Palm Springs, known for its clear blue skies, sunshine all year, and palm tree-lined avenues, has been a favorite destination for over a century. The city is at the heart of this architectural style and has kept its retro-chic appeal with these now-iconic buildings. Besides architecture, you can enjoy the mountains, canyons, and natural hot springs, explore the desert, or relax with a poolside cocktail. In Palm Springs, life is always about enjoying the good times, from breakfast to happy hour.
Discover 2 days in Palm Springs: perfect itinerary
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Between the San Jacinto Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs is nestled in the heart of the Coachella Valley. The easiest way is to rent a car in Los Angeles. The oasis of Greater Palm Springs, which brings together nine communities – Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella – is a two-hour drive from Los Angeles via Interstate 10, then California State 111. Upon arrival, stop at the Palm Springs Visitor Center, a building designed in 1963 by architect Albert Frey, which originated as a gas station. Its design that blends into the desert landscape will give you a taste of the modernist architectural style. Take the opportunity to obtain the official map of the Palm Springs Modern Committee ($5) which indicates all the buildings of interest.
To start your day in Palm Springs, visit Cheeky’s for a classic American breakfast. Try their unique bacon flavors like jalapeño, Earl Gray, or cinnamon, and enjoy their famous eggs Benedict or pancakes. Don’t miss the mimosa made with prosecco and orange juice, or the spicy Bloody Mary, to get into the Palm Springs spirit.
After breakfast, meet a guide from Palm Springs Mod Squad for a private tour of the city’s famous modernist architecture. He’ll take you through historic districts like Old Las Palmas, Movie Colony, and Historic Tennis Club. These neighborhoods were once home to stars like Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, and Frank Sinatra. In the 1940s to 1960s, these celebrities chose Palm Springs as a getaway from Hollywood, building homes designed by renowned architects like Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, John Lautner, and Stewart Williams. This gave rise to Desert Modernism, characterized by horizontal lines, panoramic windows, and unique features like butterfly wing-shaped roofs.
For a lunch that keeps up with Hollywood glamour, visit Chi Chi at the former Avalon Hotel, a favorite of stars like Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Marilyn Monroe. Relax poolside with sunglasses on and choose from trendy drinks like a turmeric latte or fresh coconut water. For your meal, go for California-style options like avocado toast or a refreshing bowl of acai and mango with chia seeds.
After lunch, continue your modernist journey at the Palm Springs Art Museum. This museum, a brutalist structure designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1974, blends seamlessly into the desert landscape. Inside, you’ll find a rich collection of contemporary art focused on desert themes, as well as notable works by Picasso, Chagall, Calder, Warhol, and others.
Don’t miss the museum’s annex, the Frey House II. This was the private home of architect Albert Frey, designed in 1963 as a quintessential example of Desert Modernism. The house skillfully incorporates elements of the surrounding rocky terrain, including rocks and cacti, into its design. Frey House II, also a creation of Williams in 1961, showcases a collection of furniture, drawings, and photographs from the modernist movement.
Additionally, the museum offers tours of the Architecture and Design Center Edward Harris Pavilion, further enriching your exploration of modernist architecture and design in Palm Springs.
Immersed in Palm Springs’ captivating retro atmosphere, make your way to the Uptown Design District. This area is known for its trendy shops, perfect for finding vintage and colorful souvenirs. Visit the Shag Store, where you can explore multicolored posters by artist and designer Josh Agle, known as Shag. His work humorously captures the hedonistic lifestyle of Palm Springs in the 1960s.
Also, don’t miss Trina Turk, an essential fashion brand in the area. Here, you can pick up swimsuits and dresses featuring bright and vibrant patterns, perfect for any pool party. The Uptown Design District is a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the unique style and spirit of Palm Springs.
For dinner, go to Mr. Lyons, a fancy steakhouse. First, have a cocktail at the bar, hidden behind big curtains. Try a Mr. Lyons Honest Martini or an Absinthe Daiquiri, each costs €15.
