Boasting 350 days of sunshine per year, Palm Springs, California is returning to its glory days as both a desert oasis and tourist playground. The weather, plus the city’s alluring art, design, and culinary scene are reason enough to pay visit; its proximity to L.A. (110 miles) and Joshua Tree National Park make it even more so.
Palm Springs’ fantastical landscape has always drawn artist and musician types; in the 1920’s, it was famous for being a haven for the Rat Pack. After a decline in the later part of the century, its once again on the upswing, offering a new spattering of boutique hotels, restaurants and cool bars. Nowadays, a visit to Palm Springs is almost a rite of passage for architecture and design aficionados, and those who make the trek can explore the largest concentration of mid-century modern architecture in the country.
To get here, fly into LAX and make the two-hour trip southeast, or fly direct from New York via JetBlue. There’s plenty to do both indoors and outdoors throughout the year, but be aware that winters can be chilly—especially at night—while temperatures rising past 100º during the summer is not uncommon. See below for our guide, including where to stay, what to do, and where to eat and drink in Palm Springs.
Where To Stay in Palm Springs: The Amado
There’s no shortage of boutique hotels or rental properties in Palm Springs; we believe we found the perfect in-between at The Amado. The five unit complex offers the amenities of an upscale hotel (read: fluffy towels, amazing bathroom products, parking) with the privacy of a home rental (read: kitchen, not sharing the pool with 100 kids.)
Guests are greeted by The Amado’s signature cheery orange doors; beyond them, the complex is classic mid-century architecture. Each suite is apartment-like, with a living room and TV, kitchen and dining table. The decor was carefully designed with desert vacation in mind: original textiles, custom-made furniture, and local art, including owner Jaime Kowal’s. Overall, the aesthetic is minimal, and a perfect example of “desert modernism” that’s iconic in Palm Springs.
The Amado’s five units share a pool, fire pit, and courtyard, making it an idea location for large families, celebrations, or a just private getaway. Visitors can rent the five units as individual suites, or as a single property, accommodating up to 10 people. The property is owned and managed by The Desert Collective, a hospitality brand of design-driven and culturally inspired boutique accommodations. Check out their spaces in Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, and beyond via their website.
What To Do in Palm Springs: Hiking, Architecture Tours, Shopping, and Giant Dinosaurs
The desert landscape in Palm Springs is absolutely stunning; giant palm trees tower over the iconic ranch-style homes here, and cactai is present everywhere. The most stunning, though, is its mountainous backdrop, which turns bright pink at sunrise. If you don’t take any of our other suggestions, we beg of you to take this one: get up for the sunrise. For a few moments, the mountains turn a bright, magnificent pink, which just feels so fitting for the retro vibe of Palm Springs. From The Amado, head a block west to Sunrise Way, a beautiful stretch of road that’s perfect for a morning stroll.
• ARCHITECTURE TOURS: Surprisingly, the major attraction to Palm Springs isn’t the outdoors—but it certainly was inspired by the landscape. Since the 1920’s, modernist architects have designed sleek, modern homes in Palm Springs that have compliment its desert environment, birthing a movement called “desert modernism.” Originally attracted by the dramatic geographic features of the Coachella Valley, these modernist architects used inventive materials, modern construction techniques, and post-war technologies to create the style. Design/architecture aficionados should check out guided tours, such as Palm Springs Modern Tours, or an intimate tour with Michael Stern, author of Julius Shulman: Palm Springs, via The Modern Tour. More casual “appreciators” will enjoy self-guided tours; or simply check out the houses in the subdivision behind the Palm Springs sign on E Vista Chino & N Gene Autry Trail. (A local photographer tipped us off to this neighborhood, which didn’t disappoint!)
• SHOPPING: If you’re dazzled by all the mid-century modern architecture in Palm Springs, surely you’ll appreciate the retro furniture and housewares that make up the interiors. There’s no shortage of great vintage shopping in Palm Springs, whether you’re looking for something for your home, or even to wear. Check out Hedge and Spaces, which are a couple doors down from each other. Other notable shops are Dazzles and Pelago, where much of the pieces at The Amado were sourced. If you pick only one place, check out Just Modern, a fantastic mid-century collection of lighting, rugs, books, art, and more.
