I recently came back from an amazing trip around California, and the highlight for me had to be Palm Springs. I fell head over heels for this unique destination filled with amazingly cool hotels, mid-century modern architecture and great food and shopping. It’s also well positioned for fun day trips to Joshua Tree National Park and Salvation Mountain. We initially intended to treat our 3 nights in Palm Springs as a relaxing break on our otherwise hectic itinerary around Cali, but there was so much to do here we barely had any downtime!
When to Go
I went in late May, and it was already stinking hot. I can imagine summer in Palm Springs would be pretty unbearable unless all you plan on doing is floating in the pool. So next time I go, I will aim to get there in March/April or October/November for warm days without the severe heat. Make sure you avoid the Coachella festival weekends in April, as hotel prices soar.
How to Get There and Around
We hired a car and drove from LA which is meant to take around 2 hours, however the famous LA traffic meant it took us over 3. There is also an international airport in Palm Springs.
Getting around the downtown area of Palm Springs is incredibly easy, and a lot of the shops, bars and restaurants are concentrated on Palm Canyon Drive. You can also catch the SunBus to get further afield, and there are plenty of taxi and Uber options around too. If it’s not too hot, I highly recommend hiring a bicycle and exploring that way.
Where to Stay
Ace Hotel & Swim Club – 701 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs
The Ace Hotel is a renovated motor lodge, and while it’s not particularly luxe, it is very cool. With an amazing pool club which you could easily spend a few days in, regular parties, a great bar and restaurant onsite and spacious rooms, I was extremely happy with my stay here. My only regret was not having an extra few days here to enjoy the hotel more!
Check in was smooth and the staff were super friendly, and I loved the decor of the lobby area.
This wall at the Ace Hotel is repainted regularly by a local artist (it coincidentally matched my stripey dress).
They are always collaborating with local creatives to bring fun events to the hotel, from a DJ by the pool on weekends, to bingo, crafting and karaoke events in the bar.
The Parker Palm Springs – 4200 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs
The Parker is another hotel I would love to stay at next time, we visited for a drink and the interiors were divine (the decor was done by designer Jonathan Adler). It’s a little more expensive than the Ace Hotel but seems well worth the extra dough.
The Parker boasts 3 pools, 2 on-site restaurants and a bar set across 13 acres. There are tennis courts, hammocks and lawn games dotted around the complex. If you can’t afford to stay here, I’d still recommend popping by for a drink at the bar or light meal at Norma so you can experience this unique hotel for yourself.
What to Do
Do a Mid Century Modern Architecture tour
This was definitely one of the highlights of Palm Springs! There are countless homes dotted around the area (described as a living museum) which were designed in the 1950s/60s and they have preserved their unique charm.
There are numerous guided tours you can take, or you can pick up a copy of an architecture map and do a self-guided tour. If it wasn’t so hot we could have hired bikes and done it that way (alas the 40 degree temperatures meant we drove everywhere in our nicely air conditioned rental car!)
One of seven modernist steel houses designed by Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison (above) and the Kaufmann House (below).
Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway Home (above) and quite possibly my favourite building of the tour, the Bank of America (below).
Do a Door Tour and visit #thatpinkdoor – 1100 E Sierra Way, Palm Springs, CA
Ok bare with me here, I know a door tour doesn’t sound that exciting initially. But Palm Springs is home to some damn fine doors. We unfortunately ran out of time to tick off all the gorgeous doors listed on this self-guided tour. Another excuse to come back!
We of course made it a priority to visit #thatpinkdoor as it was close to the Ace Hotel. This door is so famous it even has its own hashtag!
Visit the Cactarium at Moorten Botanical Gardens
The Moorten Botanical Garden is a family-run operation established in 1938 and features over 3000 types of desert cactus. It costs $5 for entry and tours run between 10:30am and 12:00pm and are free with the price of admission.
The Cactarium was my favourite part and was filled with many rare and unique specimens of cacti.
And you can even buy your own cactus to take home! Just remember, it’s closed Wednesdays (I learnt that the hard way).
Go Vintage Shopping
Palm Springs is vintage paradise, and is filled with second hand clothing stores, mid-century furniture shops and all sorts of quirky and kitsch items for sale. For vintage clothing stores I recommend The Frippery (664 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs) and The Fine Art of Design (73717 Highway 111, Palm Desert). And for retro knick-knacks and kitsch homewares, check out Just Fabulous (515 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs) and Pelago (901 N Palm Canyon Dr #101, Palm Springs).
