People say that Paris is always a good idea. Well, that is how I feel about Palm Springs too. Palm Springs has always been one of my favourite places to spend a weekend away from San Francisco. I love it for the desert temperatures, the chic pools and the incredibly cool vibe. Recently, I discovered that there are also plenty of active adventures to be had with just 48 hours in Palm Springs. It is the perfect place to relax, spend time in nature and return home feeling happy, healthy and refreshed.
48 Hours in Palm Springs
A beautiful oasis on the edge of Coachella Valley in the Colorado Desert, Palm Springs is making a very cool comeback. New hotels and familiar properties with face lifted facades, farm-to-table restaurants, vintage boutiques and the revitalisation of the downtown scene has sparked a resurgence of visitors, putting Palm Springs firmly back on the map. With a strong focus on wellness, it is also on the rise as a go-to destination for a healthy weekend getaway for the LA and San Diego set.
How to Get to Palm Springs
Getting to Palm Springs is easy from any direction. Palm Springs International Airport is the closest airport to Palm Springs (downtown). But, flying into Los Angeles and driving from LA to Palm Springs (just under 2 hours) or even taking a road trip from San Francisco to Palm Springs (7.5 hours) are fun options too. It is easy to navigate to Palm Springs. Hire a car (search car rental deals) if you are planning to adventure beyond the city limits.
Related: A Weekend Getaway in Arizona
Where to Stay in Palm Springs
On the list of things I love about Palm Springs is how devoted the locals are to maintaining the culture and iconic identity of this desert oasis. Gary and Kathleen Friedle are a perfect example of that. They have lovingly restored The Monkey Tree Hotel which was originally designed in 1960 by Albert Frey.
This 16-room boutique hotel, with an incredible list of famous guests such as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder, Eric Clapton, the Beatles (except for Paul), Bob Hope, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, and even a JFK and Marilyn Monroe rendezvous (guarded at the private entrance of their suite by the secret service), is quintessential Palm Springs.
The Friedle’s re-opened the vintage boutique hotel in 2016 and they can be found on property daily. Kathleen has made it her passion project to source authentic furnishings for the entire mid-century modern design property which are eclectic and on-period right down to every detail. Gary spends every morning in the properties commercial kitchen creating a special day-of breakfast for guests. I was asked when I made my reservation if I had any food allergies or restrictions and Gary created special vegetarian options for me based on my response. Breakfast is served daily in the community room and is self-serve, it is a great way to meet other guests and feel at-home instantly. I quickly became addicted to Gary’s pastries and I even enjoyed taking my breakfast back to my room one of the days I stayed and guests can also enjoy breakfast by the pool.
It is obvious as soon as you pull up to the façade and walk into the open-air communal courtyard of this vintage property that you have stepped back in time and that you are walking into a postcard. Every bit of this dream property is well maintained and perfectly pristine, the thoughtfully designed rooms open up to this common space with the pièce de résistance pool in the center. Fluffy top palm trees guide your eyes up and out of the courtyard where you can follow the edge of the San Jacinto Mountains on the horizon which provide the most incredible backdrop for this property.
I was told that Mr. Frey took the mountain range into account when originally designing the layout of the hotel by creating the dramatic slanting roof lines to be in harmony with the mountains. He tracked the sun during the day to determine the best site placement for the property and situated the courtyard to maximise the views of this inspiring backdrop while sitting by the pool. This thoughtfulness is obvious when you are standing in the heart of the common area during your stay, the reward is a golden pink sunrise over the mountains in the morning, soft toned sunsets at the end of each day and an umbrella of stars over the courtyard each night.
In addition to the daily house made breakfast, The Monkey Tree Hotel offers resort-like amenities to guests. You can enjoy complimentary soft drinks and snacks during the day while you dip in the heated salt water swimming pool or swim laps in the tether exercise lap pool, along with happy hour drinks and even a Scandinavian Spa with whirlpool, sauna and cold plunge pool. Massages, gym passes, meal delivery and even a butler service can be scheduled with the front desk as the property has cultivated many relationships with other local businesses to make adding these experiences to your stay easy.
Choose from the Standard or Deluxe King or Queen Rooms or splurge and stay in the Presidential Suite or Jungle Room. I loved my stay in the Jungle Room, 465 square feet of jungle-inspired vintage décor right down to the leopard print walls, pillows and carpet. I was happily lost in the California king-size bed and found the extra seating area and private courtyard with lounging to be a dream too. But, my very favourite part of this room, and perhaps Eric Clapton’s too because this room was his preferred, was the light-filled, original bathroom with walk-in shower and floor to ceiling glass windows.
