Weekenders: 72 Hours in Palm Springs

Midcentury architecture and the stunning Sonoran Desert, just 100 miles east of Hollywood.

By Chaney Kwak

Long before Angelenos began flocking here for weekend pool parties, before midcentury modern architecture came back into vogue at the turn of the new millennium, and even before the likes of Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe put Palm Springs on the map, the Agua Caliente people settled in this corner of Southern California for its abundant underground water and spectacular landscape. Today, major events such as the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament lure visitors from around the world. With so much to offer, there’s no shortage of ways to spend a long weekend here. Read on for a fun-filled three-day itinerary packed with charming places to eat, hike and explore.

Day 1: Architecture and Views

Kick off the morning at the Ace Hotel’s King’s Highway, a former Denny’s updated with leather banquettes and a globally inspired menu—nitro cold brew coffee, jicama salad and a bowl of toasted farro with a poached egg, anyone?

For a glimpse of the city’s past and present, you can meet up with Kurt Cyr, who leads intimate Mod Squad Architecture & Design Tours that start from the Saguaro Palm Springs Hotel. A trained designer and man-about-town, Cyr drives guests around Palm Springs to show off iconic structures created by pioneering luminaries such as Albert Frey and Donald Wexler.

Decked out completely in white with splashes of bright pink, Eight4Nine is a trendy yet welcoming eatery where you can rub shoulders with fashionable locals at the long counter over angus burgers served on buttery brioche buns. Stop by for lunch after your tour, or save your visit for the $46* prix fixe dinner, which changes seasonally.

The glass-enclosed capsule of the Aerial Tramway slowly spins 360 degrees as it ascends to 8,516 feet above sea level. The reward for braving the steepest vertical cable ride in the U.S.? A panorama that stretches from the glittering Salton Sea to the imposing peak of Mt. San Gorgonio.

Back in downtown Palm Springs, the wood-fired pizza at Birba makes a fortifying meal before you bundle up for an astronomy expedition with Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours. In the surreal landscape of the Serpentine Canyon, the only sound you’ll hear is the wind piping between the spectacular dunes, mesas and oases as you gaze up at the constellation-studded sky.

Day 2: Nature and Art

If you show up promptly at 8 a.m., you’re likely to snap up one of the much-coveted tables at Cheeky’s for some thyme waffles and parsnip latkes (the restaurant is also known to serve flights of bacon in flavors like apple cinnamon or Thai red chili). Walk it off with window-shopping around the uptown Palm Springs design district. In cooler months, there’s an unspoken competition among locals to see who can come up with the loudest jackets, and you’ll see them in shops like Mr. Turk in all their rainbow glory. Drop by Just Modern for its vintage and mod-inspired home accessories, and Christopher Anthony for one-of-a-kind objects d’art.

Nearby, the light-filled atrium of the Palm Springs Art Museum houses an intimate collection of contemporary pieces by Anish Kapoor, Dale Chihuly and Judy Chicago, among others, as well as modernist furniture. A quick drive out to the assortment of upstart galleries at the Backstreet Art District puts you in touch with the vibrant local art scene of today.

Joshua Tree National Park, just an hour’s drive from downtown Palm Springs, beckons—but first consider making a detour to Pioneertown, 16 miles northwest of the park. Its dusty main street is lined with hitching posts, an abandoned saloon and other wooden structures that seem straight out of an old Western film, which is fitting given that this unincorporated community began as a cowboy film set in the 1940s. Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace hosts lively concerts on many evenings, but it’s also a buzzy lunch spot where you can chow down on chili nachos and juicy burgers as well as lighter options like kale salad.

Whether you’re a casual hiker or a pro rock climber scaling its many boulders, you’ll feel serene as you explore the geological and horticultural oddities of Joshua Tree National Park. One highlight: walking among the spiky plants of the Cholla Cactus Garden in the heart of the park at dusk and gazing out at the rippling slopes of the surrounding mountains.

Wind down your packed day at Mr. Lyons, a steakhouse with old-school touches like Edison bulbs in old sconces, and indulge in some Wagyu steak. Across the street at the 21-seat Dead or Alive, you can have a quiet tête-à-tête over draft stout or a glass of rosé from the thoughtfully composed menu.

Day 3: Shopping and Beyond

After a jolt of caffeine from the popular hangout Koffi, consider channeling your inner pioneer by surveying the oases-sprinkled ravines of Indian Canyons on horseback. Smoke Tree Stables offers guided riding tours for people of all abilities, whether you’re a skilled equestrian or a novice. The well-trained horses strut up and down the hilly terrain, allowing you to see the landscape from various vantage points.

