How to Enjoy a Weekend in Palm Springs

There’s a reason L.A. types have been flocking to the desert since the Rat Pack days.

How to Enjoy a Weekend in Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway climbs almost 6,000 feet in about 12 minutes, rotating as it goes.

Courtesy of visitgreaterpalmsprings.com / Greater Palm Springs CVB

Palm Springs really lives up to its place in the collective imagination (minus the time loop caves): It’s a bright, sunny, desert wonderland studded with palms and springs, of course, but it’s also home to historic hotels, pools aplenty, and all manner of glamorous spots to enjoy a margarita as the sun sets behind the imposing San Jacinto Mountains.

The street names alone reveal how long Palm Springs has been a desert weekend getaway for Angelinos. You’ll be taking Bob Hope Drive and Frank Sinatra Drive as you look for the homes of Liberace or Loretta Young. But while many of the entertainment legends are still there (Barry Manilow’s been spotted in Mexican restaurant El Mirasol more than once), an influx of new visitors and residents in recent years has resulted in an explosion of great shops, restaurants, and galleries.

Palm Springs is part of the Coachella Valley, which numbers several different desert cities including Indio, Cathedral City, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage. While you’ll probably begin your weekend getaways in the walkable downtown Palm Springs, your trip will inevitably take you to one or more of these other cities. (The Stagecoach and Coachella Festivals, for example, are in Indio, while the Living Desert zoo is in Palm Desert.)

Where to stay in Palm Springs

There is no shortage of stylish Airbnbs and vacation rentals in Palm Springs. If you prefer a hotel, these are some of the best to check into.

Korakia Pensione

Book now: from $389/night, expedia.com

Try Mediterannean-inspired Korakia Pensione for a relaxing, poolside retreat downtown.

Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs

Book now: from $276/night, expedia.com

Book a room at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs if you want to be in the heart of the action.

Ace Hotel & Swim Club

Book now: from $143/night, expedia.com

Or, stay at the always popular Ace Hotel & Swim Club—which took over a former Westward Ho and Denny’s just south of the main Palm Canyon Drive strip when it opened more than a decade ago.

Omni Rancho Las Palmas or Hyatt Regency Indian Wells

Book now: Omni from $207/night, expedia.com; Hyatt from $357/night, expedia.com

There are numerous resort hotels with pools for families in the Greater Palm Springs area, like the Omni Rancho Las Palmas or the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, which numbers no less than seven outdoor pools, alongside dueling waterslides, a lazy river, and splash pads.

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The Hyatt Regency’s lazy river is a perfect way to soak up some desert sun.

Courtesy of visitgreaterpalmsprings.com / Greater Palm Springs CVB

Things to do in Palm Springs

Hike up a mountain or into a canyon in the early morning, browse the shops of Palm Canyon Drive before getting brunch at Lulu, then tour the city’s midcentury architecture, say hi to the chacoan peccaries and desert tortoises at the Living Desert, or take the rotating aerial tramway 8,000 feet up to the trails (and views) of Mount San Jacinto State Park in the afternoon. Or just recharge by the pool.

Take a weekend getaway in Palm Springs in January for the International Film Festival, during the spring for Coachella (in normal years) or the Desert X art festival, or in December for that famous and enviable winter sun.

Where to eat in Palm Springs

There are some classic Palm Springs food and drink experiences you might want to consider—a cocktail at Melvyn’s at the Ingleside Inn, perhaps; the place has a storied history and the venue has hosted everyone from the Rat Pack to John Travolta since the 1920s. Or maybe a pastrami sandwich at local favorite Sherman’s, which has been roasting its own meats since the early ’60s. Or a three-course meal chosen from the chalkboard on the beautiful patio at La Vallauris, which is housed in one of the desert’s oldest buildings, dating back to 1927.

There are plenty of more modern options, too, with more seemingly opening by the month. Among the latest highlights: Trek to Tu Madres Cantina in Indio for modern Mexican from the team behind La Quinta’s Cork & Fork; Roly China Fusion for, you may have guessed, Asian fusion; Wilma & Frieda for breakfast; and French Miso Cafe for French and Japanese cuisine.

How do you get to Palm Springs from Los Angeles?

Hop in a car and drive east on the 10, past shopping hub Cabazon Outlets and the famous roadside dinosaurs until the desert landscape fills with wind turbines. Then take the 111 straight into town. The drive will take two hours if you’re lucky. You can also take the Amtrak train but the Palm Springs station is about seven miles from the center of town so you’ll need to take a cab from there.

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Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.
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