Life and vacationing are wonderfully unique at the breathtaking escape destination of Palm Springs. Year-round weather is distinctly better. The sun is definitely warmer. Stars appear brighter. And the sky seems bluer. As the gateway city to the Coachella Valley, the Palm Springs name remains the most famous desert community, certainly in California and internationally, as well. It has often been referred to as the playground of the stars.
Admittedly the down valley towns of La Quinta, Palm Desert and others have more prestigious golf courses and upscale shops, but Palm Springs with its glamorous history has a lot to offer that those communities just don’t provide. And it’s slightly amusing that often times when major golf or tennis events are held in other down-valley cities, the national print media and television will often refer to the event as being held in “more easily recognized” Palm Springs. We’re sure those press coverage decisions have rankled the host cities for decades.
What to do and see
Our top 4 valley favorites found ONLY in Palm Springs:
1-Aerial Tramway. This engineering masterpiece never ceases to amaze us. Featuring the world’s largest rotating tram cars it transports you 2.5 miles to an elevation of 8,516 ft in 10 minutes through five unique life zones, desert to alpine wilderness. Views are incredible as you leave your bathing suits behind and don warm coats, hiking boots or cross country skis at the top where over 50 miles of Mt. San Jacinto State Park trails await.
Another option is to dine in their Peaks Restaurant with awesome vistas and a spectacular improvement over culinary offerings of years past. www.pstramway.com; Up for a challenge? If the snow is gone, after getting off the tram, try hiking the remaining 2,288 feet to the top of Mt. San Jacinto (10,804 ft. high-2nd tallest mountain in Southern California) on clearly marked trails. Are you a serious climber/hiker? Consider hiking from the desert floor to the top of the mountain and return by tram. In either hiking scenario be sure to check with the ranger station only a few yards from the tram’s zenith for safety details and trail information or call 760-327-0222.
2-Indian Canyons. Breathtaking Tahquitz, Palm, Andreas and Murray Canyons are beautifully maintained by the local Aqua Caliente Cahuilla Indians and provide miles of moderately graded trails that can lead you to fan palm groves, oases, waterfalls, stunning rocky gorges, babbling streams and first class fauna/wild life/bird-watching. www.indian-canyons.com
3-Fabulous Follies. This critically acclaimed show is celebrating 20 years in the historic Plaza Theatre and features showbiz pros and well-known guest headliners. When you see the stunning dancers, it’s almost unbelievable all the cast must be 55 or over. www.psfollies.com
4-Desert Museum. What other small city can boast such a world class museum? Their exhibitions of Western, Native, Modern and Contemporary Art should enthrall any museum devotee. (Special tip: complimentary admission every Thursday 4-8 p.m.)
Other top “only in P.S” choices include:
Celebrity Home Tours. Do you want to see where Elvis, Liberace, Kirk Douglas and scores of other stars and celebrities lived and partied? www.thebestofthebesttours.com.
VillageFest. Every Thursday evening for over 20 years a large portion of Palm Canyon Drive, the town’s main street, is closed down for one of California’s most popular weekly events featuring only handmade crafts, jewelry, food and entertainment. www.villagefest.org.
Air Museum. Anyone interested in World War 2 aircraft should add this to their agenda. www.palmspringsairmuseum.org
International Film Festival. Palm Springs has many special events year round but their International Film Festival is our hands-down favorite. Founded 23 years ago and always staged in January, it’s received universal filmdom recognition. We actually attended and reviewed the first Follies and inaugural Film Fest and have been pleasantly surprised by their staying power and the fact they both have gotten so much bigger and better over the years. This year’s Film Fest was a star-studded event with mega-stars like Michael Douglas, Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Robert Duvall, Colin Firth and Natalie Portman being honored. Go on line to get info for next years Fest. www.psfilmfest.org
Where to stay and dine. Palm Springs has hundreds of lodging choices in every price range, to include full service hotels, B & B’s, historic inns and 60s motels, recently rising from the ashes as tastefully renovated inns. Be sure to check the websites as most of them offer very moderate pricing during slow periods.
