fresh organic food and juice to be had. If you are tempted to stay the night, check into the Mojave Sands Hotel or better yet, have Shelter Co. set up your own tee pee under the stars.
ON THE SIDE
Coachella: The indi-music festival comes to the desert every April for two three-day weekends.
Indian Wells Tennis Tournament: For two weeks in mid-March, the Palm Desert tennis scene ignites with the PNB Paribas Open in Indian Wells. All the best players are in town!
Palm Springs Film Festival: Just after the new year, Hollywood comes to Palm Springs for two weeks of cutting edge cinema at the annual film festival.
Splash House Music Festival: For one weekend in August the Splash House Music Festival comes to Palm Springs and takes over the pool areas of the city's most happening hotels. The festival brings both emerging and popular DJ's and performers to the stage in a pool setting. In the heat of the lazy summer, the pulse of Palm Springs starts thumping when Splash House comes to town.
If you are flying to Palm Springs, don't try to save a few bucks by landing in Ontario Airport. It's an hour away with no traffic (there is always traffic), and the Palm Springs airport is within minutes of everything. It is worth the extra cost to fly into PSP directly.
Whats to Come:
Iceland ★ 01.16
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