Beginners guide to Palm Springs

PALM SPRINGS beginner guide basics travel visitIt could be the balmy year-round temperatures, the laid-back lifestyle, the unique attractions, or that it’s so easy to get around, but Palm Springs is a vacationer’s paradise.

For visitors who’ve not had the pleasure of travelling to Palm Springs, reading about the vast variety of restaurants, hotels, attractions, and golf courses might seem a bit overwhelming. So we’ve designed a few quick itineraries to help you explore the best of Palm Springs depending how many days you can stay.

Palm Springs Guide- Day One

Breeze right off your flight and through the open-air Palm Springs International Airport, and you’ll be sipping a cocktail less than an hour later. With just a handful of gates the airport is a cinch to get through, and you’ll easily be able to grab a taxi outside. Better yet, rent a car at one of the many kiosks right inside the airport terminal, since getting around this sprawling desert city is best done with your own wheels.

While you wait until check-in time at your hotel or Airbnb, head over to the popular and iconic Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The world’s largest rotating tram car will ferry you up from the desert floor to the top of Mt San Jacinto and give you a bird’s eye view over the Coachella Valley.

All about Palm Springs

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Colony Palms Hotel

A quick aside; Palm Springs is the core of a string of desert cities here. While it’s the most westerly and the official capital of the area, there are also things to see and do in Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, La Quinta and beyond. The city was founded back in 1853 by a government survey party who stumbled upon a natural hot spring and mineral pool in the area. In the 1950’s and 60’s the city became popular as a getaway fror Hollywood stars, who had to remain within two hours’ driving distance of their film sets.

After spending an hour or two at the top of the world, head over to Palm Canyon Drive, the city’s main drag. Starting at about Tachevah Road and continuing on to where the road makes the big curve and becomes East Palm Canyon Drive, you can shop the wide variety of stores here, then stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants.

If you’re craving a sandwich, hit up the Kaiser Grille and try the beef dip with a glass of their house wine.

Next, scope out some modernist home goods and designer consignment shops (both things Palm Springs is famous for), find your way to the Uptown Design District (on Palm Canyon Drive from Tachevah Drive south to Alejo Road just north of Downtown). You’ll want to seek out the Destination PSP Store for cool souvenirs that are anything but junky or cheesy. Be sure to pop in to the Shag store or Nat Reid to see both artists’ collection of retro-cool Palm Springs mod artworks.

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Orbit In hotel

Check in at your hotel or rental property. Reasonably priced options include the Orbit In with its dozen rooms around a communal pool and ‘Orbitini hour’ at 5pm. The 7 Springs Inn is also a nice property where good deals abound. Looking to stay somewhere more swanky? The Parker Hotel can’t be beat (cocktails in the dazzling lobby lounge are a must whether you’re staying here or not), unless it’s by the ultra-chic Colony Palms and its cozy Moroccan Purple Palm restaurant. If your crash pad has a lounge, it’s time to indulge. If you’ve opted for a home stay experience, now’s the time to crack open a bottle of wine or to shake a martini and sit outside, enjoying the balmy temperatures and nearly endless sun.

If you need to stock up on supplies, Trader Joe’s is an outstanding organic grocery with an endless array of ‘take and make’ foods like apples and snacks. Plus, they sell booze too!

Palm Springs has a strange effect on people; things start earlier and wrap up earlier here. Is it the desert air? The ring of mountains, or the large proportion of retirees here? It’s hard to say, but 5 o’clock is a good time to head out for a cocktail (if you’re on a grown up trip) or dinner (if you have kids with you).

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Eight4Nine restaurant

Imbibe at the colourful Trio, or the sprawling LULU, or head into a room that will wow you (and so will the food and cocktails!) at Eight4Nine.

When it’s time for dinner, get yourselves over to Shanghai Red’s. The fish or shrimp tacos are the best in the city, and the cool dark space is reminiscent of an upscale shack on Fisherman’s Wharf. If they’e in season, the steamed artichokes are outstanding to nibble at, and oyster shooters are a must along side. (Drink responsibly of call an Uber for this portion of the evening, friends!)

If your accommodations have it (and honestly, they should) head home for a swim or a soak in a hot tub to round out the day.

Palm Springs Guide- Day Two

You’ll need to get your mojo going to get a spot at Cheeky’s before the crowds arrive. Cheeky’s makes breakfast and lunch fare that even the locals will wait for, so go early. The corn pancakes and the Flight of Bacon (a multi-strip sampler plate that features flavoured, candied and infused bacon) absolutely need to show up at your table.

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The Living Desert

Point your car eastward and take the 20-30 minute drive (yes, even in rush hour!) to Palm Desert where you’ll spend the morning at the Living Desert. Part botanical gardens, part zoo, this unique attraction is great for both adults and kids. Stroll the grounds and marvel at the vast curated collection of plants, flowers, and cacti. Watch the desert animals here and be sure to check the schedule at the gate for feeding times, and to see what’s on at the hospital. The Living Desert is also a rehabilitation centre for wildlife, so you might catch the veterinarians tending to a tiger with a toothache, a tortoise with a paw problem or just an annual checkup on previous patient.