For a luxurious getaway in the desert you can’t go past Parker Palm Springs. This immaculate five-star property invites you into the world of Jonathan Adler and you cannot help but feel like a fashionable accessory to the picture perfect pages of his expression of this decadent home away from home.
The first page is a welcome into the main space with lobby and cozy common areas that include Mr. Parker, one of the best reservations in Palm Springs, Norma’s the perfect spot for breakfast and lunch, an intimate lobby “mini bar” and a handful of perfectly decorated seating areas that will have you coveting every bit of hand-picked vintage and repurposed décor.
Wander the grounds with a whimsical feeling as they invite you to get lost in the tall grass and lush greenery that surrounds pathways leading to secret areas gifting you hammocks and fountains and art around every corner. You can even find a game of Pétanque here and if tennis is your game of choice you’ll be happy to learn that there is a tennis court on the property. Make your way to the three pools during your stay, but be sure to find the Gene Autry Pool where you will find a lemonade bar and larger than life chess board, it is one of the best spots to relax in all of Palm Springs.
The rooms, villas and suites, each with their own name and personality are decadence personified. Adler has treated the entire property as if it were his own home, a passion project, and you feel this passion and attention-to-detail in every bit of space you experience during your stay. No two rooms are alike.
If you are a keen golfer, I highly recommend a stay or visit to La Quinta Resort and Club, a beautiful 5-star Palm Springs luxury resort with plenty of space and five (yes, five) drool worthy championship courses that any golfer will find to be absolute perfection.
La Quinta is designed to provide guests with a full experience and very little need to leave the property. In addition to the abundance of golf, the property offers seven unique dining options ranging from comfort food, course and court side fare to casual and fine dining options. Each experience is unique with a property backdrop to match and I always love the variety when I stay on or visit this property.
Voted one of the top tennis resorts in the world, you can enjoy tennis and pickleball at La Quinta. The resort has been host to Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova to name a few famed players, and you can enjoy a full game on your own or tennis lessons led by a team of certified instructors. Daily yoga is taught on property as well, I’ve enjoyed group classes and privates in my room during my stays.
Indulge in the on site spa with a full menu of body treatments, skin care and wellness rituals such as the Glistening Agave Body Glaze or a massage menu inspired by various places in the world including a traditional Thai Massage or Hawaiian Lomi Lomi. The spa also includes a full service salon which includes nail and hair care as well as makeup.
What to Do in Palm Springs
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
I’ve been to Palm Springs more times than I can count but I had never visited the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway before this trip, and I cannot believe what I was missing. Not only is the ride up the tramway incredible and unique, but the hiking at the top is worth a day trip. This tramcar is the world’s largest, and it provides each rider breathtaking panoramic views as it rotates the full ten minutes while climbing 2,643 feet above the desert valley. Guests stand along the perimeter of the tramcar while peering out. If you get a little motion sick, you can take a padded seat in the middle which I did on the way down.
The Mountain Station lives at 8,516 feet and is open every day for visitors. The view from this station is incredible and the temperatures are at least 30-40 degrees cooler than below so this is a great spot for a desert reprieve.
Hiking in Palm Springs
There are over 50 miles (80 kms) of hiking trails from the Mountain Station location, with plenty of local guides that can lead you if you are feeling ambitious after your trip up the tramway with many other trails in the area too. Simply organise a guide or self-guided maps through your hotel.
Related: 5 of the Best Hikes in Norway
Take a Stargazing Jeep Tour
Undeniably the very best part about a desert visit are the sunrises and sunsets, there are few things more beautiful than a Palm Springs sunset. I highly recommend the Red Jeep San Andreas Fault Night Watch and Stargazing Jeep Tour to take full advantage of a desert sunset while you are visiting Palm Springs. Witness the transition from day to night by 4WD adventure that ends with incredible stargazing.
Our Jeep ride meandered along the Palm Oasis of the San Andreas Fault Zone where we explored, with our highly informative local guide, spectacular box and slot canyons, ancient fossil beds and a labyrinth of geological cuts and canyons of this area. We traveled to a private 800+ acre preserve on the Fault where we gazed at stars and planets led by a local expert who shared his knowledge and telescope with us. We each took turns peering into the telescope and witnessing far away moons and planets – this was a highlight of the visit for me.
