Palm Springs, California: A relaxed warm sunny break from the Seattle rain. Tiki bars, mid century modern architecture, Joshua Tree National Park, and a whole lot of desert weird around the Salton Sea.
February in Seattle is a time when I really hate life. The cold, gray, dreary weather, the endless rain, and a whole lot of boring. In Seattle, as soon as the New Year is rung in, the countdown to summer begins. And it’s a long one. Last year we tried to escape the rain by going to Las Vegas, but we ended up bringing the rain with us (we still had a great time though). This year, looking at the winter temperatures in Palm Springs, California–we decided that Palm Springs wouldn’t let us down. We were asked by numerous Lyft drivers during our stay what brought us to Palm Springs. The answer: SUN.
Palm Springs is an easy two and a half hour flight from Seattle. We arrived on an evening flight, walking out into the small open air airport at 11:30 PM. We seemed to be the only flight arriving, and had to wait about 5 minutes or so for taxis to show up in the ground transportation area. The Palm Springs airport is right in town, and getting to the hotel only took 10 minutes.
We had chosen the renovated mid-century modern tiki theme hotel Caliente Tropics. Built in 1964 as The Tropics hotel, it was a popular destination for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. It received a renovation in 2000 and is now a classic historical Palm Springs experience with some modern upgrades and budget-mid range prices.
Our room was a solid budget hotel room. Clean, average-sized, with a large flat screen TV and a mini fridge. We liked the tile walk in shower in the bathroom that had replaced what I’m sure was a crappy budget hotel bathtub shower combo. The decor was fun, and the sink vanity was huge, with lots of space to spread out our stuff. The one complaint we had was that the bed was not very comfortable. The mattress wasn’t terrible, but upgrading the mattresses to high end comfortable models would really make this hotel great.
Waking up to the California sunshine put us instantly in a great mood. We took a Lyft into the main part of town (Palm Canyon Drive) to have breakfast at Cheeky’s.
Cheeky’s was clearly a very popular breakfast spot, with a wait even at 9:30 on a Wednesday. We got on the list and the wait was only about 15 minutes for a two top.
The coffee was excellent, as was the service and the food. I had the Blondie’s Eggs Benedict with bacon and arugula on a house baked cheddar scone, and Paddy had a beef hash dish with Argentine chimichurri sauce. Everything was outstanding.
After our excellent breakfast, the shops on Palm Canyon Drive were opening and we were ready to explore the town. We started on North Palm Canyon Drive and worked our way south.
Palm Springs is a pretty small town, and the main strip is very walkable. We used Lyft most of the time to get between the main strip and our hotel, but there is also a free shuttle called The Buzz that runs up and down Palm Canyon Drive between 11:00 AM and 1:00 AM Thursday through Sunday. Shuttles go by every 15-20 minutes.
If you like mid century antiques, vintage stores, and art galleries, Palm Springs is a town for you. We saw many amazing relics from the 1950’s and 60’s, retro art, and tons of vintage Aloha shirts. If you are looking for mid century jewelry, glassware, or a one of a kind funky addition to your home, Dazzles is the place to go.
Dazzles is easy to miss, it is tucked back off the street a bit at 1035 N Palm Canyon Drive. You will know you are in the right place when you see the filled-in pool with yard flamingos.
There are quite a few art galleries to visit in Palm Springs, but one of the most renowned is probably the Shag gallery and store. Shag is artist Josh Agle, who paints colorful paintings depicting fun mid-century leisure in a unique style.
We eventually ended up in the “downtown” area of Palm Canyon Drive and were feeling like we needed a little break. We stopped into the bar of busy Maracas Mexican restaurant for a margarita.
I checked my phone and had received a voicemail from Avis car rental agency that the rental car reservation I’d made with them months ago was cancelled because they had no cars. We had never rented with Avis before and were not happy. After a terse conversation with customer service, who told me that they were “very sorry” and that there was nothing they could do, we frantically attempted to reserve another rental car for our desert adventures last minute on a busy holiday weekend.
Don’t rent with Avis. Apparently reservations with Avis don’t actually reserve anything for you. They could have made it right by securing me a reservation with another agency at the same price and doing the search legwork for us, but they did not care to help us in any way.
Enterprise car rental saved the day. I made a reservation through Hotwire and then called to confirm it with a very helpful man in the local office who assured me that he would reserve a car for us the next day. We have rented with Enterprise before and have had good experiences. We will be renting with them again in the future.
We finished walking the strip and exploring and headed back to the hotel to relax.
That evening we went to have a couple pre-dinner drinks at The Reef tiki bar in the hotel.
