Palm Springs Travel Guide: What To Do In Downtown Palm Springs

Frank Sinatra had it figured out—Palm Springs is where we should all have a second home. Just saying Palm Springs brings forth images of old Hollywood glam, stunning mid-century architecture, and relaxed Southern California vacation style.

True, SoCal is the land of the road trip because we've got everything from mountains to ocean to Mexico within a day's drive. Even so, sometimes the travel bug gets the best of us and we want to go farther and more exotic, which means we forget what is right under our noses, like, say, spa days, date shakes, desert hikes, prime brunching, and all the other gems Palm Springs provides. 

Why Downtown Palm Springs?

To be honest, the whole of the Coachella valley has a lot to offer (casinos, hiking, spas, outlet shopping), but we will always love downtown Palm Springs for being where it all started. If we had all the means in the world, we'd own an modern house in the Las Palmas neighborhood and be there almost every weekend.

Before You Go

Where To Stay

Laidback Luxe: The Parker 

If there was ever a hotel we’d move into, it’d be the lush oasis that is the Parker. The only problem is that it has so much going on—tennis courts, a spa, a hammock grove, and a lemonade stand serving bottomless Arnold Palmers—you might never leave the property. 

Ground Zero: Colony Palms  
Between the lux landscaping, Moroccan-inspired spa, and a pool that’s always lively, it’s no wonder every other person I know wants to stay at the Colony Palms. The chic design is swoon worthy and the prime location (steps from downtown) makes it hard to beat.

Escape It All: Korakia Pensione 
But if instead you’re wanting to escape a bit, head to Korakia. Between the scattering of bungalows, the beautiful scenery, and the Moorish details, you’ll feel like you escaped to an highly Instagrammable corner of the Mediterranean. 

What To Cook

Cinnamon Walnut Date Shake 
The date shake as is classic Southern California as In 'N Out burgers so you have to try at least one when you're there. This version is a healthier, smoothie version that we make on the regular. 

Fly by Too Palms - Wasim Muklashy

Once You're There

Where to Breakfast + Coffee

Kings Highway Diner
Palm Springs gets our respect for always paying homage to the past; case in point: Kings Highway Diner at the Ace Hotel.  One look and you’d think you’re in a 1960s diner except that the premium French press coffee and flaky croissants give it a majorly 2016 vibe.

Ernest Coffee
The local coffee standards were raised when Ernest Coffee opened shop in downtown Palm Springs. They serve high quality coffee (from Stumptown) yet there’s no pretension—so order your Vanilla Almond Latte without feeling judged. 

Where to Brunch

With beautiful bellinis and decadent lobster omelets, it’s hard to get a more post brunch scene in Palm Springs than Norma’s. This is the sort of place you’ll want to post up and spend hours lounging around so go with good company and make a morning of it.

This cheery café in downtown Palm Springs is a must stop for breakfast (or brunch or lunch).  The menu changes weekly so there’s always something new, but we’re partial to the bacon flights, the satisfying egg dishes, and the spicy Bloody Marys.

Where to Lunch and Dinner

Right next door to Cheeky’s is the sister restaurant, Birba. There you’ll get crusty wood-burning oven pizzas and great wine in an outdoor setting with fire pits that’ll make you want to make a night of it.  

El Jefe 
The colorful Saguaro hotel is another gem in Palm Springs and we head there for everything from tequila and tacos at El Jefe to the daytime pool scene. 

Workshop Palm Springs 
This is the sort of place you’ll want to spend the evening because everything from the cocktails to the food (and especially the desserts) are noteworthy. The minimalist space with a progressive, almost avant garde menu can feel more New York than Palm Springs but in the best possible way. 

Where to Cocktail

Mister Lyons  
Back when Frank Sinatra would hang around Palm Springs, it was all about piano lounges and steakhouse. Mister Lyons pays homage to that tradition with its modern steakhouse setting but we like the lounge where they serve classic cocktails like the Aviation and the Vieux Carre.

The name of this bar may be basic but the bar itself is not. It’s a great place to take a group because it feels like you’re just hanging in your own home with a cozy backyard with everything from bocce to picnic tables. And there’s a big selection of drinks from classic cocktails to an extensive whiskey selection to legit bar bites. 

Bootlegger Tiki
With décor that feels right out of the original tiki era, it’s hard to believe that Bootlegger Tiki hasn’t been around for decades. And though the bar is new the space does has a history—it is where the original Don the Beachcomber bar was in the 1950s. The tiki cocktails (and vintage glassware) are all on point, but our favorite part is that happy hour starts at midnight. 

Where to Date Shake

Palm Springs Fudge & Chocolates
Yes, there are a ton of places across the Coachella Valley where you could get your date shake fix, but so many of them are seriously subpar. We're fans of the shake at Palms Springs Fudge & Chocolate that's not too sweet, super creamy, and has tons of date flavor. 

Where to Explore + Relax

Palm Springs Yacht Club
No, there are no actual yachts or ocean in Palm Springs but the Palm Springs Yacht Club couldn’t care less. A bit nautical, a bit exotic Arabian nights vibe, this eclectic space is the kind of place you want to pass the day. Not to mention we had one of the best scrubs of ever there.

Indian Canyon Hikes
Okay, yes, Palm Springs get seriously hot so you’ll want to hike early in the morning or around sunset. Indian Canyon has a range of hikes, from flat to steep, long and short, so you can get as ambitious or as unambitious as you want.

Downtown Walking Tour 

Palm Springs has a lot of history from being a haven for old-school Hollywood to soem seriously gorgeous midcentury architecture. If you're with a group who is into history, be sure to book a walking tour and you'll get to look into some of the historic houses in the area.

At Least Once You Need To...

Cabazon Dinosaurs 

Yes, we're talking about those same dinosaurs that are featured in that 80s cult classic film, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Trust us, they make for a really good Instagram!

Palm Spring Tram

Trust us, you’ll want to play tourist and head up the Palm Springs tram. The reward is arriving at the top of the nearby mountains and having a view of the whole valley below you. Just know that it gets cold up there (as in can snow in the winter time) so dress appropriately

Day Trips

We're of the opinion you should stay put in Palm Springs so you get some quality relaxation time. However, you could also take a quick day trip to: 

More Palm Springs On Salt & Wind

For even more on Palm Springs, check out: 

Parker Lemonade Stand by Jason Kristofer

Opening photo by Laura Austin, palms by Wasim Muklashy, and Lemonade Stand by Jason Kristofer

Published July 2016