Mega-music festivals such as Coachella, Stagecoach and Desert Trip have brought the spotlight to the Coachella Valley, a land once most famous for relaxing resorts, golf courses, date shakes and . . . not much else. But the valley is just as happening a place the rest of the year. I mean where else in California in the winter can you have a snowball fight in 40-degree coldness, then sunbathe by a pool in perfect 75-degree weather all within the same day? Here's our list of 10 fun things to do there during your next visit.
GO FROM PALM TREES TO PINES
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (1 Tram Way., Palm Springs, 888-515-8726; www.pstramway.com), the world's largest rotating tram car, ascends to an elevation of 8,516 feet along the cliffs of Chino Canyon, transporting riders to the snowy wilderness of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. This journey to the top offers picturesque vistas of the Coachella Valley. Once you reach the Mountain Station—which resembles a majestic log cabin straight off a post card—enjoy two restaurants, observation decks, a local natural-history museum, two documentary theaters, a gift shop and more than 50 miles of stunning hiking trails. Make sure to wear a thick jacket and boots, for the top of the mountain is typically 40 degrees cooler than the base of the aerial tramway, and you don't want to be that tonta who gets stuck wearing her chanclas on a snowy summit like I did—you live, and you learn.
EXPLORE THE SAN ANDREAS FAULT
For those interested in getting to know the most infamous fault in the world, a tour with an expert naturalist guide from Big Wheel Tours (74850 42nd Ave., Palm Desert, 760-779-1837; bwbtours.com) will help to dispel some of the San Andreas Fault's biggest myths while schooling you on local geology during a four-hour adventure through majestic, distorted and colorful canyons, all while sitting in a cozy yet badass Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Take advantage of the light-to-mild hiking opportunities available to ensure you get the best photos of the breathtaking desert landscape around you. If you're up for more adventure after this grand tour, check out the Joshua Tree National Park and Salton Sea excursions also available through Big Wheel Tours.
TREAT YO'SELF TO A SPA DAY
This year has been a weird one, so why not #TreatYoSelf? The Well spa inside the Miramonte Indian Wells Resort & Spa (45000 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells, 760-341-2200; www.miramonteresort.com) offers hands-down the best massage I've ever experienced. Most masseurs focus on either the experience being soft and relaxing so any muscular issues are left unresolved or kneading out problematic kinks so aggressively the massage becomes a self-consenting torture session instead of a moment of zen. But at the Well, your body will melt as an expert masseur works away any tension and stress in your body while natural herbal aromas, a heated massage bed, and a tranquil environment relaxes your mind and soul.
After your massage, chill in a warm jacuzzi with soothing waterfalls while taking in the beautiful views of the majestic desert mountains and palm trees that surround the resort. Revitalize yourself even more as you stretch your freshly massaged body in a steamy, relaxing eucalyptus oil sauna. If you're feeling extra-luxurious and boss-like, sip on a glass of champagne—or stick to the healthier alternatives offered such as cucumber water and fresh fruit.
Shop for the perfect gifts at this gathering of 150 independent vendors every Thursday at Downtown Palm Spring's Village Fest. Locals and tourists mingle while browsing among art, food, accessories, fashion and knickknacks. Live music sets an especially festive tone for strolling through the desert ambiance and midcentury-modern architecture. As with many places in Palm Springs, Village Fest is a dog-friendly event with many adorable puppy-petting opportunities. After working up an appetite from walking all over Village Fest, stop for some American modern dining at Kaiser Grille; its outdoor patio offers cozy firepit tables and a wonderful view of downtown Palm Springs.
Minimalist and midcentury-modern architecture are celebrated at the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center (300 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, 760-423-5260; www.psmuseum.org), located in the heart of downtown. Browse through some of the best interior and exterior architecture of the 1960s and get yourself some inspired accessories and coffee-table books (so meta) at the gift shop, perfect for any mod-style admirer.
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BRUNCH IT UP, THEN TAKE A HIKE
The best damn avocado toast you'll ever have is at The Grove Artisan Kitchen at Miramonte Indian Wells Resort and Spa. Chef Paul Hancock's creation involves rich wheat toast with fresh guacamole spread, diced sweet potato, savory oven-dried tomatoes, smokey grilled asparagus, fresh spinach, a dash of cheese and a glorious poached egg that oozes down it all. Work off the delicious carbs with an early-morning hike on the Cross Trail at Cahuilla Hills Park (45825 Edgehill Dr., Palm Desert) that leads to a grandiose mountain with spectacular views of the desert cities in the Coachella Valley. This hike oddly feels as if you're trekking through a land only possible in a science-fiction flick. This extra-desolate workout will leave you feeling both disconnected from the world and at one with yourself.
EAT AMAZING MEXICAN FOOD
The high population of Mexis in the Coachella Valley (with a more than 70 percent Latino population) means a lot of great Mexican restaurants (plus, Carlos Salgado's food is now at the Ace Hotel—HELL YA!!!). If you're feeling fancy, try Las Casuelas Quinta (78480 Hwy. 111, La Quinta, 760-777-7715; lascasuelasquinta.com). Enjoy a romantic Mexican-hacienda ambiance as you savor generous servings of traditional Mexican dishes such as enchiladas suizas and chicken with mole poblano, along with stiff yet delicious margaritas. Servers wearing guayaberas and off-the-shoulder trajes típicos add a very traditional vibe to this pre-Mexican-revolution-themed restaurant. For a quick and delicious taco, head to Tacos Gonzales (80120 Hwy. 11, Indio, 760-347-6858), an amazing hole-in-the-wall located across the street from Shields Date Garden (80225 Hwy. 111, Indio, 760-347-0996; www.shieldsdategarden.com). While the taquería is small, the place is always packed with local raza and tourists digging into simple yet amazing tacos with juicy meats, savory yet spicy salsas, and not-too-greasy corn tortillas.
For more information on visiting the Coachella Valley, go to visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.