The Quintessential Palm Springs City Guide
Palm Springs is undoubtedly my happy place. I’ll never forget my first time visiting this desert oasis. It was love at first mid-century modern home. And, no, it’s not because Leonardo Dicaprio lives here most of the year. Dripping in old Hollywood glamour, retro vibes and sunshine— Palm Springs is one of the best places to visit all year round. Whether you're coming for a birthday weekend, bachelorette, couple rounds of golf, spa weekend, to party at Coachella, explore architecture (see: Modernism Week) or just want to soak up poolside—Palm Springs is a guaranteed incredible time. I can’t go a year without multiple visits to this place (which is gonna be hard now that I’m in New York City and not just a long drive or quick plane ride away from the Bay Area) because it’s just that good. I’ve rounded up the best places to stay, eat and drink in Palm Springs.
THE ACE HOTEL
A mid-century desert marvel with two deep, saltwater pools, once a Westward Ho with a Denny’s, Ace Hotel & Swim Club has 179 rooms (some with patios and fireplaces), an organic spa, a roadside diner King’s Highway, a vintage photobooth and views of the mighty purple San Jacintos. There are fruit and flower trees everywhere and a relaxed California desert design ethos. You can attend events most nights, like DJ sets, drag trivia, the best bingo game night ever or comedy shows. Rent a bike and ride it downtown. Take a scooter to a show at Pappy & Harriet’s or, if you’re adventurous, all the way to the Integratron or Joshua Tree or Leonard Knight’s technicolor Salvation Mountain. Or stay put and read a trilogy by the pool. The desert is home to freethinkers, wanderers, mystics and artists and The Ace has something for every single one of your personalities. Pro Tip: If you’re not staying here, definitely get a day pass for their pool one of the days. It’s not relaxing, but it’s great people watching and essentially a grown-up Vegas pool party (which is actually a lot better than it sounds).
THE ARRIVE HOTEL
One of the newer hotels on the scene. The Arrive Hotel is right in downtown and in an extremely convenient location. Check-in at the bar, grab a drink, and get vacation started. Float in the heated pool, read by the firepits, maybe get in a game of ping pong. And if you’re a design nerd, geek out on the clerestory windows, butterfly roofs, and all this rusted steel, wood, and concrete. Their neighborhood pool is a haven for good vibes (and good vibes only) with special events and DJs often. The Arrive Hotel is also home to Ice Cream & Shop(pe), the cutest ice cream parlor and gift shop rolled into one with 16 gourmet rotating flavors every single day. As well as incredible restaurants (some of the best in the desert)—Draughtsman, Wexlers, and Cartel Coffee.
Colony Palms Hotel
If these walls could speak, they’d probably say “omg what the hell I’m a sentient being!” But after that, they’d sing of a former cathouse rebuilt in 1936 as the Colonial House by Al Wertheimer, an associate of Detroit's notorious Purple Gang (not to be confused with the Indigo and Violet gangs). With secluded bungalows in ivy-shaded grounds and a bar with candy-striped awnings, it became the Rat Pack era's ne plus ultra, attracting the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor, Kirk Douglas and Ronald Reagan. Thanks to a deft renovation by award-winning British designer Martyn Lawrence Bullward, its 56 rooms still ooze old Hollywood glamour. Indulge and pretend you’re a chic starlet.
Parker Palm Springs
The bedrooms and public spaces here were recently refreshed. But party playboy Bryan Rabin assures us the current stylings - blown glass, citrus shades, macramé wall hangings, shag cushions and tie-dye throws - reference the 'super-rich, mid-Seventies, Long Island Jewish bohemian mamas' of his childhood. Whatever, with 13 acres of gardens, there's a space at the Parker for every taste, unless you’re from the cast of Shameless. From standard rooms to reclusive freestanding suites and party-friendly poolside lanais, there’s a lot of decadence at your disposal. Similarly, you can sink into leather banquettes in cosy Mister Parker's, kick back in the cavernous luxury of its Yacht Club spa, or babble over Boulevardiers in the Playboy-man-cave Mini Bar. A trailblazer for Palm Springs' 2004 rebirth and still the hippest joint in town, it has an eclectic decor that makes you feel smart just looking at it. Either smart or woefully inadequate anyway.
