Checking out the Coachella Valley
Palm Springs, California
When I tell strangers that I grew up in Palm Springs, they usually exclaim, “People actually grow up in Palm Springs?!” I think Palm Springs conjures up images of old biddies driving whale-sized Cadillacs and white haired men swinging clubs on the golf course. Don’t get me wrong, I saw plenty of that growing up, and “Desert Rats” (as we are called) will be the first to joke about getting stuck behind a grandma going 20mph with a license plate that reads, “I’d rather be golfing.” But Palm Springs has a lot to offer beyond golf and spa treatments (although if that’s what you’re looking for, trust me, you couldn’t find a better place!)
Palm Springs is part of the Coachella Valley, a desert valley consisting of 8 cities about 2 hours east of Lost Angeles. “The Desert” as it is known, extends about 45 miles, and many of its attractions actually lie outside of Palm Springs. We enjoy about 350 days of sunshine per year (don’t be too jealous – summer temperatures can get up to 120 degrees!), making it a popular destination during the winter months. Palm Springs was made famous in the 1930s when Hollywood stars (including Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Elvis) began buying property in the desert to escape Los Angeles.
Today, much of the old school glamour of Palm Springs has faded, while other Desert cities are thriving. There are many things to see and do in the Coachella Valley, from lying poolside to soaring in a hot air balloon at sunrise.
Out and About:
- The Coachella Valley is expanding at a rapid pace, and one of its newest additions is The River shopping center. You can find everything here, from a restaurant that boasts 150 beers on tap, to specialty boutiques. The Cheesecake Factory was recently built in the heart of The River, and you can enjoy indoor air-conditioning at a state-of-the-art movie theater. There is also Ulta, a beauty-supply store that seems to be a less expensive version of Sephora, and an enormous Barnes and Noble. The River is usually packed with people shopping, going out to eat, or catching a movie, which makes it a prime spot for people watching.
- Hiking is a popular activity in the Coachella Valley, and there is not a more beautiful spot than the Indian Canyons. Trail difficulty varies, but most people seem to enjoy just walking among palm trees and waterfalls, enjoying gorgeous views of the rocky gorges and desert. Admission fees are $8 for adults and $6 for students.
- El Paseo is a palm-tree-lined street modeled after LA’s Rodeo Drive in the city of Palm Desert. You will find designer shops like Escada and St. John, as well as Saks Fifth Avenue, but the outdoor shopping center The Gardens also has more credit card friendly stores like Banana Republic and Ann Taylor Loft. There are plenty of high-end salons, cafes, restaurants and art galleries as well.
- If you have the cash, I strongly recommend embarking on a jeep tour of the desert. Desert Adventures is the best known, and they offer incredible tours to places like the San Andreas Fault, Joshua Tree National Park and Mystery Canyon (a spot where you can see tectonic collisions and the eerie Salton Sea – the 2nd largest inland body of water in the United States). Prices run from $75-$150 but are well-worth it – there is not a better way to see the beauty of the desert and learn about its geography and history.
- There seem to be more fabulous restaurants and spas in the Coachella Valley than there are people. Naming them all would require a separate article, but a few of my favorites include Omri and Boni (a stylish space with mouth-watering food), Roy’s (sophisticated Hawaiian food) and Keedy’s (an old-fashioned diner with real character). If you’re looking for both things in one place, I recommend visiting the Marriott Desert Springs, a place where you can enjoy a pelethora of spa treatments and then take a boat ride through the lobby’s lake and outside to an array of restaurants (Tuscany has fabulous Italian food and Mikado is the best for Japanese).
Festivals and Events
- Coachella is a music festival that began in the late 1990s and has become immensely popular, featuring bands like Depeche Mode, Beck, Foo Fighters and Oasis, to name a few. The festival takes place in April, in the city of Coachella (an expanse of desert with little surrounding it) and has been recognized by Rolling Stone as one of the premier music events.
- Only the Coachella Valley could feature an event called the Date Festival, seeing as the Palm Springs area is responsible for 95% of the nation’s crop. The Date Festival is a big deal, with more than 7000 exhibits and competitions related to the fruit. It has grown to feature musicians and comedians, a Date Festival Queen and her court, monster trucks and bull-riding. To seep up the culture of the Coachella Valley, be sure to attend the Date Festival.
- The Coachella Valley also hosts numerous sports events, like the Skins Game in November and the Pacific Life Open, which is held in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden (the 2nd largest tennis stadium in the world). Don’t be surprised to see big stars like Jack Nicklaus or Serena Williams hanging out in the desert.
The Coachella Valley is an amazing place to visit, as it accommodates any type of trip you are searching for – and if you manage for a longer stay, Palm Springs is only hours from places like San Diego, LA or Las Vegas.