12 Reasons You Need to Visit Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a cosmopolitan desert oasis where visitors can revel in nature, art, design, food and drink
Palm Springs is a cosmopolitan desert oasis where visitors can revel in nature, art, design, food and drink | © Cody Board / Unsplash
Photo of Juliet Bennett Rylah
27 October 2020

Palm Springs, California, was once the proverbial playground of movie stars, but now it’s a fun and laid-back destination for anyone who wants to enjoy a posh desert getaway. With a focus on art and design, Palm Springs is the perfect blend of nature and sophistication, with just the right amount of kitsch.

The food

Palm Springs has a great culinary scene, with lots of diverse options from creative chefs. Find Greek dishes at Koutouki, schnitzel at Austrian restaurant Johannes, or visit a classic American steakhouse with Mr Lyons. For innovative and upscale modern cuisine, try Workshop Kitchen + Bar or SO.PA at L’Horizon Resort & Spa. If you want to try it all without breaking the bank, visit during Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week, where dozens of restaurants offer multi-course meals for a steal.

The cocktails

Fans of tiki will feel right at home in Palm Springs, where mid-century style and Polynesian cocktails seem to go hand in hand. Tonga Hut is the oldest of them all, and it also serves food. Toucan’s Tiki Lounge is a gay nightclub with a tiki milieu. Bootlegger Tiki sits behind Ernest Coffee Co. and offers an extensive menu of unique tiki concoctions in an intimate, red-lit space.

For a broader menu, Truss & Twine offers some of the most balanced cocktails in downtown Palm Springs. It might not sound like it, but the Game Changer (gin, lime, cucumber, sugar, onion brine, sea salt and celery) is effortlessly refreshing – the perfect summer answer to a bloody mary. Craft cocktails are also available at Seymour’s, the small, yet charming speakeasy at Mr Lyons.

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  • Mid-century modern style

    Mid-century modern design enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to the success of AMC’s Mad Men, but those who frequent Palm Springs have long appreciated the sleek style. The city is full of mid-century homes and commercial buildings designed by notable architects, including Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler and John Lautner. You can take guided tours or pick up a tour map at the Palm Springs Visitor Center and explore on your own and then shop for period furniture and home decor around town. Those who crave the full experience can visit during Modernism Week, an annual celebration of this specific era’s aesthetic.

    Palm Springs is known for its mid-century architecture | © Jon Bilous / Alamy Stock Photo

    The pool parties

    Hotel
    Map View
    Ace Hotel and Swim Club
    Courtesy of Ace Hotel and Swim Club / Expedia

    When your summers can easily flirt with dry desert temperatures of 110F (43C) or more, there’s nothing better than diving into a cool pool. Hotels including Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs and the Saguaro offer day passes to use their facilities, with free access for hotel guests. DJs and a vivacious atmosphere cater to a youthful crowd. For a more relaxing environment, try the Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel, where a day pass is $10 (£7.70) on the weekends and includes admission to multiple pools, a sauna and showers. Or you can hit up the Palm Springs Swim Center, where it’s $15 (£11.50) for non-residents and $3 (£2.30) for children ages 4 to 12.

    EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

    The Aerial Tramway

    Architectural Landmark
    Map View
    View from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on the way up San Jacinto mountain, California
    © Sundry Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
    One of the city’s unique attractions is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which whisks guests up into the mountains, ascending about 5,800 feet (1768m) in 10 minutes or so. The car, suspended by cables, rotates as it climbs, offering mountain views. At the top, guests will find it’s about 30F to 40F cooler. There’s a fine-dining restaurant, a cafeteria, a bar as well as a gift shop. Those wishing to enjoy the chilly weather – which can be a true respite in the middle of a Palm Springs summer – can check out the area’s hiking trails before gliding back down to the bottom. A round trip is $26.95 (£20.70) for adults and $16.95 (£13) for children ages 3 to 10.