Quintessential Palm Springs. Chances are you’ve seen a photo of this colorful hotel. It’s definitely not the most calm choice of the bunch, but it is a dang good time. Fresh fruit margaritas, poolside breakfast, daily happy hour, Taco Tuesday & Thursday, and pretty incredible nachos. Then they’ve got desert cruiser bikes, daily yoga and a 24-hour gym to keep you in the game. Plus, an in-house spa to melt away all those real-world worries. Fully loaded (and pretty lit) poolside hangs with a pool bar stocked with breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks, plus fresh fruit punches and boozy frozen drinks—so, basically you never need to leave the hotel. Oh, and your Instagram feed will love you after staying here.
JW MARRIOTT DESERT SPRINGS
If you’re not staying at a rental, this is your spot for either a relaxing girls getaway or a family vacation (although, this is my favorite pool in the desert bc it’s huuuuuge, plays oldies and top 40s and has superb people watching).Beautifully manicured resort grounds feature waterways that can be traversed by gondolas, as well as a flamingo island, two golf courses and a serene spa. Settle in to your intuitively designed room or suite, which offers plush bedding, a marble bathroom and a balcony with awe-inspiring views. They’ve got a bunch of family friendly dining options, which offer everything from California cuisine to Japanese fare. Play a game on one of the resort's tennis courts, get a world-class spa treatment or relax in the Palm Desert sun at one of their five outdoor pools
Many Palm Springs residents, wise to seasonal demand, offer their homes for rent on Airbnb, and cream in the money from hoards of people flocking there. Properties include sprawling villas and mid-century-modern houses, and some even have a famous former owner. Beware of hidden charges - 'resort tax' or 'pool heating' - added after you've booked. Check the small print and rest easy. One of my favorites is The Weekend House. I highly recommend this home and the hosts!
Bright, spacious, airy, and fabulously historic, but enough about Pamela Anderson’s mind. King's Highway is a former Denny's re-imagined as a mythical roadside diner with a menu that focuses on fresh, local produce. It's the kind of hipster hangout that would have featured in Twin Peaks if such a thing had existed in 1991 (ah the 90’s never knew how lucky they were that hipsters didn’t exist yet). Try the sage scrambled-egg sandwich, or the house-cured Skuna Bay salmon with spicy cucumber relish, and relish life.
Chef Engin Onural serves up a strong sushi game, along with a premium selection of asian fusion dishes to this new(er) Uptown restaurant and whiskey bar. The space is immaculately designed by local architect Chris Pardo in a Scandinavian meets Japanese style with concrete walls, natural woods, and so much impressive details throughout. Love the vibe and the food, but don’t necessarily recommend for a big group (I’d say 8 maximum for the best experience).
One of my Palm Springs favorites! Especially for big groups. This place can handle birthdays, bachelorettes…you name it. Birba is always busy and it’s no surprise why—there’s a happening, yet classy open-air bar, an incredible outdoor dining space that allows you to truly enjoy the warm desert weather, excellent farm-to-table dishes (hello, amazing pasta and salads), and pizza that is some of the actual best you’ve ever had.
I’ll be honest—I usually go to Norma’s just so I have an excuse to take photos and visit the incredible Parker Hotel. But, there’s also Rock lobster and mango salad; foie-gras-brioche French toast; artichoke eggs Benedict with truffle-porcini sauce. Are you sick of me listing off all these ridiculously decadent foods yet? No? Good. New York-transplant and five-star diner Norma's is the sexiest lunch experience in town, serving comfort food with a twist and terrace seating under orange and yellow canopies, surrounded by a desert garden (yes, a desert that has plants in). Fresh-cut flowers, quality linens and heavy flatware lend it a distinctly high-end, but v retro feel.