Afterward, freshen up because you’re heading east to the greater Palm Springs area’s ritzy communities, such as tennis-pilgrimage destination Indian Wells, that are strung along Highway 111. In Palm Desert, popular shopping district El Paseo sparkles with its upscale boutiques. This is where you can brunch every day of the week on homemade strawberry toaster pastries or signature griddled meatloaf at Wilma & Frieda.

You’re unlikely to encounter wildlife in this neck of the woods anymore, but at The Living Desert zoo the whole family can spot native creatures, including coyotes and golden eagles, from a safe distance. Also on view are African transplants such as gazelles, camels and giraffes.

Sunnylands, a 200-acre estate that once belonged to the prominent Annenberg family, is open to the public for free. You can saunter about its impeccably manicured gardens and green labyrinths, or reserve a tour of the house, designed by midcentury modern visionary A. Quincy Jones and decorated with Impressionist art. It has hosted many celebrities and heads of state over the years—and here you too can feel like one.

EAT
Birba

622 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-327-5678; birbaps.com; dinner for two, $60

Cheeky’s

622 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-327-7595; cheekysps.com; breakfast for two, $30

Dead or Alive

150 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 385-645-3323; deadoralivebar.com; drinks for two, $18

Eight4Nine

849 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-325-8490; eight4nine.com; dinner for two, $80

King’s Highway

701 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-325-9900; acehotel.com; breakfast for two, $25

Koffi

1700 S. Camino Real; 760-322-7776; kofficoffee.com; pastries, from $5

Mr. Lyons

233 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-327-1551; mrlyonsps.com; dinner for two, $100

Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

53688 Pioneertown Rd.; 760-365-5956; pappyandharriets.com; lunch for two, $30

Wilma & Frieda

73575 El Paseo, Palm Desert; 760-773-2807; wilmafrieda.com; brunch for two, $40

EXPLORE
Aerial Tramway

1 Tram Way; 888-515-8726; pstramway.com; adults, $26; children, $17

Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours

760-324-5337; red-jeep.com; tours, from $135 a group

Joshua Tree National Park

760-367-5500; nps.gov; admission, $20 per vehicle; walk-ins, $10

The Living Desert

760-346-5694; livingdesert.org; adults, $20; children, $10

Mod Squad Architecture & Design Tours

psmodsquad.com; 90-minute tours, from $60 a group

Palm Springs Art Museum

760-322-4800; psmuseum.org; adults, $12.50; children, free

Smoke Tree Stables

2500 S. Toledo Ave.; 760-327-1372; smoketreestables.com; one-hour trail rides, from $50 a person

Sunnylands

37977 Bob Hope Dr., Rancho Mirage; 760-202-2222; sunnylands.org; free admission; guided house tours, $45 a person

SHOP
Backstreet Art District

2600 S. Cherokee Way; 760-328-4144; backstreetartdistrict.com

Christopher Anthony

803 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-322-0600; christopheranthonyltd.com

Just Modern

901 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-322-5600; justmoderndecor.com

Mr. Turk

891 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-416-2856; mrturk.com

STAY
RCI® affiliated resorts in Palm Springs include:
Club Trinidad 1096

Enjoy entertainment seven nights a week at this family-friendly resort. 1900 E. Palm Canyon Dr.
Member Review: “Recently renovated, and the staff was wonderful.”

Palm Springs Tennis Club 0508

Nestled at the base of San Jacinto peak and surrounded by canyons and offering three pools. 701 W. Baristo Rd.
Member Review: “Loved the proximity to shopping and downtown.”

The Plaza Resort and Spa 2524

Situated on a golf course with wellness as a focus and with tennis and basketball courts on-site. 2601 Golf Club Dr.
Member Review: “Well-furnished, comfortable units.”

Vista Mirage Resort 2501

Contemporary garden landscaping and nearly 1,200 acres of scenic trails. 1400 S. Hermosa Dr.
Member Review: “Exceptional pool area.”

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Other Vacation Options
Ace Hotel & Swim Club

The whimsical 176-room property combines vintage kitsch with millennial cool. 701 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-325-9900; acehotel.com; doubles from $265

California Cosmopolitan

The patio of this modern five-room spread offers a fireplace and canyon views. 247 Neutra St.; 760-993-3043; vacationpalmsprings.com; from $699 a night, sleeps 10

Iconic Palm Springs

Poolside midcentury-style property with three rooms, a 10-person hot tub and a backyard with fruit trees. 2191 E. Park Dr.; 760-993-3043; vacationpalmsprings.com; from $566 a night, sleeps six

V Palm Springs

Rooms equipped with a balcony or a patio surround a V-shaped pool with a backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains. 333 E. Palm Canyon Dr.; 760-327-1211; vpalmsprings.com; doubles from $120 a night

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Spring 2017