A Guide to Palm Springs, California

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Every year that I have been to Palm Springs, I have always wonder what it is that people love doing when they are there. I have not found a ton of great guides, so I thought I would begin the conversation with my own guide. I am sure quite a few of you have been and have your own recommendations, so let’s begin by sharing what we love doing when we are there.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Drive From LA
First off….getting there. I have flown into Palm Springs quite often on a great little hopper plane from LA, but honestly the two times I have driven have been the best road trips. So, though I 100% will say that the flight and airport are great options, I would suggest making the effort to fly into LA, rent a car, and drive east to this little oasis.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Though the traffic from most parts of LA to Palm Springs isn’t always the greatest (it is usually best to leave between rush hour) you can make it out there in about 2 hours or less on a good day. We have been told by locals that Waze is the best app to use in the city to get around traffic, so I would suggest making that your guide for getting out of the city.

Once out and east of San Bernadino you land on the 111. It leads you right into downtown Palm Springs. You will know when you are coming up to the 111 from I-10 because of the windmills all along the horizon. Stop for a photo or two when you get off the 111. It is your first entrance into the desert and it needs to be celebrated.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Stay at the Ace
There are a lot of great places to stay out in Palm Springs, but personally I love the Ace. It is very relaxed and begs you to just be you. On the weekends there are tons of great events going on such as great pop-up shops, bands, drum circles, and DJ’s by the pool. It’s more than you can imagine. The Ace Hotel collection is always a win, but this is still one of my favorites of them all. I love the energy and the people watching. The pool is always the perfect temperature and the waitstaff is always friendly.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

This time we nabbed a patio room. I felt like I was really going to be splurging but truly it was very reasonable for Palm Springs. Every morning we ordered breakfast to our patio and just enjoyed hanging together and planning our day. In the evenings we would just hang out and listen to the music from the pool and chat about life. It was so relaxed and little to no expectation. It was perfect for getting away from it all for a little while.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Pack the Least You Can
You are going somewhere warm so you don’t need much. Take a backpack with a bathing suit and a few dresses and a sweater. You shouldn’t need much more for your time relaxing by the pool and exploring the desert.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Visit Moorten Botanical Garden
There are some real treasures in Palm Springs and I feel the Moorten Botanical Garden is one of them. I still cannot get over the light in the cactarium. Pay the $4 and wander through this maze of succulents, palms, cactuses, and desert foliage. It is a gorgeous experience and so inspiring.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

A few of us from Designervaca headed there and had the best time snapping photos and dreaming of our ideal gardens and office window boxes.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Spend as much time in the pool
It is hot HOT in the desert. If you do adventure then go as early in the day as possible and then head back to your room, make a quick change, and beeline for the pool. Spend the day with your toes dipped with a great beer or cocktail in hand and the desert heat won’t feel so intense. Make sure to wear sunscreen and maybe even a hat. The sun is not too friendly to those who burn easily.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Eat at King’s Highway
Whether you opt to stay at the Ace Hotel or not, make sure you at least have a meal at King’s Highway. Not only does the decor feel exactly like a modernized version of an episode of Mad Men (you know the one where he goes to the diner?), but it also is pretty darn good! I am a big fan of breakfast or a light lunch. Favorites? Their smoothie never disappoints, but make sure you get the fish tacos and the cotija corn. Thank me later.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Visit Salvation Mountain
This year I made the priority of going to Salvation Mountain, and though it is over 115 degrees out there (at one point felt as if I was going to pass out), it was an incredible thing to see. As one of the largest pieces of Folk Art in the world, the mountain was created as in installation by Leonard Knight and can only be appreciated by experiencing the work.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Leonard maintained and built the piece beginning in 1996 as a monument to his faith. He always allowed his faith to take him wherever it would in his life. What resulted was spending the remaining part of his life building the piece and inspiring thousands to create what they love. He recently passed away and the monument and art is being maintained by volunteers and donors.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Minor tip: No one shows this part on instagram or blogs, but you will go through a small town called Niland before you get to Salvation Mountain it is another world there. Think ghost town meets border town.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Swing through Slab City
After you swelter out on Salvation Mountain, hop back in the car and keep going on the road past Salvation Mountain and drive through Slab City USA. It is one of the only places in America where you can truly live off the grid. The area is mostly inhabited during the winter months by snowbirds and other desert animals. A lot of people come here to live a life off the grid. The area has no electricity, running water, sewer or toilets. The town is right by East Jesus which is an experimental art community that began in 2006. The small area of Slab City is a refuge for artists and musicians looking to create without borders and minimal expenses.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Drive the 111
Once you make the plan to head out to Salvation and Slab City (did I sell you?!) make the plan to take 111 from Palm Springs to Nilland. The road rides along Salton Sea (learn more about it here…SUPER interesting). The view is gorgeous on a clear day and the landscape truly takes on the desert scene. Race alongside the trains as you cruise. Have your camera ready. Life out here is very different than the cozy and quiet life in Palm Springs and Palm Desert. Make sure to have a good playlist…my choice is The War on Drugs.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Minor tip: You will go by border control. Do not freak out; you didn’t go to Mexico, but you will go back through. It is most likely not an issue, but I was super confused when we drove past.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Visit Joshua Tree
The first time I came out to the Yucca Valley area I came to Joshua Tree and camped. It was one of the most amazing and random trips I have taken, but it forever embedded this unique landscape into my soul. Since then I look forward to each time I get a few hours out here. The area up in Joshua Tree is very different than Palm Springs, though only 40 minutes apart. Make a trip of it and head out into the desert, do some two-tracking, and climb some rocks. Watch out for rattlers and other desert creatures and make sure to bring lots of water. You will never experience another place like it in the world.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Minor tip:  The rocks are super sharp, so if you plan to hike make sure to wear closed toed shoes and maybe keep a few bandaids on hand if you trip or fall. The rocks can really jump up and bite you pretty bad.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Eat and Visit The Parker
Y’all know I am not a super color freak, but sometimes there is something to appreciate about an incredible understanding of design and color. I appreciate color more than I use it. The Parker is one of those colorful and amazing interior works of art that needs to be seen and experienced. Head there and wander through the grounds and cool off with lunch or brunch at the cafe. Super yummy and you can thank Jonathan Adler for his work on decorating the space so perfectly! This is how we ended our trip before heading back into LA.

