Palm Springs, Palm Desert or Joshua Tree?
February 2, 2013 10:50 AM   Subscribe

We're planning a getaway weekend and we're trying decided between Palm Springs, Palm Desert or Joshua Tree. What do we do, where do we stay?

I know there are a couple of previous questions about this, but I'm hoping there's more recent advice. We want to get away for a few days in February/March without kids and we're trying to decide where to stay and what to do. I'd love recommendations for hotels, places to hike, see art, thrift stores, music, anything. We've stayed in Palm Desert before at Two Bunches of Palms and at the Desert Hot Springs Hotel, so we'd like to try something different. I don't know how much we want to spend at the moment, so let's pretend it's anything. I can imagine a couple of scenarios:

1) Palm Springs: I have only stayed there once and the hotel wasn't very memorable (in fact, I can't remember it!) and we ate at a deli. In other words, we didn't plan well. I've been checking Trip Advisor and there are 70 hotels to choose from. Where should we stay? What's is there to do in Palm Springs itself? (Besides the aerial tram)

2) Palm Desert: I know there's not much in the town of Palm Desert so I'm imagining we'd sit in mineral pools all day and eat and drink. Where should we stay? Anything else we should do?

3) Joshua Tree: I'd like to check out Pappy and Harriet's, the Integraton and just look around. Any recommendations about places to stay, things to do, places to hike around? Never been there.
posted by biscuits to Travel & Transportation around Palm Springs, CA (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Palm Desert is the residential community down valley that is very "California suburbia". Desert Hot Springs is where Two Bunch is, it's kinda a down market desert resort town, lots of trailer parks and RV'ers.

Joshua Tree is an hour from PS. It is completely spectacular. There's a north and south gate, go in one and out the other. It's incredibly beautiful and worth a day trip.

Other than that, Palm Springs is kinda dull if you are not a golfer or into gay dance clubs. Lots of shopping, great vintage furniture on north 111 in Palm Springs. (Palm Canyon Drive). Renting a bike and cruising the terrific mid century neighbourhoods just east of downtown is pleasant.

The Ace is open in Palm Springs. So is The Saugaro.

Dining is grim.

The whole area is pretty compact, assuming you have a car. Desert Hot Springs to Palm Springs is maybe 15 minutes, Palm Desert is 25 minutes east.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:22 AM on February 2, 2013

I love Joshua Tree and have been there a few times. There's no real fine dining, though Pappy and Harriets (in Pioneertown) is great and definitely worth checking out. In Joshua Tree the Country Kitchen (not to be confused with the chain by the same name) is not-to-miss for excellent diner food and quintessential local-diner experience.

For things to do, you can go to the park and get out at any trailhead and hike as long or short as you want--they'll give you advice at the Visitor Center if you want something specific. The area is really uniquely beautiful. There are art galleries around the town which I've never really explored, but my impression is that there's probably not much of that to keep you busier for more than a couple hours. We went on a horseback trail ride at CottonWood Canyon ranch in Morongo Valley--they are super friendly and accommodating and have lovely well-cared for horses.

For places to stay in Joshua Tree, check out VRBO. There are really nice places you can get for a weekend at good prices. Some are locally managed. There's also some B&B's. Most of the hotels/motels are nothing too special and are right on the highway which is to me a little less desirable location, whereas you can get a house or cottage up towards the park for a much nicer setting. Keywords are "close to park entrance" or "Joshua Tree Highlands" (the latter being a neighborhood on the way up to the park).
posted by gubenuj at 11:33 AM on February 2, 2013

I went to Joshua Tree this week last year for my 40th birthday with my husband and another couple. We rented this house and spent every evening in the hot tub after dinner. We were close to the park entrance, though we never went in (it was a reading-writing-cooking-eating-drinking-soaking vacation). We went out to eat once, at the Pizza/Indian place, and had a very fine curry.

The Moonlight Mesa folks were fantastic - I never met them (though they offered to meet us there when we arrived), but the reservation and arrangements were very easy, simple, and they were very friendly. The house was great, though the walls are pretty thin and both bedrooms have a sort of transom into the hallway, so I would absolutely stay there again but take a white noise machine. The kitchen was really well-supplied (we brought springform pans to make birthday cake, but everything else we needed was there). The other houses look pretty great too.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:41 AM on February 2, 2013

Best answer: I highly recommend the Palm Springs architecture tour if you have any interest in Modernist architecture. The Parker Palm Springs is probably the best upscale hotel in any of the 3 places you mentioned. The Ace is cheaper and fun but it skews young and hipster. Colony Palms Hotel is really nice. Next time I go to Palm Springs I'd like to try the Horizon and Casa Cody hotels, which are more boutique-y. For brunch, Cheeky's is good. King's Highway diner at the Ace is good as well. But in general the food in that whole region is pretty forgettable.

