Palm Springs is FUN. While it once had a reputation for being a haunt for only retirees and those visiting a certain little music festival, over the last few years the Coachella valley has really come into it’s own. The food scene is unreal, the hotels are painfully hip and there is no shortage of things to do and see. I have been coming to the valley since the late 90s, when my parents decided that they wanted to take a family vacation to meet up with some friends. We spent a week bunked up in their condo, and my love affair with the City has been going strong ever since.
Visiting Palm Springs is great, but like any travel destination worth seeing, it is even better when you learn the hidden haunts and secret little hole-in-the-walls that are really outstanding. Here is my list of favourites. It includes both a number of spots that are part of the quintessential PS experience, as well as my family’s top secret fave locations. Enjoy!
Where to Stay
This midcentury gem was once a Westward Ho, complete with attached Denny’s. It’s now a slick, retro hotel that is buzzing with energy. The rooms are cozy and the common spaces are quirky and feel like you’ve stepped back into a weird 60s hipster alternate universe. It is magical and electric and I love it. Pro tip? Join in for a rousing round of bingo in the diner or trivia in the bar on Mondays nights.
For something a little quieter, check out this desert sanctuary. The Amado is located in in the heart of Central Palm Springs. It features six bedrooms, which can be rented as individual one and two bedroom suites or as a single property, capable of hosting more than of 12 people at a time. Each suite has its own private kitchen, living room with pull-out couch, dining room and bedroom with king bed. The two-bedroom suite boasts an original 1955 gas fireplace, a chef’s kitchen with dishwasher and large dining table that seats 8 people. Perfectly styled as a minimalist SoCal oasis, it’s definitely worth a look.
If you prefer to rent, but you’re looking for something a little more unique than the standard Air B’n’B, then Acme House Company will be perfect for you. Conde Naste Traveler recently named this unique rental group to their list of Top 10 Vacation Rental Management Companies worldwide. They have more than 70 privately-owned luxury pool homes and condos at affordable rates, which makes this an excellent alternative if you’re looking for an extended rental or want to head south with a larger group. The homes are are modernist and stunning, with rates starting at $69 US per person per night.
What to Eat
I found paradise in a California strip mall. Actually though. This little spot tucked away near the corner of South Palm Canyon Dr and Ramon Rd is positively fantastic. While not entirely plant-based, they offer healthy and innovative breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Palm Greens is the type of place that you wish was your own – the menu is diverse and enormous (from smoothies to scrambles), the service is always great and it never feels like they are trying too hard. My favourite-ever smoothie is the ‘easy green.’ My top brunch insider tip? Order the breakfast wrap and ask them to add in roasted potatoes!
This has been one of my family’s long time favourite spots for breakfast, although these days it’s often very busy. Cheeky’s offers a more of a brunch-with-a-twist type of menu. With a seasonal rotating menu, many of the choices have a mexi-cali influence, and most are classic dishes done with modern ingredients (think breakfast hash made with quinoa instead of potatoes). I love their fresh OJ and avocado on toast.
I don’t drink much coffee these days, but I like to splurge on a decaf once a week as a treat since I love the taste so much. Ernest does just the trick. Located in the Uptown Design District of Palm Springs, this independent shop offers Stumptown coffee and plenty of little snacks to tide you over. Whatever you take in your misto, they’ll have you set to go – they offer soy, almond and coconut milk as dairy alternatives.
Lunch & Dinner
This home-style Mexican food is out of this world. My family has been frequenting Mexican food restaurants in the valley for 20 years and this is by far the best one we’ve found. All of their options are super fresh and delicious. Their in-house hot sauce is hands down the best I’ve ever eaten. It is smoky and a little sweet and not so hot that you can’t still taste the flavour of whatever you put it on.
This place is right next to Cheeky’s and has killer fire roasted pizza and contemporary Italian. The ambiance here is so magical – there is no indoor space. Instead they have a cozy patio space that is loaded with twinkling lights to parallel the desert stars. Quite a few of the appetizers are are vegan-friendly or can be easily modified. I always ask for a cheese-less pizza with all the veggies they’ve got – it is excellent.
Nature’s Health Food is an OG-style vegetarian cafe & juice bar attached to a modest health food store. The old-school hippie cafe serves tons of options from wraps, pastas and stir-fries to mixed plates & burritos. It also has a wide variety of fresh pressed juices and smoothies. I love their green juices and burgers. The store is also great and stocks a variety of natural groceries including fresh organic produce, bulk staples, supplements, herbs and all natural personal care products. I love going shopping here to stock up on things that I can’t get in Canada.
Thai Smile’s healthful and fresh dishes have been pleasing valley-goers since the early 90s. A local staple, they offer several vegetable/vegetarian main entrees including veggie curry, tofu pad thai and the adorably named “pleasing sprout.” Many of their other dishes can be substituted with tofu upon request. My favourite? The always delicious green papaya salad.
What to do
Palm Springs is a haven for all vintage lovers. This is a local thrift chain that is amazing if you like to dig for cheap gems. Whether you’re looking for timeless classic midcentury pieces or hilarious novelty items, Revivals has got you covered.
Whether you’re looking for little vintage midcentury trinkets or thinking of investing in some larger pieces like furniture, the vintage market has got you covered. This flea market style design mecca is worth it just for the trip to check out all of the treasures from another era. Be sure to print out their online coupon to save $2 off of your entry fee (you might need the extra bucks to spend on a sweet finds).
If you’re into serious shopping this is where you want to be. The best spot for deals, the Desert Hills and Cabazon outlets have something for everyone from the label-obsessed to the budget conscious. Make sure to stop at the Hadley’s Fruit Orchards on the way for some fresh dates… it’s a fundamental part of the Palm Springs experience (and who doesn’t love dates??).
Two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado, meld together at the Joshua Tree National Park.This is a long drive so it’s more of a day trip but it’s totally worth it. There is tons of hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking trails, or if you’re feeling something a little more low key you can also just drive around and marvel at the amazing natural ecosystem.
Palm Springs is home to the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world (oooh ahhhh). Essentially, you can ride up to the top of the mountain scape and you can hike around/check out some seriously stunning the views of the canyon. It looks a lot like Colorado/Western Canada at the top so it’s not the most exciting activity for Canadians but it’s pretty cool if you want to get out and about, or if you aren’t used to that landscape.
Want to brush up on your skills? PGA West totes that their goal is to offer the “the finest golf instruction in the world.” There is no better place to try your work on your swing. There is a golf school, with club fittings and private lessons also available.
Part of the fun of Palm Springs is the stunning midcentury architecture. On these guided tours you can check out the city’s diverse neighborhoods, and learn about their fascinating stories. If you want to see the highlights of the valley, this is a great way to do it. (Alternatively, you could check out the Palm Springs Celebrity Tours where you can see the haunts of old hollywood, including the rat pack).