Palm Springs is a special place. An oasis in the brutally hot Coachella Valley, it's been a vacation destination since the 1960s... and in some ways, the city still feels like a time warp to Palm Springs' glory days. Mid-century architecture is the dominant aesthetic, and old-school restaurants abound. At the same time, it still feels free-spirited: hot springs and spas make it a lovely and almost mystical place to relax, and events like spring's annual Coachella music festival keep people coming back to visit.
Bowls, sandwiches, wraps, and salads, with loads of vegan- and veggie-friendly options (and some chicken, too!) provide tons of options for everyone at Palm Springs' Native Foods Cafe. Load up on superfoods (and flavor) with the avocado and kale cheese dip, and see how flavorful tofu can be in the Moroccan earth bowl. You'll feel satisfied but not disgustingly full after your lunch, which is important for your next stop in Palm Springs.
Hopefully you saved a little room for dessert, because Great Shakes is a must-try. The colorful, 1950s-inspired atmosphere goes perfectly with the menu, which features a wide variety of milkshakes, and not much else. Cake batter, s'mores, and salted caramel are all delicious flavors, or get adventurous with the date-walnut or white chocolate and lavender. Plus, they come topped with whipped cream and a mini donut, which makes them perfectly Instagram-ready.
Palm Springs is at the foot of Mount San Jacinto, and there's an epic aerial tramway that will take you up two-and-a-half miles to the top in less than 10 minutes. It's thrilling ride that offers incredible scenery (and it's the only rotating aerial tramway, so you get 360-degree views). Once you get to the top, you can hike in Mount San Jacinto State Park, or enjoy a beer and the scenery at the visitor center at the top. Pro tip: It's much colder in the mountains than it is in the valley, so bring a jacket. It might seem weird to grab a sweatshirt if it's 80 or 90 degrees in the city, but there might even be snow at the top of the mountain!
Sure, Palm Springs might be kind of old-school, but there are some thoroughly modern places to eat here. Case in point: Workshop Kitchen + Bar. Industrial vibes and a sleek menu that would be right at home in LA set this place apart from most restaurants in town. Don't skimp on the starters, because the beef carpaccio and grilled octopus are fantastic, and they make a killer jidori chicken and well-crafted cocktails.
If you want to really feel like you're experiencing Palm Springs in its prime, though, head to the Tonga Hut in Palm Springs. Strong, sweet tiki drinks (including one served in a whole pineapple and another in a coconut that gets lit ON FIRE) will have you feeling like you're in another time and place (specifically the beach, in 1962) as you explore the space. There's a patio where you can sip your rum-laced drink, but be sure to pop into the dining room (they serve Pacific Rim-inspired cuisine here, if you're hungry). The dining room contains small tributes to the tiki bars of Palm Springs' past, and there's also a hidden door that will take you to a private, speakeasy-style room, just like Frank Sinatra and pals would have used to get some privacy back in the day.
Ace Hotels are the definition of cool these days. Palm Springs' iteration features a trendy take on the mid-century modern look that defines the city, with a stargazing deck, a poolside patio (check out the retro camper), the funky Feel Good Spa, outdoor fireplaces, a restaurant with desert diner-inspired fare, and, of course, rooms that will make you feel like you've stepped into a Wes Anderson movie.
Cheeky's is a popular place to brunch in Palm Springs, and with good reason. The scrambled eggs are a revelation-- they're nothing like the sad eggs you've cooked up in the past-- and they offer brioche French toast and (get this) flights of flavored bacon, so you can sample each variety (like jalapeno, applewood smoked, Korean BBQ, maple, and more.) Wash it all down with a bloody Mary or a green juice, and you're ready to take on another day of exploring the desert!
If you're here on a weekday, it's $15 for a day pass to the mineral springs pools at Aqua Soleil. The mineral water in the pools is supposed to be loaded with health benefits, and since you're on vacation, you should definitely take some time to relax. Plus, the spa offers massages and facials if you want to take your relaxation to the next level.
If you're here on a weekend, or looking for something a little more offbeat than a spa day, then make the drive out to Salvation Mountain. It's one of the most iconic outsider art installations, and was made by one man out of local clay and paint, all inspired by the motto "God is Love." It's a mecca for artists and interesting characters of all kinds. If you have time, you can also visit Slab City, a WWII-era fort-turned-hippie commune, the Salton Sea, a former 1960s resort town-turned-ghost town that was abandoned when the lake was poisoned, or Joshua Tree National Park, a desert landscape with twisting yuccas and rugged boulders.
Pop into the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway for a kitschy and totally unforgettable experience. This gorgeous mid-century modern home is where Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned after their wedding, and between the history and the architecture, you won't find a more perfectly Palm Springs experience. They offer daily tours (led by "Priscilla" herself) at 11am, 1pm and 3:30pm, and you can show up or call and make a reservation.
It should come as no surprise that the Palm Springs Art Museum is world-class... this is a pretty cultured city, after all. The lovely building contains works by greats like Warhol, Lichtenstein, Ansel Adams, Henry Moore, Picasso, and tons more. Take some time to get lost wandering the galleries and soaking in the peace and quiet.
For a classic dining experience, head to Copley's. The elevated American fare is simple, but well-executed (think, beef tenderloin, scallops, and lamb), and the patio is the perfect setting for an elegant meal. Plus, Copleys is on Cary Grant's former estate, so you're getting some history with all of that delicious food.
Head out to nearby Thousand Palms to Coachella Valley Brewing Company for a nightcap. They offer an incredible variety of beers, from classics like session IPAs, milk stouts, and Vienna-style lagers to really adventurous offerings like double wits with killer bee pollen, date-flavored Dubbels, and more.
Palm Springs gets incredibly hot in the summer; temperatures in the triple digits are the norm in June, July, and August. That makes spring, fall, and winter ideal times to visit. Temperatures do dip down to the 40s and 50s in December and January, so avoiding those months will keep you from getting too chilly. Spring and fall have ideal weather, but also huge crowds (especially in the spring, thanks to Coachella, Stagecoach, and other events) so fall is great for beating the crowds. Either way, no matter when you visit, expect things to cool off significantly at night, so don't forget a sweater, just in case.