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Palm Springs...Getting Away to the Desert
I generally spend a week in Palm Springs every spring. In the past few years, with the addition of many large hotels and a convention center, the Palm Springs area has become a popular destination for business meetings and conventions as well as being an appealing place for individuals to unwind. I continue to love the California desert's low-key atmosphere and numerous outdoor offerings for a relaxing vacation.
Much of the land in Palm Springs is on native American Indian territory. The Agua Caliente reservation occupies 32,000 acres, some 6,700 of which are within the city limits of Palm Springs. Of its four canyons, Palm, Tahquitz, Murray, and Andreas, all but Tahquitz can be accessed by visitors on foot or horseback. Palm and Andreas Canyons have the most and second-most palm trees in the world. The Palm Springs Spa Hotel and Mineral Springs, in the heart of town, is on a Cahuilla Indian hot spring. Hotel guests can enjoy the hot springs as well as the other amenities of the hotel. The latest addition to the Spa Hotel is the Spa Casino which is open 'round the clock.
Palm Springs is the perfect place to enjoy life outdoors. Tennis courts and swimming pools, both public and private, abound. If golf is your sport, or you are considering taking it up, this is the place to indulge yourself. The terrain of Palm Springs is flat, lending itself to recreational bicycling; should you want a bit more of a challenge, cycle into the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons. Both bicycles and horses can be rented. Guided hiking, cycling, and celebrity tours are available.
If the area's more than 80 golf courses, 600 tennis courts, and at least 10,000 swimming pools are not enough of an attraction to desert visitors, there are many other things to do.
Thursday nights from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m., Palm Canyon Drive, between Baristo and Amado Roads, is shut down to automobile traffic while Palm Springs celebrates VillageFest. This wonderful street fair and farmer's market was started in 1991 while Sonny Bono was mayor; it is now a regular, well-attended event. Each year it seems to be bigger and better. You'll find farm-fresh produce (this is a good place to buy dates), works of art, crafts, jewelry, gift items, and lots of good entertainment. Several local restaurants set up food booths. At VillageFest, be sure to look for the display of colorful hand-painted patio umbrellas by artist Ken Parker of The Artists' Collaborative of Palm Springs; I have never seen such striking "functional art."
The perfect haven on one of the desert's rare rainy days, on a too-hot day, or just for the sake of enjoying art and history, is the Palm Springs Desert Museum. The McCallum Natural Science Wing features a Diorama of the Coachella Valley, exhibits of desert life and a variety of desert-related subjects. The Denney Western American Art Wing features works by Western artists, Native American artifacts, and Cahuilla baskets. The Annenberg Art Wing displays contemporary American art. The Annenberg Theater hosts a full schedule of dance, theater, and music performances; lecture and film series; and the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Learn more about desert life at The Living Desert Wildlife & Botanical Park. This impressive park is home to wolves, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, meerkats, zebras, hawks and coyotes, all in natural habitats. There are wilderness hiking trails to follow and a network of paths that wind through examples of desert plants from ten different desert ecosystems from around the world.
Just outside of downtown Palm Springs at Moorten's Botanical Garden you will find more than 3000 varieties of giant cacti as well as other desert trees, succulents and flowers. Moorten's describes itself as the "World's First 'Cactarium'."
The most popular entertainment attraction is the Palm Springs Follies, a live musical review, featuring music and dance from the '30s and '40s. Many of the performers are famous; all are 50 to 80 years young!
One of the biggest thrills during a Palm Springs visit is the 9,000-ft ride up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in a gondola that traverses a single span of cable to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. Mt. San Jacinto is the steepest peak in North America (10,804 ft.). The 14-minute tram ride takes riders through vegetation that changes from that of arid Palm Springs, at the base, to that of lush green Vancouver, at the peak. At the top of the mountain the weather is cool, and sometimes cold with snow, despite the warmth down below. San Jacinto State Wilderness at mountain top is a 13,000 acre park open to hikers and campers.
Where to Dine
Dining in the desert is, for the most part, casual. Even at the elegant Le Vallauris, men are not required to wear jacket and tie. While I can happily enjoy Le Valauris's Duck Foie Gras or grilled Wild Norwegian Salmon, my taste, in this warmer climate, is often for less elaborate food preparations.
Cedar Creek Inn, with locations in Palm Springs and Palm Desert, is owned and operated by the Ayres family. The restaurants have a cozy elegance, with a fireplace in the cocktail lounge and elaborate floral arrangements in the dining rooms. The American menu includes a large selection of salads and sandwiches as well as full meals. I usually order Chicken Florentine, a chicken breast stuffed with cheese and spinach. The day's fresh fish is always a good choice.
Dinners are served with a choice of three salads (my favorite is Nancy's Salad), potato or rice, and vegetables. From the sandwich menu, I like the Grilled Ahi Sandwich which is served with a Caesar Salad. Cedar Creek Inn's large sandwiches are as popular choices for dinner as are the dinner entrees. Casually-dressed families with children mingle comfortably with well-dressed couples out for a special evening on the town.