For your meal, you can choose from different meat dishes. There’s a homemade burger with fries for €24, beef Wellington with mushrooms for €55, or a tender filet mignon, also €55. Mr Lyons is a great place for a special dinner with high-quality meat dishes.
Start your day with a healthy breakfast at King’s Highway, the restaurant of the Ace Hotel & Swim Club. This place used to be a 1960s motel and is now a trendy boutique hotel with vintage furniture and a bohemian crowd. For breakfast, try their chia seed pudding for €14 or go for veggie eggs. Enjoy your meal on their chic, hippie-style terrace, a perfect setting for a relaxing and energizing morning.
Explore the natural beauty of the canyons around Palm Springs. Just a ten-minute drive from Palm Canyon Drive, you’ll find yourself in the Indian Canyons on the Indian Reservation. This area, rich in natural springs, was once home to the Cahuilla Indians. You can still see old irrigation canals and stone shelters.
Rangers offer guided tours and have built wooden huts similar to those used by the Indians. You can join a tour or hike alone on the many trails, but remember to bring water. After hiking, you can picnic under the shade of palm trees or head back to town for a more comfortable dining option.
The Indian Canyons are especially noteworthy for their Washingtonia filifera palm trees. This area has the highest density of these bushy palm trees in the world, creating a lush oasis in Agua Caliente, surrounded by preserved ancestral lands.
Sparrows Lodge in Palm Springs, an intimate retreat with rustic decor, was one of the city’s first hotels, built in 1952. It was completely renovated in 2021 and now features a well-known locavore restaurant, The Barn Kitchen. The new chef, Sebastien Lowrey, prepares simple American cuisine using fresh ingredients from the Coachella Valley. The prices for dishes range between €15 and €24. You can enjoy your meal at a communal table with a view of the swimming pool, adding to the cozy and friendly atmosphere of the lodge.
For a breathtaking panoramic view of Palm Springs, Coachella Valley, and distant Joshua Tree Park, take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This cable car, boasting the world’s largest rotating cabin, takes you up Chino Canyon to an elevation of 2,800 meters in just ten minutes.
Once at the top, you’ll find several terraces offering 360-degree views. There are hiking trails of various difficulty levels, allowing you to explore the wildlife and plants of the San Jacinto Mountains. Remember to bring a sweater, as the temperature at this altitude is much cooler than down in the valley.
After coming back from the cooler mountains, a swim in a pool is great for beating the desert heat. You can swim in your hotel’s pool or go to the Azure Palm Hot Springs and Day Spa in Desert Hot Springs. This town is only fifteen minutes from Palm Springs and is known for its hot springs and many spas.
At the Azure Palm, you can get a massage and then relax in baths filled with natural mineral water. These baths are warmed by the earth and have temperatures from 28 to 40 degrees Celsius. It’s nice to sit in these warm baths with the desert around you.
Once you’re back in the city center, stay hydrated with a visit to Melvyn’s, a bar that was a favorite of Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack. Enjoy a classic Martini, just like Sinatra did, while looking at black and white photos of the stars who frequented the place.
For dinner, head over to the Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge in the Uptown Design District. It’s a great spot for dining out and people-watching. The menu features American classics like a Caesar salad for €16, and Mexican-inspired dishes, such as Mesquite-smoked carne asada with red bean puree and corn pudding, priced at €35.
GOOD ADDRESSES IN PALM SPRINGS
Cheeky’s, 622 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
King’s Highway, Ace Hotel & Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
Melvyn’s, Ingleside Inn, 200 W. Ramon Road, Palm Springs, CA 92264.
Chi Chi, Avalon Hotel, 415 S. Belardo Road, Palm Springs, CA 92262.
Mr Lyons, 233 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
The Barn Kitchen, Sparrows Lodge, 1330 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92264
Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge, 849 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262.