A Weekend in Playground Palm Springs
Just like when the movie stars of the 1920s flocked to the area from Hollywood, the Palm Springs area continues to be Los Angeles’s favorite getaway. This little big town in the desert, flanked by the dramatic San Jacinto mountains and poking palm trees, provides a playful swanky, sun-drenched landscape just a few hour drive from the hustle and bustle of LaLaLand.Soak up the mid-century modern design from the 1940s to 1970s, evident in homes and retail spaces left behind from the days where celebs hired innovative architects to build their vacation homes and post-war optimism bred indoor-outdoor living, proud colors, glass and concrete, deep overhangs, and dramatic angular roofs. Find a map at the Palm Springs Visitor Center (in an iconic 1965 futurist Tramway Gas Station) or download the app called palmspringslife.com/psmodapp that will guide you to over 80 mid-century landmarks.
Some people escape to the Palm Springs area to luxuriate in a boutique hotel hideaway or a lavish spa hotel surrounding a picturesque Palm Springs pool. Beyond doing nothing or swinging a golf club or tennis racket, there are myriad ways to savor the California Coachella Valley. Under the desert’s sun, moon, and stars, remind yourself how good life can be. Learn why we keep going back and how you too can explore the Greater Palm Springs area.
In the last 11 years we have seen the evolution of Palm Springs through weekend trips from LA for numerous attractions: Coachella Music Festival, Modernism Week, the Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival, yoga retreats, biking around the homes in the Indian Wells neighborhood, or walking through the old Movie Colony District for architectural design inspiration.
This trip the Palm Springs architectural and design tour with Palm Springs Mod Squad gave us a new appreciation of the history of the artists, designers, and celebs who flocked to the area as a creative outlet. Passionate tour guide and owner Kurt Cyr brought the glamour and architecture to life as he drove us and another couple around to numerous locations to learn about the Modernism movement in just 90 minutes. The curated experience is a step above the typical self-guided tour and his wealth of knowledge adds so much more to the experience than a guidebook or map ever could.
If you are in the Rancho Mirage area, discover historic Sunnylands. This former Annenberg estate welcomed presidents and royalty since the 1960’s thanks to publisher billionaire magnate Walter Annenberg, who created TV Guide, Seventeen Magazine, and one of the first TV stations out of Philadelphia. Most notable is the introductory 35-minute film showcasing the numerous presidents and celebs who brought the estate to life. Walk the wildflower field or Great Lawn gardens and marvel at the history of this former meeting place where often over golf or dinner major ideas were exchanged and international relations and laws were sorted out and discussed. Private tours of the home can be booked in advance.
In addition to the main Palm Springs Art Museum, there is another location in Palm Desert on the easternmost side of the Coachella Valley that is free. This Art Museum is a worthwhile visit for contemporary art pieces with a handful of rotating special collections plus a sculpture garden. Until September 2019, view their latest exhibit displaying how artists have represented the body across cultural contexts and artistic movements. You won’t forget the unique sculptures so utterly realistic they seem to be breathing.
Our typical favorite Palm Springs stops include sipping a glass of wine at the Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, snagging an early morning breakfast (with a bacon flight and corn pancake) at Cheeky’s, and ending the night with a cocktail at old school Melvyn’s at the Ingleside Inn. A glam lunch at the Parker always rounds out a stellar weekend, but this trip we discovered more pleasurable possibilities you don’t want to miss.
For an expensive memorable dinner to impress the in-laws, score a table on the glittery twinkly lit patio (with heat lamps) at Workshop Kitchen and Bar, Palm Springs latest stylish eatery in a former movie house. Inside intimate booths and a long communal table are hugged by the concrete modern minimalist aesthetic. Impressive dishes include the black cod with colorful veggies, creamy kabocha squash risotto, and pistachio mousse cake with dehydrated bougainvillea. Cheers to kicking off the weekend right!
At redeveloped historic and luxurious La Serena Villas, find Azucar’s BoHo chic rooftop lounge called Sugar High for sunset Happy Hour. Find a cozy spot near the fireplace with stunning views of the mountains and marvel at the sexy space while sipping on a blood orange margarita. You may just have to find a way to book a room since the vibes are so luxurious.
