I've always dreamt of visiting Palm Springs. We have explored many areas of California in the past but have never made it to this desert oasis. It's even more beautiful than we imagined. I expected sunny skies and lots of palm trees but I didn't know that added to this beauty would be a backdrop of mountains too. We knew we picked a great first stop in California the moment we arrived. Palm Springs exudes the ultimate vacation vibe making it impossible to do anything but kick back, relax and enjoy the California sunshine.
Palm Canyon Drive
The main drag of Palm Springs lies on Palm Canyon Drive which is a great destination for a leisurely walk through shops, galleries, restaurants and more ice-cream shops than you can ever dream of. When we visited the area on a Sunday it was filled with people, all loyally wearing their masks, enjoying the gorgeous afternoon. Restaurant patios were packed and sidewalks were crowded. Like Los Angeles, the city has a Walk of Stars along the sidewalks honoring those celebrities who have lived in the greater Palm Springs area. The ubiquitous palm trees, combination of Mediterranean and mid-century architecture and sunny skies beckoned us to linger as long as possible.
For our lodging we rented the perfect Palm Springs home, Smoketree House, through airbnb. In true Palm Springs form, the house masters mid-century architecture and interior design leaving no detail overlooked from the light switches to the faucet handles. The owners provided the most impeccable service and welcomed us with a large basket stuffed with sweet and salty treats. After check in we cleared our ambitious schedule in the week ahead ensuring that we enjoy the house and pool as much as possible. I wish we booked a longer stay here. Palm Springs leaves you no choice but to surrender to relaxation. After all the running around we have been doing, Smoketree House has been the ideal retreat to succumb to some much needed laziness.
Thirty minutes away from downtown Palm Springs you'll find this lovely gem that offers 2,600 miles of paths. You can literally walk to Canada on these trails if you've got a few months of walking in you! Although we love Canada, we opted for a shorter hike on the Whitewater Canyon View Loop to the PCT trail junction. The two mile, round trip hike took us through scenic trails packed with wildflowers, the soothing sound and sight of the Whitewater River, and beautiful views of the San Gorgonio Mountains. The trails were flat, easy to walk and well marked. Using the animal tracking map given to us by the park ranger we were able to spot many animal droppings and tracks (like bear and coyote) which added to the fun. Personally, this was one of my favorite hikes to date.
Local Neighborhoods & Architecture:
Hopping in the car and driving around Palm Springs admiring the unique architecture and desert landscape is a fun late afternoon activity. Driving around with the music up and windows down letting the Californian breeze hit my face as we scoped out various neighborhoods was a highlight of our week here.
This neighborhood was once home to many Hollywood stars. It's a lovely area with mountain vistas and a mix of Spanish Colonial and modernist homes. You'll know you've found it when encountering a plot of land converted into a whimsical sculpture garden celebrating popular movie scenes.
Twin Palms Frank Sinatra Estate
Sinatra's former desert home is also located in the Movie Colony. Today the home is used as an event space, vacation rental and also offers private guided tours. The legendary singer built this beautiful mid-century home in 1947 after he earned his first million dollars.
Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway
Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned here and then lived in this mid-century, iconic home for a couple of years. We loved it's unique circular shape on a quiet cul-de-sac.
We drove up to Leonardo DiCaprio's Palm Spring getaway but were met with a housekeeper's suspicious eyes as she was tending to the house. I tried to snap some pictures but her car was blocking the view and her glare was too intimidating; although we were probably the scary ones driving up slowly to the celebrity's home!
Instead, I snapped a picture of a home that I especially loved. The adobe style design, desert landscaping, mountain backdrop and neon lighting really caught my eye. And that front door!
325 East Francis Drive
I really love this concrete home and its muted colors combined with the simple desert landscaping allowing the sky to be an everchanging color palette. The homes in Palm Springs are so beautifully simplistic. I am sure it exists somewhere out here but we saw no signs of ostentatious, over the top construction anywhere.
Kaufman Desert Home
This modernist masterpiece was built in 1946 and is on the market now for $25 million. This home helped shaped the future aesthetics of Palm Springs as the city was in its beginning planning stages. Since it is on private property we were only able to sneak a peek at the steel square shape of this pioneer of Palm Springs desert modern architecture. The entrance is so inviting, what a tease!
Below are some other homes that are worth noting as they are examples of original homes that help shape the style of the city. Simply getting in a car and driving around here is a lesson in architecture. I've learned of architects I never knew of beforehand and the ways they helped shaped mid-century home design as well as their overall impact on the aesthetic design of Palm Springs.
