What to do in Palm Springs?
June 8, 2021 8:11 AM   Subscribe

5 fully vaxxed adults staying in Palm Springs, CA for a week in late February. What should we definitely do?

We'll have a car and a rented house. Not opposed to a day trip (like to Joshua Tree) but would prefer to absorb the local vibe. We are not clubby people and we don't gamble. Art galleries, restaurants, funky shops, local attractions are all good with us. We are totally comfortable playing by day and relaxing back at the house and pool at night but also don't want to miss an evening activity in PS if it's a must for some middle aged folks.
posted by archimago to Travel & Transportation around Palm Springs, CA (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Palm Springs is super flat and has nice, wide streets. February will be a great time to rent some bikes and ride around the neighborhoods enjoying the architecture.
posted by shornco at 8:26 AM on June 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

You want something funky? Book a session at the Integratron about an hour away.

Do you want something even more funky? Drive an hour and a half by the Salton Sea to Salvation Mountain

Eat brunch / breakfast at the Ace Hotel
posted by glaucon at 8:31 AM on June 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

Don’t just eat at the Ace; eat and drink poolside! Their pool area is really fun and a day pass is reasonable.

Take the aerial tramway; in February there will be snow at the top!

Downtown PS is chock full of art galleries, restaurants, and interesting shops. Second the suggestion to rent bikes, the weather will be pleasant that time of year.

I would absolutely do a day trip to Joshua Tree; possibly a late in the day trip to set yourself up for some amazing stargazing in the park (it’s technically closed after dark, but there are no gates and lots of folks do this). You could also hike to the 49palms oasis over there, which is easy and very cool.

Side note; it gets surprisingly cold at night in the desert; make sure you pack some warmer clothes!

posted by nancynickerson at 8:43 AM on June 8, 2021

The Ace Hotel is great. Definitely do Salvation Mountain and East Jesus. Mid century architecture tours. I have a soft spot for Sunnylands since I did the networking there, but if you're into mid century architecture it's probably worth a trip. The arial tram is kind of fun and unique.
posted by mikesch at 8:44 AM on June 8, 2021

Joshua Tree was far and away the major highlight of my Palm Springs trip, and I’m not a very outdoorsy person (I also didn’t like Palm Springs the town as much as I thought I would). It’s not a long drive at all and the drive is really scenic in that barren sort of way. Don’t miss it!

I also recommend getting a drink at Copley’s, which is located in Cary Grant’s old guesthouse. It felt like pretty classic Palm Springs to me. We also went to Bootlegger Tiki for drinks and liked it.
posted by cakelite at 8:51 AM on June 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Outside: do a Mid Century Modern house tour and then go see famous people's graves (it's not just Sinatra; we found William Powell and his third wife, known as "Mousie," among others). And definitely go to Joshua Tree.

Inside: walk or take a taxi to Bootlegger Tiki. And on the other side of Joshua Tree is the Palms Restaurant, which my wife and I had read about in the New York Times. We were there in the height of summer after the tourist influx had died down, and we were the only non-locals there (to the extent that when we opened the door everyone in the place turned to look at us). The burgers were great, and the people were all extremely friendly. When they found out my wife was an actress and director, they invited her to come back for the Fringe Festival they were planning.
posted by fedward at 10:10 AM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]


OK so my mom is a snowbird out in eastern part of the valley, so I have spent a lot of time out there over the years, including this entire past winter. First I shall link you to this little guide that I put in the house for renters/visitors. Because of where the house is, the restaurant recs are targeted toward stuff in LQ/Indio, but the hiking trails, outdoor markets, art museums, weird quirky installations etc. are valid for everyone. I don't want to brag but I think this is a really good list of stuff.

The Integratron and Sunnylands both need to be booked well in advance, as a heads up.

Definitely seconding downtown Palm Springs. Eat at The Farm!! Check out the art museum, it's way better than it should be and historically it's been free on Thursdays during Village Fest. OH and go to Village Fest on Thursday night, it's so fun and the best street scene you'll find in the valley. IMO it's the only can't-miss evening activity.

