It’s the Perfect Time to Have A Mid-Century Modern Moment in Palm Springs (2024)

  • Los Angeles
  • Lifestyle
  • Deserts

Winter is the sweet spot out in the desert, when the weather is just right for vintage browsing, hiking, architecture tours, and poolside drinks.

By

Keisha Raines, and Ben Mesirow

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Welcome toTwo Days Away, our series featuring weekend-long itineraries within a five-hour drive of your city—because sometimes we all just need a little adventure fix.

Everyone on your social feeds may be posting snowboard videos and cozy après-ski co*cktail pics, but if you’re looking for a quick getaway in Southern California right now, you can also head the opposite direction—now is the perfect time to visit Palm Springs. Winter is the sweet spot in the desert cities, when it’s warm enough to kick it by the pool during the day and crisp enough at night for a dip in the hot tub. The best things to do in Palm Springs take advantage of the city’s propensity for chic mid-century modern architecture and its residents’ love of kitsch, with a fun and funky culture that celebrates day drinking in all its lovely varieties, from boozy brunch to poolside kickbacks; it’s no wonder Palm Springs has long been a refuge for burned-out Angelenos, and one of the best weekend getaways in Southern California.

Palm Springs is home to a vibrant LGBTQ+ community in particular—including the nation’s first all-LGBTQ city council—plus plenty of modern art and unique local culture. And there are also outdoor activities, vintage shops, and great restaurants in Palm Springs, too. If you’re ready for any of the above—or just a long weekend of poolside lounging—we’ve got the guide for you below. These are the best things to do in Palm Springs for a weekend getaway. Because you deserve it.

Travel time:

2 hours from LA
2 hours and 30 minutes from San Diego
4 hours and 30 minutes from Las Vegas

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If you don’t do anything else: Take a mid-century modern architecture tour

Palm Springs is a great place to wild out, and an even better place to relax, but before you get down to that serious business take in a bit of essential local culture with a Mid-Century Modern architecture tour. The timeless cool of mid-century architecture is alive and well in Palm Springs, with an array of perfectly preserved homes and buildings from architects like Neutra, Lautner, and E. Stewart Williams. This specific style of Desert Modernism has become a staple of the area’s aesthetic—there’s even an entire festival called Modernism Week in February dedicated to the unique pleasures of Palm Springs architecture.

If you happen to be there in mid-February you can join along for all of Modernism Week’s parties, events, and tours, but you can also check out the scene year-round. There are guided tours by companies like Palm Springs Mod Squad and Modern & More Bike Tours, or the city has a fantastic self-guided tour spelled out on its website.

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Fill your days:

Poolside drinks in Palm Springs

When everyone else is wrapped up in blankets under cloudy skies, or snuggling up with a patio heater to try to enjoy the outdoors, folks in Palm Springs are lounging by the pool with a drink in hand. There are great options for poolside bars all over town, but you’d be hard pressed to beat the Saguaro for party vibes. Arrive has another extremely popular poolside bar, as is Hotel Zoso, and the funky Tiki-themed Caliente Tropics. For a more laid-back situation, check out any of the area's massive resorts, from the Omni to the Westin to Miramonte and beyond.

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Outdoor activities in Palm Springs

Winter and spring in the desert are fantastic times to get outdoors and enjoy Palm Springs’ fantastic weather and unique flora, fauna, and terrain. For hiking in Palm Springs, the Indian Canyon Trails offer a plethora of hiking options that include cool streams and lush oases. You may even see a Bighorn Sheep. It’s also the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and you can learn more about their history through preserved rock art, irrigation ditches, and food preparation areas.

For more great hiking and some insane views, hop on the world’s largest rotating tramcar at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The car takes you on a ten-minute ride up and along the cliffs of Chino Canyon for picturesque views of the desert until you arrive at your destination, Mt. San Jacinto State Park. At the top, there are places to grab food, observation decks, and over 50 miles of hiking trails. And if you go during the winter there’s a good chance there will be snow.

To get a closer look at the living creatures that inhibit the desert, check out The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The world-class wildlife and botanical park has almost 430 animals, including cheetahs, giraffes, and camels as well as creatures native to the area. After that, head to Moorten Botanical Garden, also known as Cactus Castle, and explore over a dozen arid biomes and thousands of specimens sourced from all over the world. Plus, see rocks, crystals, fossils, gold-mining relics, and desert tortoises. If you feel inspired to become a plant parent after your visit, Moorten’s has a nursery for you to take home your own prickly bundle of joy.

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Vintage shopping in Palm Springs

To take some of that special Desert Modern charm home with you, go on a vintage crawl on Palm Canyon Drive and gander at shops like Bon Vivant, Modernway, and Revivals, where you can find eccentric accents and mid-century modern furniture to buy or give you major design inspiration. While you’re around, you might as well spruce up your wardrobe at vintage boutiques like The Frippery, Iconic Atomic, and Bazar.