The Tahquitz Canyon trail is right outside of the main strip of Palm Springs making for an easy commute to further delve into nature. The $12.50 entrance fee, per person, is the highest price tag we have paid to date for a hike but knowing that the cost supports this beautiful park is worth every penny. The 1.8 mile loop is well marked and leads you through giant boulders that provide shade along the way while exploring this land that continues to remain sacred to the Cahuilla Indians. When we entered, the park rangers warned us that the water fall (normally gushing from a height of 60 feet) was dry with only a small pool remaining, which we already expected from recent online reviews. Regardless, when we arrived to the tiny trickle of the fall we were still able to enjoy another one of nature's masterpieces. The granite formations by the falls are beautifully smooth with various hues of grays and silvers that resemble a scene straight out of a futuristic sci-fi film. On the return loop there are beautiful views of Palm Springs in the valley below along with gigantic boulders sprinkled across the terrain that miraculously hold each other up, barely.
Joshua Tree National Park
When we drove into California from Las Vegas we had a two hour drive through endless fields of infinite Joshua trees so when we told the kids we were yanking them from pool time to drive an hour into Joshua National Park to see more Joshua trees they were not as enthusiastic as we hoped. After lots of protesting and complaining we made our way over happy we did not cave into their resistance. The park has put together so many breathtaking trails that highlight many aspects of nature beyond the Joshua Trees, which are certainly welcomed accessories. Each tree has its own character and shape, many with limb like branches that feel right out of a Dr. Seuss book. In fact, the kids mentioned The Lorax film a few times as we explored the park.
Hidden Valley Trail
I highly recommend hiking this easy, one mile loop trail when visiting the national park. The landscape is too picturesque in its perfection, it almost feels artificial. The rock formations are formed out of hundreds of rocks that look like they were thoughtfully sprinkled and stacked throughout the park. Under a beautiful sky in a pristine terrain filled with scattered desert plants really made us feel like we were in a Disney made attraction. This trail is unreal and it will take your eyes a few minutes to adjust to its natural wonders.
Cholla Cactus Garden
I don't understand why the Cholla cactus is not the star of Joshua Tree National Park. I stumbled upon the Cholla Cactus Garden in my research of the area but it did not pop up often or easily. This less frequented area of the park is truly otherworldly. With the skies casting its blue hues and the Chollas resembling corals, I felt like I was walking on the grounds of a great big sea floating harmoniously through magnificent marine plants. The beauty of these desert natives cannot be described in words. They have the appearance of being fuzzy and smooth but upon closer inspection you'll quickly notice their harrowing spikes. A poor, little chipmunk met his horrible death caught in the deadly spikes of one of the cacti. I thought about this little guy's last moments all evening. My husband got some spike balls stuck in his shoe and it took a large rock and lots of pounding to break them free. These cacti are no joke. Humans need a little lesson in admiring things from afar, you know..."look but don't touch" and this is the ideal setting to practice this discipline. Please add this to your bucket list. Its unforgettable.
There are plenty of hikes to choose from in the Indian Canyons just a few miles outside of town. We selected The Victor Trail which is a moderate, three mile hike with approximately 650 feet of ascension. This hike is not recommended for younger children as it can be quite challenging at times and there are also areas with very narrow trails at high peaks. When researching the trails in the canyon there were many recommendations to follow the paths counter clock wise. When a park ranger also recommended this to us, we decided to start backwards in this order of trails: Fern Trail, Victor Trail, Palm Trail. I can't compare it to the clockwise route that most visitors follow but I can say it was a spectacular route.
In these canyons you will find the largest Californian fan palm oasis in the world. These fan palms are colossal and make an immediate impact once you enter their enchanting paths. About an hour later as we reached the peak of the mountain they looked tiny in comparison but equally mesmerizing. Perspective...
This hike is adorned with various cacti species, spectacular panoramic mountain views, a small stream and of course, the Californian Palm Tree. This hike gifted us with another memorable day with nature indeed.
We will truly miss Palm Springs. The environment it offered us for the week was extremely conducive to relaxing and further connecting with nature. I just felt in my element here. If it didn't get so damn hot in the summer, this is a place I would absolutely consider relocating to. One of the things I will miss most about this special spot are the nightly pink sunsets. An evening didn't go by without a special connection to the skies and clouds that floated through them in a magical display to celebrate the end of each day. I will easily notice the absence of pink, fluffy clouds above my head each evening but I will transfer there memories to my heart where they will be stored for years ahead.