    The Living Desert

    Zoo, Botanical Garden
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    cactus garden at The Living Desert in Palm Springs California
    © Stock Connection Blue / Alamy Stock Photo
    The Living Desert is a nonprofit zoo and garden with an emphasis on desert conservation. Here, giraffes freely roam with ostriches in scenic habitats, and lizards race throughout the grounds. Observe creatures such as fennec foxes, snakes, hedgehogs, cheetahs, camels and other amazing wildlife. A petting zoo offers a chance to pet some very cute goats, and various educational opportunities go on throughout the day. Self-guided and shuttle tours are available. Restaurants and a gift shop are also on the property.

    Robolights

    Architectural Landmark
    Map View
    Robolights is an incredible display built by artist Kenny Irwin, Jr in his front yard in Movie Colony East. With strings of Christmas lights and surreal sculptures, he’s managed to turn his 4-acre (1.6ha) property into a strange wonderland. It’s especially vibrant at Christmastime when Irwin turns on the lights. During the holidays, he generally offers open hours during which the public can stop by, and in the off season, prospective guests can make an appointment or check it out from the road. Donations are encouraged to help him keep Robolights looking awesome.

    The history

    Museum
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    A-6 Intruder, Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs, California, USA
    © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

    Palm Springs owes much of its glamour to the film industry in the early days of Hollywood. The story goes that film stars who used to sign exclusive contracts with various studios were required to always be within two and a half hours of Los Angeles. Palm Springs was within those parameters, and so it became something of a desert oasis for movie stars looking to get away from it all. Various tours offer a glimpse of the homes of the rich and famous, from the former residence of Frank Sinatra to a place currently owned by Leonardo DiCaprio. Additionally, movie history can be found in storied locations such as the Ingleside Inn and its accompanying Rat Pack favorite restaurant, Melvyn’s.

    For something completely different, but no less historically significant, check out the Palm Springs Air Museum. The museum boasts 59 planes dating back to WWII and beyond, as well as numerous other artifacts spread out over their large facility.

    Unique hotels

    Boutique Hotel
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    73ab42d3.jpg
    Courtesy of Korakia Pensione / Expedia

    Though more traditional hotels are an option, Palm Springs has some of the coolest boutique hotels in the state. The Saguaro is a relatively affordable spot with bright colors everywhere and raging pool parties. Korakia is a Moroccan-inspired hotel with just 28 rooms; guests can partake in outdoor massages, sip some Moroccan tea and wander the serene candlelit grounds by night. The Willows is a historic home that has been restored and turned into a gorgeous hotel with just 17 rooms. There’s also Sparrows Lodge, a charming, rustic-chic property for adults only.

    Hiking

    Natural Feature
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    Murry Canyon, Indian Canyons, near Palm Springs, California
    © Buddy Mays / Alamy Stock Photo

    You will find some truly breathtaking hikes in Palm Springs, especially in the winter when the average daytime temperatures are in the mid-60s (18C). The Palm Springs Indian Canyon is one of the most popular areas to hike due to the beauty of the terrain. The lush Palm Canyon is full of native plants, and you can stop by the Trading Post for sundries and to see Native American artifacts. Tahquitz Canyon is beautiful, too, and it features a 60ft (18m) waterfall.

    Art

    Art Gallery, Museum
    Map View
    Palm Springs Art Museum, California, USA
    © Richard Cummins / Alamy Stock Photo

    Palm Springs is an ideal getaway for those who wish to bask in creativity. A must-stop is the Palm Springs Art Museum, where guests can see a diverse collection of works including modern European and Californian art, as well as pieces dating back to the 19th century. Live performances take place at the Annenberg Theater, and they may include dance, music, theater and lectures.

    You can also check out the area’s many galleries, found in the Backstreet Art District and the Uptown Design District. On Thursdays, check out VillageFest, an outdoor market for arts and crafts.

    Unwind

    Building
    Map View

    Many vacationers to Palm Springs come simply to enjoy the desert air and unwind. Palm Springs Yacht Club, located in Parker Palm Springs, offers luxury with a playful sense of humor. It is, after all, in the desert – definitely not on a yacht. The day spa at the Spring is open to hotel guests, as well as the public. Those who book a treatment may hang out at the resort’s three pools for two hours, either before or following their appointment. Two Bunch Palms is a resort built around hot mineral springs and boasts an extensive spa menu that emphasizes wellness for both the mind and body.

    These recommendations were updated on October 27, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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