One of the hottest spots (quite literally), in California’s Coachella Valley, Palm Springs has never been more magnetic. The “season” here is long, thanks to the desert’s endless sunshine and perpetually dry climate. Recent revitalisation of storied hotels and roadside restaurants, as well as a steady stream of new builds and ventures, continues to bring fresh relevance to the city so ubiquitous with mid-century Hollywood glamour.
Once home to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, as well as rugged homesteaders and the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Native Americans before them, Palm Springs embraces its contradictions: a weekend playground for Los Angelenos, an altar to kitsch, a tour-de-force of sleek mid-century architecture, and a true desert hideaway. In Palm Springs it’s impossible to escape the past, and even harder to ignore the present.
The Packing Edit
The oldest (and maybe the loveliest) hotel in Palm Springs, Casa Cody is an oasis tucked behind a bougainvillea-full fence in downtown Palm Springs. Named for the original owner, Harriet Cody, a cousin of Buffalo Bill, Casa Cody has California cool in its bones. This jewel-box property is home to 26 rooms and four cottages and offers views of the San Jacinto Mountains that feel so close you could touch them. Lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit trees are scattered throughout the grounds and guests are invited to pick and juice what they choose. Casa Cody’s grounds include two small pools, an edible garden, and a grassy, palm treed lawn. Rooms and cottages hold a mix of antiques and modern pieces, like vintage pencil line drawings and just-published cookbooks. Casa Cody is the epitome of the low-key southern California vibe that still makes Palm Springs feel like a hidden getaway despite its high publicity and proximity to Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin once stayed here, and you should too.
Rustic chic, adults-only Sparrows Lodge is appealingly out of the way from downtown Palm Springs and free of the Hollywood regency chintz you’ll find elsewhere in the city. This formerly private home first opened as a hotel in 1952. Today, its 20 rooms are minimalist meets western in design, with warm colour palettes, rich textiles, original Ed Ruscha art, and, the crown jewels: horse-trough soaking tubs. Rooms are free of TVs, phones, and electric clocks – not that would even want them here – this is a place to truly get away from it all. Rooms either lead out to the pool or are set back on the property and have private backyard shaded by olive trees. The central pool is adjacent to Sparrow’s Barn Kitchen which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also has a bar for anytime-of-day poolside drinks. A courtyard in the rear of the property has a fire pit and s’more materials are on hand nightly.
Guests come to ARRIVE as much for the large and open-until-midnight pool, as for the scene. This sleek new build is popular with groups of friends, small bachelorette trips, and couples making a weekend escape. The vibe is understated party (read: it’s relaxed), but if you want to be comfortable, don’t forget to reserve a poolside lounger the night before. ARRIVE offers a different side to Palm Springs, one of the all-day mimosa and baking away your troubles in the sun variety. It’s an elevated spot to while away the winter and lively enough for those coming to Palm Springs with more on their mind than just relaxing. Cabanas, firepits, and a bar move take the atmosphere from all-day low-key party to chilled evenings. ARRIVE is well suited for exploring the restaurants of Uptown.
EAT + DRINK
On the rooftop of the tallest building in Palm Springs – the newly built Rowan hotel – the views from 4 Saints rival the food. The menu here is California fresh meets classic American comfort food: think tender steaks, creamy potatoes, and cornbread, but also tuna crudo, charred artichokes, and maitake mushrooms. Even if you just come for one drink, the sweeping vistas of the city and mountains beyond might keep you here for a full meal.
If you want to dip your toes into the scene that is the Ace Hotel and Swim Club of Palm Springs, but don’t want to fully plunge into the deep end, opt for a meal at King’s Highway, the hotel’s restaurant. Occupying the building of an original mid-century roadside dine, the restaurant retains its original character and bones with 21st-century versions of nostalgic American roadside meals (meaning, yes, you can order a burger here).
PS Air Bar
This newly opened spot is as hidden as they come – in the back a wine store Bouschet, in a strip mall a stone’s throw from the main drag. But its clandestine location only adds to its appeal as the city’s hottest speakeasy that’s as popular with Palm Springs’ year-round LGBTQ+ community as it is with visitors in the know. It’s airline theme to the extreme, you will sit in an airplane seat (complete with seatbelt) and be served by dashing stewards with larger than plane-appropriate drinks. Call ahead to reserve a spot in “First Class” and make sure to come on one of their nights offering live music.
This elevated garden restaurant is located in the fashionable Uptown district of Palm Springs that is home to more refined dining and shopping options than you’ll find in the tourist-heavy downtown. Birba is known for its pizzas and for the magical half-covered pergola in which it is served. Everything here – including the don’t miss vodka Martinis – is divine.
Also in Uptown, 1501 is a stylish indoor-outdoor spot that serves food so fresh and lovely it will make you realise why people choose to base themselves in California (if you haven’t figured that out already). Avocado toast and ahi tuna salads, and a curated California wine list, make this an ideal spot for a lunch.
Perfect for lunch or dinner, Eight4Nine has extensive seating both inside and out. The vibe is Hollywood kitsch, which is an essential experience in Palm Springs. Inside is awash with black and white photos of starlets and heavy-handed decor in black, white, and pink. Dine outdoors and join the see and be seen of Palm Springs. Don’t miss dessert; they’re known for their key lime pie.
You could spend a lifetime going through the trails that surround Palm Springs. But with just 48 hours, we suggest you head to Indian Canyons. The ancestral home of the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Native Americans, the landscape here is as beautiful as it is sacred. The canyons are dotted with palms and natural running springs. Hikes range from easy to strenuous. For something in between, try the Andreas Canyon loop.
It’s hard to shop when there is no way that perfect mid-century credenza can come with you on the plane, but Palm Springs’ wealth of vintage shopping is a fun way to spend a morning or afternoon, especially in the summer when you’ll need a respite from the intense heat. An authentic set of tiki cups and a sequinned 1960s cocktail dress can definitely fit in your suitcase.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Pack a sweater for the steep two-and-a-half-mile ascent up Chino Canyon on the Palm Spring Aerial Tramway. The ten-minute journey in the slowly rotating tram cars brings you to Mt. San Jacinto State Park which has a pristine, mountainous climate radically different from the desert below. It’s worth it for the breathtaking views, miles of hiking trails, and for the impeccable mid-century architecture of the tram building itself.
The Moorten Botanical Gardens
A perfect way to begin your morning before heading to brunch, the Moorten Botanical Garden offers visitors a short and sweet roam through cacti and tropical plants that grow wildly through the Coachella Valley and have been cultivated in this small tract of land. Once a private estate, the botanical garden’s array of plants can seem almost otherworldly in their prickly splendour. Tickets are just $5.
The Hot Springs At Two Bunch Palms
Neighbouring town, Desert Hot Springs is known for its naturally occurring mineral springs and is worth the short trip from Palm Springs. Book yourself a soak or a spa treatment at Two Bunch Palms, a luxurious oasis that prides itself on being an innovative alternative to a traditional spa. You can also spend a full day here with a schedule beginning with sun salutations and ending with a night float and stargazing.
*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice before you book anything. Visit Gov.uk for more information.