There are four Las Casuelas restaurants between Palm Springs and Palm Desert, each with its own personality and menu. The original was founded in 1958 in Palm Springs by the Delgado family. The Delgados continue to operate the restaurants. The Nuevos restaurant is in Rancho Mirage. The newest Las Casuelas is the Cafe, a casual cantina in Palm Desert and the only one of the four to serve breakfast in addition to lunch and dinner. All are open daily. My favorite is the Terraza. I like its busy outdoor cafe, its bar with musical entertainment, and the many cozy indoor dining rooms. My favorite dishes are the Chiles Rellenos, the best I've had anywhere, and Camarones Diablo, an incredible creation of grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp served with Rancheros sauce and a tasty mix of zucchini, tomatoes, corn, and cheese.
The Blue Coyote Grill features creative southwest dishes. The duck enchiladas in red tortillas with fig sauce are "to die for." Even a traditional dish such as Chimichungas is prepared with a flavorful difference.
Palmie is a pleasant, intimate French restaurant in a courtyard across the street from the Hyatt Regency. The menu includes classic French dishes such as Medallion of Veal with cream sauce, country French dishes such as Braised Lamb Shank, a delicious ravioli stuffed with lobster, and lighter dishes such as Salade Nicoise or unsauced grilled filet of sole with mixed steamed vegetables. If you are going to go off your diet on a meal in Palm Springs, Palmie is the place to do it. Start with the individual Souffle aux Deux Fromages; it takes 50 minutes to prepare this delectable cheese souffl» and it is worth every minute of the wait. End your meal with one more splurge: the Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce, bite-sized cream puffs, stuffed with vanilla ice cream and topped with warm chocolate. On a balmy night, enjoy outdoor dining on the patio.
Flower Drum is a cut above most Chinese restaurants, both in food and ambiance. This attractive dining room prepares dishes from five regions of China: Szechuan from western China, Peking from northern China, Hunan and Canton from southern China, and Shanghai from eastern China. For those seeking food with no oil, salt, or sugar, several Taoist dishes are featured. Whether your tastes go for the traditional Peking Duck and Cashew Chicken or the more exotic Lobster Ying Yang and Slippery Savory Chicken, you are assured of a well-prepared meal made with fresh seasonal ingredients.
Just about any time you walk past Louise's Pantry, there is a line of people waiting for a booth or seat at the counter. The food in this popular diner is hearty, homestyle cooking; the prices are moderate. Stop in the morning for a freshly-baked Danish or a full breakfast; come back later for lunch or dinner or a piece of pie later on. Billy Reed's, while a bit more elegant, is equally popular, especially with the locals...good value, good American cooking, large quantities, modest prices. Breakfast is served all day long, starting at 7 a.m. Chicken Pot Pie is a house specialty and Billy Reed's Chili with Sirloin Cubes can't be beat. On VillageFest nights I often stop at Harry's Hofbrau for a sliced turkey sandwich. The service is cafeteria style; the meats, soups, and vegetables freshly prepared. This is a good place for a quick hearty meal.
Whatever your shopping preference, if you like to shop, you'll find it no further than half an hour's drive from the center of Palm Springs.
Right in Palm Springs, adjacent to the Hyatt Regency is the Desert Fashion Plaza which is anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue. My favorite shopping pastime is just wandering in and out of the stores along Palm Canyon Drive. My favorite shop for novelty items, greeting cards, and party "stuff" is Paper Lilli; open nightly until 10 p.m.; it's a good place to stop after dinner in town. Alan Ladd's (yes, the Alan Ladd) is an attractive shop packed with gifts and home furnishings.
Some of the bigger shopping centers are the Town Center and El Paseo Village in Palm Desert. Town Center is a large indoor mall, complete with ice rink and movie theaters. El Paseo is a street of exclusive shops and restaurants. Drive east of Palm Springs to Cabazon and the Desert Hills Factory Stores for designer bargain shopping.
There is nothing like fresh dates. They differ from the packaged ones in our supermarkets in that supermarket dates, except those sold in bulk, have been dehydrated and rehydrated before being shipped to the store. Indian Wells Date Gardens is a friendly shop in a little house along the highway where you can buy dates to take home and order gifts to be shipped. Take time to sit outside and enjoy a date shake or scoop of date ice cream after you buy your dates.
I replace my tennis shoes each year at JP's Tennis, an off-the-beaten-path store where in-the-know tennis players shop. Chances are either JP or his mother will be there to wait on you and you are assured of the best fit in tennis shoes you've ever had. JP's has a large selection of Diadora shoes, the brand I prefer. The shop carries other brands of shoes, an excellent selection of clothing, and the latest in rackets. Prices are slightly discounted.
Both the Dansk factory store in Palm Desert and Loehmann's at Loehmann's Plaza in Palm Springs are popular with bargain shoppers who know their high-quality merchandise from their stores all over the United States.