El Paseo is the main shopping and commercial district in Palm Desert, and it’s just minutes from the Living Desert. It’s lined with high end designer stores from Vuitton to Tiffany but there’s also plenty for the budget shopper too.

Walk the wide boulevard and find your way to Tommy Bahama where you’ll want to order a few of the appetizers and share them like tapas. The food is absolutely delicious and the service is impeccable.

With full bellies, it’s a nice 15-20 minute walk down El Paseo to the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert. Thanks to a donor, admission here is free, and the ever-changing art collection is interesting and fun. Don’t miss the sculpture garden out back with the cooling shade of palm trees and a waterfall.

Whole Foods Market is now open in Palm Desert if you’re in need of supplies.

Take your time driving back to Palm Springs and enjoy the desert modern architecture along the way. Download the Palm Springs Modern app  (for Apple or Android) and as you re-enter Palm Springs proper and see some iconic homes, like the Elvis Honeymoon House, where Elvis and Priscilla avoided the world after their wedding in 1967. You’ll also want to see the eye-catching Swiss Miss houses, and some other examples of modernist design and architecture. Cruise the Vista Las Palmas neighbourhood, the Movie Colony or the Racquet Club Estates hoods to make yourself jealous.

Make tonight a special night out where you’ll eat food you could never in a million years make for yourself at home.

Try for reservations at Dish Creative Cuisine. Ask for a cozy table in the back for a private dining feel and order whatever specials the chef is making that day, or try one of the many seafood dishes. Don’t be surprised if a wee savoury donut or other surprise chef-created bite arrives between your courses; Dish knows how to make evenings special and keep you guessing, but in a good way.

Palm Springs Guide- Day 3

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Draughtsman restaurant

Fairly new to Palm Springs, Broken Yolk serves up a variety of breakfast dishes right on Palm Canyon Drive. The Border Benedict is particularly delicious, with two poached eggs on corn cakes and carne asada topped off with a savory poblano sauce. The restaurant is kid-friendly too so it’s a day-starter the whole family can enjoy.

It’s time to get your culture on and learn a bit about what a modernist mecca Palm Springs is when it comes to art, architecture and design. Stop first at the Architecture and Design Centre and browse the small collection of architectural and design exhibits in this former bank building (which in and of itself is a stunning example of a restoration gone right) and then make your way a few blocks south to the larger Palm Springs Art Museum. With a huge collection on several floors the variety of art here is surprising. A huge permanent collection of sculpture sits alongside native baskets, cowboy art shares space with midcentury modern tablescapes and furniture, and towering installation pieces will wow you.

You’ll need sustenance for your next venture so fuel up at one of the newer and hipper joints in town;
Draughtsman at Arrive Palm Springs hotel. This airy restaurant often has all the walls pulled open to let in the breeze, so it’s like being in climate-controlled outdoor comfort. There’s traditional fare but also some pretty unusual dishes like the Cuban Sandwich or the Bang Bang PB&J; never has roasted cashew butter, Thai bird chile strawberry jam, sliced cucumber, mint, and Thai basil gone together so well. Pair your meal with a great craft beer or sumptuous cocktail.
About 20 minutes west of Palm Springs is the Desert Hills Premium Outlets. From experience I can say that spending 4-6 hours here is not unreasonable as there’s just so many stores here. Pick a friend who’s as into shopping as you are and plan to spend at least half a day hopping from shop to shop. There’s a wealth of choice when it comes to the stores, and a whole section of premium luxury brands.

It’s been around possibly longer than you have and at Las Casuelas Original, they’re doing Mexican food right. While this family-run establishment is now a local chain, the original location (found just north or the popular and more rockin’ Las Casuelas Terraza) stays true to the era it was born in. The 1950’s decor (red leather, wrought iron and dark wood) won’t distract you from the outstanding food here and both adults and kids will love it. Order what you like because everything is delicious. Don’t forget to try the margaritas!

If you’re still keen for some fun, stroll south to the Las Casuealas Terraza location and marvel at how two of the same restaurants in this chain can be so different. Here you’ll likely find some kind of band and a crowd of happy vacationers… and possibly even a small group of the over-eighty set with their dancing shoes on. (True story, and they’ll put you and your young ass to shame!)

Palm Springs Guide- Day 4

Before you depart Palm Springs, get one last tasty meal in.

Funky and eclectic, Kings Highway at the Ace Hotel is a chic and trendy spot to start the day. From buttermilk pancakes to date shakes and a variety of tasty Mexican fare, there’s lots to enjoy in this bright and sunny retro diner-style room.

Staying longer? Looking for tips and advice on other aspects of Palm Springs? Want to experience some of the valley’s Natural Wonders? This blog was a request of one of our readers, so ask away and your question just might become the next blog entry.