Ah, what can I say about Palm Desert? It’s difficult for me to organize my thoughts and write something cohesive here because there literally is so much to say and so much to tell you that I don’t know where to begin. So, let’s start at the beginning.
I started travelling to Palm Desert in the 80’s with my parents. At that time, it still really was a desert with a vast, barren landscape that could have incredible dust storms. But, it also offered some pretty remarkable resorts that had lush greens, gorgeous flowers bursting with outrageous colours and awesomely perfect weather. It was, quite honestly, a utopia. Very quickly it became our yearly trip and so ingrained in my existence. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s there was a huge amount of growth and construction when more housing, resorts, restaurants etc. were built. The growth still continues now.
When I went to University I didn’t have the opportunity to go at all, and then as I began my career I couldn’t afford to take time off. When my husband and I were newly married and desperate to get away, I thought “well, my parents have a timeshare, maybe we should just use a week in Palm Desert.” I honestly thought that it would be a great little getaway, something that we would enjoy and maybe commit to coming back sooner than the 10 years I had been away. But it couldn’t have been more the opposite. Yes, it was enjoyable but what I had forgotten about the place, it’s beauty, warmth and relaxing vibe, came tumbling back to me. And with a wide-eyed kid-in-a-candy-store guy beside me exclaiming “what is this magical place?” (his words exactly, I kid you not), I knew we were hooked for life.
So, what is it that is so special? Tons. I don’t know how simpler I can put it. Palm Desert for me comprises of four cities: Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells and La Quinta. Each are distinct cities of their own but so close in proximity to each other and areas that I frequent often throughout my stay, that when I say Palm Desert, I’m really thinking of the whole area. It’s about 11 miles west of Palm Springs, sitting at the base of the beautiful Santa Rosa Mountains. There are still desert areas with plants tumbling through when the wind picks up, but there is a lot of lush vegetation, soaring palm trees and very consistent weather.
In all the years I have gone there, I have seen rain maybe twice. It’s one spot that has been consistent with sun and so travel there offers some consistency. Temperature wise, it’s also pretty consistent. With the winter months being cooler and summer months much, much hotter. And I do mean HOT. The most comfortable times, and also the busiest, to visit are February, March and April. Typical temperatures hover between mid-70’s to high-80’s during this time. The summer can see temperatures up to high-90’s or more so travel then is usually for those that love the heat.
The days are warm but the night’s can be cooler. The sun sets a little earlier here given the closeness to the mountains. Once the sun sets behind them, the temperature can fall. It is not unusual to be swimming all day in the sun to then have a jacket and long pants in the evening.
What to Do
There is so much to do in Palm Desert. From golf, to swimming, shopping to hiking, art gazing to relaxing, it would be difficult to fit everything into just one week.
It is a very active area and a great spot that encourages and inspires you to be outside. Golf is an obvious choice and if you are an avid golfer there are some of the best courses in the country here. Many are private courses but there are some fantastic public options. My husband is a crazy, avid golfer and some of his favourites are the Mountain Course at La Quinta, either course at Desert Willow (Firecliff or Mountain View) and Indian Wells.
Tennis is also extremely popular and many resorts have great facilities for lessons or play. When I first started going as a kid, we really went for the tennis and played almost everyday.
If you like to hike then you’ve come to the right place. There are more than 140 trails throughout the whole Coachella Valley and the trails vary from moderate to strenuous. I am embarrassed to say that I never, ever even attempted a hike here for the whole time I’ve been visiting. I went on a small hike for the first time this year and I can’t believe how I had cheated myself for all these years. Stunning, beautiful, engaging, unique; I could use more adjectives here but need to move on. Such a great experience and one I will definitely be repeating.
Do you like to swim? Well, you’re in luck. Every resort, country club, villa, even practically every home has a pool so wherever you decide to stay, you won’t have to go far to swim. In my opinion, if you are travelling there in January, it may be a bit cool to swim, but overall, the weather is pretty great for swimming. If you want to venture further than where you are staying, then there is a fun aquatic centre in Palm Desert that is run by the city and has two water slides, a wading pool and splash pool. Lots of fun for kids and the family. Further still in Palm Springs is Knott’s Soak City which is a large water-park facility that you could probably spend the whole day at if you wish.
And then there is the shopping. The main shopping and must do part of Palm Desert is El Paseo. Touted as the Rodeo Drive of the Desert, El Paseo is a beautiful shopping street that has very high end retailers like Gucci and Escada but also has a wide-range of shops like J. Crew, Anthropologie, Ann Taylor and Saks (just to quickly name a few). Wandering the street is an eclectic mix of galleries, shops and restaurants and it easily is a spot that I go to at least three times during a visit.
Art and entertainment are popular here and depending on when you go, there is a lot to see and do. The El Paseo Fashion Week happens in March, actually it’s on right now, as well as the La Quinta Arts Festival later in the month. The McCallum Theatre also has a variety of performances and the Aqua Caliente Casino brings in some great talent throughout the year.
