It’s become an annual pilgrimage for lots of us; sun, desert sand, endless mountains, gorgeous architecture and plenty to do. Palm Springs, California is a paradise. We often get asked about our favorite things to do in Palm Springs, so here are some of our top favourites and recommendations.
Best places to go in Palm Springs
For great Mexican food in Palm Springs: Las Casuelas.
You can go to the old, original vintage location at 368 N Palm Canyon Dr in Palm Springs, or there’s also a nice, more modern location (with a live band and dancing ) called Las Casuelas Terraza at 222 S Palm Canyon Dr Palm Springs. The original location is original vintage red leatherette and wrought iron, kind of like going to a bullfight in 1960’s Spain. The new location has a much younger and cooler vibe, but can be very busy, and sometimes at night turns into party central. Good if that’s what you’re after, but if you just want a quiet meal, go old school. Either way, both have the same great food. Totally worth the visit to either one and the bill won’t break you.
A place that never fails to make us happy is Shanghai Reds, inside a building that feels like a prohibition-era basement at 235 S Indian Canyon Dr. It’s actually behind las Cazuelas ‘Terraza’ location. Three words about it; Best Fish Tacos. They are fresh, flavourful, zesty, and cheap, and the shrimp tacos are also amazing. Our last visit was over “happy hour” (ubiquitous in the Desert) and we had two tacos, with a side of fresh steamed ‘peel and eat’ artichoke. If you thought you could only eat the hearts, you’re missing out.
Great great Thai can be had at Thai Smile. It has all the standard Thai favourites, and always tastes freshly made. We’ve never taken anyone here who didn’t like it. These folks consistently win Best of the Desert awards.
Cheekys has become an iconic spot to break your fast. These days, it’s nearly always lined up thanks to its super cool menu, and on a Saturday, couples, singles and families litter the entire block while waiting for a table (plan to wait 35 minutes minimum). We HIGHLY recommend the “flight of bacon”, which includes samples of the infused rosemary, Thai sweet chili and apple cinnamon flavours; don’t knock em till you try ’em . The flavours also change from time to time, like the Coca-Cola glazed bacon I tried last visit. Zesty! I also loved the buttermilk and fresh corn pancakes, which are sometimes served with blueberries in the batter. (622 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs)
PSP regulars know about Keedy’s Fountain Grill in Palm Desert. This retro greasy spoon has likely never met an interior designer it hasn’t sent packing. The decor is not the allure, the old fashioned breakfast is. Can’t go wrong with any of the Mexican themed brekkie specials like the Huevos Rancheros or the chorizo and eggs. Y-U-M. I’d be surprised if Sinatra didn’t eat here. (73633 California 111, Palm Desert)
Speaking of retro haunts, I experienced cocktails at Wally’s Desert Turtle during my last visit.
In Rancho Mirage on Highway 111, it’s been modernized on the inside, but the clientele is in their 70’s. The menu is lavish, and has prices to match. Not expecting a restaurant with the name Turtle to be so high end, my pals and I opted for a drink and appies to check things out. The cocktails are creative, but with a retro leaning. The shrimp cocktail was fresh and a good size, with tangy sauce. We sampled the special tomato boconccini salad, which came out as a super tiny portion. Not the ideal share among three girls! In fact the manager was so embarassed, he had the chef make us a different salad— tomato buratta—that was much heartier, and delicious. I’d definitely try this place for a meal, as the service was excellent, the piano player made for a nice backdrop, and the food we had was yummy.
For great steaks and killer (homemade, infused pineapple) martinis head to Sullivan’s Steak House in Palm Desert. Best steaks in the desert. Expensive , but worth it. The pineapple martini they serve as their signature drink is called The Knockout. It’s awesome; and goes down away too easy!!!
Before your meal, rub shoulders with the rich and well-to-do on the high-end shopping strip El Paseo, in Palm Desert. Very “chi-chi” stores, and a lovely walk. Lots of other restaurants to be found there too. It’s about 20-25 minutes drive from Palm Springs proper but its an easy trip if you take Highway 111. Tiffany, Apple Store and Sephora all have space there alongside some small independent boutiques.