Here are our fave five:
The Renaissance (formerly the Wyndham) recently completed a distinctive multi-million dollar mind-blowing renovation that has elevated its stature as P.S.’s number one four-star large hotel. The property is everything you’d expect from the upscale image of the Renaissance brand. Stunning room décor, dramatic public areas and a classic pool environs add up to a world-class statement. Our meals at their restaurant, DATE, and other dining venues were consistently exceptional. www.renaissancepalmspringshotel.com
Riviera Resort and Spa, the town’s largest hotel with over 400 rooms and suites, is another classic example of what a multi-million dollar stylish re-modeling can accomplish. Going back 40 years it was always one of our favorite desert resorts yet the property had become a tad tired in the 90s. Now under new owners- Noble House Hotels- it has been sophisticatingly reborn. Be sure to have dinner at their hip signature restaurant Cirque59 where the cuisine lives up to the high-end reputation. www.psriviera.com
Hotel Zoso, which first opened as the Marquis years ago, is another of our favorites. Although it suffered through some lean years, we feel the new owners are on the right track to bring it back to its once lofty status. We still love the rather cool and unique ambience, so a keen draw remains. www.hotelzoso.com
Ingleside Inn, a historic 30 room former estate, under the same ownership for 35 years, was a trip into a nostalgic time capsule as we recalled a stay over 25 years ago. Although refurbished and well maintained over the years it still has the feel of days-gone-by and a perfect place to stay if you’re thumbs down on larger hotels. And don’t miss their Melvyn’s Restaurant, a genuine culinary escape into a bygone era. Hundreds of the rich and famous have stayed and dined here as evidenced by all the celeb photos on the walls. www.inglesideinn.com
Willows, an eight-room historic 1927 Mediterranean villa, is the only Four Diamond rated property in town and is perfect for those who long for the ultimate B&B experience. This majestic manor was the temporary “home” for Albert Einstein, Marion Davies, William Randolph Hearst’s mistress and other luminaries over the years. If walls could talk! Sumptuous breakfasts are included. www.thewillowspalmsprings.com.
Other recommended restaurants in downtown include:
LeVallauris, the town’s most critically acclaimed restaurant holds a special place in our hearts as we were engaged there nearly 30 years ago. The to-die-for cuisine, estate-like ambience and first rate service remain at the same high levels. www.levallauris.com
Spencer’s at the beautiful Palm Springs Tennis Club has become a highly popular local dining choice and our first dining experience showed us why. www.spencersrestaurant.com
Johnny Costa’s is a longtime tradition in the valley for anyone seeking excellent Italian fare featuring family recipes for over 35 years. www.johnnycostaspalmsprings.com
Johannes, a relative newcomer, offers a unique and creative combination of Austrian and Pan-Asian cuisines and already has a loyal following. www.johannesrestaurants.com
Matchbox, a casual bistro with mountain and downtown views, is the only sibling of a five-restaurant group outside the Washington D.C. area and offers incredible wood-fired pizzas and mini-burgers. www.matchboxpalmsprings.com
Pinocchio’s, only open for breakfast/ lunch with very modest prices and extensive menu choices, was a delightful breakfast surprise. Everyday bottomless champagne at $2.95 was a shocker. www.pinocchiops.com
Rio Azul is a new Mexican restaurant with a colorful atmosphere and innovative “comida.” Although risky recommending such a new entry on the dining scene our tasty meals encouraged us to do so. www.rioazulpalmsprings.com
Are we favorably prejudiced about Palm Springs? Emphatically, yes! We loved living there for 12 years, were married in town, vacationed there for over 40 years, authored/published a guidebook to the area in the 80s and remain unabashed boosters! It remains our #1 favorite destination vacation getaway for tons of reasons. See everything Palm Springs by going to this terrific website and find out about more restaurants, lodging choices, events, activities, etc. www.visitpalmsprings.com
Note: This revised article for Global Writes is similar to the article first appearing in San Joaquin Magazine, March 2011 issue