It was happy hour, so we ordered two rounds of the Hot Hula Hibiscus from the discounted happy hour menu, which had tequila, hibiscus syrup, and jalepeno. They were strong, and in hind sight perhaps two strong cocktails on an empty stomach wasn’t the best idea, but they sure were tasty. They had a really cool signature tiki mug for sale but it was $65, without a drink in it. It was pretty unique, but a bit more than we wanted to spend on a tiki mug.
It was Valentine’s Day, and we had a reservation at The Purple Palm restaurant in the Colony Palms Hotel. We went to dinner a bit tipsy.
Valentines Day had a prefix menu at $75 per person, which included an amuse bouche, a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. Our big splurge of the weekend.
The amuse bouche was a goat cheese bite (can’t remember what it was), and house baked bread with truffle butter, which we devoured. For our starters we both chose the Heirloom Pumpkin Soup with blue crab, lemon crema, and Thai basil. It was delicious.
For our mains, Paddy had the Golden West Ranch strip steak with mushroom, leek, shishito, broccoli, yam, and black garlic. I was waffling between the quail and the salmon, but upon learning that the salmon was farmed, I went with the quail. We are in the desert after all–seafood isn’t what this area is known for. The quail dish was a brand new dish they were debuting that evening, with asparagus, hazlenut, and blackberries.
For dessert we ordered one of each of the two desserts offered: The roasted pineapple and preserved lemon tart, and the carmelized banana and chocolate custard cake.
Everything was outstanding, and the perfect amount of food. I’m still thinking about that fresh baked bread and truffle butter.
On our second day, we had resolved our rental car problems with the help of Enterprise, and they picked us up and got us on the road to Joshua Tree National Park.
On the way to Joshua Tree, we stopped off in Pioneer Town in the high desert to have lunch at Pappi and Harriets Pioneertown Palace. Upon stepping out of the car, we realized that we had severely mis-judged the temperature of the high desert when we were greeted with cold winds. Our shorts and t-shirts/tank top did not suffice. I had a light sweater, but it wasn’t enough. We rushed into the restaurant.
Inside was a cozy, busy contrast to the chilly desolate desert outside. The restaurant was full of lunch patrons enjoying BBQ with a warm fire in a fireplace in the bar room area.
Pappi & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace not only has great BBQ, but is well known for it’s music shows in the evenings. Quite a few big name artists have performed at Pappi & Harriets. There is a small stage in the dining area, but the outside appears to be set up for large outdoor shows as well during warmer weather. If you’re in the area, you might check their calendar to see who is playing.
Having smelled the BBQ wafting through the restaurant, we figured it would be silly to order anything else. I had the pulled pork sandwich and mac and cheese, and Paddy had the beef brisket sandwich and coleslaw. Both were fantastic. The mac and cheese was very cheesy and homemade. It was extra delicious with a little BBQ sauce mixed in.
After lunch, we headed back to the main highway to continue toward Joshua Tree National park. On the way there we stopped off at a souvenir store so Paddy could get a sweatshirt, and at the visitor’s center so that we could get a park map and plan our route. It was a bit warmer in Joshua Tree than it was up in Pioneertown, but it was still not as warm as Palm Springs. Lesson learned–bring layers to the high desert. Admission to Joshua Tree National Park is $25.00.
Joshua Tree was beautiful. We stopped off at many pull offs along the way through the park to admire the trees and the views. I had originally wanted to do a short hike, but given that we hadn’t dressed warm enough and our limited time, we just did a drive through tour this time.
We detoured to Keys View point, one of the higher elevation points in the park and braved the cold winds for a few photos.
We kept seeing this sign in multiple places in the park. I think it’s best to stay on the trail…
We went as far as the Cholla Cactus Garden on the edge of the Pinto Basin. It was lower elevation in the basin, so it was a bit warmer down there. We did the short walk through the garden, admiring the unique cholla cacti, which look kind of like they are trying to be mini joshua trees.
It was getting late, so we began the drive back to Palm Springs, enjoying the sunset along the way.
Every Thursday evening in Palm Springs is VillageFest from 6-10 PM. In the main downtown area of Palm Canyon Drive, the street is closed off and vendors set up along the street. All the shops and art galleries in the area keep their doors open late for visitors. There are food stands, craft vendors, and lots of artists. We ditched the car and took a Lyft to downtown to check it out.
We walked around a bit and then saw the Tonga Hut tiki bar which was on our agenda to check out. It was busy but we were able to get a table in the lounge.
The drinks at the Tonga Hut were classic and top-notch. I tried the classic Navy Grog drink, which came with a rock candy swizzle stick so that I could control the amount of sweetness I wanted in my drink. Paddy was excited that there was Hinano beer on the menu, which we hadn’t had since our Tahiti honeymoon in 2010.