Enjoy a Spa Day in Palm Springs
I enjoyed a day at the Elements Spa at Hilton Palm Springs my last day in the desert. This spa, open to the public, has a menu of treatments and splurges so indulgent you will have a hard time deciding. The nine unique treatment rooms invite guests to explore each of the elements and tease your senses with a full mind, body and spirit experience. I enjoyed a hot soak to start and a full body scrub and massage which was a divine grand finale for my week in Palm Springs. Don’t miss the eucalyptus infused steam room and the Swiss shower.
Healthy Restaurants in Palm Springs
Watercress Vietnamese Bistro
With a focus on healthy food choices, I made sure to try a few new places this trip. I enjoyed a beautiful dinner at Watercress Vietnamese Bistro, where I feasted on vegetarian dishes that were delicious and the perfect fresh, and healthy option for the desert heat. The Summer Rolls were not only yummy, but beautiful and I highly recommend the Shredded Cabbage Salad. Don’t let the heat deter you from sitting outside on the patio, there was a cool breeze the night I visited and it was nice to be in the fresh air people watching during dinner.
Run, don’t walk to Kreem in Palm Springs, an artisanal ice cream and coffee café. This vegan friendly shop offers many coconut based ice creams and all natural seasonal sorbets, they also make their own almond milk. Rosemary, Lemon Poppyseed, Honey Soaked Cherries, and Basil Lavender to name a few. Stay in or dare the outside temps which will challenge you to eat it as fast as you can before it melts.
No visit to Palm Springs in complete without breakfast at Cheeky’s Palm Springs, it is by far the most popular breakfast and lunch spot in the desert. I always enjoy a table outside and feast on the farm to table comfort food. Beware, the portions are large enough to share unless you are brunching and rolling two meals into one. Cheeky’s is perfectly situated downtown for a nice walk in any direction to enjoy window shopping or a pop in to the art museum.
How to Stay Active in Palm Springs
Cycle Through the San Andreas Fault Zone
With the flat forever roads and vast space for activities there is plenty to do to stay active in Palm Springs. One of the best outdoor activities I did on this trip was The Earthquake Canyon Express Bicycle Tour with Big Wheel Tours, a 4-hour geologic adventure that includes a 20-mile bike ride that descends through the heart of the San Andreas Fault zone on a paved road to the heart of grape country near Mecca. The route is straight-forward and quiet with very little traffic and makes for an easy pedal and a beautiful day of exploring by bike.
The route takes riders from the transition zone between the Colorado and Mojave Desert, it winds its way through the narrow canyon walls of Box Canyon and finishes with spectacular views of the Salton Sea, Mt. San Jacinto, the All-American Canal, and the agriculture of the eastern Coachella Valley. We literally rode from dry desert canyons through lush green farm oasis’ and crops ranging from citrus to table grapes, finishing our ride with a visit to the Oasis Date Gardens for a date shake and date tasting. The date shake was another first for me and I could not believe how delicious it was; it was the absolute perfect reward for an adventurous day on the bike.
Horseback Riding through Indian Canyons
I traded in my bike for a horse for another beautiful, authentic desert activity. This perfect early morning activity, was a visit to Smoke Tree Stables for a horseback ride through Indian Canyons. The stables trailer the horses into beautiful Indian Canyons and riders jump on for a 2-hour scenic ride along streams, rocky mountain trails and among native palms. The trail is an out-and-back adventure following a guide from Andreas Canyon to Murray and back. Our guide, a true cowboy, was the perfect gentleman and shared lots of insight about desert flora and the sacred land that we were riding on. Not only was it incredible exploring the trails by horse, but the panoramic views of the valley and beyond were breathtaking in all directions, the key is to get out early to avoid the heat.
I will always love Palm Springs for the relaxing getaway that it is, with its chill desert vibe that invites pause, but I also love that you can find big adventure here too. I loved trying new things this visit, and learning that happy, healthy options are possible. These adventures made the relaxing time even more delicious.
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Visit Palm Springs for this trip. As always, the opinions, words and images are authentically our own.
Pat Bailey is a certified Bhakti Yoga Teacher, published poet, writer and entrepreneur with a passion for exploring the globe. Pat is also the founder of The Hell Yes Life, where she has created her own branding academy helping to elevate brands and students through authentic and intuitive coaching.