Going to Coachella? Lucky you! One of the world’s best music festivals, it not only draws an unbeatable line-up of artists but is held in the crazy photogenic California desert town of Indio, where tall palm trees sway against a backdrop of mountains.
It’s also just a 40-minute drive outside Palm Springs, a small city long loved by celebrities who come from Hollywood to spend the weekend amongst the retro homes, hip hotels with stylish pool clubs, and mix of outdoor activities and art scene.
You’ve come so far, so before or after Coachella be sure to dedicate a few days of your trip to hanging out in Palm Springs. Here are the things you can’t not do.
Art in the desert
This year for the first time, an outdoor art exhibition made up of installations in the desert around Palm Springs is happening to coincide with Coachella. It’s called Desert X, and from now until the end of April you can see one-of-a-kind, large-scale works that will take your Instagram game next-level. The Circle of the Land and Sky by Phillip K. Smith, for example, is a series of mirrored poles arranged in the sand, and is probably the closest thing you’ll ever experience to stumbling upon a spaceship. For a map and information on taking a self-tour of the installations, visit desertx.org.
It’s not called Palm Springs for nothing. Drive about 30 minutes out of the city centre to Desert Springs, an area where spouts of hot, mineral-rich water bubbling to the surface have been turned into day spas. The best is undoubtedly Two Bunch Palms, where you’re given a white robe and free reign to soak in the various pools shaded by palm tree leaves. You can also treat yo’ self to a massage. For more info, check out Two Bunch Palms.
With its landscape of unusual rock formations and the strange, distinctive trees it’s named after, Joshua Tree National Park makes you feel like you’ve landed on Mars. At more than 800,000 acres, exploring for a few days with a camper van is the best way to experience Joshua Tree, but you can still visit if you only have one full day to spare. Don’t miss the Cholla Cactus Garden, or the six-kilometre-round-trip hike to Ryan Mountain, which provides a stunning view of Pleasant Valley from the summit. Stay until sunset if you can; the colours of the desert are mind-blowing and once night falls it’s an incredible spot for star-gazing.
Palm Springs is famous for its unique architecture, which is a result of wealthy Los Angelinos building holiday homes there in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, designed by forward-thinking architects that created houses inspired by the desert landscape. See some of the city’s most beautiful properties on a tour with Palm Springs Mod Squad. You’ll be driven around to see gems you’d never find on your own, and the homes of Hollywood icons including Frank Sinatra.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
If your legs are weary from days of dancing at Coachella, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the easiest way to get an incredible view of the city and the desert stretching out surrounding it. It’s basically a cable car with floor-to-ceiling windows (the largest of its kind in the world) that travels four kilometres from its base just outside Palm Springs up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park, where at the top you’ll find incredible views, hiking trails, shops and restaurants. But the best bit is the journey up, where you can spot wildlife in the mountains as you glide past. Not for those afraid of heights or anyone anxious about essentially dangling from the sky in a fishbowl.
Where to eat
For a literal taste of old Hollywood grab dinner at Mr Lyons Steakhouse, where you’ll feel like a member of the Rat Pack tucking into steak, fries, mac and cheese and other American staples in a green velvet booth (arrive early and have a drink in the secret bar before dinner, ask a staff member to show you the way). Another historic spot in Melvyn's, which was a favourite of Frank Sinatra’s back in the day, and offers a level of old-school professional service it’s hard to find these days. For a more modern feast, you can’t go past the tasty share plates at Workshop Kitchen + Bar. The award for best affordable eat must go to Elmer's, a classic American diner, or Frankinbun, with its gourmet take on hotdogs, sausages and currywurst.
Where to stay
The most essential thing for your Palm Springs digs to have is a cool pool: you need somewhere to cool off from the desert heat. Properties that meet the criteria are V Palm Springs, which has recently renovated rooms and a large pool area with upbeat music pumping most of the time, The Saguaro, which is an Instagram dream with its blindingly colourful buildings, and The Ace Hotel and Swim Club, a hipster-magnet with arguably the best facilities in town: the Feel Good Spa, Amigo Room bar and King’s Highway restaurant, a modern take on the American diner with craft beers and cocktails.
To plan your trip go to Visit Greater Palm Springs