by Sheridan Lambrook
photography by Kim Toth
The old pageantry of Hollywood still dances in the stars that line the red cement sidewalk that rolls through the iconic downtown. But these stars are 115 miles from Hollywood. And you might as well be in Europe. This is a destination place. The rich and famous play here, European tourists flock here, and the weather is always sunny—sometimes over the top sunny—unless a pool is steps from your air conditioned room.
Palm Springs is a tranquil haven and a utopia, an exotic gift to those in Southern California. And October to early May is the perfect time to go for a day trip. Yes, it has the tramway, the sidewalk stars and a 50-foot Marilyn Monroe. But there is so much more that is quietly celebrated.
You’ve driven south on Highway 111—a road as famous as Sunset Boulevard—and through the palm trees have glimpsed what Palm Springs has to offer. Now, park that car, and jump into some of the best cuisine. It’s time to eat. The most well-known brunch in the area is Lulus on Palm Canyon Drive. You may even partake in its $25 three-course brunch if you visit on the weekend. The tower of avocado and Ahi tuna from the brunch menu is a must-have starter, followed by the legendary Eggs Benedict—and how can you say no to the luscious chocolate cake for dessert? Or even the martini glass full of cotton candy.
If you’re looking for something quick and light. I recommend the Fresh Juice Bar at the intersection of Ramon Road and Sunrise Way. And just down Sunrise, you will find the best deli in town, The Real Italian Deli of Palm Springs, but be sure to call early to place an order, as its famous fresh capris always sell out fast.
Check out some of the town’s many coffee shops if you want that energy boost. Even though Starbucks locations are widespread, the one at 101 S. Palm Canyon Drive is a Starbucks Reserve, making it unique from other franchises. This Starbucks handcrafts distinctive coffees that are unique to the locales, such as “Iced Coachella Chais” and “Tropic Like It’s Hot” drinks. For that sweet tooth, you can get an affogato or even a cold brew malt as they also have ice cream. Then cross the street to drink your coffee on the Lucille Ball themed brass bench.
The upscale coffee store 4 Paws Coffee Co. is another good choice. It serves distinctively flavored lattes like dulce de leche and peanut butter, making 4 Paws a must-visit independent business. Due to the large number of dog lovers in the Palms Springs area, the coffee business feeds on its relationships with the local community and charitable contributions. If you are considering bringing your pet on this trip, you will never encounter a store or restaurant that doesn’t invite your four-legged friends. Certainly, they are welcomed.
Shopping is next. Vintage stores and small business boutiques abound. Enter the Shag Store. If you like vintage, this store is a time machine. The store will take you back to the ‘70s for art, furniture and collectibles on N. Palm Canyon Drive. Mariannes of Palm Springs has been there 30 plus years. The walls are lined with photos of celebrities who have shopped there in previous years. If you want the glitz, glamor and Hollywood look, this store is a must shop. Palm Springs is widely known for its museum quality creativity. The variety of art shops and galleries will surprise you.
The Palm Springs Art Museum is famous. Admission is $14, but it is free on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The famed “Forever Marilyn,” a 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe sculpture greets you in front of the museum. And while the statue placement is controversial, in 2019 Palm Springs Mayor Robert Moon announced that Marilyn’s return to Palm Springs is permanent. This is a must-see for the perfect paparazzo photo. Count on seeing men lining up to shamelessly stand under Marilyn’s skirt for a tourist photo. Make sure you catch your boyfriend in the moment, to use it against him, so you get a new Coach purse on your way out of town at the Cabazon Outlet. The surrounding museum area contains unusual public art great for photo ops. A local app called Art GPS sends you on a self-guided tour of the public artwork in the neighborhood. A 10-minute walk east on Palm Canyon Road is the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center, known for its interior design collections.
If you even have a passing interest in history, drive to Old Las Palmas or the Movie Colony to explore and take in classic Palm Springs architecture in famous Hollywood celebrity homes. Here, Elvis and Priscilla’s Honeymoon Hideaway is still in its 1960s configuration, preserved as a historic site.
Downtown Palm Springs itself frequently hosts an extravaganza farmers market like you have never seen before. Palm Canyon Drive is captured for one mile with a festival atmosphere of vendors, music and friends.
Aesthetically attractive eateries are in Palm Springs that suit every palate, and the atmosphere in these places is absolutely transformational. Go to dinner and watch the sunset from outdoor seating. As the heat dies down, outdoor misters greet you above the doors, dampening the heat. Las Casuelas Original is a favorite. This family-run restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating sometimes has wait times for the popular food and live music. It is affordable with reasonable prices.
If you are looking for a night on the town, several bars beckon you to visit. Hunters and Chill, both on Arenas Road are favorites of locals. These LGBTQ+ bars are inclusive and promising for a fun night. If you are looking for stage entertainment, you may want to check out the fabulous cabaret at Oscars. And if you’re looking for heightened atmosphere, you can enjoy a cocktail in a refurbished 737 aircraft. That’s right—Bouschet on S. Palm Canyon Drive is more than a wine shop. Go past the counter and skip the TSA screening to enjoy a cocktail and drag show in a more comfortable seat than you would ever find in coach. Be sure to try the “Mile High Boozy Brunch” with a designated pilot to fly you home.
If you are looking for the ultimate Palm Springs overnight stay, I recommend the Trixie Motel, 210 W. Stevens Road. Iconic drag superstar Trixie Mattel and David Silver picked up the hammers and turned a corner of a movie colony into a Barbie dream motel. What is more fabulous than a blue Palm Springs pool and totally pink themed rooms? If you would rather stay somewhere more posh or in a rainbow hotel, there are many resorts waiting on your booking.
Rested up? First up at the northern edge of town is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the largest revolving aerial tramway in the world. It takes visitors straight up through the cliffs of Chino Canyon to the Mountain Station at 8,516 feet in about 10 beautiful minutes. The desert heat is more than a mile below you. Take in the views, and experience the hikes and restaurants on top. For a special experience, ride it at sunset.
Next up is the Highway 111 dunes, especially if you’re an adrenaline junkie. All ages will enjoy Off Road Rentals, which provides the equipment for the adventure. Ride the ATVs through the obstacle course on their private land. Thirty minutes of fun costs about $50.
Or you can go east to Palm Desert and see the Living Desert Zoo, a unique zoo experience with atypical animals, some found in desert environments, like Big Horn Sheep and Mountain Lions; others straight from the savannah, like Cheetahs, Leopards, Rhinoceroses and Giraffes. While in this direction, know that there are hikes aplenty. The famous Tahquitz Canyon two-mile hike costs $15 to enter the protected region. The water cascade at the end, though, is the finest part. Another well-liked climb is Andreas Canyon, which is known for its famed red rock formations and mile-long oasis of palm trees.
Eventually you will be on Interstate 10, headed west. But slow down. Cabazon is another ideal stop. Make sure to stop by the Cabazon Dinosaurs, take a picture, and then visit the outlets to get your promised Coach purse. The 1.5 hour drive home will be a quick one because you already will be planning your next trip back.