I had been to California many times before but this was my first visit to Palm Springs. The desert city had been on my radar as a glamorous desert pit-stop on the way to our next destination and was the initial intention of our trip. We planned a couple of days to see the sights by browsing the Greater Palm Springs Visitor Information website and ended up falling madly in love with the city, changing our entire itinerary to fit in a second visit to the desert oasis before the long flight back to Australia.
The drive into Palm Springs is spectacular. Rows of wind farms dot along the hills before the majestic towering San Jacinto Mountains officially welcome you into town. It was mid morning on a Sunday when we arrived so we drove straight into town to find a spot for brunch. The allure of Palm Springs hit immediately as we entered via the Uptown Design District, a section of town dedicated to mid-century modern design, luxurious restaurants and vibrant, quirky fashion. Within a minute of arriving, a stunning restaurant, Eight4Nine became my target for a Mimosa which I ordered immediately upon entry. We opted to sit outside and soak up the desert sun while munching on delicious salads and pancakes.
Satisfyingly full from our decadent brunch, we set off for the Palm Springs Aerial Tram. Experiencing the full threshold of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains, we were propelled two and a half miles in the world’s largest rotating tramcar before being dropped off at the 8516-foot high station. Once at the top, the views are astounding; looking over the Coachella Valley out to the Salton Sea is extraordinary.
Photo credit: The Amado
Photo credit: Greater Palm Springs Visitor Information
Photo credit: The Amado
Photo credit: The Amado
After a thrilling descent back down the mountain we visited the Palm Springs Art Museum to pass the time before check in. I was astounded at its size; 28 galleries, two sculpture gardens and five art storage vaults. The day we attended the gallery was hosting the renowned Killer Heels Exhibit alongside a permanent collection of more than 55,000 objects of American art and 20th century California art.
I was eager to check in to our accommodation for the weekend – a newly renovated, mid-century modern gem called The Amado. An alternative to resorts that are full of wild pool parties, The Amado offers an authentic, luxurious Palm Springs living experience. It is a five unit complex with private courtyard and heated pool with a celebrity clientele. Relaxing by the pool, with the San Jacinto mountains rising in the background, you can not help but be drawn into the idea of 1950’s Palm Springs when Frank Sinatra would hold fabulous pool parties or Hollywood starlets Marilyn Monroe and other stylish socialites would descend on the town.
With that in mind we felt it was only fitting to book a Palm Springs Mod Squad tour. Our guide Kurt Cyr was so entertaining and extremely knowledgeable on the history of Palm Springs and its stunning architecture. He also provided plenty of interesting facts about the town that we would never have known if we had tried self-driving on our own.
For two hours Kurt’s tales enraptured us as we feasted our eyes on mid-century landmarks by William Cody, Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler, John Lautner and Albert Frey. I loved Kurt’s tour and he also informed us that many of Palm Springs original designers stayed and raised families in the city, some who remain to this day. The Palm Springs Mod Squad Tour was the perfect way to see Palm Springs and one of the highlights of our trip, I highly advise taking this tour at the beginning of your stay to get a feel for the cities distinctive culture and history.
After the tour we drove out to Palm Desert a beautiful city also located in the Coachella Valley approximately 20 minutes from Greater Palm Springs. I had no idea what to expect and was taken back by just how strikingly beautiful it was. For starters, El Paseo Shopping Avenue is a mile long strip of international luxury labels and independently owned local boutiques, eclectic art galleries, sleek and sophisticated home décor as well as day spas and beauty bars. On further investigation I discovered it is labelled the Rodeo Drive of the desert by some and that Palm Desert is home to many exclusive resorts and stunning golf clubs.
Exhausting ourselves of shopping we wandered into Mitch’s on El Paseo for dinner. I was curious about the seafood, sushi and steak theme but I loved that it provided fine dining in a relaxed setting. We sat in a beautiful outdoor courtyard, decorated with fairy lights and fire pits and watched the sun set over the spectacular mountain view.
I find it is not always easy to get a perfectly cooked steak or a serving of fresh, crisp vegetables in the states but Mitch’s delivered. I was excited tasting Dynamite baked oysters and jalapeno poppers, and my heart was so happy to be served a perfect medium-rare steak. Great food and amazing service in the heart of the desert after shopping? Heaven.
We dedicated our third day to a glorious day on the golf green. Palm Springs is home to over 100 golf clubs therefore researching the right one to visit can be daunting but the Escena Golf Club was without question going to be our club of choice. To begin with, the views are jaw dropping. Everywhere you turn is spectacular; I had to stop taking photos for fear of holding up the golfers behind me. Apart from being visually stunning the Jack Nicklaus designed course is extremely well laid out. It is a challenging course but for some reason, maybe it was the desert air, we played our best game ever.
Sadly it came time to leave and as I pulled closed the bright orange door of The Amado, I concluded that Palm Springs had exceeded my expectations. It firmly cemented itself as a very cool city and I was leaving feeling inspired, in awe of the natural landscape and happily satisfied by the quality of food, entertainment and shopping. But I was leaving hungry for more, a weekend was not enough.
Words by Rachael Sechtig
Images by Rachael Sechtig, The Amado & Greater Palm Springs Visitor Information