workshop kitchen + bar
Possibly one of my favorite meals I’ve had in Palm Springs. This place is all the West Hollywood vibes—in all the best ways. Menu is made up of locally-sourced small shareable plates, like a shaved Brussels sprout salad tossed with persimmons and walnuts, house-made sausages, and bigger dishes like a wood-fired ribeye for two with bone marrow butter (YUM). I prefer to sit in the outdoor area (because hello desert nights), but the inside is swanky if you prefer that kinda scene.
the pink cabana
This all-day pearl at the new Sands Hotel in Indian Wells is the actual cutest place in all of Palm Springs. The décor is simply to die for. Feminine, mid-century modern in the best way—gold-accents, gorgeous bar, palm-patterned wallpaper, retro photography, and cocktails that are begging to go on the ‘gram. Cuisine is new Californian and solid, but you’re going to remember the decor for long after you leave. It’s just way too gorge.
In 2014 Bullard revamped his original design for the restaurant at the Colony Palms, replacing his original violet ombré interior with a softer, earthier Cali-Moroccan-style, with tasselled chandelier lampshades and oversized vintage mirrors, floral-motif wallpaper, mosaic-tiled floors, and a wall-length banquette. Okay but who cares about the ornate mantelpiece when you’re stoking the fire? Because it’s the food that counts here, and the menu has got rave reviews for good reason, in particular the Morro Bay black cod with pickled strawberries, avocado and coconut. Miss it at your peril.
rooster and the pig
This is a little strip mall gem, but you’re gonna love the heck out of it. The incredible Vietnamese Fusion cuisine draws lines each night.The menu frequently changes, but they’ve got some staple dishes you can expect to find like an incredibly refreshing + crunchy Jasmine tea leaf salad, savory pork belly fried rice, and a v unique, v delish panko-crusted chicken-stuffed rice ball served with yellow curry. Drinks are also worthy of a Yelp review. You’ll love this place.
An authentically French patisserie that sells croissants, pains au chocolat and different types of baguette (the olive-studded version is divine). It has become a Palm Springs institution. All that’s missing is a man in a beret wearing an onion necklace.
Ok, this is technically a restaurant, but you’re not going here to eat. You’re coming for the Drag Brunch. The Desert Divas Drag Brunch (say that three times fast) at Rio Azul is lit and definitely a must if you’re in town for a Bachelorette party. This show sells out every week and the space is not huge, so make sure you get reservations. BEST DRAG BRUNCH EVER. Mark my words.
This bluntly named boozer (who needs a name when alcohol sells itself) specialises in rye and bourbon whiskies, with select single-malt Scotches thrown in. But it's not all chest hair: there's also a slick cocktail menu, including classics such as Old Fashioneds and Moscow Mules, starting at $10. The crowd is young-ish, friendly and local, and skewing to the arty-craftsy side. Note: closed on Sundays, but you’ll probably have a hangover then anyway.
Formerly the famous Fifties tiki bar Don the Beachcomber, this place was reborn in 2015 under its current name. As you'd expect, it's heavy on pseudo- Polynesian kitsch, with novelty lamps and glassware. However, the tropical drinks hit that sweet spot, especially the house Mai Tai, with sweet being the operative word.
Okay, so I’ve been known to love a solid gay bar. BEST MUSIC EVER AMIRITE?! Toucans' website sums up the place perfectly with a brief, yet informative: "We are your local gay bar. No attitude. Just good drinks and good people." Palm Springs' LGBT community has completely embraced this fun bar, and you’re absolutely guaranteed to have a great time here.. Tuesdays and Thursdays are 2-for-1 drink nights, and there are fun themed events like Latin Night, drag floor shows, and "Babes and Bears" specials. Toucan’s is a must visit for me every single trip.
A Rat Pack favorite still going strong decades later, this bar has hosted them all: Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Marlon Brando, Liza Minelli, Liberace, Jerry Lewis, Rita Hayworth, Debbie Reynolds and John Travolta, among others. It still draws an elderly crowd nightly who come for Martinis and Sidecars, and ivory tinklings by resident crooner Ron Greenip. Pop along and load up on vintage chic.