Getting outside of the bubble was the mission for our recent road trip to Palm Springs. A change of surroundings was just the thing needed after a very busy summer. And with warm weather and relaxation only a little over a hundred miles away, an oasis in the desert made the perfect getaway. Visiting Palm Springs in the fall or winter is perfect. The weather is warm but mild and you might even see some snow on top of the surrounding San Jacinto Mountains.
For those who may be thinking of Palm Springs as a sleepy desert retirement town with nothing but golf, tennis and palm trees, well yes that’s here, but it’s also a bustling town with lively community events, local attractions that connect us with nature, the arts, history, incredible shopping, and lots of phenomenal dining experiences.
A trip to Palm Springs would not be complete without visiting the past. Mid-century modern architecture is all around town and there are plenty of ways to explore and be transported back to a time when Dean and Frank were playing in the desert in their heyday.
We were lucky enough to get a room at the Orbit In – a charming and lovingly restored hotel with nine rooms all overlooking the pool courtyard, complete with vintage patio lounges and a terrazzo bar serving up wine cocktails every evening at 5pm. Owners Kevin and Jinny are the caretakers of this blast from the past hotel which makes it truly feel like a getaway.
If you’re a fan of retro, mid-century modern architecture, Shag or Tikiana, you’ve got to experience the Orbit In. The caretakers have paid attention to every detail to make your experience just as it would be in the 50s.
We stayed in the Leopard Lounge which did not disappoint. The room’s vintage modern decor with a splash of leopard print made us feel right at home and the modern clocks, original to the building, were still ticking.
We delighted over a charming throwback period kitchenette in the room, complete with plasticine “mallo” dishware. And remember those pink tiles that your mom or grandma had in her bathroom? Yep, they’re here too which completed the entire experience – perfectly authentic and wonderful.
Another highlight at the Orbit In is their record collection in the hotel lobby. Pull a record and play it on your very own vintage record player in your room. Today, we all have tons of music at our fingertips through cell phone technology, but there was something magical about putting vinyl on that turntable and spending a few hours listening to music we never would have discovered before.
We didn’t even have the urge to watch TV once during our getaway. Now that’s the sign of a good vacation and a great hotel!
While we sipped a signature ‘Orbitini’ cocktail served up by a charming era-dressed hostess in pin curls, who could have walked right out of a magazine ad from the 50s, we enjoyed hearing the soft jazzy tunes of the Rat Pack playing in the background, accompanied by lively conversation with guests. Many were staying here as return guests, making their trip to Palm Springs a yearly tradition. Others were first-time visitors from Europe, here to enjoy the beautiful desert in California.
On our second day, we boarded the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Much improved from our first experience years ago when the tram cars were much smaller, today the tram turns 360 degrees to show the entire scope of beauty as you glide 8,000 feet up to the top of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Working up an appetite from jumping around on rocks for a while and taking some incredible photos, we enjoyed lunch at Peaks Restaurant. The restaurant offers a hearty menu and a magnificent view of the entire desert below. We could even see the Salton Sea some 50 miles away.
The tram ride is pleasant but not for the faint of heart. If you have height sensitivities, you may need to hold the hand of a good friend, but it’s worth the trip to see the beauty and appreciate the grounds of this incredible monument. Just know that it is much cooler at the top so plan accordingly.
Back on the ground, we decided to enjoy VillageFest later that afternoon. It’s a street fair with 200 booths open every Thursday during the fall and winter from 6pm to 10pm. They close the main street in town, so you can stroll and peruse a diverse array of goods from local artisans, fresh produce and flower purveyors and savor delectable treats, all set to music. It’s a great way to enjoy the community and connect with locals and other tourists.
MORE TO DO
With a thriving arts community and the history of the local area being a playground for Hollywood since the 1920s, there’s a lot to see and do. There are also several Mid-Mod (Mid-Century Modern) architecture tours through local providers and the Historical Society, but we opted for a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center. Set in the 60s-modern architectural style, this historical bank building now houses many art exhibits.
During this season, we enjoyed an exhibit featuring modern furniture created by renowned designers Charles & Ray Eames. The modern architecture of the bank building is still intact. The original black and white terrazzo floors have been fully restored to preserve its unique character and nostalgia, and you can even see the old window that once received deposits through pneumatic tubes from the drive-thru back in the day. The museum stays open until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays, so you can visit while you enjoy VillageFest or walk in the warm night air after having a meal downtown.
There are lots of options for amazing food in Palm Springs and we chose Johannes Restaurant. Austrianborn Chef Johannes Bacher has created a European-inspired menu crafted for the American palette. We started with a pre-dinner cocktail which included a perfectly balanced Sazerac (Rye Whiskey, Sugar, Absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters, Lemon Zest) accompanied by the Ahi Tuna & Avocado Tartar appetizer. The perfect prelude to an amazing entrée.
Known for its Weiner Schnitzel, we tried the caper lemon variation suggested by our waiter and the Roast Braten accompanied by a perfect Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It should be noted that the wine list at Johannes is very impressive; a clear nod to a talented chef who knows the importance of having good wine to complement any meal on the menu.
For most of the trip, we did not need a car. We walked, biked or we took an Uber everywhere.
The Orbit In has bikes that you can borrow and most destinations throughout the Downtown area are a very easy walk.
The city also offers a free shuttle service called Buzz, so if you’ve had a cocktail or two or you need a break from walking, you can pick up a trolley at any one of their 30+ stops throughout the city every 15 minutes.
Just one weekend a year isn’t enough time in this resort town. Like many of our fellow travelers on this trip, we found that there is always something new to discover in local art, cuisine, architecture and history, and cultural events.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to Palm Springs or if you were only here for Desert Trip, you probably need to schedule another getaway. Come back and enjoy a stay at a retro hotel and keep your eyes open for fun new experiences outside of the bubble.
Visits the following resources to plan your next trip to Palm Springs:
Orbit In Hotel Palm Springs
Palm Springs Aerial Tram
Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Springs VillageFest
Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism
Palm Springs Buzz Trolley