Travel blog written by an average traveler that focuses on "real" experiences. Not quite budget, not quite luxury. Real.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Vintage charm for old friends in Palm Springs!

Travelers/Trip Type: Girls' Trip!
Method Of Travel: Air, Car
Would I Return: Probably, If I Had A Good Reason.....

Anytime that I can sneak away for a few days on a girls' trip I definately jump on the opportunity. Now that I am (for the most part) a stay-at-home mom these trips are especially valuable in maintaining my identity outside of being a mommy. My most recent trip was to Palm Springs where I met up with a few friends, some of whom I have not seen for over fifteen years. Wow, I feel old now! Due to the company I was with, we probably would have had an amazing time just about anywhere but I did find Palm Springs to be quite charming.

I flew in to San Diego so that I could drive over to Palm Springs with a close friend. We chose an indirect route so that we could pay a visit to the stinky Salton Sea (above top). I had read that in it's heyday people flocked to it's shores to vacation in expensive summer homes along the beach. That time has since passed. I suppose once dead fish started littering the shores and the stench started to resemble that of a sewer it lost it's appeal (above bottom). Strangely enough it appealed enough to us to warrant an hour detour on our way to Palm Springs to see it. We pulled in to the town of Desert Shores at the first available street and drove all the way to the end of the road so that we could get to the "sea". Desert Shores has a strange feel to it, deserted yet not abandoned. It wasn't like what I had read about on the other side of the "sea"  (Bombay Beach) where everything was completely abandoned, but other than one car passing through we didn't see a soul the entire time we were there. We saw evidence of people but no people (right). It was weird.

Once in Palm Springs the two of us met up with another friend and indulged ourselves at the Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel with massages/facials and a soak in their hot mineral pools. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this place in particular as it was just average but I would recommend pampering yourself somewhere in Desert Hot Springs while on your trip.  The treatments weren't bad they just weren't top notch. I'm used to getting massages in a dark room with soothing music playing softly in the background whereas this massage room was drenched in sunlight and had static music coming out of the broken speakers. The massage itself was pretty amazing though so it almost negated the annoying setting.  The common areas and pool area of this hotel had a nice retro ambiance to it which we enjoyed.  In fact, we noticed these vintage touches throughout Palm Springs. Nothing screamed retro but rather the perfect amount of  "old school" charm without it being cheesy.

In order to shave off some expenses we shared a room at the Vagabond Inn located at the very south end of S. Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. I would highly recommend this hotel if you are looking for a quality budget hotel. It's definately not fancy but it's clean, has a friendly staff and offers a wonderful array of amenities such as a nice complimentary breakfast, an inviting pool area, a free wi-fi connection and a fridge and microwave in each room. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the beds are comfortable, however, I didn't wake up with a sore back which is more than I can say for many other places I've stayed. It's a bit far to walk downtown but if you have a car it's actually in the perfect location. Because it's located off the main street it has less traffic and is therefore quieter and more relaxing, but yet it has easy access to anywhere you want to go. I especially love the scenery! There are lots of palm trees surrounding the hotel (above) and it's perched right at the base of a mountain (also above). The ONLY reason why I would not stay here again is if I didn't have a car and wanted to be located right downtown (in this case I would look at the Hyatt or the Spa Resort Casino) but I would have to be willing to spend much more money.

Our main activity during our trip was exploring Joshua Tree National Park with two additional friends who met us there. Fortunately for us one of our friends was an experienced climber so we got the inside scoop on all of the interesting spots to hike and climb. I was able to climb up the face of a rock (with ropes) for the first time because of his expertise and equipment (above left). I think this particular rock was called Cyclops because it had a big "eye" in the top that we were able to look out of (after a ridiculously scary climb up the back side with NO ROPES). My favorite spot, however, was called the Hall of Horrors (above right). It's a narrow pathway through the rocks which involves scrambling up and down and squeezing in some pretty tight places to get through. It was made even more difficult due to the melting snow puddles which made some places inpassible and resulted in us having to find alterior routes. That being said, it was still a treat to witness the desert foliage in stark contrast to the bright white snow (below).

Not only were we blessed with an experienced tour guide but our other friend (his wife) prepared an amazing picnic lunch for us. We had several different cheeses and crackers, a wonderful curry chicken salad with endive leaves and the most amazing pound cake ever with wine marinated apricots to accompany it. Simply divine. When I heard that she was bringing lunch I knew we were in for a treat because I had read many of her posts at Let's just say that I was not disappointed! If you want to create an elevated dining experience with a touch of down home comfort all wrapped up with simple elegance you should check out some of her posts.

Another activity worth mentioning (which can be enjoyed by persons of any age) is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It's kind of spendy at $23.25 (for adults) but it's worth doing at least once because it offers some incredible views (right). FYI, it's damn cold up there so please dress appropriately. It was downright frigid in February and I would imagine it would be pretty cold year round because of the high elevation. We knew we were in trouble when we witnessed groups headed up wearing all of their winter gear and carrying sleds. Let's just say that we were not donning our winter attire! Yikes!

What I love about Palm Springs is that it feels like a big city and a small town all at the same time. The downtown area is inviting and offers a number of different shops and restaurants to choose from. We ate three very different cuisines during our stay and all three were fantastic. Las Casuelas was a wonderful Mexican restaurant which had the most incredible salsa ever. I seriously ate two bowls of chips and salsa before I even got my entree and I usually don't even touch that stuff. The portions were gigantic and the prices were quite reasonable. The toasty heaters made our wonderful outdoor table absolutely perfect! Excellente! Kalura Trattoria was a delicious Italian restaurant that offered such an extensive list of choices that it was hard to choose. Everyone ended up happy with their selections and we all had a wonderful time. The prices were average and the atmosphere was exceptional (we sat inside). Our final restaurant was called Pepper's Thai Cuisine. It was my first time trying Thai food so I was a little leery but up for the adventure. Wow, where have I been?!?!?! The lunch special did not disappoint with a soup and wonderful mixed plate but it was the dessert that was something special. Ohhhh. I WANT IT NOW! I ordered the fried bananas drizzled with chocolate accompanied by a scoop each of coconut and green tea icecream. I die. The green tea icecream was the best icecream I have ever eaten! Seriously, it sounds horrible but it was amazing! I must stop thinking about it or I will go into a deep depression because I am nowhere near a restaurant offering it..... The prices were super affordable and if I ever go back to Palm Springs I will no doubt be going back here. One more thing, make sure you have to go to the bathroom. They are the most gorgeous bathrooms I have ever seen. Who knew?

So let me reiterate the things I loved about Palm Springs. I loved the fact that it felt like a small town but yet had all the offerings of a big city. I loved the copious amounts of palm trees and the mountains in the distance. I loved the farmer's market up by Joshua Tree National Park where we got delicious blood oranges and Japanese apple pears. I loved the Art Fair downtown where I picked up a unique vase. I loved all of the funky shops and amazing restaurants that lined Palm Canyon Drive. And finally, although you may find this strange, I loved all of the wind turbines surrounding the city (especially at sunset). For some reason I find them to be quite striking. So yes, I loved all of these things and would enjoy them again if I returned, but there are so many other cool places to explore that I would be okay if I never came back.  But if I did, I would tear up some green tea icecream!

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