My Palm Springs Travel Diary
Palm Springs is my happy place! Truly, just the thought of it makes me smile. Outside of the Coachella craziness, it’s a relatively calm desert town with the most reliable weather I’ve seen in a vacation city. From April through October, visitors are all but guaranteed hot, sunny days. A word of warning: You have to be OK with intense heat — temps soared above 100 the last two times we’ve been — but, as they say, it’s a dry heat, which I do find much more bearable. When we go, I rarely leave the pool! So I actually find the heat one of the selling points.
Per several Instagram requests, I’ve compiled a quick guide on where we like to stay, where we like to eat, what we like to do and what I always pack — with the caveat that we only discovered Palm Springs *after* we became parents, so this is all quite fam friendly. Absolutely nothing in here is sponsored, nor has it been given to me for free or at any kind of discount. I just wanted to spread the PS love.
And please, do us all a favor and weigh in with your Palm Springs suggestions below in the comments. I’m already dreaming of our next trip and I would love a few new places to try!
WHERE TO STAY
For our first few visits, when our parent-to-kid ratio was a solid 2:1, we retreated to the Parker Palm Springs. It’s the most glorious #InstaBait property I’ve ever seen, a colorful, eclectic haven chock full of Jonathan Adler decor. (Scenes from our stays show here.) The grounds are meticulously designed, laid out like a secret garden with a delightful discovery around every corner. There are two pools, two restaurants, and one fantastic lemonade stand. I’ve long-coveted photographer Gray Malin’s Parker hotel series for its whimsy, capturing both the spirit of the hotel and the locale.
Since having our second son, we now rent a house with a pool. It is not much more expensive than a hotel, especially now that we are a party of four, and gives us what we need in spades: more space and a private splash pad, plus the ability to lounge in the pool while the boys nap and zero concerns about noise when they are awake! AND you can bring your own pool float and take underwater pics (more on that in the what-to-pack section below). A total win.
There are lots of options on AirBnb but we’ve always rented through Acme House Co. Acme has tons of super cute properties and its listings are packed with pics and details about the houses, so you know exactly what you are getting before you arrive. Just so you know: Palm Springs has some crazy strict home rental rules — my guess is the retirees in the area are keen to keep the partying to a minimum — but we’ve never had a problem.
WHERE TO EAT
Cheeky’s. Cheeky’s. Cheeky’s. Go to Cheeky’s! It’s open for breakfast and also serves an early lunch. We tend to roll in around 7:55am, to beat the 8am rush because it fills up fast (to be fair, they move people in and out of there quickly). It’s one of those places where you will find your favorites done exceptionally well. I love the breakfast quesadilla, Matt splits his order between the huevos rancheros or the Eggs Benedict, the latter is served on the most delicious cheddar biscuit. If bacon is your thing, do not miss Cheeky’s flight of flavors. And the homemade cold brew! Is just beyond!
You could go next door to Cheeky’s sister restaurant Birba for some upscale pizza but I prefer Bill’s Pizza a few blocks over. It’s served by the slice or a whole pie, in a very casual setting, and it’s just damn good. It also works really well for takeout, if you prefer to eat by the pool. (No judgments here!)
But back to breakfast — can you tell it’s my favorite vacation meal?! — Norma’s at the aforementioned Parker is a must, too. It’s not cheap (nothing the Parker is tbqh) but the french toast is the most indulgent thing. And, if you aren’t staying at the Parker, it’s a reason to visit and snap a few shots of the famous orange doors or the lobby for the ‘gram.
WHAT TO DO
If you can manage to pry yourself away from the pool — and truly, there is no reason to, ever, in my mind — we love The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. It’s a fantastic mix of a zoo and a desert botanical garden, with more than 1,200 acres of natural habitat. The seniors who staff the zoo (or perhaps, volunteer?) are very friendly and extremely knowledgeable. In the summer, it’s open from 8am to 1:30pm, which is perfect because it’s too hot to do anything in the afternoons. (Tickets: $20 for adults, $10 for children ages 3-12, free for ages 3 and under.)
Here’s where I will recommend something I have never done but always wanted to: the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Our visits have always landed when I’m pregnant or still nursing a young baby, so I’ve shied away from the high-altitude climb. But everyone I know who has done it says it’s absolutely gorgeous. One of these days I’ll make it up there! (Tickets: $25.95 for adults, $16.95 for children ages 3-10, free for ages 3 and under.)
Two totally free quick stops: the Palm Springs Amtrak station on the edge of town offers perfect parking for an impressive view of the windmills that dot the landscape; on the way out of town, we stop to say hello to the Cabazon dinosaurs. We’ve never ventured into the actual museum, but taking pics with the ginormous T-rex is such fun and totally worth five minutes of your time.
WHAT TO PACK
Not that many clothes! I’m serious! I always bring a suitcase full of cute, colorful pieces and I rarely wear even half of it. Instead, I recommend you use the space to bring the following:
Bathing suits (obviously!). I bring at least three so that I can have one to wear, one that’s drying from the last pool session, and a third just in case.
Sunscreen. The sunscreen headlines of late, especially while pregnant, have turned me off of chemical sunscreens in favor of physical ones. (Here’s an explainer from the WSJ about the differences between the two.) I tried a few on this trip and hands-down prefer Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc SPF 30. It has zero fragrance and minimal white residue. For my face, there’s nothing better than Elta MD UV-Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46.
Hats. Sun safety is no joke! Shade yer face! Bring options. I have this floppy straw hat from J.Crew, as well as this super simple baseball cap from Target. (It comes in three colors, I love the versatility of it in white.) For the kiddos, Sunday Afternoon makes the best full-coverage, waterproof hats for wearing in and out of the pool.
Sunglasses. I wish I was someone who experimented more with sunnies but I can’t seem to find a pair I like as much as my trusty Ray-Ban Wayfarers. And when I say I like them, I mean I love them. I have both black and brown frames.
An underwater camera. This is a little out there BUT if you are a parent who loves to capture every milestone (raises hand very enthusiastically) underwater shots are an incredible addition to the scrapbook. We have had a few versions of the GoPro Hero camera over the years and I treasure the footage we’ve captured with them. You can take still photos, too, or just export stills from the videos — the latter being impressively clear. Please excuse my indulgent family slideshow from our most-recent trip below!
Note: This post contains affiliate links