Possibly one of our favourite places on earth, we’ve been visiting to Palm Springs for many years now for Coachella Music Festival, Desert X, and Modernism Week. After visiting a few gems here and there at each yearly visit, we made a few dedicated trips back just to explore the valley’s best spots.
From incredible mid century modern architecture, to rich Hollywood history, sunny Palm Springs is just downright magical whether you’re lounging poolside sipping a Mai Tai or exploring the Mojave Desert. It gets 269 sunny days per year, so you can count on warmth and sun in Palm Springs just about anytime of the year. Depending on how tolerant you are in desert heat, there’s really no bad time to visit.
We rounded up our favourite places in and around town to eat, stay, wander, and also explore.
Check them out below.
It’s become somewhat of a tradition that as soon as we touch down in Palm Springs we head to El Jefe for a much needed taco fix. Located inside the highly instagramed Saguaro Hotel, El Jefe serves up some of the cities best Mexican food by chef Jose Garces (of Iron Chef fame) inspired by Mexico City’s street food culture in a cute casual setting. They’re open all day long too from breakfast to dinner so you’re always guaranteed a good meal.
If you’re ever driven through Rancho Mirage you’ve probably seen the pastel pink walls surrounding the incredible Sunnylands estate and historic residence. Once a winter home designed by A. Quincy Jones for the late Ambassadors Walter and Leonore Annenberg, Sunnylands is a place where world leaders could meet and discuss issues of international importance. The incredible 200-acre property opened to the public in 2012. Visitors can tour the estate, do a little birding, and stroll around the 9-acres of breathtaking tranquil gardens with over 70 types of that cover the property.
Possibly the buzziest bar in Palm Springs right now, owner Paul O’Halloran brings his homage to New York’s neighbourhood cocktail bars to an unassuming, under the radar spot in a sketchy strip mall on East Vista Chino. Nestled right next to a dispensary, the bars windows are blacked out with heavy curtains to create a more intimate vibe (a Wizard of Oz moment as the owner describes it). The original mahogany kit bar is the centrepiece of the space and the bartenders wear crisp white shirts and bow ties but are anything but pretentious as they mix up classic cocktails like Negroni’s, Manhattan’s, and Martini’s made perfectly.
They’ve got interesting riffs on classics as well like the popular CosmoPaul. Made with five-times-distilled Irish Boru vodka, triple sec, fresh lime juice (not lemon), agave and a small touch of cranberry juice for an irresistible soft pink drink that differs from the classic in the best way possible.
We recommend starting with the Frozen Sidecar. Both deliciously and deadly all at once, the 30’s classic is made modern trading Cognac for Bourbon (due to a happy accident during its creation) served out of a margarita machine with an irresistible sugar rim. If you find yourself feeling a bit intoxicated after just one of these, not to worry, the food is pretty great too. Their edited menu features small bites like chips and guac and fried calamari with spicy marinara sauce plus bigger plates like steak frites, chicken schnitzel, pork chops, and famed Paul Burger which goes great with the arugula and raddichio salad with pear, feta & shallot vinagrette.
They’ve also got happy hour from 4-7pm which brings out the cities more senior population but don’t worry, you’ll feel welcome here anytime.
If you happen to grow tired of the amazing selection of Mexican restaurants in Palm Springs, head straight to Sandfish. Honestly nothing makes us crave sushi like a day of sunbathing and sipping cocktails by the pool and Sandfish’s gorgeous Scandinavian interior is the perfect respite from that desert heat.
Start with some chicken or beef gyoza, the stuffed zucchini blossoms and a spicy tuna toastada before moving into their delicious signature sushi rolls, nigiri and sashimi. If you’re feeling decadent be sure to get some delicate wagyu beef carpaccio and wash it all down with a few glasses of Japanese Whiskey or one of their excellent house cocktails.
Easily one of the best cocktail bars in the city, Bootlegger Tiki focuses on fruity rum-based drinks adorned in full tiki fashion with all the bells and whistles. Complete with kitschy Polynesian style decor, the bar was renovated in 2014 where the original Don the Beachcomber restaurant once stood back when it opened in 1953. While much of the choices on the menu are takes on classic tiki drinks (some are even named after the Hollywood elite who used to frequent the spot), you can order off menu as well knowing you’re in good hands.
No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without a drive through Joshua Tree National Park. This famed park is a place like no other for camping, hiking, birding and some of the worlds best rock climbing. You can of course drive through the park and stop along the way at various look outs, perfect for photo opps of huge rock formations, the sprawling Salton Sea and of course the native Yucca brevifolia – the Joshua tree after which the park is named.
Our favourite stops along the drive include Skull Rock and the Hall of Horrors for some of the most incredible rock and marble formations, the higher Mojave Desert which has the highest saturation of Joshua Tree’s in the park, and finally the Keys View for epic views of the Salton Sean as well as the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.
Head to the Visitors Centre to grab a map of the area and be sure to download your tunes before entering the park, as there’s rarely any cell reception once inside and stay after sunset to marvel at the stars.
Conveniently located in the front portion of Bootlegger Tiki, Ernest Coffee makes some of the best caffeinated beverages in Palm Springs (an area we found to be somewhat devoid of good coffee shops). They brew Stumptown Coffee and offer a number delicious baked goods including gluten free and vegan options. Stop by for a cortado and be sure to pick up a box of their incredible Rugelach cookies for the road.
There are few bars in Palm Springs stirring up cocktails to the level of sophistication that Seymour’s does. The cozy lounge space is located inside Mr. Lyons, a retro chic steakhouse in South Palm Springs. Those seeking romantic lighting and air conditioning can sit inside (our fave spot is always at the bar), while groups might be up for a quick round of bocce ball on their outdoor patio.
Be sure to try some of their signature cocktails including the Little Owl made with rye, walnut liqueur, and IPA syrup, their Pineapple Tequila Sour with arette reposado, pineapple gomme, lemon and egg white, or for gin lovers, the Dutch Passport which features Nolets gin, pamplemousse liqueur, marmalade, ginger as well as fresh lemon and grapefruit juice. ?
Moorten Botanical Gardens
Home to more than three thousand varietals of desert cacti, Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium is the perfect living museum to wander through if you need a break from poolside sunbathing. Founded in 1938 by Slim and Patricia Moorten (who are famous for designing and installing for Frank Sinatra), the garden is now tended by their son, Clark Moorten, who is renowned as one of America’s succulent experts.
Over the years it has been a favourite spot for weddings and photo shoots. Spend an hour at Moorten’s and you’ll find yourself totally bewitched by these amazing prickly plants.
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