Until last winter, Palm Springs existed in my mind as an overdeveloped wasteland populated by retirees, spring breakers afraid to go to Mexico, and Los Angelenos too lazy to go to a real resort town. To me, Palm Springs’ heyday-those of Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope, before fast freeways and faster cars, when the town really was a getaway-happened way before I was born, an opinion I’d solidified throughout the years of visiting a wealthy uncle in nearby La Quinta and determining that, besides the golf or luxury accommodations, there was little reason to return.
But then came January 2008, and thanks to a freelance project, I was offered two nights at a hotel in downtown Palm Springs. My wife and I figured it would provide a nice rest, but we weren’t expecting much else. Little did we know that two nights would be barely enough time to experience the immensely enjoyable diversions that Palm Springs does have to offer. From outdoor adventures to culinary delights, Palm Springs still has that zing that made it famous, and now-before the sun starts beating down and spring breakers start appearing-is surely its best season. Here’s a cheat sheet to plan your own weekend escape.
Where to Stay:
Andreas Hotel & Spa: With one wall lining Palm Canyon Drive-Palm Springs’ bustling main drag-but its entrance on a decidedly less hectic avenue, the recently remodeled hotel’s location is convenient for getting in and out, and remains quiet in the courtyard and pool area, yet is just steps from the strip’s best restaurants, bars, and shopping. The rooms are tastefully decorated; some overlook the strip and include stunning views of the San Jacinto Mountains’ rocky peaks. (227 N. Indian Canyon Dr.; 888-327-5701; andreashotel.com)
What to Do:
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway: There’s no better mindbender than heading to the desert and discovering a winter wonderland there. But that’s what happens when you take the world’s largest rotating tram off the valley floor and up two-and-a-half miles into Mount San Jacinto State Park, where you can build snowmen, rent snowshoes or cross-country skis, or just walk around enjoying the views. Best to grab a drink at the bar before battling the lines to get down again. (888-515-TRAM; pstramway.com)
Pioneertown: Created in 1946 as a set for Western movies starring such folks as Gene Autry and the Cisco Kid, this outpost a few miles off Highway 62 near Joshua Tree has been reclaimed by art-minded, music-loving residents, and is worth a meander through, if not a round or two of bowling at Pioneer Bowl. If you’re lucky, you might catch a mock gunfight, or there’ll be some rock stars playing at Pappy and Harriet’s, perhaps the coolest bar in the world. (pioneertown.com)
Joshua Tree National Park: Otherworldly boulders combine with Dr. Seuss-ian cacti in this phenomenal desertscape, worth a three-day camping trip all by itself. Start with a visit to the interpretive center in the town of Joshua Tree, and then watch the Earth change before your eyes from the Joshua tree-dotted Mojave Desert to the jumping cholla-decorated Colorado Desert. (nps.gov/jotr)
By Matt Kettmann