We also ordered the Pupu Platter, which we weren’t expecting to be anything spectacular–but we were surprised at how good everything was. The chicken skewers were juicy and nicely marinated, the coconut prawns tasted homemade, and the egg rolls were shockingly good. Get the egg rolls.
We ended up moving out to the deck and ordering the fried rice with prawns, and another round of drinks. I tried their house special Mohave Punch with hibiscus syrup, rum, passion fruit, and other fruit juices. It was delicious. The fried rice wasn’t my favorite, but it definitely tasted homemade and MSG free.
After getting our tiki bar on, we continued walking the rest of VillageFest. We found a lot of great art booths and bought several affordable small pieces and card prints that we liked. We really liked the variety of modern artists and had to get out before we spent too much money.
Friday was our last day with the car, and we were ready to explore some of the “desert weird” around the Palm Springs area. We grabbed a quick breakfast sandwich and coffee at Koffi, a local favorite coffee shop two blocks down from our hotel, and hit the road.
Our first stop was the Welcome to Sky Valley sign, which Paddy wanted to see since it is on the cover of a Kyuss album that he loves.
We then headed another hour east to Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea.
The Salton Sea is a lake that was accidentally created in 1905 by an overflowing irrigation canal system created off of the Colorado River. It was built up as a resort area in the 1950’s, including shoreline settlements such as Bombay Beach and Salton City. The lake became increasingly polluted from farm runoff and increasingly salty. Fish began dying, and the pollution and stench of dead fish on the shore dissolved the tourism industry, as you might imagine. Today people still live on the shores of the Salton Sea, but very few. There isn’t much more than a small store and a bar in Bombay Beach.
Bombay Beach now has become a tourist attraction for photographers and curious wanderers, coming to see the ruins of a resort town that once was.
We drove to the beach first, and once we got close to the water we became overwhelmed with the stench of death and pollution. A bit of advice–if you want to walk up to the shore, wear some rubber boots or shoes you don’t care too much about. Also, bring baby wipes and a trash bag to clean up afterward. I got the gross shore mud on my sandals and had to do the best I could with some kleenex and bottled water.
The town of Bombay Beach itself is pretty interesting. It is a mix of abandoned buildings and houses and inhabited houses and trailers. I can’t imagine living out here, but some people probably enjoy being a bit removed from mainstream society. Residents and artists have had some fun with the ruins of the town.
We moved on to Slab City and East Jesus art commune. Slab City is a community of artists, squatters, and snowbirds looking for a free place to settle. There is no electricity, running water, or sewer system. Most people live in campers with solar panels and generators. It is an anarchist’s dream–no charge to stay, no address, live completely off the grid. As you can imagine, this type of community breeds some interesting art.
We drove down the dirt road off the highway until we reached the East Jesus sculpture park. This is one of the most amazingly unique sculpture parks I’ve ever seen. It’s free, open to the public, and full of political statements and the completely bizarre. I loved it.
Down the road from East Jesus Sculpture Garden, we stopped at Salvation Mountain. You really can’t miss it. Salvation Mountain is the work of a man named Leonard Knight, and is an ever-evolving art installation about his devotion to god, and his attempt to spread god’s word to the world. It really is a sight to see.
Our last stop on our tour of desert weird was the International Banana Museum. I discovered this museum while exploring the area on Google Maps prior to our trip, and when I saw that there was an International Banana Museum out in the middle of nowhere next to the Salton Sea, it became one of the top priorities of this trip. Naturally, I wore my banana dress that day for the occasion.
The International Banana Museum is owned by a man named Fred Garbutt and his wife, next to a convenience store along Highway 111. Something possessed Mr Garbutt to purchase the Guinness World Record’s largest banana-themed item collection on Ebay and open this little museum in the middle of nowhere, and I salute him for it.
The museum is open Friday through Sunday, but possibly Thursdays? Not sure. Hours aren’t posted on the website, but I read that they were open weekends. Entrance fee is $1 cash, which is deducted off of any purchase you make. They sell postcards, some banana items, and banana ice cream. We passed on the ice cream, but I purchased a banana purse and a couple souvenir banana pens.
After satisfying my burning desire to see the world’s largest banana collection (it was everything I dreamed it would be), we headed back to Palm Springs to do a little shopping.
If you are shopping for Tiki mugs, decor, or clothing, Iconic Atomic is your store. The owner was super friendly, and we recognized him from the Caliente Tropics hotel promotion video (he was an actor playing a guest enjoying a tikilicious vacation). His vintage dresses are all sorted by bust measurement, so it is easy to sort through to find your size. I even found a plus size tiki dress (a reproduction, but still awesome). It is so hard to find plus size vintage fashion, but he had some options in his collection.
That evening for dinner, we wanted something a bit more budget-friendly, so we checked out Tlaquepaque on South Palm Canyon Drive for Mexican food. The margaritas were mediocre, but the food was excellent. Paddy had a chimichanga, and I had the chicken fajitas.
