The first thing you’ll notice is the brightness. You’ll instantly reach for your sunglasses when you step off the plane into the warm, open-air arrival terminal. Looking up, there’s just something about a palm tree against a blue sky. Welcome to Palm Springs, California.
If Vancouver’s perpetual rainy, dark and grey weather of early 2016 has you in a SAD state, Palm Springs is your quickest escape from seasonal affective disorder to practically guaranteed sunshine. It’s closer than Mexico, cheaper than Hawaii, and warmer than LA. Granted, there’s no ocean, but there’s a city full of swimming pools, and it’s dangerously easy to do nothing but completely relax in the desert heat.
In the past few years, thanks to popular events like Palm Springs International Film Festival (January), Modernism Week (February), and the Coachella Music Festival (April), Palm Springs is… actually cool again. The town that for years has been a seniors’ paradise has undergone a renaissance boom of mid-century modern retro appreciation, and that ultra-hip, mostly orange presence is just about everywhere you look, including the ever-emerging scene of outdoor restaurants and swank hotels.
For food lovers, there are plenty of scrumptious eateries at a variety of price points to satiate your cravings between pool dips. Here’s a few gastro tips for your next jaunt to the “Garden of the Sun” (one thing to realize: unlike most cities on Planet Earth, some of the best dining in Palm Springs can be found at the hotels).
Cheeky’s is by far the best brunch spot in town. They offer an actual flight of bacon (five different flavours for $5) as well as insanely excellent, best-ever, corn-infused buttermilk pancakes. Don’t be scared off by the long line up out front. The wait is worth it.
Ernest Coffee is a tiny new cafe in the uptown design district that has a Vancouver feel, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find out the owner is Canadian. Great service, kid-friendly, and one of the only places in town serving Stumptown Coffee. My wife visited almost daily for the latte.
The Ace Hotel is a fun place to stay if you’re under 45 and don’t want to break the bank. It’s also practically a one-stop shop if you didn’t rent a car. Their large restaurant (a converted Denny’s) is an easy spot to drop into for lunch, there’s always a table available, the food is generally good, and breakfast is served until 3pm. Be sure to take a voyeuristic gawk around the Ace’s hipster pool scene in the inner courtyard after your meal, too (kid-friendly, despite nefarious pool activities).
Clean yourself up and check out the Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, an ultra-Western-chic boutique heritage hotel of just 20 rooms. The open-air, poolside barn offers fresh sandwiches, salads, and small bites until 6pm in a ridiculously relaxing atmosphere (21 and over).
For a casual, fun night, the totally authentic, surprisingly non-tacky Tonga Hut is a Polynesian breeze on “Taco Tuesday”: three delicious, hard shell, “tiki-themed” pork, fish, or chicken tacos served with a beautiful Mai Tai, all for just $12. For the upscale and very tacky, you cannot beat the Rat Pack time warp that is Melvyn’s. People-watching to the extreme!
After dark, Ernest Coffee adds to the mid-century tiki theme by lighting the torches of the Bootlegger, their miniature, backroom, hole-in-the-wall bar located behind the cafe. Really cheap, local beer and great cocktails in a room that seats maybe 20 people. Canadian-owned!
If you can weather the exchange rate, Palm Springs could be your direct ticket to blue skies, good food, and total leisure, because, like I said, there’s just something about a palm tree against a bright, blue sky.
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