One of my favourite places anywhere, for coffee, breakfast or lunch… or cocktails, so ok, anything really… is The Parker Palm Springs. One of the restaurants, Norma’s, serves some crazy-ass deliciously over the top breakfasts. It’s expensive, but worth every bite. Sit outside if it’s nice and watch the sun glint off every Rolex. Then take a walk around the hotel grounds. The site is 13 acres formerly owned by Merv Griffin. Their spa, the cheekily named “Palm Springs Yacht Club,” starts your treatments off with a shot of vodka. ‘Nuff said. And cocktails in the hotel lounge afterwards are an exercise in watching how the other half lives.
Fun Stuff to Do
If you want a unique social experience in how the old folks who don’t buy rocking chairs live, go to happy hour at The Nest. It’s close to El Paseo near Palm Desert : 75188 California 111, Indian Wells. Good idea to get a drink here before you eat (and have a martini) at Sullivan’s! Then sit back, and let your eyes roam….This place is catnip for frisky older cats. The people watching is insane.
Other cool things to do include the Living Desert park, which is a combination zoo and botanical gardens and the Aerial Tramway. The tram trip is neat and the views at sunset are spectacular. Have a drink at the top but don’t plan to eat there. It’s cafeteria food-to-go-style of reheated snacks. You’ve been warned.
The Salton Sea is NOT WORTH the trip (think dead-fish-stench, and oily water), but Joshua Tree Park IS. About an hour’s drive, “J-tree” has trees unique to this very small desert area; the aforementioned Joshua Trees, Ocotillio plants, and Cholla Cactus. Also worth seeing; Skull Rock. I spend at least half a day there every time I go and I’m still not bored of it, nor have I seen all there is to see there.
A beautiful and easy within a short drive of the desert cities was to Painted Canyon. It does NOT feature any painted petroglyphs, in case you were thinking it might, as we did, but the hills do have a colorful softness to them that makes them look a bit like a watercolour landscape. There are plenty of other nice hikes and walks, but that could be a list of its own.
For my fellow shoppers, you can’t go wrong spending most of a day at the outlet mall aka Desert Hills Premium Outlets. There’s like, 5,000 stores (kidding) and if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you never will. Plan 4 hours minimum. And take note it’s about a 25 minute drive from the Palm Springs strip.
Do you like to Spa?
If you do, I can recommend several places.
1. The Spring in Desert Hot Springs. (12699 Reposo Way, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240) It’s a treasure hunt to find it. I’ve been there half a dozen times and get lost every single time. It’s about 30 minutes drive from Palm Springs. Allow time for that and the getting lost. But once you’re there, it’s a beautiful oasis. It’s a very small facility, connected to a tiny little inn all around a central pool. There’s no real food service, so plan around that, or bring a snack. The treatment are nice, and you can soak in the hot springs-fed hot tub, or lounge by the pool before or after your treatments. Stunning views from the property too.
2. The Palm Springs Yacht Club (or PSYC) at The Parker Hotel, above (4200 East palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs). One of my favourites, if not because of the shot of vodka they give you when you walk in the door, then maybe because of their cheeky mantra, posted by the pool: “We believe in good sport as well as fitness: Pétanque and Pastis, Pimms Cup and Croquet, Snooker and single malt whiskey. We believe you are only young once… but you can be immature forever….”
3. The Rancho Las Palmas Spa (41-000 Bob Hope Drive Rancho Mirage, CA) This year’s pick! The grounds are private for the spa, meaning you get access to an uncrowded pool and hot tub in a gorgeous courtyard setting. I had a great, strong massage, a body wrap and Vichy shower, and a lovely Strawberry Vodka-tini pedicure. The vodka is in a drink, not the foot bath! Bliss! Also a good bit cheaper than the Parker/PSYC.
I’ve got all kinds of tips and cool things to see. Read more about my favourite Palm Springs things to do and places to go here.