B. Lewin Galleries is one of Palm Springs' many art galleries. It specializes in Mexican artists, particularly, Rufino Tamayo. The gallery also shows the work of Vladimir Cora, a student of Tamayo whose work is more affordable and equally interesting. You will even find some Diego Rivera pieces here.
Where to Stay
Right in Palm Springs, accommodations range from small hotels in residential neighborhoods, such as the Orchid Tree Inn, to luxury and convention hotels such as the Wyndham and the Hyatt Regency Suites. Keep in mind that visitors often refer to the communities to the south (Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage) as part of Palm Springs.
Golfers and those seeking large resort hotels often choose to stay at resort hotels in these communities such as the Hyatt Grand Champions in Indian Wells, La Quinta in Palm Desert, the Ritz Carlton in Rancho Mirage, or the Marriott Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert, to name a few. I continue to prefer hotels in Palm Springs where I can walk to the restaurants and shops in the center of town. Keep in mind that even hotels without their own golf courses generally have golf privileges for their guests at nearby links. I doubt that any hotel lacks a swimming pool.
The Wyndham Palm Springs is one of the city's newer hotels. Connected to the Convention Center, it is close to the airport and to the center of town. The Hyatt Regency Suites is an all-suites hotel in the heart of town.
The Ingleside Inn is a "hideaway" of the "rich and famous" just a block away from the center of town. Originally built as a private estate, it is now a luxury small hotel. Even if you are not a guest at the Ingleside Inn, you can stop in at its restaurant and bar, Melvyn's, for a glimpse at who is staying here.
The Orchid Tree Inn is a charming small hotel that dates back more than 50 years. It has 40 units, most of which have full kitchens. In season, guests are invited to pick and eat the fruit from the trees in the garden.
More budget-minded travelers will enjoy the Travelodge.
One of Palm Springs' newest hotels is the Givenchy Hotel & Spa, a luxury hotel and full-service spa.
Agua Caliente Indian Canyons
Entrance off S. Palm Canyon Drive; daily from 8 am until dusk
Rentals & Tours
302 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Reservations required for tours
Palm Springs Celebrity Tours
4751 E. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs Desert Museum
101 Museum Drive
Fridays 1 pm-8 pm, other days: 10 am-4 pm, closed Mondays
(619) 325-4490 for recorded exhibit information
The Living Desert Wildlife & Botanical Park
47-900 Portola Avenue
Daily 9 am-5 pm
Moorten's Botanical Garden
1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Monday - Saturday 9:00 am -4:30 pm, Sundays 10 am-4 pm
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
1 Tramway Rd. (on the north side of town, 3 1/2 miles up the hill off Hwy. 111)
Monday -Friday 10 am-8 pm, weekends and holidays 8 am-8 pm
Palm Springs Follies
Historic Plaza Theatre
128 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Matinee and evening performances
Trail Discovery Outdoor Guide Service
Palm Canyon Drive between Baristo and Amado
Every Thursday 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
look for Hand Painted Patio Umbrellas from the Artists' Collaborative at Palm Springs and fresh dates from Dates 'R' Us.
1800 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Blue Coyote Grill
445 N. Palm Canyon Drive
1700 N. Indian Canyon Drive
Cedar Creek Inn
1555 S. Palm Canyon Drive
73-445 El Paseo
424 S. Indian Canyon Drive
205 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Las Casuelas Terraza
222 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Original Las Casuelas
368 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Las Casuelas Nuevas
70050 Highway 111
73-703 Highway 111
385 W. Tahquitz Canyon Way
Town Center Way
Town Center Way
500 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Desert Hills Factory Stores
48400 Seminole Road
Fifteen minutes west of Palm Springs off Interstate 10. Outlets include Adrienne Vittadini, Anne Klein, A/X Armani Exchange, Barney's, Esprit, Guess?, Coach, Etienne Aigner, Crabtree & Evelyn, and Villeroy & Boch.
114 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Indian Wells Date Gardens
74-774 Highway 111
72210 Highway 111 (Waring Plaza corner Fred Waring Dr. and Hwy. 111)
El Paseo Village
A shopping street with exclusive shops and restaurants
2500 N. Palm Canyon Drive
B. Lewin Galleries
210 S. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Desert Town Center
Highway 111 at Monterey, Palm Desert
Movie theaters, Bullock's, J. C. Penney, Robinson's May
Where To Stay
Givenchy Hotel & Spa
4200 E. Palm Canyon Drive
(619) 770-5000 or (800) 276-5000
Hyatt Regency Suites
285 N. Palm Canyon Drive
200 W. Ramon Road
(619) 325-0046 or (800) 772-6655
Orchid Tree Inn
261 S. Belardo Road
(619) 325-2791 or (800) 733-3435
Spa Hotel Casino Resort & Mineral Springs
100 N. Indian Canyon Drive
333 E. Palm Canyon Drive
(619) 320-4672 or (800) 578-7878
Wyndham Palm Springs
888 Tahquitz Way
(619) 322-6000 or (800) WYNDHAM