A Guide to Palm Springs, California  |  The Fresh Exchange

Have you ever been to Palm Springs or anywhere in the Yucca Valley? Where did you stay? Where did you eat? What did you do? I would love to know all of your recs. We go back every year and so I am always wanting to try something new.

Leave a comment

  1. CHELSEA AND ME ARE FAMOUS!

    Great recap. Gorgeous photos. Kicking myself for not having planned extra explore CA time. Next year. Hopefully I make it to one of the coasts sooner than later.

  2. Love this guide. I have been two times to Palm Spring but only for a night and have been dreaming to go back and do a really nice weekend. WIth lots of pool time, riding a bike, looking for the house with the pink door, etc. And thanks for reminding me of the gardens, I always forget them. 🙂

  3. Wow, this is such a good guide! I’ve spent one night there, between LA en Joshua Tree (and Phoenix), but we didn’t quite know what to do, except sit in the pool. So next time I’m in Palm Springs (I’m optimistic), I have your guide to help me figure out what to do.

  4. Thanks for sharing this and it couldn’t have been posted at a more perfect time as I’m headed to Palm Springs myself next week! I have Joshua Tree, Salton Sea and Salvation Mountain on my itinerary as well. One place I can suggest to you is Hicksville Trailer Palace located in Yucca Valley. Definitely check it out if you haven’t heard of this place-I’ll be spending a night there on my upcoming trip. I’m telling ya, Hicksville looks AMAZING.

  5. Great post, Megan. As you know, there are plenty of things to do and see in the Coachella Valley. I always suggest a car trip up State Route 74 into the desert mountains — on the well-named Pines to Palms Scenic Byway. Or a hike into one of the Indian Canyons. The dates are always great at the Oasis Date Gardens in Thermal on the way to the Salton Sea. And for anyone who has architectural curiosity, one of the several Modern Home tours is a fun way to spend a couple hours and learn about PS history.

  6. I love Palm Springs too. We have stayed at the Desert Riviera. It’s classic Palm Springs. Excellent service, small scale, aaaaahh I am dreaming of it now. I second Morten’s and Joshua Tree. I would add a trip down to Shield’s Date Garden for a date shake and viewing of their classic movie. Also don’t miss the ceviche and guac at the Blue Coyote Grill. Oh! We also love just walking or driving the neighborhoods, taking in the mid-century modern architecture. We spent our “babymoon” there before Wren was born five years ago! http://besquirrely.com/2010/03/05/remembering-the-babymoon/

    Love your photos of the trip!

  7. Love Palm Springs so much, and these are greats points of interest – I’ve been wanting to get to Salvation Mountain, hopefully we’ll hit it on our next trip!

