Palm Springs – where do I start?
To me, Palm Springs sounds like a made up place. A place they only talk about on American TV shows, where the famous holiday around the time of Coachella and a place I never envisaged I’d wake up in on Christmas morning 2016. I’m fully aware how suburban-British I’m making myself sound, but you’ve all been there right? A place you’ve never really thought about visiting before because (it appears) so far out of your sphere – somewhere that intimidates with it’s reputation yet equally, doesn’t stand out as a must visit when browsing holidays. So how did we end up waking up in a 1950s motel-come-hotel on 25th December last year? Initially, my sister planted the seed. She suggested we visit a friend of hers when we were in California who was holidaying in Palm Springs with her family. Later, her plans changed but Palm Springs had got me hooked – I’d read a little about the area online and it jumped straight off screen at me. Mid century architecture, old Hollywood history – a town almost preserved in it’s past. I was too keen to pass up and made the decision that Sam and I would visit for a few days during our trip.
We travelled to Palm Springs, which is inland around 1hr40 from Laguna Beach (for the background on why we were in California, read my first post here!). We hired a car and drove on the, quite frankly, terrifying freeway to the desert. The weather was against us, and I was so disappointed to see it was just as overcast in Palm Springs as it was on the coast – especially as our hotel had a pool. I’d booked us into the Skylark Hotel. Uptown, in the design district, it’s claim to fame was a visit from Marilyn Monroe in her heydey. I’d trawled accomodation online – everything from Air BnBs to motels and hotels, and this one ticked my two requirements – our budget, and a well preserved 1950s decor. To you and I, I’d say it had a motel set up, with rooms opening straight onto the balcony that overlooked the pool. Bright colours, huge palms – and best yet, the owner gave us the best room in the place, looking straight over the mountains. If you’re ever headed to Palm Springs, although I’m aware there are plenty of accomodation options, I couldn’t recommend Skylark enough! Our room was huge with a lovely bathroom. I was blown away by our view – in general the scenery in Palm Springs was amazing, with the snow capped moutains overlooking the desert.
On our first night, we arrived in the dark and took a drive downtown to find something for dinner. We kept it lowkey and were in bed before long, excited for our only full day in Palm Springs. The next morning, I spent some time compiling a list of what our day would include. We started with coffee in the design district, and mooched around a few shops getting some last minute Christmas gifts for the next day. The town seemed sleepy, but most stores were open, as you’d expect in the USA on Christmas Eve and the sun was showing it’s face intermittently. Not long after, we jumped in the car and headed to a downtown neighbourhood I’d read about. The must-see area for some really cool mid-century architecture, and if you’re an Insta-nerd, the pink door. There was something about that area of town that really stands out to me as a trip highlight – we must’ve spent less than ten minutes there, but it’s almost eery quietness and film set-like buildings was like nothing I’d seen before.
Sam wanted to see Frank Sinatra’s grave, so after that we drove to the next town to visit it. I was more intrigued by the set up of American cemetries, and how grand their veteran’s memorial was. After a brief stop, it was time for lunch and we opted for a classic In’n’Out burger, followed by a stroll around a local strip mall to finish up our gift buying. I just enjoyed driving around this area – the vast roads, the mountains, the open desert space, the palms – the amusing street names. I felt very comfortable with Palm Springs laid back way of life. Our plan was to head up the Aerial Tramway around 4pm, which is something I’d read about upfront and had recommended to us by our hosts in Laguna, but sadly the wait was up to 4 hours. The feeling of disappointment soon subsided when they told us it was infact open on Chrismas Day, and we swiftly made plans to be back there for 8am the next morning. You can read about the tramway here, but effectively it’s a rotating cable car up Mount San Jacinto. Definitely a different way to spend Christmas morning!
That night, we booked into a restaurant called Birba which is an Italian and known as a top pizza place in town. I found it via this site, which gives you some other awesome eating recommendations. We wanted to try them all! We booked because it was Christmas Eve, but I think I’d still recommend it at other times too – Palm Springs can be a little bit trendy and I think it’s safe to get what you want. I didn’t realise it was an outdoor restaurant, but the heaters helped in the cold desert air! We had probably one of the best meals we had in California – just a simple pizza/pasta sharer, before heading over the road for some ice cream.
The next morning was Christmas Day and we were up early to check out and head up the mountain. We layered up but most definitely looked like the daft tourists amongst the locals who were kitted out for their Christmas ritual of sledging. Our plan was just to travel up and take in the view, which we did and really enjoyed. It’s really worth doing and was so cool to finally see snow on Christmas Day! Admittedly, it was freezing and we soon hurried down again but a worthwhile trip if you ever head to Palm Springs. After a short breakfast, we jumped in the car to head back to the coast.