Possibly one of our favourite places on earth, we’ve been visiting 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 any time of the year. Depending on how tolerant you are in the 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 explore.
Check them out below.
Since 2020 when the Michelin Guide mentioned Bar Cecil, it’s been the hottest (and hardest) table in town. Serving up a perfect martini alongside caviar-topped deviled eggs or the signature burger dressed up with melted Comté and an order of fries, the menu is hearty American fare meets classic cuisine. Reservations book well in advance, so make sure you get yours well before your trip, and if you are a last-minute try-your-luck kind of person, there are some seats at the bar, but make sure you arrive before doors open. We suggest arriving at least minutes before they open. Trust us; it’s worth it.
One of the most coveted and straight-up coolest locations in Palm Springs is undoubtedly the Ace Hotel & Swim Club. While it is no surprise that we are big fans of the Ace Hotel Properties, the location in Palm Springs is in a class of its own. The hotel features a ton of cool rooms surrounding two pools, a massive hot tub, the King’s Highway diner (see below), the Amigo Room bar, and an outdoor restaurant that’s conveniently located next to the pool. There’s a gym and tons of cool art painted on the buildings throughout the grounds. The hotel has all the usual Ace charm, from the rooms to the grounds to even the merch they sell, plenty of parking and almost always some cool DJ or party happening somewhere on the property.
Pro-tip, request a room away from the pool and on the second floor for a nice quiet sleep.
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 city’s best Mexican food by chef Jose Garces (of Iron Chef fame) inspired by Mexico City’s street food culture in a newly expanded casual setting. They’re open all day, from breakfast to dinner so you’re always guaranteed a good meal.
If you’ve 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 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 bar’s 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. 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) and 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 radicchio salad with pear, feta & shallot vinaigrette.
They’ve also got a happy hour from 4-7 pm which brings out the city’s 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 tostada 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 many 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 world’s best rock climbing. You can, of course, drive through the park and stop along the way at various lookouts, perfect for photo ops 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 Trees 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 of 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 Nolet’s 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.
While Instagram might lead you to head out for whatever the latest dessert trend might be, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as sipping on a milkshake on a hot day. We checked out Great Shakes’ retro diggs on the busy Palm Canyon strip on our last trip and just adored it. Serving up classic gourmet shakes and malts topped with fruit, candy, chocolate, and even mini donuts.
If you’re staying in Palm Springs, this place is a bit of a drive into the Yucca Valley, but trust us when we say you’re going to be pleasantly surprised. It’s amazing a place like this exists and is consistently busy night after night in such a secluded location. To say Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is legendary would be an understatement. With nightly live music, they’ve played host to some amazing acts over the years, including Paul McCartney and Robert Plant, among others, plus they have some dirty barbecue you’re going to want to try as well.
In a place where mid-century modern architecture is basically a cherished religion, it’s a rarity to actually get to stay in an architectural marvel like The Lautner outside of, say, an architecture tour. Originally designed by the late great American Architect John Lautner in 1947 as the perfect retreat for the Hollywood elite, located in Desert Hot Springs, the property operated for a number of years as a motel and was later restored into a micro resort by interior designer Tracy Beckmann and furniture designer Ryan Trowbridge in 2008.
Together they turned the architectural compound into one of the coolest boutique hotels in the world we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. It’s got all the modern touches you’d find in a hotel, including a shared surrounding property complete with a hot tub and plenty of space to lounge in the sun. Each unit features its own private balcony and a handy kitchen area (necessary since the area is mostly suburban).
For those looking for a more rustic experience, the Pioneertown Motel is just that. With a storied history dating back to 1946, the motel was originally built for Hollywood movies but has recently undergone a huge renovation to modernize the rooms. While there aren’t too many bells and whistles, the rooms are a chic retreat after a day of hiking or driving through Joshua Tree. Plus, you’re conveniently within walking distance of the infamous Pappy & Harriet’s and a five-minute drive from La Copine Kitchen.
Leave it to the folks at the Ace Hotel to bring Californian cuisine to the perfect little roadside diner, which formally housed a Denny’s restaurant. Featuring locally-sourced produce and heirloom ingredients from chef Carlos Salgado of famed Taco María and executive Chef Carlo Guardado, the diner serves up delicious meals all day long.
We stopped in for breakfast one morning to enjoy a smoothie, some eggs with a side of braised brown sugar bacon, and of course, Stumptown coffee. They also have Palm Springs favourites like avocado toast and tacos, as well as burgers with shoestring fries, salads, pancakes, and sandwiches – there’s something on the menu for everyone.
Have your food poolside if you’re a hotel guest, or sit in one of their booths for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.