Palm Springs is a desert city nestled beneath Mount San Jacinto in the heart of the Mojave desert in Southern California and is a retreat for Los Angelinos, much like the Hamptons for Manhattanites. It is well known desert retreat with resorts, a renowned design district boasting of a wide array of mid-century modern /art deco furniture stores and has close proximity to Coachella valley where the annual music festival is held. We spent our last weekend at Palm Springs and loved the desert boho vibe of the city, with activities catering to all kinds of tastes. Follow along to know more of our adventures there!
STAY: PALM SPRINGS
Airbnb to the rescue this time again, as we stayed in a single room (with its own bathroom) close to downtown and the design district. Our host Karen was super sweet, but what made our experience even more memorable were her cats Maggie and Lucy. Lucy was the shy one running away at our mere sight but Maggie was the exact opposite. She stayed for long hours in our room and snuggled in bed for unending petting sessions. Such a sweet little kitty! The apartment was in a gated residential complex (St. Tropez Villa) with ample guest parking.
ACTIVITIES/THINGS TO DO: PALM SPRINGS
Palm Springs has something for everyone. Skip the congested, crowded, touristy downtown and head uptown to the design district where rows of beautiful boutiques and one of a kind stores selling mid-century modern furniture and home accessories will greet you with their crisp lines and bold colors. Since we were charmed by the art deco scene at Miami (read my blog post on Miami here), we decided to wander through uptown as well and check out their stores. It was a fun afternoon as we meandered through the different design merchandise and got a few things for the home.
No trip to Palm Springs is complete without a visit to the Moorten Botanical Garden, a paradise for all kinds of succulents and desert vegetation and is a private arboretum curated and created by the Moorten family in 1938, who were specialists on desert flora. For a nominal fee ($5/adult) you can spend some quality time in the shade of various cacti, exotic succulents and agave and marvel at the mind boggling variety of vegetation that grows in such a barren, dry environment.
Moorten botanical garden hosts over 3000 varieties of desert plants from all over the world, from gigantic plants to miniature trees all flanking a natural trail. There is also a “Cactarium” or special enclosed exhibit housing exotic cacti and other desert vegetation, which are not for sale. Your tour (and you are advised to stay on the trail and not run around helper skelter) starts with the Baja California Mexican region and meanders through several desert ecosystems such as the Sonoran desert region to Mojave to Texas to Central American and ends at the South American region. Vegetation encompasses a breathtaking array of desert greens in all shapes and sizes and are an absolute delight for the eyes. There are native trees, mesquite and ironwood trees along with dozens of cacti such as the jumping Cholla (see my previous post on Joshua Tree National park for the Cholla Cactus garden trail), organ pipe cactus, beavertail cactus to name a few and Agaves. The tour ends at the Garden Sculpture court where you can buy small succulents and cacti as souvenirs to take home. For all plant varieties, there are small tiles adjacent to them labeled with their names and information. Very educational indeed!
Moorten Botanical Garden is a terrific place to spend a few quality hours amidst a different kind of green oasis and enjoy the best offerings of a desert ecosystem, one which makes it so unique and beautiful. The gardens hosts a section known as the Palm Grove Oasis which hosts social and cultural events such as weddings, art exhibits and concerts. Don’t give this place a miss if you are in Palm Springs (closed on Wednesdays).
From the heat and dust of the desert to the cooler climes of the Alpine region, from the cacti and succulents to the pine trees, from the sand to the snow, such is the dramatic change in scenery as you zip up the highest elevation of over 8500 ft above the desert floor via an engineering marvel known as the Aerial tramway. This rotating tram car takes you on a 10 min ride across the Chino Canyon, to the north of Palm Springs, all the way to Mount San Jacinto State Park, nestled in the shadow of the mountains towering over the desert city. This tramway, the highest in the world, was the brainchild of the pioneering electrical engineer Francis Crocker and the first ride was offered in 1963. Bring a jacket with you as the temperature alters dramatically from the desert floor to the very top in the park, differing by as much as 30 degrees! Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the station itself. Once you reach the park, you can hike along the many trails and explore the beauty of the alpine region. The park is a favorite spot for southern Californians for winter activities since it is covered in snow and we still saw a white blanket when we were there.
You can get sweeping views of the desert floor, dotted with windmills on the periphery from the viewing deck once you reach the station on the state park side. Go one flight of stair downstairs to get onto the winding path leading to the park and the trails. Tramcars operate every 10 minutes for the ride back to the base station; lookout for the last departure time if you are planning to hike in the state park. We strolled in the park for a short time and returned to Palm Springs since we had to catch our flight back to San Francisco. We had a great time at Palm Springs and will definitely be back to explore more!
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Finally, the topmost attraction at Palm Springs is visiting the Joshua Tree National Park which is about 45-50 minutes away. Read more about it in my previous blog post here. A 20-30 min car ride will get you to the adjacent cities of Palm desert and Coachella which are worth visiting but we skipped those as well as Palm Springs Art Museum due to lack of time. Part 2 deals with restaurant recommendations since we had a great time eating our way through some yummy breakfast, lunch and dinner and you can find all of them in this post.