Palm Springs, California
The first time we visited Palm Springs was July 2015. Our first impression couldn’t have been better. We arrived on a Wednesday evening, a little tired after driving from San Diego and a day at Legoland with our two children, then aged 11 and 8. After checking in at our accommodation, we all walked up the quiet main street to look for somewhere for dinner. Timed perfectly with the sunset, we saw gorgeous musky pink colours reflecting off the palm trees and buildings, hazing over the surrounding mountains. The vibe of the town was relaxed with a vintage feel, thanks to the architectural design and resort style of houses & buildings, combined with interior artwork and retro décor. I felt like I had stepped back in time and almost expected to bump into Elvis or some other old movie star. We all instantly fell in love with this town.
Despite what you might hear, Palm Springs is not just a place for retirees. There’s a great selection of things to do, as well as bars and restaurants, appealing to all generations. It’s also very stylish. Walking back from a restaurant later at night and browsing in the windows of the art and furniture stores, you will always see something interesting and unusual that catches your eye.
At time of writing, Hubby and I just returned from our third visit (in May 2017), which was without the children who stayed at home with their grandparents. We noticed a lot more young people around on this visit (by young I mean 20’s and 30’s). Not sure if this is because we stayed a weekend this time and perhaps there’s a different crowd compared to mid-week. Or it could have been because the LGBT White Party was on in Palm Springs this particular weekend. Aside from the small groups of men wandering happily around town, apparently this is also a top destination for hen’s parties as we also noticed quite a few bridal groups in the bars and restaurants.
Here are my tips on Palm Springs:
Places to stay
Each time we have visited we have stayed 2-3 nights. Room rates are a little cheaper mid-week (as we discovered on our third visit which included a Friday & Saturday night).
Desert Vacation Villas was where we stayed on our first visit with the children and is perfect for families. This accommodation offers suites with two separate bedrooms, a family living space & two bathrooms (one an ensuite). It’s a bit too far to walk all the way into the main town centre (Downtown or Uptown) but there are a few places to eat within walking distance and it’s only a few minutes drive to the main centre. As we had a rental car we found it to be a pretty good location since it’s fairly easy to park in town most of the time. Great pool area too, although I suppose you would expect this from any accommodation in Palm Springs. Our kids loved cooling off in the pool, getting some reprieve from the intense July desert heat. One of the benefits of being in a resort catering for families, was while swimming our children met a couple of other children visiting from Utah. They got chatting about where they were all from, why they were there, etc. It was a great experience for them all, meeting others their same age from a different culture (with funny accents).
On our second visit, just Steve & myself, we stayed at 7 Springs Inn. We liked it so much we came back here on our third visit. Aside from offering a good price, this is a great location & you can easily walk into the main shopping / restaurant area. There is limited parking, but we were lucky to find a space each time we returned. We loved the retro décor of the rooms and the set up in the courtyards in front of the rooms with patio lounge furniture & gas fire pits which created an ambient atmosphere, perfect on a cool February evening for relaxing with a couple of drinks after a day of exploring. One evening we met another lovely couple visiting from Canada and learnt all about their home town – now this is another destination on our ‘to do’ list.
The only negative with 7 Springs is that we found the bedding (mattress and pillows) too soft on our third visit, plus the air conditioning was a bit old and we found it hard to get it cool enough for our liking. It could have been the room we had though as we don’t remember this being the case when we stayed the previous occasion.
Things to do
Village Fest is on every Thursday night and is highly recommended. However, I think everyone in the surrounding area goes, so be prepared for crowds. Plus beware, it’s extremely difficult to find parking so you need patience as you drive around or be prepared to walk a couple of blocks. The main street is all blocked off with lots of stalls set up selling different food, arts and crafts, the odd musician entertaining passers by and all the shops stay open late. When visiting the first time in July we found the heat very intense, almost unbearable; in early May on our third visit the heat was tolerable; our second visit in February 2016 was perfect temperature wise.
Aerial Tramway is an absolute must. Catch the world’s largest rotating tramcar up the mountain and see the transformation of the natural habitat from pink / brown desert & bougainvillea at the bottom, to lush green pine trees and woodlands at the top. This is due to the huge change in climate/ temperature- it’s about 20 degrees (Celsius) cooler at the top. Mount San Jacinto offers many trails to walk or hike, short or long, depending on your time and inclination. Apparently there are many types of wildlife up there too, including bears and mountain lions, although we didn’t see anything other than birds and squirrels. The tramway station at the top has restaurants and viewing decks, as well as theatres showing documentaries and a museum and giftshop.
There are amazing views over Palm Springs and its surrounding valleys as well as the impressive windmill farm – I’ve never seen so many wind turbines! After the dry and intense July heat in Palm Springs, this was a very welcome cool change and our family all enjoyed an afternoon in the fresh air, with an easy walk in the nature and the amazing views. Although, our 8 year old daughter was a little freaked out on the ride up and back down!
The second time we visited in February 2016 when it was just hubby and I, there was a little snow at the top – bizarre after being in the pool an hour earlier down the bottom of the mountain in Palm Springs. Be forewarned, the tramway isn’t cheap, and there’s also a cost for entering the car park area at the bottom, but it is worth it. The trams run approx every 30 mins and closes late depending on the time of year (check times on their website). They close earlier in winter so make sure you allow plenty of time for a walk etc while you are up there to make the cost worthwhile.
Joshua Tree National Park is known for its desert landscape, jagged rock formations and twisted, spiky Joshua trees. It can easily be done as a day trip, in fact we did it in a half day, but if you want to stay longer to explore, do some hiking or rock climbing, we noticed there are some camping grounds in the park.
