“Oh! So…what are you going to do there?” was pretty much everyone’s response when I announced my plans for a long weekend in Palm Springs, California.
Irrelevant, I thought. Not be freezing, I thought. Lay by the pool and drink margaritas before noon, I thought. Must one DO THINGS on vacation?
Honestly, it was a fair question. Palm Springs isn’t exactly Cancún — well, unless you’re over 70 — but I wasn’t there to party. I was there to get out of town, to replenish my vitamin D stores, and to post up with my laptop somewhere I could wear a bikini and drink the aforementioned margarita. Because self-employed millennial living her best life.
I usually Airbnb, but since I was only staying a few days, I decided to upgrade and book a hotel. Actually, two hotels, because indecisive millennial living her best life.
My first stop was The Saguaro, a technicolor Shangri-La with a strong social media presence.
If I were Carrie Bradshaw, this is where I’d tell you my Shangri-La turned out to be Shangri-blah.
With its colorful walls, mountain views, and fleet of donut and unicorn floats, the place was made for photo ops. Unfortunately, the experience didn’t live up to the Instagram factor. The Saguaro is more budget-friendly than some, but bills itself as a luxury boutique hotel — so things like free breakfast (the hotel has two decent restaurants, but you’ll pay through the nose for your avocado toast), working bathtubs (my drain plug was broken), and water glasses (I ask you?!) would go a long way.
Context is everything. If I had booked a room for a bachelorette party or Coachella crash pad, I probably would have enjoyed the live music and poppin’ pool scene. Since this was a solo trip to work and relax, I was less than thrilled with the noisy, impersonal feel and distance from downtown. If you book here, go in with your eyes open (and your sunglasses on): this is a Best Western painted neon. Except THEY have free breakfast.
I’m glad I stayed there first, because by the time I got to Holiday House and heard the words, “Hi! Can I get you a glass of welcome rosé?” my head just about exploded.
Then I took a look around. They’re still wiping me off the patio.
I mean, I think the photos speak for themselves. The good vibes and attention to detail were unreal, right down to the pinstripe bathrobes and Malin + Goetz toiletries.
Yes, Virginia, there WAS free breakfast, complete with homemade banana bread and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. I regret to inform you that my bathroom had only a shower, bringing my grand total of Palm Springs baths to zero. But my margarita count made up the difference.
This will be a short and mostly photo-free list, because the running theme of my meals was “good food in bad lighting.” I ate simply to make the most of dat Cali produce (please see basic avocado toast pic, above), but there were a few standouts.
- Date-walnut shake at Great Shakes. Date shakes are a Palm Springs specialty, so, you know, when in Rome. The gal at the counter recommended adding walnuts to cut the sweetness, which was successful. It was also so rich I had to lie down for several hours. But it’s fine, because resilient millennial living her best life.
- Buffalo cauliflower burger at King’s Highway. This is the restaurant inside the Ace Hotel, a cheffy “roadside diner” that used to be a Denny’s. I loved this (vegan) burger, but perhaps even moreso the shoestring fries, which aren’t usually my thing. My waiter explained that they’re dusted in flour before frying, so that could explain the appeal #glutenforever. Don’t sleep on the Oaxacan Sunrise cocktail, a wonderfully smoky mezcal-honey-ancho chili-lime situation.
- Cauliflower gratin at Workshop Kitchen+Bar. Apparently I was feeling the cauliflower on this trip, but I’m feeling anything that’s swimming in brie and topped with edible flowers. The roasted Brussels sprouts with Chinese sausage were overly salty, but I wish I could have tried more of the small plates and the wood-fired pizza, which smelled like heaven. The industrial-chic space is a beaut, with high ceilings, a cozy back bar, and lots of outdoor seating (with heat lamps).
- As for my hotels, I can co-sign the avocado chicken salad at Holiday House and the nachos at The Saguaro. Also the celery-jalapeño margarita, which 100% of my Instagram pollees agreed was basically green juice and thus a fine accompaniment to breakfast.
Turns out there are a few things to do besides loaf by the pool. (Or golf, but IDFW that).
Vintage shopping. Lots of old, rich people = lots of old-rich-people treasures. The Uptown Design District on Palm Canyon Drive is lined with with antique and vintage stores, most of which housed some real gems amongst all the Lilly Pulitzer. This isn’t a bargain shopping experience — I was forced to abandon a couple of finds (among them, Dior bondage pants and a ’70s yellow Courrèges suit) due to sticker shock. My favorite stop was The Frippery, which was well-lit, well-organized, and featured a wide range of price points.
The Purple Room. Palm Springs has a robust LGBT community, and drag culture is a huge part of the nightlife there. I was lucky enough to catch a show at The Purple Room, a “supper club” with live entertainment that sells out weeks in advance. Every Sunday night, owner Michael Holmes hosts a parody of “The Judy Garland Show” featuring musical numbers and stand-up bits in character as the late, great Judy G and her contemporaries.
It turned out to be such a special, only-in-Palm-Springs experience. I was the youngest patron by at least 40 years, but I sat at the bar and buddied up to a couple of retirees who were VERY interested in the art of taking selfies. A few of the old-timey sing-alongs were lost on me, but the energy was delightful, and the 5pm dinner and 8pm curtain suited my East Coast body clock just fine. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a unique evening in Palm Springs — just be sure to book well in advance.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Exactly what it sounds like: an 8,516-foot ride up Mount San Jacinto with 360-degree views of the Coachella Valley. Straight up: This is a tourist trap. But if you (like me) love a view but don’t really need to spend to spend half your day hiking to get it, I don’t not recommend it.
The round tram car rotates so that everyone gets a front-row seat, which keeps the stress levels and sense of general human decency at a healthy level. The air is crisp. The view is nice. You know if this sounds interesting to you.
If I’d had another day, I would have taken a day trip to Joshua Tree — particularly the sound bath at the Integratron, which was out of commission during my visit. I also would have liked to visit Pioneertown, though I think it’s probably more fun with a group.
And that’s that. Good times and no sunburns were had by all. Palm Springs, thanks for being a rockin’ first stop on Best Life Tour 2018.