When in Palm Springs, it’s easy to get sucked into calming patterns of heat-of-the-day pool time followed by late dinners and downtown walks. In the past, my family and I have subscribed to that relaxing itinerary, finding a temporary antidote to the steady stress of a work-life imbalance. This time, however, with daytime highs still in the double digits, we wandered about without a plan, discovering public art, nearby nature, and memorable meals along the way.
Where to Stay
When the concierge at Margaritaville (margaritavilleresorts.com) asked about our drive from Santa Barbara, I told him it was mellow. He smiled, “Well, let’s keep you that way.” Not too difficult, I reckoned — such desert resorts invariably feature icy drinks poolside and air-conditioned luxury suites. Margaritaville was no exception, its comfortable spread a giant wheel of rooms, restaurants, shops, and a spa and fitness center, with an amoeba-shaped swimming pool at its hub. Our pet-friendly ground-floor rooms had sliders to a semi-private patio and lawn, which worked out perfectly for our two small dogs.
Where to Eat
For breakfast downtown, Grand Central Palm Springs (grandcentralpalmsprings.com) features plenty of patio seating, where we enjoyed Mexican omelets and breakfast burritos that are levels better than most standard morning menus.
At the resort, the big hit for lunch was the crispy chicken sandwich on toast from JWB Grill. And for dinner? Go ahead and splurge on the miso-marinated pan-seared salmon with ginger ponzu broth.
We also heard good things about dinner at Blue Coyote. But I blew-off making a reservation — because it was a Tuesday! — and we got politely turned away. Fortunately, a block off the main drag, we snagged a corner booth at Río Azul (rioazulpalmsprings.com) for cherished Mexican comforts: chips and guac, chili verde, tacos de pastor, and house margaritas.
For dessert on a warm desert night, it’s tough to beat Lappert’s (lappertspalmsprings.com). We dug Hawaiian sea-salted caramel, date caramel, and mango sorbet.
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What to See
On the way to the Palm Springs Art Museum, you’ll likely get stopped in your tracks by a handful of prominent art installations. Seward Johnson’s giant “Forever Marilyn” towers front and center close to Gonzalo Lebrija’s “History of Suspended Time.” Down a nearby alley, don’t miss Julian Voss-Andreae’s stainless-steel “Isabelle.” And just steps away, there’s the Graffiti Yard, a publicly funded concrete canvas for graffiti artists.
“At this particular yard, I show respect to those who took me and who started it by bringing my A game,” said featured artist Ronald Del Cid (@rondeezyyyy). “Other than that, it’s … have a good time, network, and get your work seen by others.”
For another big dose of free art — the sort rendered by the greatest artist of all — the Museum Trail is also just steps away. The ascent climbs abruptly through a series of switchbacks, views expanding with altitude gained. It’s steep and moderately rocky, but the favored out-and-back is less than two miles roundtrip, its turnaround point complete with picnic tables and a long look across the Coachella Valley.
Long Road Home
Alas, vacations never last forever. But you can postpone — even for just a few hours — that final act of setting the parking brake in the driveway back home. Take the long way — over a pass or through a small town or along that two-lane stretch through the middle of somewhere you’ve never been.
Our drive back from Palm Springs headed north through Desert Hot Springs and hung a left on the 247 in Yucca Valley. Wide open through the stark Johnson Valley along the backside of the San Bernardino Mountains, we climbed up State Route 18, maxing out among the pines at 6,800 ft. before arriving at Big Bear Lake for a late lunch and a look around. With sea-level Santa Barbara on the horizon, it was all downhill from there.
For more travel tips, check out visitpalmsprings.com.