• EXPLORE THE OUTDOORS: Lovers of the outdoors should make a bee-line to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Rising 8,500 feet above the desert floor, the tramway lets visitors out at the top of the mountain, where multiple observation decks, hiking trails, a museum, and two restaurants await. Hikers should continue the climb up the mountain an additional 2,000 feet to the top of San Jacinto, one of the most popular hikes in the area. Afterward, reward yourself with a drink and some snacks at the mountaintop Lookout Lounge. Additional hiking in the area can be had at Indian Canyons, whose indigenous flora and fauna are breathtaking contrasts to the rocky gorges and barren desert lands that surround it. Check out the Murray and Andreas Canyon hikes—the first right after the toll gate—and Palm Canyon at the end of the road. Admission to the park is $10. Before or after your hike, visit the Trading Post for maps, shopping, refreshments, and Indian art and artifacts including weaving, pottery, jewelry, etc. Last, Palm Springs is a little less than an hour to Joshua Tree National Park, and a fantastic daytrip from Palm Springs. (Escape Brooklyn guide forthcoming!)
On the off-chance of bad weather, you can still enjoy the desert foliage at Moortens Botanical Garden. An estate-turned-botanical garden, the historic landmark dates back to 1938 and features a desert environment, with thousands of cactai and other desert plants from around the world. Admission is $4; tours are available several times throughout the day and are included with the price of admission.
• BEST ROADSIDE ATTRACTION EVER?: Finally, the Cabazon Dinosaurs are a most excellent roadside attraction, if dinosaurs in the middle of the desert are your thing. $10 admission lets you wander amongst fifty giant dinosaur sculptures, whose previous lives were features in cult classics like Pee Wee Hermans Big Adventure and The Wizard.
Where To Eat & Drink in Palm Springs: The Best Hotel Restaurants, a Cali-Italian Deli, and an Amazing Tiki Bar
For a light breakfast, check out Ernest Coffee, an indie coffee shop offering up Stumptown brews and fresh baked pastries. Enjoy a light breakfast outside on the patio, which is tucked behind the busy Palm Canyon Drive, and great for people watching. For a bigger appetite, breakfast enthusiasts will love Cheeky’s, where breakfast is served all day. Highlights include a bacon flight, herbed truffle tater tots, killer chilaquiles and an abundance of gluten free items. A portion of the menu changes daily, so there’s also always something new to try, but prepare for long waits on the weekend—or get there at 8 a.m., opening time.
Many of the best restaurants in Palm Springs are connected to hotel—great news for efficiency-lovers who appreciate a good deal and poking around other peoples’ hotels. One of such places is El Jefe, housed at the Saguaro boutique hotel. The casual restaurant is great for lunch and serves up street-style Mexican fare by a James Beard awarded chef. Pop in for taco Tuesdays! Brooklynites will feel at home at King’s Highway, the Ace Hotel’s roadside diner. Housed in a former Denny’s restaurant, King’s Highway is a great place to grab a burger and try Palm Springs’ signature drink, the date shake. Last, the Barn Kitchen at Sparrow’s Lodge is another good option, whose casual approach to lunch includes delicious sandwiches, salads and other small bites.
Poolside dining is a must in Palm Springs, and a great place to do so is at Purple Palm, located at the Colony Palms Hotel. The beautiful interior was designed by Martin Lawrence Bullard, and Chef Nick Tall, who created an approachable menu of California fare that never fails to deliver. For drinks only, we really enjoyed the vibe at Reservoir, housed inside the Arrive Hotel, where dinner and drinks are also served poolside. Those looking for a more casual dinner should check out Appetito, a “Cal-Italian” restaurant and deli. From pastas and gluten-free pizzas to yummy salads, it’s great for a casual meal.
Last but not least, for a nightcap or just a late afternoon respite from the desert sun, don’t miss Bootlegger Tiki. Located in the same space as the original Don the Beachcomber restaurant that opened in 1953, the cozy bar is an uptown favorite with kitschy Polynesian décor and attention- to-detail drinks garnished with orchids, herbs, and umbrellas. Try the Emerald Isle cocktail!