Located in the Colorado Desert about 110 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the Greater Palm Springs area offers visitors a range of activities and lodging options. The ancestral home to the Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs has been popular with Hollywood stars since the 1920s. It was a favorite rendezvous spot for Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, and celebrities such as Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra bought homes there. Leonardo DiCaprio and Halley Berry are among today’s stars that are seen soaking up the desert sun. Beyond the glamor, Palm Springs has world-class golf courses, arts, culture, popular events (like Coachella), dining and shopping.
Palm Springs has evolved quite a bit since I began visiting, first with my parents and then with my own family. In the last decade Palm Springs and the surrounding eight desert communities – Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, and Indio – have become one destination – the Greater Palm Springs area. I’ve enjoyed watching Palm Springs develop tastefully into a destination suitable for everyone. It’s a little bit of old Hollywood, elegant desert oasis and exciting outdoor adventures all rolled into one.
The best time to visit is winter, spring and fall. Be sure to check the Greater Palm Springs website for more information and special events.
We met naturalist guide Carlos Salas and fellow passengers at 8 a.m. for a three-hour Desert Adventures tour to the San Andreas Fault Line. The big red jeep was comfortable and stocked with chilled water bottles. We made several stops, with Salas guiding us on short walks while talking about local geology and tectonic plates (and why it’s not true that California will slip into the Pacific during the Big One). We drove to the fault line, identifiable by a strip of palm trees along the top.
At a nearby natural palm oasis with clear water seeping from an underground aquifer, Salas pointed out plants the Cahuillas used for medicine and making sandals, baskets and huts plus more. Navigating winding dirt roads through Fossil Canyon and Granny Gulch, we stopped to hike along unique formations with panoramic views.
The Sunnylands Center & Gardens has an interesting history, so be sure to watch the video before exploring the desert gardens. The property was founded by the late Walter and Leonore Annenbergs, philanthropists who hosted elaborate parties for seven U.S. presidents, the British royal family and Hollywood celebrities at their estate. Admission to the gardens is free. To tour the Annenberg residence, there’s a fee of $35 per person and reservations are required.
The Living Desert in Palm Desert is a 1,080-acre preserve home to animals of Africa and North America. Trails lead to natural habitats and themed desert gardens. The Discovery Center has interactive exhibits showcasing desert life.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is both fun and scenic. The 10-minute, 2.5-mile ride begins at 2,643 feet elevation and ends at the Mountain Station at 8,516 feet. The rotating platform ensures everyone gets awesome desert and mountain views. At the top, there are viewing platforms and numerous hiking trails. It’s 30 degrees cooler up there, so bring a light jacket. There’s snow in winter.
Downtown Palm Springs
Parking is abundant and free in this pedestrian-friendly village. We browsed through the Palm Springs Art Museum featuring contemporary works as well as classic western art and an outdoor sculpture garden.At the entrance is a portion of the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, golden palm stars embedded in sidewalks. Around the corner is a 26-foot tall Marilyn Monroe statue on display through March 2014.
Restaurants for all budgets abound from burgers to high-end cuisine. Among our favorites was Kaiser Grille, a casual Palm Springs classic with an outdoor patio and village views.
One evening we lingered over a delectable dinner at the elegant Circa 59, located inside the Riviera Palm Springs (the area’s largest resort when it was built in 1959). The hotel’s oversized crystal chandeliers, retro furnishings and Andy Warhol pop art foster an Old Hollywood ambiance. Seated in a cozy, red leather upholstered booth with pool views, we savored our meal, consisting of pulled pork sliders, an amazing gazpacho soup with feta and avocado, chop chop salad with bacon, egg, avocado and tomato and steak entrees.
Where to Stay
Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa
Located on Bob Hope Drive in Rancho Mirage, the resort has an onsite Splashtopia waterpark with a lazy river and water slides exclusively for resort guests. Rooms have mountain, golf course or pool views. Landscaped paths lead to the resort’s restaurants and spa, but complimentary pick-up service in a golf cart is available – and fun!
JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa
During spring, the resort is offering a $50 resort credit that can be applied to a seasonal treatment at the Spa at Desert Springs, a game of golf at the Ted Robinson-designed championship golf courses, or dinner on Rockwood Grill’s patio overlooking Venetian-inspired waterways and gondolas.
The resort is located near a number of springtime events, which include the following:
Palm Desert Food & Wine: Back for its sixth year of gathering all-star chef talent and food enthusiasts for three extraordinary days of dining in the iconic Palm Desert landscape April 8 – 10.
Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week: Local restaurants and attractions, including The Living Desert Zoo and Desert Adventures-Red Jeep Tours, offer special rates and premiums June 3 – 12.