I remember flying into Palm Springs for the first time. For what seemed like hours, I recall fidgeting in my seat anxiously staring out of the tiny airplane window at the dry and sun-scorched terrain that I figured was either Arizona or California. “How on earth could anything exist down there?”, I wondered as I could see the heat rising from the barren lands below. Then, out of nowhere,the brown and arid landscape magically disappeared surrendering to the lush and green expanse of a desert oasis. With white roof tops and palm trees clearly in sight, I knew I had just entered California’s Coachella Valley and the renowned area of Palm Springs.
With 350 days of sunshine and over 100 golf courses, Palm Springs is much more than a sun-starved Canadian’s winter escape. With a total population of approximately 500,000, Greater Palm Springs is actually comprised of nine cities – Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella. People who refer to the entire area as “Palm Springs” are easily identified as “non-locals” as year-round residents are quite particular about accuratelyreferencing the city in which they reside. Semantics aside, there is plenty to do throughout the Valley to satisfy all of your adventurous and leisurely desires. After spending a week in the desert partaking in an assortment of activities,I decided to list my Top 10 reasons for making Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley your next warm weather retreat.
Number 10 – The History and Culture – The history of the area dates back 2,000 years ago when the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians spent much of the summer months in the cool regions of the Indian Canyons, just a few minutes from present-day downtown Palm Springs. Their presence survives today as the Agua Caliente Band now own and operate the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage. There are plenty of art galleries to enjoy including the 125,000 square foot Palm Springs Art Museum that features over 7,000 works from Native and Western American painters and sculptors that celebrate the region’s rich history.
Number 9 – Fairs, Festivals and Palm Springs VillageFest -There are just as many fairs, festivals and events happening in Palm Springs as there are days in the year. The most famous of all is the Palm Springs International Film Festival that takes place every January. It was the late Sonny Bono who established this 10-day event in 1990 that now attracts over 100,000 film-goers annually to the area. If you can’t take part in the film festival, be sure to experience the Palm Springs VillageFest, a weekly street fair held every Thursday evening along Palm Canyon Drive. All are welcome to enjoy the live music, food, arts and crafts and farmers’ market. Best of all, it’s fun and it’s free.
Number 8 – Welcome to “Hollywood East”- Located 110 miles southeast of Los Angeles, Palm Springs emerged as “Hollywood East” for numerous movie stars during the 1930’s and 40’s. As part of their contract, most stars were paid a weekly salary but had to remain within a 1 1/2 hour drive of the studio at all times. Palm Springs was the perfect location. Many of Hollywood’s elite bought second homes in the area including Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Dinah Shore. Sonny Bono loved the place so much he decided to stay permanently later becoming the mayor of Palm Springs in 1988. To fully appreciate what this area was like years ago, I recommend taking anyone of the several guided tours that lead you through the residential area of Palm Springs appropriately referred to as the “Movie Colony”.
Number 7– Shopping and Restaurants along El Paseo Drive – If you like to shop and eat there is only one place to go and that’s El Paseo Drive, the “Rodeo Drive of the Desert”. Even if you don’t plan to buy an overpriced bracelet, dress or designer suit, take a walk up and back along the two mile shopping strip and drop in to one of the eclectic shops along the way. Some of the area’s best restaurants can be found on El Paseo Drive including two personal favourites, Piero’s Pizza Vino and the Daily Grill.
Number 6 – The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – What’s the best way to escape the desert heat and experience a drop in temperature of 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 15 minutes? By jumping on board the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and ascending 8,516 feet to the cooler climes of the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness. From a mile-and-a-half in the air, the views overlooking the entire Coachella Valley are unparalleled. The tram cars depart every half hour with the last car down being at 9:45pm. For late afternoon visitors, check out the Ride ‘n’ Dine special that bundles your return ride with a delicious meal at the Peaks restaurant.
Number 5 – You’re two hours away from Temecula Valley, Southern California’s wine country that features more than 50 wineries. OK, so Temecula Valley may not be as famous as its neighbours to the north but the wines in this area of California rival just about anything you’ll find in the Napa or Sonoma Valleys. Many of the vineyards of Temecula Valley are small boutique and family-run businesses that have carved out a niche in the competitive world of wine making. I suggest taking an entire day to savour the flavours of the area by enjoying a wine tasting tour and lunch at Wilson Creek Manor followed by another wine tasting experience at both the Monte De Oro and Palumbo Family Vineyards.
