It’s rampant this time of year….Seattleites running away to find a dose of warmth and sunshine wherever they can. Facebook posts of toes in the sand, fruity cocktails on the beach, ocean sunsets, pool-side lounging, and airport check-ins before boarding flights southward are in my feed daily.
Hawaii and Mexico have been perennial favorites for some time. But coming up third and gaining fast in recent years has been Palm Springs. Just a couple hours east of Los Angeles, it’s a quicker hop than the other two–so you can shed a few layers of winter wear and enjoying a warm stroll beneath palm trees in no time at all. Not just winter, but all year long Seattle claims some stake in Palm Springs occupants.
And that’s exactly where we headed on Christmas day this year. Now and then it’s kinda nice to just skip town for the big holiday, which we do about once a decade. As it happens, the only other time we’d been to Palm Springs was Christmas Day five years ago, a day trip over from San Diego where we had docked after cruising through the Panama Canal. We joined friends around the pool for that sunny celebration of the holiday, dinner cooking on the grill, pomegranates and grapefruit within reach on trees alongside the house. Yep, definitely not Christmas in Seattle!!
This year we flew down with a couple of dear friends. Not quite as balmy as it had been the previous time, but still super comfortable for walking around–which that first night included going just a block to dinner at the popular neighborhood spot Trio. We’re not golfers, and not hikers, and not big hang-around-the-pool types (for which it was a bit cool anyway). Just getting away to somewhere relaxing and low-key, away from hustle-bustle, that was the prime goal. We relished the cool vibe of Palm Springs, the great shops in that Uptown design district, both for clothes and home decor. I’m a big fan of mid-century esthetic and if I had money to burn, could have easily refurnished our 1956 home from a few of those shops. The city felt like a great fit for my old-school soul.
Though Palm Springs hasn’t yet risen to the ranks of a culinary destination, we had some great meals while there. So good we went twice was Mr. Lyons, first for happy hour, a few days later for dinner. And next trip I’ll be sure we’re there for a Sunday evening to try their weekly 3-course prime rib dinner ($29!). It’s a longstanding PS restaurant that was given a solid refresh recently–while preserving a cool, not contrived, mid-century spirit. A happy hour highlight was the mushroom toast: roasted mushrooms and mascarpone served on housemade date bread. Decadent, perfect with a crisp, chilled martini! Dinner a few nights later was perfection: great cocktails, a subtle twist on the wedge salad and beef Wellington. Not stupid, re-engineered, deconstructed beef Wellington, but classic, simple, absolutely delicious. I think every future visit to Palm Springs will include Mr. Lyons.
Other meal opportunities included a very good late breakfast at Cheeky’s, though the wait’s really atrocious. Just evidence how popular it is and how willing folks are to stand in line….which is not usually us. We loved the home-style, fully satisfying burgers at Tyler’s Burgers so much we went there twice too! (I knew I was going to regret this: second time I thought ‘hey, I’ll get something different and try the BLT this time’ — which was fine, but I was super jealous of the burgers everyone else was eating.) Oh, and despite what your Google map search info might tell you about Tyler’s, they’re no longer cash-only, plastic is welcome.
We all fell in love with Sherman’s Deli, which like any deli worth its half-sours you should only go to if you’re ravenous. Even then it’s hard to believe anyone has room for a slice of the huge cakes on display at the entrance, no matter how many forks are brought for sharing. My “cup” of matzoh ball soup held one huge matzoh ball in the center, with some broth around it for garnish (well, not quite, but almost!). We ate well and had snacks for later, but skipped dessert.
And — among the best things about staying in a condo rather than a hotel room — we had some of our favorite happy hours “at home.” Which is particularly true when you’re traveling with fellow food & beverage pros! Going with the retro setting, we indulged in thoroughly retro snacking: Ruffles with Lipton “recipe secrets” onion dip. Spreadable port cheese on Chicken in a Biskit crackers. Life can’t be all foie gras torchon and chilled oysters with champagne-kumquat gelée. Or if it is, it’d be really boring!! I don’t go there often, but once a year or so, old-school snacking like this can be pretty divine. The cocktails were much more finessed, taking advantage of citrus growing a few steps outside the door. After-dinner cocktails included rousing games a few nights.
Culture? Exploring the outdoors? Sure, we got some of that in too. The Palm Springs Art Museum is small enough to enjoy in an hour or so, easy to work into any day downtown. Native art, a Picasso sculpture, some Chihuly glass (every museum these days, perhaps?), mid-century furniture, very cool modern art in various media…it was a great visit. Hard to pick my favorite pieces, but loved these two: the horse made from bronze cast to echo pieces of driftwood, and this intricate carpet melting into a puddle (all hand-woven wool).
A day venturing out of the city was pretty grand, hitting Joshua Tree National Park. Funny how I don’t think of these things in advance, like the fact that the week between Christmas and New Year’s in a popular sunny destination might mean a few other people had the same idea…. Bit of a bottleneck at the park entrance, so much so one of the rangers waved us around the booth where we were due to pay, handed us a map of the park and sent us on our way. Parking areas were maxed out, so we spent most of the visit just meandering in the car, which was pretty delightful in itself. Though when this sign caught my eye I made my husband find a spot to park nearby: I couldn’t leave without capturing that paradox for future reference. I think it’s a safe bet there are no crisp, plump, briny bivalves anywhere to be found that-away. Someone’s funny joke in naming that particular pile of rocks to climb.
Just a slight detour off the main highway on the way home was Pioneertown. Which kind of sounds like the name you might give a made-up place meant to evoke a bygone era of the Wild West. Which is exactly what this place is, the creation of Hollywood back in the 1940s, used in many movies and TV shows. And today home to remaining facades, a couple businesses and the destination-worthy real-life honky-tonk that is Pappy & Harriet’s. Super cool spot, great menu, snazzy service, dynamic atmosphere. And we didn’t even stick around for a show! Go, just do it, not many spots like Pioneertown.
We got a little horticulture in too. Always near the top of the list when seeking out things to do in a new destination is whatever botanical gardens might be worth a visit. In the case of Palm Springs, that search lead me to the Moorten Botanical Garden. Oh, “and Cactarium” as you’ll see on their web site, which is the indoor complement to the outdoor paths. (Note it’s conveniently a couple minutes from Mr. Lyons, so time things right and you catch the end of the garden’s day and wrap up just in time for a happy hour libation.)
It did get downright warm a couple days into the trip, mid 70s while a good 30 degrees colder back home. Then, come the last day of our trip, the lovely mountains framing the city were covered in clouds and eventually some rain began to fall. Just as well time to pack things up and head back north. But not before sketching out some things on our to-do list for the next trip–particularly planning ahead to book one of the architecture tours. And not without now understanding why Palm Springs has become such a beloved get-away for so many folks I know.