Drive to Salvation Mountain – 603 Beal Rd, Niland, CA
Salvation Mountain is a man-made mountain covered in gallons of latex paint and bible verses, located 2 hours from Palm Springs. It was the visionary artwork created by local resident Leonard Knight who has now sadly passed – but there are caretakers looking after the mountain in his absence. Even if you’re not religious this is well worth the trip!
Day Trip to Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is another unmissable day trip from Palm Springs, and is an hour’s drive from downtown. We started from the Southern entrance and worked our way up to the Northern exit over 5 hours. Make sure you bring plenty of water, sunscreen and food as there are limited amenities once inside. There is also limited reception, so I recommend picking up a paper map from the Cottonwood Visitor Centre (how retro!) I will be posting a detailed itinerary on Joshua Tree National Park shortly and will link it here.
Where to Eat – Breakfast
Cheeky’s – 622 N. Palm Canyon, Palm Springs
Cheeky’s has a huge array of affordable breakfast & lunch options loved by locals and tourists alike. Beware the queue snaking out the door on weekends for brunch, but it’s well worth the wait! We enjoyed buttermilk & fresh corn pancakes with bacon (the fresh corn was a bit weird, but I liked it) and custard cheesy scrambled eggs served with bacon and a cheddar scone. I’d eat here every morning if I could!
Lulu California Bistro – 200 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs
Lulu is a sprawling retro-themed bar/restaurant that seems straight out of the 1950s. It’s a little pricey, but the service and food is well worth it. Plus, they have an all day happy hour! We ordered the Huevos Rancheros and scrambled eggs served with hash browns, bacon and home-made light multigrain toast.
Koffi Coffee – 1700 South Camino Real, Palm Springs
Koffi was my go-to coffee place as the South Camino branch was located across the road from the Ace Hotel. I needed at least one cold press coffee from them per day to survive the heat. They also have cheap, simple breakfast items such as grilled sandwiches and muffins. There is also a North Palm Springs branch located at 515 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs.
Ernest Coffee – 1101 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262
Another coffee option is Ernest, and they serve up Stumptown Coffee and and a range of freshly baked pastries.
Palm Greens – 611 S Palm Canyon Dr # 6, Palm Springs
We were craving healthy food and Palm Greens was just what the doctor ordered. They serve up a fresh array of healthy, organic meals inspired by world cuisines. We had thekim chi, seaweed, yam, steamed greens, brown rice and tofu, and the with cucumbers, carrot, water chestnuts and peanuts with grilled tempeh. They also have a great range of fresh juices and smoothies, which are perfect on a hot day.
Kings Highway – 701 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs
This is the restaurant inside The Ace and used to be a Denny’s! It still has an old school diner vibe, but now offers a Cal-Mexican menu using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Breakfast is served until 2pm, but if you’re hungry, I highly recommend the Desert Highway Burger
Taqueria Tlaquepaque – 362 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs
The majority of restaurants in Palm Springs are rather trendy, and therefore expensive. And one night we were craving some simple, cheap and unpretentious food. After some furious Googling, I stumbled across a listing for this Taqueria and it had great reviews. We ordered the Chimichanga (a stuffed burrito which has been deep friend and topped with guacamole) and a Combination Dinner which came with a stuffed pepper, taco and quesadilla. Both dishes were served alongside homemade refried beans and Mexican rice and cost about $12 each. Bargain!
The Tropicale – 330 E Amado Rd, Palm Springs
I unfortunately don’t have any photos inside The Tropicale as it was so dark, but I did snap the amazing neon sign outside. We went on Wednesday for their happy hour which goes from 4pm until close. Make sure you specifically request the happy hour menu, as our waiter initially tried to get us order off the full price menu. I’ll be honest, the food is tasty but not amazing, but the cocktails are great and the interiors of this place (think retro-tropical with lots of fluro) is unmissable!
And what I want to try next time…
Norma – 4200 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs
I didn’t make it to Norma this time, but the American-style menu looks amazing and has rave reviews. Located at The Parker hotel, it’s quite expensive but well worth a treat.
Birba – 622 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs
Birba is owned by the same people as Cheeky’s and was booked out our entire stay in Palm Springs so alas we didn’t get to try it. The Italian-inspired menu is hugely popular with locals and tourists, so I highly recommend booking weeks in advance. Apparently the pizza is insanely good!
I hope you enjoyed my Palm Springs travel guide and book yourself a trip to this amazing place ASAP! I am already planning my next holiday there.