Approaching Palm Springs, that desert oasis nestled between two mountains–the Santa Rosa to the south and the San Jacinto to the west—I knew a treat was in store. The scent of sagebrush carried on the wings of clean desert air stimulated my senses. Feeling calm and rejuvenated, I soon realized this destination deserved many more returns. Whether in search of sybaritic spas, outdoor adventure, night life, art and culture, fine dining or a resort pool, Palm Springs seems to cover it all. After spending a day in the desert and another at the magnificent Palm Springs Art Museum, I explored the lively dining scene in town.
My first morning began with a ramble in the Living Desert Gardens. A wonderful introduction to the ecology of the landscape, the gardens are a glimpse into the botanical bounty of deserts found, not only in Palm Springs, but around the world. I leisurely sauntered through natural open spaces, following marked paths where plants native to each geographic area grow. I particularly enjoyed the plants of Madagascar, an island with one of the planet’s most unique flora.
Enclosed within 1,200 acres of mostly undisturbed Sonoran Desert, the enclave’s nature trails reach out into shaded side paths, offering walks as leisurely as a ¼ mile interlude. Feeling energized, I took on the challenging Wilderness Loop and scrambled up a rocky canyon to a 1,000 foot elevation. My reward was an eye-popping view of the surrounding Coachella Valley.The Living Desert also houses a zoo whose mantra means “animal protection.” This year it’s hosting “The Year of the Cheetah” with educational and preservation programs designed to help this endangered species.
After a day outdoors, the Palm Springs Art Museum offers the perfect counterpoint, not only in its environment, but in its exhibits. I feasted my eyes on diverse masterpieces by Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Henry Moore and Alexander Calder and then, to balance things off, found myself swept up in the majesty of Native American art. Here, the desert connection comes to life with works that honor the distinct talent of the first Americans and their vision of desert life. Ongoing through fall, 2017 are “Grass Roots: Native American Basketry” and “Western Stories.”. The museum entry fees are modest and often there are free or price reduced tickets. www.psmuseum.org
Desert Dining and More: All that energizing activity demanded a healthy dip into Palm Springs’ diverse restaurant scene. My desert diversion called for a dip in the waters at the sybaritic Two Bunch Palms Resort, known not only for its restaurant, but even more so for its mineral waters and spa facilities. My spouse and I arrived mid-afternoon, having each made arrangements for an aromatic massage before dinner. Using their signature “Heart” essential oil blends containing essences of jasmine, citrus and a “Desert Herbal Oil” blend of chaparral, sage and cedar, I confess to being superbly coaxed into a state of complete bliss. So complete was the relaxation that soon I found myself floating in the warm mineral spring waters of the secluded pool just outside the spa. The desert was working its magic.
Following a sojourn in the resort’s intimate bar, we wandered into the restaurant, Essence. for a leisurely dinner. With the .evening desert air now cooled down, we were delighted to find a crackling fire in the dining room fireplace. Outside, the star-studded sky gleamed. The scene was perfectly set for an evening that extended and amplified the calm sensuality of the day.
For dinner, we chose the four-course menu starting with cream of asparagus soup, a choice of entrees and dessert and a final cheese plate.The wine list included many California producers of local whites that paired brilliantly with our fish entrees We were so impressed with the service and entire menu that, before leaving,we booked a table for Sunday brunch the following morning. Even better, a table by the fire was available..
Another favorite breakfast/brunch spot in the desert has to be Wilma and Frieda’s Café upstairs in the El Paseo Mall. While the menu is a great draw–everything is literally made in house–the icing on the cake is the spectacular setting. Sitting at an outside table, I loved the panoramic view of mountains surrounding Palm Springs while I indulged my passion for their thick-cut blueberry custard French toast. A side plate of biscuits was pure perfection; crisp exterior, soft and buttery inside. Lots of basics on the menu but everything is beautifully updated with a light flavorful touch. www.wilmafrieda.com
533 Viet-Fusion: A friend recommended 533 Viet-Fusion and we were intrigued by the idea of Vietnamese cuisine here in the desert. Tucked away in a small plaza, we found a lively atmosphere with a variety of seating: window couches, high tables and an inviting spring roll bar. I was pleased to find Vietnam’s national dish, pho, on the menu and ordered it as a starter. A steaming bowl of pho was served piping hot and boasted a meaty, well-balanced broth; it brought back memories of one of my favorite dishes during my time in Hanoi. From our perch at one of the high tables near the sushi roll bar, we were able to observe busy chefs whip up some of the fresh and innovative appetizers.
As an entree, I tried the exquisitely flaky tamari-glazed Atlantic salmon. In all, we found an extensive menu from traditional pho noodles to fine chef prepared specialties including traditional Pad Thai with either shrimp or chicken. On our next visit, we will circle back to this friendly neighborhood delight for more. www.533vietfusion.com
Where to Stay: We chose the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort and Spa for its central location in the heart of the desert. As a couple, we cherished the quiet seclusion of the “Adult only” pool area with its cabanas and poolside bar: the evening Happy Hour in the Agave Bar with live music was another plus. When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed and then pleased with our room’s spectacular view, over the pool area to the mountains in the distance. Our room also had a king size bed and sunken living room leading to a private balcony. Each morning we strolled through the resort’s gardens to enjoy the spa and wellness center. Close to town and the desert beyond, it was another desert oasis. https://indianwells.regency.hyatt.com/
Related Article: More on California’s Deserts: Death Valley Meditation.
To plan a visit to Palm Springs, visit www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.