Destination PSP has lots of cute souvenirs. Palm Greens Cafe has my favorite sandwich in the world. The College of the Desert fair (on weekends) in Palm Desert is HUGE and really fun, lots of flea market stuff plus art and food trucks. The aerial tram is indeed great, whether or not you're going to hike at the top.

If you're spa people there's lots of good options, but my absolute favorite for ambiance is the one at the La Quinta Resort. It's worth the drive. Go for the day and then get a drink in the main courtyard at the Adobe Grill.

You're going to have SO MUCH FUN.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:53 AM on June 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

If you like weird early 20th century eccentric theosophists and (the concept of) rattlesnakes, Cabot Yerxa's house is fun. The San Jacinto Tramway seems to be closed at the moment, but if I'm wrong, it's genuinely worth it, even though the advertising is cheesy as hell.
posted by eotvos at 12:44 PM on June 8, 2021

I was told that if you like bargain hunting, visiting the thrift shops in Palm Spring can yield a LOT of surprising finds. But you need to check the hours. A lot of the shops have reduced hours.
posted by kschang at 12:51 PM on June 8, 2021

Depending on which dates you have booked, you might be there for Modernism Week, which is a festival of midcentury modern stuff, including amazing tours that include some places that aren't open on normal tours. But it also means there's a lot more people than normal, and many of them are doing the same things you'll be doing and you have to book things in advance.

There are a bunch of fantastic shops on the main drags, you won't have any trouble finding things to look at, and I'm seconding Village Fest, it's really fun. One of my favorite places to eat is Elmer's on East Palm Canyon, because I love diner food and midcentury decor, and you'll be near some great streets to drive up on and look at cool homes.

I also second driving to Joshua Tree toward afternoon, because being there at sunset and getting in a little stargazing is really spectacular. Tahquitz Canyon is a fantastic park right there in the area, though, so you don't necessarily have to drive far for nature stuff.

I'm a film buff who loves the cheesetastic, so I actually enjoyed looking at the Walk of Stars (celebs who've lived in PS and have stars on the sidewalk) on N Palm Canyon, as we ate our way along the street. I've been there many times, and walking along, eating and ducking into shops, just never gets old for me. If you want to add more stuff, you can drive down to Palm Desert, which is where a lot of other old stars had homes.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:54 PM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Drive to/through Joshua Tree at night and see the stars. Take the gondola to the hilltop overlooking the city.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 12:59 PM on June 8, 2021

On my visit one May, we took the arial tramway to Mt San Jacinto State Park I believe), which was gorgeous. If it's hot in the valley, it's quite cool up there, and the view and nature are both stunning.
We also hiked up to Mt San Jacinto itself, which was fine, but just a loop around the park itself, without the top is nice as well.
posted by Thisandthat at 2:45 PM on June 8, 2021

I agree, Mt San Jacinto was very cool.
posted by soelo at 3:19 PM on June 8, 2021

The Living Desert was a fun stop for us several times while there.
posted by liquado at 6:18 PM on June 8, 2021

The art museum really impressed us when we were there.
posted by matildaben at 10:59 PM on June 8, 2021

Seconding the drive to Salton Sea (read up on its history. it's fascinating!), and then continue on to Bombay Beach Estates. Equally as fascinating and interesting! Both are about an hour SE of PS.
I don't know if this is your thing or not, but look up the Door Tour addresses and check them out. Residents' homes with colorful, interesting, and entertaining doors. I love the one with the 2 lions that sport different decorations.
After my first visit to PS I came home and ripped out my front lawn and replaced it with attractive stone and succulents. I love the landscaping in PS, and this has proven beneficial in these sad drought times here in No. CA.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 9:12 AM on June 9, 2021

I loved my architecture tour with Trevor O’Donnell at PS Architecture Tours
Small group, smart guy, great buildings, good introduction to Palm Springs beyond just architecture.

The tour departs from a cool home furnishings store - H3K Home - which is worth visiting and there’s actually decent coffee (fussy Australian customer) at Ristretto right next door.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:31 AM on June 10, 2021

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is about a half hour drive east of Palm Springs. There are some nice easy trails to explore, and perhaps when you visit their guided hikes will be happening again.
posted by ShooBoo at 3:07 PM on June 12, 2021

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