I knew Palm Springs was a mecca for golf and a vacation spot for Old Hollywood stars. But I was not prepared for the remarkable diversity of things to do in the region. A desert oasis in Southern California, Greater Palm Springs’ nine cities (Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and Rancho Mirage) each offer wildly different experiences.
You can get a bird’s eye view of the region and a close-up look at Mount San Jacinto State Park on Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Shortly after beginning a 2.5-mile trip through the cliffs of Chino Canyon in the rotating tram car, I suddenly remembered I had a fear of heights. Thankfully, I was able to calm my nerves in the bar at the top.
Other memorable outdoor experiences were a hike through Indian Canyons—where standing among the towering palm trees made me feel as though I had stumbled into a land of giants—and a Jeep tour of the San Andreas Fault. It was fascinating to hike and drive through a labyrinth of massive geological cuts and canyons.
I made time for some fun indoor activities, too, including a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum, which specializes in contemporary art and regional natural artifacts, and the Mod Squad design tour, which showcases Palm Springs’ renowned mid-century modern architecture. A “Martini & MCM” option features the homes of stars such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Marilyn Monroe and finishes with a signature cocktail from the Rat Pack era.
I spent the first two nights at Kimpton’s stylish Rowan Palm Springs in the heart of downtown. At its 4 Saints restaurant, I enjoyed an exceptional three-course, prix fixe meal, with rooftop seating under the stars. The hotel’s location made it easy to explore shops and eateries in the city’s historic La Plaza—including Farm, where spectacular Provençal fare is served. (I’m still dreaming of its croissants and crepes.) Other standouts include 1501 Uptown Gastropub (try the corn chowder with blue crab) and the beautifully decorated Eight4Nine in the Uptown Design District. Save room for the 849 Caramel Macchiato Cake and the house cocktail, a concoction of Crater Lake vodka, Mionetto prosecco, Limoncello, and Mandarine Napoléon. It’s as scrumptious as it sounds.
Travel Tips: Golfer’s Paradise
For Daniel Taylor, executive managing director of Colliers International, visiting Palm Springs is like taking a walk down memory lane. He and his family made frequent trips there when he was a child to visit his grandparents; they lived in Dallas but spent nearly half their time at their course-side second home in the famed Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells. “If you’re a tennis player or a golfer, it’s like heaven out there,” says Taylor. “One of the coolest things is there are several different types of golf courses, due to the mountains and the topography. Those in the valley or the foothills are fairly flat, but then there are [the canyon and mountain courses] at places like Bighorn, where it’s target golf. That’s fun, too. And it’s something we don’t get to do here in Texas.”
After all the hiking (and eating), a restorative day was in order. I spent it at Azure Palm Hot Springs, a resort and spa atop Desert Hot Spring’s Miracle Hill, named for the healing properties of the hot mineral water that lies beneath it. After a nice, long soak, I opted for the spa’s signature service—a fusion of Swedish and deep tissue massage with a hot herbal steam towel treatment and a “magic mint” scalp massage.
From there, it was off to the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, which offers a bounty of amenities. Stroll to Flamingo Island to see the exotic pink birds, book a gondola and travel via Venetian-like waterways to one of the resort’s many restaurants, or play golf at its championships courses. Be sure to dine at least once at the Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, where the meals are as delightful as the teppanyaki chefs who prepare them.