Then hit up Market Market to make your way through their massive selection of vintage and repurposed goods, including apparel, accessories, housewares, furniture, art, and design in a 40,000 square foot warehouse.

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LGBTQ+ things to do in Palm Springs

In a city as wonderfully out and proud as Palm Springs, there are a ton of fantastic LGBTQ+ activities and businesses to support. For a bar that has a mission statement as good as its food, try Blackbook. It’s named for the black book in Nevada, a list of notorious people not welcomed in casinos. As owner Dean Lavine explains, “We like to think that everyone has been on a blacklist at some point in time. Gay, bullied, racially excluded, Raiders fans, etc.” The bar prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming to all, with some of the best food in Palm Springs, and they also have a full bar with the largest whiskey selection in the valley.

After eating, sing your heart out at Quadz, where VJs are playing clips of beloved musical theater. After a few of their notoriously strong and affordable drinks, you may find yourself belting out Streisand with the best of them, even if musicals aren’t normally your thing.

Reserve a spot at Toucans to see a performance at Palm Springs’ longest continuously running drag show. Drag shows are Thursday-Monday with a different theme each night. Or for those looking for a more relaxed stay, check out the mens-only resort, Descanso. The small hotel is going for a chill vibe with spacious rooms, a salt-water pool, and lush landscaping. For a different vibe, check out Alice B. The new French-Mediterranean restaurant from iconic chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken is tucked into the lobby of Living Out, an apartment complex specifically designed for LGBTQ+ seniors.

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Eat, drink, and sleep:

Bars and restaurants in Palm Springs

If you’re looking for light bites, try Front Porch, an extension of the ever-popular Farm. The menu pulls influences from French cuisine and adds a California flare, and their co*cktails are similarly creative, like the pistachio old-fashioned with bourbon, house-made pistachio syrup, orange bitters, and shaved pistachios.

The Tropicale exudes Palm Springs cool, with sleek mid-century modern design and a 60s supper club vibe. Their menu offers a little bit of everything, from an Italian meatball pizza to a miso-glazed steelhead Loch salmon rice bowl to a steak with a loaded baked potato on the side. Their happy hour menu has plenty of options and runs all day Wednesday and every other day from 4-7 pm.

Counter Reformation is a stylish hidden wine bar tucked into the Parker hotel with a great list and solid snacks. If your taste in wines runs more towards funky natty stuff, or if you like to mix a little local beer into your drinking regimen, Las Palmas Brewing is a great choice with a lovely patio. And if you’re looking for Tiki co*cktails, you have a lot of options in town, but it’s hard to beat the drinks at Bootlegger Tiki.

It can be hard to get a table at Bar Cecil, but their bar takes walk-ins; it’s the perfect place to check out their signature burger, or some smoked fish rilletes. Or order from their “Why Not” menu, where you can find swanky items like the Fifty Dollar Martini—JCB vodka with a kiss of Alessio vermouth and a pickled onion, poured tableside in a chilled glass. The drink is listed on the food menu for a reason—it’s served on a silver tray with a Regiis Ova caviar-topped deviled egg and a bowl of sunchoke chips.

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Hotels in Palm Springs

When planning a Palm Springs vacation, you have to figure out what sort of trip you want first. Hotels run the gamut from kitschy and wild to elevated and tranquil, and there are tons of options to choose from.

You may fall in love with the Trixie Motel, a pink paradise owned by Ru Paul’s Drag Race All-Stars 3 winner Trixie Mattel. The hotel has impeccable retro design that’s over the top but never corny, with themed rooms like a psychedelic space room, and a Pink Flamingo room complete with (you guessed it) tons of pink flamingo accents.

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If your vibe is more minimal, reserve a spot atAzure Sky. The adults-only hotel is clad in neutral tones with spacious rooms, beautiful desert landscaping, and views of the San Jacinto Mountains, all designed to cultivate a serene atmosphere. Or check into the past at the Orbit In. The boutique hotel’s design is upscale mid-century, where a record player with vinyl sits next to Eames furniture. The hotel is a fun retro refuge for a relaxing stay, and it’s nestled in Palm Springs’ Historic Tennis Club Neighborhood which means that restaurants, nightlife, and shopping are just a short walk away.

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Keisha Raines is a LA-based freelance writer born and raised in the Palm Springs area with a tattoo of the San Jacinto mountains to prove it.

Ben Mesirowis Thrillist's LA Staff Writer, and an Echo Park native who writes TV, fiction, food, and sports. At one time or another, his writing has appeared in The LA Times, Litro, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Los Angeles Magazine, and scratched into dozens of desks at Walter Reed Middle School.

It’s the Perfect Time to Have A Mid-Century Modern Moment in Palm Springs (2024)
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