  8. The husband and I have been talking about where to go for a little baby moon in January before little #2 arrives. Someone had mentioned Palm Springs, but I don’t know much about it or what one does there… but now I do! Thank you so much. This is definitely on the list now.

    Cheers!

    Julia Kristina
    http://juliakristina.com/blog

  9. Pingback: Time to Play
  10. Great post. I also noticed the lack of guides/ suggestions of things to do in and around the Palm Springs area …and as a new desert resident took it upon myself to create a blog of suggestions and ideas 🙂 Check it out next time you’re on your way back (desertwanderlust.com)! It’s in its early stages, but will grow with time. The “Desert Explorations” tab is where it’s at. Cheers.

  11. You’ve missed so much!!! Next time you come to Palm Springs you must must must stay at the Sparrow. I wrote a post on my stay there, very intimate, you’ll never want to leave. You must eat and hang out at the bar/outdoor restaurant Birba, check the scene at Bar, Bootlegger Tiki and the Coconut Bar. Try other healthier choice restaurants, Palm Greens Cafe and Native and Native Food Cafe. Cheeky’s is a very popular breakfast joint! There are many great boutique hotels to check out. Trina Turk’s first shop opened in Palm Springs, it’s a must! If you’re a coffee addict, Ernest Coffee and Koffi are the best hangouts. There hundreds of fantastic hikes (some are free and others have fees, there’s even one that awesome waterfalls). If you go up to the high desert you must visit the Integratron for awesome experience, you must try a sound bath and visit Giant Rock, a German man back in the 40s lived under the rock!!! Pappy and Harriet’s is legendary country bar where many famous bands have performed everyone from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, 311 and tycho have performed. Crossroads is a fantastic restaurant in Joshua Tree. The antique shops are great up there 🙂

    Ands that’s just Palm Springs, there’s so much more to do east of Palm Springs, the shopping district on El Paseo in Palm Desert is full of shops from Anthropologie, James Perse, Kate Spade, Burberry, Louis Vutton, Saks, J.Crew plus more!!

    I could go on, but I think it’s a great start. I hope you enjoyed your stay 🙂

  12. IM A JTREE NATIVE, NEXT TIME YOU VENTURE OUT THIS WAY CHECK OUT GUBLER ORCHID IN LANDERS, ITS WORLD RENOUND AND REALLY AN AMAZING LITTLE OASIS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT. BE SURE TO VISIT THEIR NEIGHBOR DOWN THE STREET THE INTEGRATron and get a sound bath, its like nothing eles in this world and its history is pretty fasinating. Google it! TheRes hidden treasures All over this desert. Oh and a trip up To pappy and harriets pioneertown palace iS totally worth iT.

  13. The best thing about palm springs is how you can make of it what you want, from a full day of excursions to a day of nothing but laying by the pool and looking at the mountain. I’ve been going back/forth to Palm Springs as a part time resident for 2 years and, other than the ace hotel, I haven’t visited a single location you posted. (ps: full agreement on the ace…it’s magic.) I didn’t know the Moorten botanical garden existed, but it’s definitely my list of things to do the next time i can pull myself away from the pool.

    Great blog post!

  14. Haha, I’m reading this trying to figure out what else I should do except enjoy my patio room at the ace, while having lunch at King’s highway. Looks like I’m doing everything right…

  15. Planning a summer trip to see if we want to move there. Thanks for this post. It’s terrific!

  16. I’m in love with your blog! such great photography and information. just recently got a pied-a-terre in palm springs. the view here is just absolutely stunning!!! ive been looking through your blog for different spots i would like to visit such as slab-city! Yesterday we visited the Salton sea.
    🙂
    -myriam

  17. I live near THE JOSHUA TREE PARK AND I WOULD RECOMMEND THE INTEGRATRON FOR A SOUNDBATH IN LANDERS, THE PALMS ON A MUSIC EVENT IN WONDER VALLEY (IT’S LIKE STEPPING INTO A DAVID LYNCH MOVIE), SMITH’S RANCH DRIVE IN IN 29 PALMS $5 FOR 2 FILMS AND A CANDYBAR AND VIBE LIKE YOU’RE IN THE 1950’S AND AMBOY ROADHOUSE AND THE DRIVE THROUGH THE MOJAVE PRESERVE TO NAME A FEW! THIS PLACE IS AMAZING AND FULL OF ECCENTRIC CREATIVE PEOPLE AND PLACES. DESERT LOVE MORGAN X