After dinner, we wanted to go to the Bootlegger Tiki Bar on North Palm Canyon Drive. It was a mile and a half up the strip from Tlaquepaque, but we were so full we felt like we needed to walk it off. The walk was pleasant and didn’t seem that long.
Bootlegger Tiki Bar was much tinier than we expected, but the atmosphere and drinks were on point. We found a couple stools by the entrance and patiently waited until some people left and we scored one of the coveted three booths.
The only food served here are some light bar snacks (nuts, banana chips, popcorn)—the main focus is the drinks. I ordered the Desperado’s Downfall and Paddy had the Mind Flayer. Both were flavorful and complex.
Of the three tiki bars we visited in Palm Springs, Bootlegger was my favorite. It was probably the most classic of the three, and I loved the ambiance. The drinks were fantastic and expertly crafted. However, patience is required here due to the limited space. You may find yourself having to wait for a seat. There is an outdoor area to sit in, but the main point of a tiki bar is the atmosphere and feeling like you are in an exotic, tropical destination. It’s hard to feel like that sitting outside on the side of N Palm Canyon Drive watching the cars go by.
Saturday was our last day, and we wanted to enjoy some sunshine and pool time before we had to go back to cold, rainy Seattle. But first, boozy brunch.
Pinocchio in the Desert is a local favorite, known for big affordable breakfasts and their bottomless $4.95 champagne special. A nice open-air dining area allowed us to enjoy the sunshine while we ate.
I ordered a bloody mary for $6.95, and the lobster benedict. My bloody mary arrived in an enormous goblet, and I swear there was at least 6 shots of vodka in it. I couldn’t even finish it by the time breakfast was over. I’ve NEVER met a bloody mary that I couldn’t finish, especially if it was my first of the day. I was concerned that if I drank the whole thing, I would have to crawl out of the restaurant.
Paddy had the California omelet, which he said was tasty, and my lobster benedict was delicious as well. The home-style potatoes were awesome. We would absolutely come back here again. Just be sure you don’t have to do anything for the rest of the day if you order the bloody mary.
We spent the rest of the day lounging by the pool at the hotel. There were plenty of chairs, it wasn’t crowded. There was one couple with a small child and a lady with a baby, but for the most part the pool scene was age 35+ with cocktails. It was the best pool scene I’ve been to. No screaming children doing cannonballs, and no drunk spring-breakers. Just a bunch of adults wanting to chill and have a relaxing time.
For dinner, we met up with our friend Andrea, who had just moved to Palm Springs in December. We made a reservation at the popular Tropicale restaurant, which was just my scene. Vintage-looking booths, tropical drinks, and a pink neon sign gave the place a classic Copa-Cabana feel.
I ordered the coconut martini, because it just felt like the right thing to do. I wouldn’t order it again, it was a bit to sweet for my taste. But it wasn’t bad if you like sweeter drinks. Paddy had the spicy mango mojito, which he enjoyed.
The dinner menu is an eclectic mix of items, ranging from pizza and a gourmet burger to pastas, meatloaf, miso salmon, fried chicken, and filet mignon.
I had the crispy goat cheese and beet salad with an orange vinaigrette, (which was lovely) and the Yucatan chicken sausage pizza. Paddy had one of their pasta specials. Everything was great, and with such a variety on the menu, there’s something for everyone here. I would go back here for atmosphere alone, but the food was great too. Reservations recommended though–this place is popular, especially on weekends.
It was time to go home on Sunday, but our flight left in the afternoon so we had time for one last brunch. We went to the King’s Highway diner in the hipster Ace Hotel next door.
The King’s Highway has the bones of a classic 50’s diner, combined with Coachella music festival hipster decor, and serves Portland’s Stumptown coffee and espresso (in hot or cold brewed options). There is a coffee counter serving espresso and pastries to go, or you can sit down and have the full diner experience.
We both had the breakfast burrito, which while tasty, was a bit overpriced at $14 each. It comes on a plate with no sides, no garnish, just a burrito on a plate. Nothing fancy. The ingredients were quality, but it seemed like it should have cost $9.50 at most.
We took a peek at the adjacent Amigo Room bar before we left, which looked pretty awesome. Big round booths and Spanish-style decor. Dark and intimate. And there is a photo booth in the hallway, if you feel so inclined.
We really liked Palm Springs and the surrounding area. It is the perfect getaway for couples without kids (or who want to leave the kids with grandma), and a great gaycation spot as well. More relaxing than Vegas, with a better chance of nice sunny weather in the winter. Just don’t visit in the summer–I hear it is sweltering hot and miserable. With such a short flight from Seattle, we will definitely be back for another tikilicious good time.