Surrounded by chocolate-colored mountains and frequently referred to simply as “the desert,” the Coachella Valley sits on the San Andreas Fault, has one California’s largest lakes, the Salton Sea, and is an extension of the Sonoran Desert.
Nine cities make up the 45-mile stretch of the valley that annually attracts more than 4 million visitors from around the globe. They come for the sunshine and to attend events such as Coachella Fest, Palm Springs International Film Festival, BNP Paribas Open and the Humana Challenge.
More commonly known to travelers as the Palm Springs area, this was once a playground for the rich and famous, home to celebrities including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. Today anyone looking for an escape from their personal reality can experience the opulence of a region whose streets are named for presidents and movie stars.
Boasting average temperatures in the ’70s from November to February, our first stop is:
Lendary for its nightlife, Palm Springs keeps its reputation alive for partiers of all ages.
For the hip-hop 20-something, DJ crowd, Zelda’s Nightclub is the place. For beer, sports and karaoke try the Village Pub in the middle of downtown on Palm Canyon Drive.
Searching for dinner, dancing and a reason to dress? There is only one place: Melvyn’s Ingleside Inn. Famous for celebrity sightings, you never know who might be seated behind the piano at this locals hangout favored by the over-50 crowd.
Restaurants are everywhere in Palm Springs, and dining al fresco is popular. After dinner, a stroll down Palm Canyon is a great way to explore the art galleries and boutiques and meet its newest celebrity resident—Marilyn Monroe. The impressive 26-foot “Forever Marilyn” statue recently was moved here from Chicago.
Another must is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which boasts the world’s largest rotating tram cars. The weather at the top (elevation 8,516 feet) is about 30 degrees cooler, and the views of the valley are stunning.
Back on the desert floor, lodging is available in every price range. If it’s memorable you’re looking for, try the Riviera Palm Springs Resort and Spa, newly remodeled with an ultra chic/art deco vibe.
Driving east on historic Highway 111 you’ll pass through Cathedral City. If the kids are in tow or you’re a kid at heart, consider a family-friendly afternoon at Boomers for miniature golf, race cars, rock climbing and video games.
In Rancho Mirage, former home of President Gerald Ford, crooner Frank Sinatra and billionaire Walter Annenberg, the River is the coolest hot spot, featuring a movie theater, restaurants and name-brand shops. Coming soon is the trendy Forever 21 clothing store, which you can visit after you’ve had ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s or a brew at the Yard House.
There are five casinos in the valley, three with hotels including the valley’s newest, Agua Caliente Casino Hotel and Spa. The rooms are comfortable and modern. The casino offers table games, entertainment, dancing and fine dining.
This city is chock-full of surprises. El Paseo is the Rodeo Drive of the desert, offering everything from Escada to Tiffany’s to an Apple store. With coffee shops on every corner, the people watching is fun, especially if you never tire of seeing Bentleys and Rolls Royces used for running errands.
The Living Desert is a win-win for all ages. Giraffes, zebras and a host of animals roam freely in specially designed habitats. The J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort is the ultimate in mega-resort.
Continuing east through Bermuda Dunes and Indian Wells, the landscape becomes a sea of gated communities. Many a visitor has purchased a home in this area after only one visit.
Cruising into La Quinta, you might notice the architecture subtly changes to a Spanish design, but the real DNA of this place is golf.
Home of the Humana Challenge, golf reigns supreme in this city. Nestled against the mountains is the La Quinta Resort & Club.
For some of the best food in town, whether you golf or gulp, Arnold Palmer’s Restaurant is the place. Palmer is an owner and frequent diner. The display of the veteran player’s memorabilia is so immense, it may take more than one trip to absorb.
Known as the City of Festivals, Indio is home to Coachella Fest, Stage Coach, Tamale Festival and the Riverside County Date Festival. Even though the festivals never cease, this is a community of hard-working families. Not known for glamorous lodging, Indio offers the budget-conscious many options.
Don’t miss the chance to screen “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date,” a movie perhaps not award-worthy but a lot of fun and always showing at the historic Shield’s Date Garden.
Desert Hot Springs
Desert Hot Springs is spa central thanks to the natural hot mineral waters that give the city its name. The waters are attributed with healing powers, and the resort choices plentiful—whether you prefer everyone to remain fully clothed or consider outer wrap optional.
Two Bunch Palms is a rare Quiet Zone resort. Resort policy bans cell phones in public areas, no loud parties or screaming children by the pool. Behind its gates, the peace and quiet is astounding, and the relaxing comes in the steaming mineral water grottos or mud baths.
Two Bunch Palms was discovered by Al Capone who used the exclusive resort when hiding from the law.
Come in via Palm Springs International Airport or Amtrak bus service or drive: The drive to Palm Springs is about two hours from Los Angeles or San Diego, four hours from Las Vegas or Phoenix.