California is a favourite bucket-list destination, especially for us Brits. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit northern California, but our family has never been to the south of the sunshine state. I dream of sunny days and desert vistas, but we like to explore and be active too. The resort of Palm Springs appeals to all our wishes. I have friends in the area who have told me lots about it. Tourists are well catered for with many activities and attractions, but also the dramatic desert would be a fun new experience for us.
The Essence of Palm Springs
A century ago Palm Springs was reborn as a health resort thanks to the dry air and warmth. I find it much easier to cope with heat when it is not humid. The mountains to the west capture any local rain, but natural hot springs provide spa water to the city. From the 1920s onwards Palm Springs has attracted Hollywood royalty. It’s only a couple of hours drive from LA but it looks like a world away! I could go there to admire the villas of Palm Springs and perhaps stay in one myself.
A large part of the city gets the shade from the San Jacinto Mountain in the later part of the day, which is good planning as the summer heat is blistering. In fact, Palm Springs is a more popular destination outside the months of July and August, when temperatures can rise as high as 40 Celsius (104 F). That’s another part of its appeal for me as we are usually trying to fit our holiday destinations into the summer months. Instead, we could visit Palm Springs at a less busy time in our schedule.
The rise of Palm Springs as a health resort and retreat for the rich and famous is a familiar story for anyone who lives in a spa town. Just like my spa town home of Harrogate, the growth of the city was rapid. It attracted some of the top architects of the day. Whereas Harrogate is full of Victorian villas, Palm Springs is a mecca for fans of mid-century modern architecture. If you follow me on Pinterest you will know I have a bit of thing for mid-century design. The Californians of the 1950s and 1960s were such adventurous creators, building homes in space-age style unlike anything which had been seen before. Abandoning ranch style homes and carved verandas, instead they built big glass walls and sharply angled roofs, pushing the boundaries of shape and style. I think many of these buildings are truly stunning – atomic, even! These homes are all over the city, and some of the Hollywood stars built really eccentric ones. Even the KFC and some gas stations are design classics. As you would expect, there is a museum exhibition dedicated to mid-century modern heritage in Palm Springs.
Golf and Luxury
As a desert city, Palm Springs is blessed with hot spring water and underground aquifers. The suburban neighbourhoods are kept beautiful with abundant gardens and plants that you think wouldn’t grow in the heat. If you’re wondering how they keep over 120 golf courses so green and pleasant, the spring water is the answer. It’s a renowned golf destination and that’s probably the main reason why you’ve already heard of Palm Springs. In fact some of the courses are quite windy as the surrounding mountains make a kind of a channel for the west coast Californian air. I’ve never known a keen golfer to be put off by a breeze, though. There’s a massive wind farm outside the city which is really striking.
In so many ways Palm Springs is a luxury destination. It’s not just the beautiful weather, the beautiful buildings and the golf. The beautiful people are here too. The story goes that Hollywood movie stars had to be no more than 100 miles away from the studios in case of call-backs. They were able to build stylish secluded homes in Palm Springs and the downtown venues catered for their exclusive tastes. Many stars continue to be drawn to the city today.
Further down the valley is the home of Coachella festival which draws in crowds of beautiful people of another kind. At 25 miles distant the festival is accessible but also avoidable, if that’s what you prefer. In the same valley is Indian Wells, which you may know from the tennis tournament.
Nature and Landscape
Also within an hour’s drive is Joshua Tree national park. As the crow flies it’s not far but you have to get around the mountains to drive there. This sounds like a beautiful route to me, ending in one of the USA’s most iconic national parks. Regular readers will I love good photo opportunities and the natural setting in this whole area would keep me really busy. Joshua Tree is a desert park which is famous for its greenery. I find that contradiction is appealing. However it’s a harsh environment with rattlesnakes and no water or cell phone service, so no doubt I’d be glad to get back to Palm Springs.
To fully appreciate the beautiful setting I would not want to miss a trip on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s the largest rotating cable car in the world, and takes passengers up over 8500 feet in ten minutes. I’m sure it’s breath-taking. I love the fact it rotates, giving everyone on board a chance to see all the views. At the top are two restaurants, a museum and plenty of hikes. It’s also far cooler than the valley floor below. By all accounts we will need the right footwear for snow!
More Family Travel Tips
Older children might like a round of golf but the whole family may enjoy mini golf at Boomers Park – I know we would! Cool down at the Wet n Wild Water Park or perhaps visit the Living Desert Zoo. There’s a Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert too and an Air Museum. Downtown restaurants cater for all tastes after a long day relaxing by one of Palm Springs hundreds of pools.
Is Palm Springs on your travel wishlist? Let me know in the comments!