Long after its heyday as a hangout for 1950s celebrities, Palm Springs is cool again. In this California oasis, new resorts and boutique hotels are opening, and many historic buildings and mid-century modern structures now house contemporary restaurants, design-focused shops and lively cocktail lounges.
In a destination with more than 350 days of sunshine every year, it’s hard not to have a perfect day, but we’ve got some tips on where to go now to make the most of your 48-hour escape to the desert sun.
For a get-away-from-it-all resort experience, check into The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage. Revamped and reopened in 2014, this desert chic resort with 244 rooms and suites surveys the Coachella Valley from its hilltop perch, a short drive southeast of Palm Springs proper.
Outfitted in soothing neutral tones, the guest rooms all have fire pits or balconies; the best boast vistas of the surrounding hills. Squeeze in a workout at your leisure (the spacious fitness facility is open 24/7), although we wouldn’t fault you for settling into a chaise at one of the three pools.
If you’d rather stay in town, consider the newly opened L’Horizon Palm Springs. Celebrity designer Steve Hermann reimagined this 1950s residential compound, where Rat Pack-era stars like Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable once frolicked, into a 25-unit boutique lodging, with low-slung bungalows clustered around a palm-fringed pool.
Inside, Hermann outfitted the rooms with pine ceilings, Frette linens, cashmere throws and brass bath fixtures. The nicest units have sexy indoor-outdoor showers with views of the mountains or palms. For a special splurge, book the glam two-bedroom suite with its private plunge pool.
Once you’ve unpacked and refreshed with a quick swim or cold drink by the pool, it’s time to go exploring. First up, a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Sure, a trip on the world’s largest rotating tramcar is a bit touristy, but the views above Chino Canyon from the 8,516-foot observation deck are worth it. Be sure to bring extra layers, since the temperature up top can be 30 degrees colder than it is in town.
If the trails from the tram station aren’t snow-covered (yes, it snows up here!), you can wander the 54 miles of hiking paths through Mount San Jacinto State Park that begin near the tram summit. If the ground is blanketed with the white stuff, set off on snowshoes or cross-country skis and marvel that you’re still in Southern California.
When you’re craving a cocktail, return to balmier climes and pop into candy-colored The Saguaro Palm Springs. Pull up a bar stool at El Jefe, its tequila and taco bar, which stocks more than 100 varieties of tequilas and mezcals. Order a flight to try several types. Pair your drinks with Latin-flavored snacks like shrimp ceviche or carnitas tacos.
After your refreshment break, return to The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage for a treatment at the hillside spa. The signature Spirit of the Mountains experience includes a warm stone massage, detoxifying wrap, and scalp treatment, using desert herbs and mineral salts.
For dinner, book a table at The Edge. The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage’s deluxe steakhouse has its own dry-aging room and a cliffside dining area with expansive views across the valley.
Or consider returning to town to sample what’s new at Workshop Kitchen + Bar. Set in a historic Spanish Revival courtyard, it’s all coolly modern inside, from the long communal table to the private concrete-walled booths. The stylish menu features plates like shaved Brussels sprouts slaw with pomegranate, persimmon, and pepitas; scallops paired with fermented grilled kabocha squash; or cacao-dusted elk chops.
To jumpstart your morning, stop into Ernest Coffee, a place that is indeed earnest about its caffeine. This café in the funky Uptown Design District along North Palm Canyon Drive serves up Portland’s Stumptown brews along with treats like freshly baked date scones.
Don’t linger too long with your latte, though; you don’t want to be late for your morning excursion with the Palm Springs Historical Society. The entertaining walking tours take you through local neighborhoods, where you can ogle the modernist homes of former celebrities and hear tales about their desert escapades.
After your walk, return uptown for a leisurely lunch at Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge, where the whimsical décor and oversized white chairs might make you feel like you’re dining with Alice in Wonderland. The eatery offers excellent salads, including a Niçoise piled high with house-smoked salmon, and even simple brunch dishes such as eggs Benedict or a spinach frittata are well executed.
Spend an hour or so scoping out the area’s boutiques. Palm Springs’ designer Trina Turk has a shop stocking her colorful resort wear here, while the artist Shag sells iconic Palm Springs’ prints — you’ll likely recognize the vivid images — at Shag: The Store.
For your next stop, see what’s on view at the Palm Springs Art Museum. The 150,000-square-foot gallery showcases works by modern artists ranging from Henry Moore, Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler to glass designer Dale Chihuly, whose colorful “End of the Day #2” is a centerpiece of a “Contemporary Glass” exhibit up through July 3, 2016. Until mid-September, the museum is also featuring “A Passionate Eye: The Weiner Family Collection,” an exhibition of stellar sculptural works by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder and many other modern icons.
Head back to your room for a quick rest and to freshen up for an evening out. Your dinner destination tonight is SO.PA Restaurant, in a candlelit outdoor courtyard at L’Horizon Hotel. Italian-born chef Giacomo Pettinari has crafted a world-wandering menu that starts with snacks like muhamarra, a Turkish-style red pepper dip served with housemade yogurt naan, and rich burrata cheese paired with bursts of shallot caviar and crispy radish chips. Heartier plates might feature a meaty tentacle of roasted octopus rubbed with the chef’s secret spices or braised veal cheeks with vegetable couscous.
Ask for two spoons to share SO.PA’s warm pineapple upside-down cake with coconut cream or the decadent Mont Blanc, a mountain of chocolate mousse, crème fraîche chantilly, and caramel sauce. Either way, it’s a sweet finish to your two perfect Palm Springs days.