Number 4 – Joshua Tree National Park – After you’ve had a taste of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” experience on El Paseo Drive, rejuvenate your senses and take a trip to the Joshua Tree National Park. Located to the northeast of the Coachella Valley, this expansive desert wilderness of 794,000 square miles is a stunning collection of towering cholla cactus, twisted Joshua trees and giant granite rock formations. Any time is a good time to visit the park as it is open year-round. The spring is when the cacti and Joshua trees are in full bloom boasting a variety of colours from lily white to flaming fuchsia. For obvious reasons, the park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts including hikers and bikers, rock climbers and photographers. For true late-night star gazing, this is the place to come to witness the awesomeness of the Milky Way and other distant galaxies that sparkle overhead.
Number 3 – The La Quinta Resort and Club – Widely regarded as the “Queen of the Desert”, I would be remiss for not including the La Quinta Resort and Club on my Top 10 list. Originally opened in 1926 as a quaint 20-room boutique-style hotel at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains, it is the place the likes of starlet Bette Davis, film director Frank Capra and cowboy legend John Wayne came to escape the frenetic pace of Hollywood. Today, La Quinta has evolved into a modern 800-room resort featuring five championship golf courses, 23 tennis courts, 41 swimming pools, 53 hot tubs and the 23,000 square-foot “Spa La Quinta.”
Number 2 – The Perfect Weather – Greater Palm Springs area is a true desert with less than six inches of rainfall annually. The sun shines 350 days averaging over 100 degrees (40 Degrees Celsius) June through September. While that may sound hot – and it is – it’s true what they say about a “dry heat”. It’s surprisingly comfortable up to 95-100 degrees for those who like it steamy. All you have to do is think about a minus-a-million degree day in January and you’ll find yourself adapting quite well to temperatures we don’t see in Canada. The rest of the year is as close to perfection as you’ll find, especially if you are partial to 70-80 degree temperatures with no humidity.
Number One – Golf in the Desert -It’s ironic that golf reigns number one on my Top 10 list simply because golf had little to do with the evolution of Palm Springs and the rest of the Coachella Valley. It wasn’t until the mid 1920’s that the first golf course -the nine-hole O’Donnell Golf Club which still exists today – was introduced to a class of people more interested in tennis, polo and pool-time. Things have certainly changed over the years as the Palm Springs area now boasts a diverse portfolio of 100 public and private golf courses designed by the likes of Palmer, Player, Nicklaus and Norman. There is something here for everyone which puts golf in Palm Springs on par with the likes of Myrtle Beach, Scottsdale and Florida’s Gulf Coast.
So there you have it – my Top 10 reasons for visiting Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. I always knew golf would top my list followed by the 350 days of sunshine. The other activities and points of interest I’ve listed are equally appealing and eight other reasons that make Palm Springs the special place that it is.
Must Play Courses:
While nothing would be more satisfying than describing all 100+ courses in the area, I decided instead to list five of my personal favourites that will certainly not disappoint.
Desert Willow Golf Resort, Firecliff Course, www.desertwillow.com
Indian Wells Golf Resort, Players Course, www.indianwellsgolfresort.com
La Quinta Resort & Club and PGA West – Nicklaus Tournament Course, www.laquintaresort.com
Shadow Ridge Golf Club, www.shadowridgegolf.com
The Classic Club, www.classicclubgolf.com
Other Cool Things To Do:
Desert Adventures Jeep Tour to the San Andreas Fault – www.red-jeep.com
The Best of the Best Tours! – www.thebestofthebesttours.com/, 760-320-1365
The Living Desert – www.thelivingdesert.org
Palm Springs Visitor and Travel Information:
Greater Palm Springs Visitor Information- www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com, 1-800-967-3767
Greater Palm Springs Facebook page – www.facebook.com/palmspringsusa
Insiders’ Guide to Palm Springs, 2nd Edition, Ken Van Vechten,