Once a celebrity playground in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Palm Springs fell into a bit of a funk during the second half of the 20th century. But now, buoyed by a renewed interest in midcentury modern architecture, the cool kids are back and turning Palm Springs into a hip destination full of swanky hotels and cutting-edge restaurants. Here’s your guide to the best places to eat, stay, and play in this desert oasis.
From the coast drive east through San Gorgonio Pass. The twin guardians of San Jacinto Peak and San Gorgonio Mountain watch over this passage into the Coachella Valley, their windmill foot soldiers keeping out the smog and stress of the city. Follow the mountains south, and your worries will disappear behind you like car exhaust as you enter Palm Springs.
Start your stay at The Parker, the iconic Starwood hotel Jack Parker bought in 2003. He remodeled the entire property, replacing manicured lawns with lush landscaping that creates cool, quiet corners where you can hide from the outside world. Check into your room (or if you’re lucky, a villa) and let yourself wind down from the drive before cleaning up for dinner.
Stroll across the grounds to Mister Parker’s, a seductive setting with low lighting and plush leather booths. Enjoy stiff cocktails, French-inspired cuisine and an excellent wine list, and then head back to your room. If you’re not tired, the Mini Bar and lounge replete with ’70s decor and a central fireplace is the perfect place for a nightcap.
Your first full day in Palm Springs should be for relaxing. Wake up late and have brunch at Norma’s, the Parker’s other restaurant. Their smoothies and sweet and savory menu items are delectable.
With so many options, you don’t need to leave the Parker today. Make an appointment at the spa, lounge by pool, play croquet or pétanque, or if you insist on proper exercise, there are tennis courts and a gym. Grab a bite or drink from the Lemonade Stand or order something while soaking up sun by the pool.
For dinner you still don’t want to drive far, so head to SO•PA. Just down the street at L’Horizon Hotel, this triangular outdoor space offers modern cuisine on tables lit by filamented globes that make you feel like you’re dining alone. Michelin-starred chef Chris Anderson fuses foods from all over the Mediterranean on small plates.
Time has slowed so much you’ll feel like it’s going backwards, so make this old school day. If you must have breakfast, go light with a coffee or smoothie at Norma’s. You’ll need room for lunch. Check out of your hotel, and head to the Architecture and Design Center. Located in a mid-century classic building, this museum gives insight into the modernist style so prevalent in Palm Springs. Go early so you can make it to Sherman’s before the line gets long. The Palm Springs institution has served classic deli fare since 1953.
After lunch you’ll have the energy to be on your feet for a few hours at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Native American art and an eclectic mix of contemporary, modern and desert artists are all housed in this beautiful, modern building.
Since you’ve sunk deeper into the slower Palm Springs lifestyle, switch hotels. Korakia Pensione blends Moroccan and Mediterranean design in a serene setting nestled at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains. Lounging by the pool, reading in the library, indulging at the spa, or relaxing by the fire pits are activities that are all strongly encouraged. If you feel like getting out and about, they offer complimentary bicycles.
But don’t put away your fancy clothing yet. You’ve got one more place to kick it back old school, and this one has a dress code. Melvyn’s is your window to the Rat Pack Days. Tuxedoed waiters bring you classic American cuisine in a white-tablecloth-and-chandeliers dining room. For live music move to the piano bar, order a drink and listen to classic tunes.
Now that you’re rested, you can get up early for breakfast at Cheeky’s. If you’re not there by 8am, you might have to wait for a table. It’s worth it, though. The menu changes weekly, but you can expect freshly-squeezed juices, delicious sweet and savory options, and a bacon flight.
Walk off breakfast in the Uptown Design District. Stores like Pelago, Just Modern, and Modern Way sell new and vintage home furnishings. Then grab a light lunch at Eight4Nine, where you can rest your feet and refresh yourself on their patio.
Take your shopping treasures back to Korakia to spend time by the pool. Once you’ve regained your appetite with all that grueling relaxation, get ready for dinner at one of Palm Springs’s top restaurants. Workshop Kitchen + Bar serves specialty cocktails and European-inspired cuisine in a James Beard design award-winning space.
After a light, complimentary breakfast at Korakia, enjoy as much time there as you can before going to lunch at Rio Azul. Along with typical American fare, this restaurant serves authentic Sinaloan and Oaxacan dishes.
With enough food in your bellies for the return trip, don’t forget to stop off at Sunnylands on your way out of the desert. The Annenberg Foundation has opened gardens and a visitor center so the public can see their beautiful, historic estate in the desert.