Another option would be to rent a house - you can get a nice one with a pool for less than a lot of hotel rooms. And then you can cook your own meals to save money - and avoid eating at the subpar restaurants.

If you are into Rat Pack-y stuff you can go to Melvyn's bar, where they supposedly used to hang out. There's often era-appropriate live music playing, too. You can also gamble, if you like - there are a couple casinos right in Palm Springs and a bunch a short drive away.

My suggestion would be to stay somewhere fun in Palm Springs and drive to Joshua Tree for the day.
posted by Anonymousness at 11:44 AM on February 2, 2013

I would use VRBO for any of those places. There's so much that's cool and funky and cheap in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree, and the crappy food issue is solved by making your own. It's so much nicer to sit outside and have breakfast in the desert than to go to the local greasy spoon.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:46 AM on February 2, 2013

If you go the house rental route, you could also check out Vacation Palm Springs. VRBO is great but you're dealing with individual owners, who can be flaky or tough to get a hold of. VPS is an agency and they've always been very professional in my experience.
posted by Anonymousness at 11:54 AM on February 2, 2013

Just at the south edge of Palm Springs is Tahquitz Canyon (caution: autoplay music). Good hiking.
posted by dzot at 11:56 AM on February 2, 2013

Another interesting trip for a day from the Palm Springs area is to go southeast, around the Salton Sea. Poke in the weird little towns and look at the decay, then visit and tour the amazing folk art environment Salvation Mountain. That's close to Slab City too which while not exactly a tourist destination, is interesting for a look at some weird marginalia of American life. Nice folks, too.
posted by Nelson at 1:23 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's a romantic getaway (no kids), and you like talking to people at breakfast, we had an awesome time at Sacred Sands bed and breakfast near Joshua Tree. Availability may be limited as they just have two guest rooms, and it's definitely a luxury place rather than a bare bones (you have your own private hot tub). The hosts do like to chat with the guests, but are really friendly, nice guys. We had breakfast about 9ish and then went hiking and stayed for three or four days.

We visited Palm Springs art museum and the Palm Springs Desert Zoo on the way there (as we flew into Palm Springs); the art museum was OK, the zoo was awesome (if you like zoos, it's about the right size to walk around in one afternoon and is only desert animals so you see some, e.g., roadrunner, that you may not elsewhere).
posted by ejaned8 at 1:33 PM on February 2, 2013

Best answer: The Saguaro in Palm Springs feels like a renovated older hotel (I think it was a Holiday Inn before?). If you decide to go with Palm Springs, see if you might be able to get a good price at the Colony Palms. Usually really expensive but sometimes there are better rates. Great location and a nice place. Tahquitz Canyon is the perfect hike! Lots of people at the waterfall, but that's kind of fun too. If you like comfort food and a diner atmosphere - try either of the two Rick's restaurant locations (one is mostly breakfast/lunch, the other is dinner).
posted by belau at 2:37 PM on February 2, 2013

Response by poster: GAH! Yes, I meant Desert Hot Springs, not Palm Desert. Sorry. If anyone has Desert Hot Springs, recs, please let me know.
posted by biscuits at 3:59 PM on February 2, 2013

Joshua Tree is my official Happy Place and I would never stay anywhere but the Joshua Tree Inn, which is right on the main drag. A couple of the rooms have kitchenettes and patios with grills, which is great because there are grocery stores in nearby towns and you can stock up and feed yourselves, and they do a breakfast buffet every morning (cereal, fruit, yogurt, eggs) and in the evening there's generally a communal hangout with wine and whatnot. There are a couple of places to hang out within walking distance (the Crossroads is a big one, with great food and a good selection of beer).

It is literally my favorite place on earth. There are kittycats who will come hang out with you, there's a pool, if you feel like doing yoga in the morning complete strangers might venture out to yoga with you, it's just the best vibe ever. I would live there if I could.
posted by padraigin at 10:38 PM on February 2, 2013

I've stayed in this cabin in Joshua Tree (actually Twentynine Palms) and it was awesome. It's on the border of the park so you have an unobstructed view of the surrounding hills and desert.

You could also stay at Ray Bradbury's old vacation house in Palm Springs just to say you did. But honestly, Palm Springs is kinda boring.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:11 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the replies. After looking it over we wanted to explore Palm Springs but next trip is planned for Joshua Tree so thank you for all the advice on that. In case it helps anyone else, we stayed at the Avanti, a renovated 50's style motel. Nice people, happy hour and simple breakfast included and you can bring your dog. We took a lovely hike at Andreas Canyon around a stream and explored the area. We ate out at two restaurants I'd recommend: Jiao (pan asian) and Cheeky's (interesting breakfast). Also rode our bikes around the movie colony neighborhood and admired the homes. Next time I'll check out the architecture tour like Anonymousness suggested. Thanks!
posted by biscuits at 4:51 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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