Other cool things to check out is the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament in January each year and the BNP Paribus Tennis Open in March of each year. Both are fantastic events and not to be missed if you are in the area at that time.
Where to Stay
Honestly, there are tons of options for places to stay. But, I will tell you that accommodations can be pricey so a bit of leg work might be needed to find the price point that is good for you. If you have never been, I would suggest staying at a resort. You can get your bearings and give yourself the opportunity to learn the area without feeling isolated in a rental home that may not have great pools, restaurants or a concierge to assist you. There are too many resorts to mention but the most popular, and where I stay, is the JW Marriott Desert Springs. It’s huge, with three pools, two golf courses and a spa, but it’s beautiful and close to everything you’d want to get to. There are others and I’ll link to them below.
Another option, and what actually works the best for me, is to rent a villa. Villas will give you an option of one or two bedroom, have a kitchen and living space and just offer you more room, especially if you are travelling with a family. Some hotels, like the JW and the Hyatt, have villas that are associated with them so having close proximity to them is an added bonus.
Renting a villa is a little like a chess match, you need to check all your moves before you commit. Don’t rent directly from the hotel: for example, you can rent a villa directly from Marriott through their Marriott Vacation Club, but only do this if you want to pay almost double! Instead, look to third party sites like Travelocity to rent. Admittedly, it is likely the hotel or vacation club is using travelocity to rent out units for them, but you will get a much better rate. I rented through a fantastic site this year. Vacation Candy works directly with owners of the time shares who are opting to rent their week out. The choice isn’t as abundant, but the service was great and responsive and I would use them again, for sure.
Beyond that, there are a variety of country clubs in which you can rent units. The price is definitely more reasonable however, the units tend to be a bit dated and some further out. You can also rent homes or condos directly from owners either through homeaway, flipkey and a whole other variety of local real estate and rental companies. If you are not familiar with the area, this isn’t a great option. I would suggest doing this only after you’ve familiarized yourself with what areas you like and want to stay in.
Is it wrong to have a vacation where what you do during the day is determined by where and when you want to eat each meal? I don’t think it’s wrong, do you? We have our restaurant excursions charted out so that we can make sure we get back to the places we love. In fact, we were a bit bummed this year. After taking one day less we missed out on a day of eating at a few of our favourite spots! It’s sad, but it’s true.
Really, there is a lot of choice in the area with some fantastic Italian, Steak and local spots. You’ll also find some higher-end chain restaurants. The River is home to The Cheesecake Factory, PF Chang’s and the Yard House. El Paseo has Tommy Bahamas, California Pizza Kitchen and many other of my favourites like Cafe des Beaux Arts, Mamma Gina and Sullivan’s (which has the best key lime pie by the way).
Where to go and when will probably be the difficult decision as there really is a lot of choice.
Okay, so, it can be a bit tough to get there. If you live in the Western U.S. and Canada, you are the lucky ones because you can most likely get a direct flight into Palm Springs and you are easily transported into heaven. For those, like me, who are in the Eastern U.S. and Canada, you have to be prepared for a bit more of an ordeal. There are very few direct flights into Palm Springs (although some do exist depending on what city you are leaving from). You can fly directly to L.A. or San Diego and drive from there. If you would like to actually fly into Palm Springs, then you will have to connect through another city like Denver or Chicago, maybe switch planes and then carry on into Palm Springs.
There are drawbacks to both the, fly-without-connection-then-drive and the, fly-with-connections scenarios. When flying directly to L.A or San Diego you can drive through some pretty areas, you don’t need to change planes and you can take your time driving to Palm Desert. But, the traffic can be brutal and if you arrive during peak times, the commute can extend by hours. If you decide to connect through another city, there is the concern about weather at the connection (snow has delayed my plane from leaving Chicago before), close connection times and navigating other airports. But, when you arrive in Palm Springs it is relatively stress-free and you are basically there with no worries about traffic or driving for hours.
I know it seems daunting, but the hassle with getting there is truly worth it. Trust me.
This is a must go place. It’s worth the time and (maybe a little aggravation) to get there because once you’re there, you won’t want to leave. It’s everything a vacation should be and you’ll feel relaxed, rejuvenated and happy. And I can’t stress enough how it really is a great destination for all kinds of travel. There is a lot to do for families and kids but it can be great for couples too. If you are planning a conference or meeting, the facilities are amazing for that as well. Whatever your travel needs, this is the spot.
So,there are too many places and things to link to so I’m going to give you the links to some of my favourite things to do and spots to try. Have fun exploring!
Stuff To Do
Things I Like
- La Quinta Resort at night with romantic lights
- Drinks and Key Lime Pie at Sullivan’s Bar
- Breakfast at Cafe des Beaux Arts
- Exploring Mission Hills Resort and staying for lunch
- Early morning hike through the Canyons with a lunch on the patio at Tommy Bahamas