In Palm Desert on the second floor of The Gardens on El Paseo or now in Palm Springs, Wilma & Frieda’s Café dishes up hearty high-quality comfort brunch. Options like Banana Caramel French Toast, Blackberry Custard French Toast, Meatloaf topped with eggs, Churro Waffles, Short Rib Scramble, Filet Mignon and Eggs, Soy-Rizo Scramble, or Biscuits and Gravy will give you enough fuel for the rest of the day.
For a retro lunch transporting you back to the glam racket club days of the 1950s or 1960s, The Pink Cabana’s décor is swathed in blush pink and greens. As part of the newly renovated Sands Hotel and Spa in Indian Wells, this new spot is a must-see for the Instagram obsessed! The menu consists of California – Mediterranean cuisine with some Moroccan influence. While our lunch consisted of three quite small Spanish chicken tacos, the Sands Burger was a heartier option. Come for a Turkish coffee with bourbon or the chicken tagine batbout (Moroccan version of a chicken salad sandwich). Seasonal cocktails are influenced by the Great Spice Route while classic cocktails or a smoked sage margarita can be savored at the green tiled bar or peaceful outdoor area.
Perhaps it was due to a Sunday night, but four of us were able to find a spot at the tiny popular playful Bootlegger Tiki bar where we indulged in sampling fancy rum-soaked cocktails some complete with cold brew, absinthe, or Mezcal. Drinks like the Gates of Hell are so strong that a 2 drink max is imposed. A Tiki Light section is helpful for those who can’t imbibe with just as sensationally seductive combinations like Pearl of Wisdom (pineapple, lime, passion fruit, cold brew, macadamia nut gardenia mix). This kitschy Hawaiian place brings the best ambiance.
Even if you are not staying at the Westin Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, dinner at Italian restaurant Pinzimini is one of the best in the area. Start with minestrone soup followed by crisp calamari with fried warm olives and shredded brussels sprouts before diving into handmade rich lasagna, linguine with clams, or the New Zealand rack of lamb. Find room for the Pistachio and Ricotta cake. You’ll want to hug the chef before you leave this exquisite Tuscan dining experience.
If you are in the mood for authentic Neopolitan thin crust pizza cooked in a wood-burning oven with over 20 options, consider Piero’s PizzaVino in Palm Desert too.
While we loved time staying previously at the sophisticated Miramonte Indian Wells Resort and Spa, the boutique Triada Palm Springs in the heart of the Movie Colony district, and the kitschy Hawaiian themed Caliente Tropics Resort for Coachella, this visit we wanted to be situated close to our in-laws in Rancho Mirage.
For families or couples looking to use their Marriott points, consider staying at The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort and Spa Rancho Mirage. Rooms sit on the golf course with multiple pools, some just for adults. The hotel is kid and dog-friendly. Children can choose from hourly fun activities, admire the mini “zoo” of pets on site, and play in the game room. Many children crowded around the firepits at night to make S’mores. In the middle of the lobby lies a dog house area for a resident rescue dog who is waiting to be adopted. Due to the rain, we missed our early morning tennis clinic but found time to work out at the gym. Westin Gear lends out New Balance workout gear (in case you forgot your own) for a small fee.
Besides the restaurant Pinzimini mentioned above, the spa was the best part of our rainy stay. Numerous massage therapies are offered using honey from their own hives. Embrace your harmony with their signature honey massage providing a full body treatment that includes a warm beeswax thermal mask on the back to balance the vital energy of the body, enhance the metabolic activity and immune system, and help you de-stress. Honey scrub and honey lotion with beeswax down the spine not only felt therapeutic but smelled delicious. The spa offers an outdoor jacuzzi to unwind after a treatment. Westin’s signature lavender oil roller next to the bed is a nice way to keep the relaxation going till bedtime.
For golfers and families or couples who want everything at your disposal, the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage is the perfect option. Our ground floor room faced the golf green and lake while the simple white décor felt calming. Our room was a short walk from Omni’s bluEmber Restaurant serving super fresh dishes for lunch with ingredients from local farmers. Kudos to Chef William Withrow for the vegetarian options and healthy grand portions we adored eating for lunch like Hawaiian Poke and Cobb Salad. Since we visited the few days a year that it rains, we didn’t get to enjoy golf at the 27-hole championship course, tennis at the Rancho Las Palmas Country Club or the resort pools. Even Splashtopia seemed like the ultimate kid play zone with waterslides, a sandy beach, fountains, sprinklers, and a 450 lazy river.
Your Palm Springs playground awaits!