We left Palm Springs late morning, heading north in the rental car we picked up in LA (a red Camaro convertible!). Afer driving past the San Gorgonio Pass wind turbine farm near Desert Hot Springs (4000 windmills powering Palm Springs and Coachella Valley), we took route 62 through the Morongo and Yucca Valleys. We stopped briefly for some lunch, then drove on to the North Entrance Station where we stopped to pay our park entry fee.
We spent the afternoon driving through the park, admiring the scenery and stopping every so often when I wanted to take photos. It only took 2-3 hours, driving at a leisurely pace. We discovered a few spots where people were rock climbing.
However, the most adventurous I got though was to climb Skull Rock for a photograph. We drove up to Keys View, a viewing outlook where you can see expansive views over Little San Bernardino Mountains and the San Andreas fault. While we considered staying there to watch the sunset, it was still a couple of hours away so we headed back down and drove through the rest of the park via Hidden Valley stopping for more photos along the way as the sun got lower in the sky. Leaving the park via the West Entrance Station, we drove back towards Palm Springs. The sun hit the horizon breaking into colourful skies just as we got to the windmills so of course I had to stop for another photo.
Palm Springs Vintage market is held on the first Sunday of every month at Camelot Theatres on E Barista Street. As the title suggests, it is a market for all things vintage, including furniture, artwork, clothing and all sorts of knick-knacks. We were fortunate that our third visit was timed perfectly to enable us to visit. It is definitely worth stopping by for a look ($5 entry fee), even if you can’t fit anything in your luggage (like us).
Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve is only a short half hour drive south east if you have a few hours spare. It’s an easy drive, just head through Cathedral City taking Ramon Rd all the way from Palm Springs then turn left onto Thousand Palms Rd… We were lucky the temperature dropped a bit the day we went (May 2017), it was perfect. In the middle of the desert, you will find – yep you guessed it – a thousand palms and an oasis. There are different trails you can walk. We took a short stroll through the shade of the palms over trickling ponds, admiring the colourful dragonflies, small fish and huge unkempt palms, until we reached the open air sand dunes. Though after seeing several signs warning about rattle snakes, I was more than keen to head back.
Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway – even if you aren’t an Elvis fan I think you will find this an interesting guided tour, if only for the architecture and history. There are not many houses of famous celebrities that you can visit inside which have been left completely untouched. The only things different from when Elvis and Priscilla lived there in 1966-67 are the Elvis memorabilia on display and Elvis records on the jukebox (the jukebox was his but he didn’t listen to his own music). I think they said they also had replaced the original white shag carpet.
When I visited (which happened to be the day before a big celebration was planned for what would have been their 50th wedding anniversary), they said the place was up for sale. I hope whoever buys it decides to leave it as is and continue the guided tours. If you plan on visiting check their website -it’s advisable to book and you can pay online. I just turned up though as I only looked it up and decided to go at short notice, about an hour before the scheduled 3.30pm tour. Fortunately it wasn’t fully booked so I was able to join the tour. The guide was a huge Elvis fan, since childhood. He knew so much about Elvis and the house itself, I found it fascinating and highly recommend it.
Marilyn Monroe’s former home While you are near Elvis’ hideaway, drive around the corner to 1326 Rose Avenue and you will be able to glimpse from the street a house that Marilyn Monroe used to live in for a while.
Shopping! There are quite a few boutique shops in town but if you really like shopping, about 10-20 mins away on the I10 you will find Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon. We usually call in on the way to or from Palm Springs (and sometimes both directions since I love shopping and a bargain!) Most major high end and sports brands have an outlet and generally you can pick up items at prices well below retail. Just a warning though -it’s full of foreign tourists, many with no manners. Also, it can be a bit windy and cooler than Palm Springs so unless it’s summer be prepared you might need a jacket. There is also a huge Sketchers Factory Outlet on Highway 60, about 40 minutes away in the Moreno Valley. Well worth a stop off if you are coming that way to/from LA or just make a special visit. They are open late and have a massive selection of shoes and some clothing too – I’m ashamed to say how many shoes I bought on the last visit! Lucky I took a spare suitcase.
Food (and drinking) options
There’s obviously plenty of choice but at the top of my list of recommendations is Lulu California Bistro for breakfast or lunch (they do dinner too). We went for lunch when we were there with the kids and then for breakfast and lunch when just hubby and I – it’s a bright, funky styled restaurant and cocktail bar, with great food and service.
For dinner and also top of my list, is Kaiser Grille. We have been here every time we’ve visited Palm Springs. Their food is delicious! Also we can recommend Trio, 360 North, Riccio’s Italian – all great food. On weekends it can be a bit harder to get in to some restaurants, you may need to be prepared to wait for a table.
Our favourite bar is Alibi’s Azul bar – an outdoor area with seating around the bar and some ‘swing’ tables (they are always in demand – we’ve not got one yet). Their cocktails are great – check their happy hour menu- and bar staff are really friendly! They also do food.
We also tried Applebee’s in the Yucca Valley on our way to Joshua Tree NP, curious having seen lots of adverts – not too bad, quick and friendly service, with a reasonable menu & price. The kids loved Denny’s, so did we to be honest – we have visited Denny’s in several different cities and never had a bad meal there plus service was always impeccable. On the other hand, Sonic Drive In at Cathedral City – don’t bother! We thought we’d try it after seeing it on a TV show and thinking it looked fun – it was just awful! Our food was cold and seemed to have been heated in a microwave from frozen. My toasted sandwich had soggy bread and Steve’s hot dog was still cold in the middle. Although it looked like they had some brilliant flavoured milkshakes on the menu, we refrained, the meal was calorific enough.
The intense dry heat! If you go in May-Sept, be prepared to sweat. It’s unbearable outside and you will want to stay in the air con or the pool!
Trying the food at Sonic Drive In.