Lying just an hour and a half east of Los Angeles, Palm Springs is both a historic and hip city getaway. From the moment I happened upon this irrigated desert treasure I’ve became an instant convert—but what’s the sunshine Mecca like in the depths of Californian winter? Here’s how to spend 48 hours in this resort city without a minute of sunbathing in sight.
It was Coachella that first brought me to Palm Springs, back in 2014. The leaf-lined festival, seemingly engineered specifically for Instagram takes place in Indio, a 30-minute ride away, meaning that for two April weekends in a row Palm Springs becomes home to an A-list party crowd. Once the playground of the Ratpack, today’s Palm Springs reveler is more likely to be dressed in Navajo prints and Stevie Nicks fringing—a costume-like uniform for the hordes of music-lovers, many of whom have spent upwards of $1,000 on their VIP festival tickets. Palm Springs is also the location of ‘no-chella’, with the hotel and pool parties providing enough amusement for guests to forgo the festival all together.
But as all the normal attractions of Palm Springs are predicated on sunshine, the questions is what to do when the poolside delights are off the menu?
Where to Stay
There are countless high-end hotels in Palm Spring, from The Parker—now an A-list institution—to a selection of corporate middle American behemoths. I popped into the newly refurbished Ritz Carlton on Frank Sinatra Drive and unless you’re looking for a venue to while out your days ’til retirement, I wouldn’t recommend making a booking.
Some of my favourites include Sparrow’s Lodge, a cosy summer camp inspired selection of cabins surrounding an elegant pool and chic vine-covered outdoor eating area. Perfect for the chillier days, it’s a must-stay for couples looking for some seclusion with open fires and a stellar wine list. Rooms start at $199 a night, half the price of the Ritz. The hotel also offers a well-rounded lunch menu at the Barn Kitchen restaurant which is open to the public.
For old school Palm Springs glamour with a killer cocktail menu and contemporary dining, The Colony Palms is the ultimate go-to. With rooms starting from $299, it’s a real investment, but definitely worth every cent. While it’s a shame to miss out on the business of bronzing when the pool is so inviting, the Purple Palm Bar is worth a visit in itself.
The hipster destination in town is definitely The Ace and in high spring (summer is so ridiculously hot, it’s hard to venture outside in daylight hours) and over Coachella, it’s heaving. To access the pool, you have to be staying at the renovated mid-century motel, so if you’re after a all-day cocktail spot, it’s not the place to pop by if you’re not meeting a resident. The rooms are very well done with a slightly more Wild-West vibe and whether you’re staying at the hotel or not, the King’s Highway diner serves up the perfect American breakfast while making you feel like a Pulp Fiction extra. Don’t expect incredible service, most of the staff are too hip to smile.
All the hotels mentioned offer really reduced rates during off-season, another reason to consider making the PS pilgrimage even if it’s raining. Another cost effective option is renting a house—of which there is a mind-boggling selection on both Air BnB and VRBO. You can find wonderful homes from around the $350/night mark at this time of year and they often sleep up to eight people, which is obviously a really cost-effective way to make the trip work if you’re in a bigger group.
Where to Eat & Drink
Downtown Palm Springs has a host of tourist traps, but also offers great people watching for early drinks. To upgrade the experience, book a table at Workshop and order a margarita (just don’t make it more than two if you want to be able to walk). The food is great so ask for a booth table and settle in for a refined night out. Cheeky’s is a great breakfast/ brunch spot, open 8am-2pm daily. Go with a gang, order the whole menu and wash it down with some mimosas.
Looking for some prime rib as a side to your Californian experience? Make a reservation at Mr Lyons, an elegant steak house with a lounge (bar bites, more affordable), and salon menu (the real deal, but expect to pay). Sink into the forest green velvet booths and admire the chic parquet flooring and monochromatic tiling. Note, closed on Mondays and only open 5-9 on Sundays.
The final spot isn’t actually in Palm Springs, but 45 minutes drive away in the Yucca Valley, close to Joshua Tree. La Copine Kitchen has become an Instagram sensation and offers visitors that discovery feeling alongside an incredible menu of reworked American classics. If you’re looking for a sense of road trip adventure, it’s well worth the effort—but note, it’s not open every day. The hours currently extend from Thursday to Sunday, 9am-3pm and there’s a no reservation policy.
What To Pack
It may be winter, but this is still Palm Springs. During the day, a cashmere sweater and jeans sufficed and I was fine with bare legs (though admittedly I’m pretty hardy). The vibe is low-key and casual (outside of Coachella, where anything and everything goes), so Levi’s and tees, easy to wear dresses and blouses are all worth packing. I wore a few pieces by L.A labels Reformation and LNA, which added an injection of SoCal cool into the mix.
Special thanks to our Palm Springs guide & host, Thomas Lim