"I feel like I'm in the Princess Diaries," I texted my best friend, Amy, upon arriving at our hotel suite at the Hyatt Palm Springs (285 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, 760-322-9000; palmsprings.hyatt.com). Amy would arrive later that evening, after she finished her shift at work. I texted photos of the room and view, and we both gushed about how stoked we were to stay in such a luxurious-looking place.
"OUR ROOM IS SO COOL!"
"OMG! I'm ready to use my bath bombs!"
"This whole town is midcentury-modern'd-out."
"The view looks fucking sick."
"I'm so psyched."
For two women in their mid-to-late 20s who have been best friends since kindergarten, it was our goal to travel more, and Palm Springs had always been on our list of sights to see. A place known more for hosting swanky Coachella pool parties and retirement-age folks, it wouldn't be on most of the younger crowd's radar of travel spots. But the Palm Springs tourism board was working on promoting the city to my demographic—and judging by the myriad of activities it offered us and other journalists in for a junket, enjoying the scene wouldn't seem hard to do.
The downtown area alone features plenty of dive bars and eateries next to one another, creating a thriving nightlife scene. In the daytime, you can shop in any of the many thrift, antique-furniture or clothing stores that dot Palm Canyon Drive. Every Thursday evening, the Village Festival closes the streets and allows vendors to hawk candles, jewelry, clothing and other handmade goods. And for art geeks such as me, there are a few cool lowbrow and Pop-art galleries, including that of OC-bred artist SHAG.
While these things feel familiar and already available in Orange County, what helps to make the city its own attraction is its love for midcentury-modern architecture. From apartment buildings to liquor stores, the angular structures and bright colors shape the visual layout of downtown Palm Springs. Behind the Hyatt Palm Springs sits the Architecture + Design Center in the Palm Springs Art Museum (300 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, 760-423-5260; www.psmuseum.org), which includes special archival blueprints, drawings, photographs and other ephemera in its collection. The city is also the site for the annual Modernism Week, a convention celebrating the eponymous design style and advocating for its preservation.
"¡Ayy, que fansyyy!" Amy and I would privately, half-jokingly exclaim to each other at every new sight throughout the weekend. Coming from working-class backgrounds, we weren't accustomed to luxurious getaways, so we were consistently impressed at every turn. Amy had lived for years in Arizona, so the gorgeous mountains on the horizon and warm weather were familiar to her, if not me.
But nothing prepared either of us for the breathtaking views from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (1 Tram Way, Palm Springs, 760-325-1391; www.pstramway.com), a popular attraction that allows visitors to explore Mount San Jacinto State Park. Here, nature enthusiasts can reach higher ground by taking a rotating tramcar that lifts visitors up more than 8,000 feet to a mountain station that features a museum, gift shop, café and movie theater. From the station, you can learn about the various plants and animals that inhabit the area, explore the numerous hiking trails and walk up to a 360-degree viewing deck to gaze at majestic mountaintops, trees and the rest of the state park. Bring a sweater along, as the park holds a lot of snow hidden among bushes and shrubs, making it colder at the top.
After a couple of days, we moved on to the Hyatt Indian Wells (44600 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells, 760-776-1234; indianwells.regency.hyatt.com), just 30 minutes away and yet so far removed in experience. Whereas Palm Springs is bustling with street activity, Indian Wells is an isolated oasis, surrounded by acres of land for golf. If you want a good hotel stay with spa treatments, yoga-and-wine classes, comfortable poolside lounging with your kids (or beside an exclusive pool for adults only), the Hyatt is your haven. At night, Agave, the hotel bar, comes alive with older couples and cougars letting loose on the dance floor to the sounds of a live band playing soul and R&B covers—the perfect place for Amy and I when we're in our 50s!
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But to this day, what Amy and I still swoon about is the food. Palm Springs' Mr. Lyons (223 E. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, 760-327-1551; www.mrlyonsps.com) and Eight4Nine (849 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, 760-325-8490. eight4nine.com) are both high-end, four-star restaurants that amaze multiple senses in flavor and presentation. At the former, I had the best rib-eye steak of my life, as well as my first taste of mussels, pâté and dessert coffee (hey, I'm from big, bad SanTana. Have you had pambazos? No? Then don't hate). And Seymour's, a new speakeasy attached to Mr. Lyons, offers refreshing cocktails in a casual, low-key atmosphere, with no password required to enter.
Back at the Hyatt Indian Wells, its chefs travel all over the world, exploring new food items to add to the resort's menus and to make sure to touch base with patrons for feedback and conversation.
The junket was great, but before heading back to Orange County, I was determined to not miss the attraction I looked forward to the most in the desert: the Cabazon Dinosaurs (50770 Seminole Dr., Cabazon, 951-922-8700; cabazondinosaurs.com). It's conveniently located just off the 10 freeway. Famously included in Tim Burton's 1985 film Pee-wee's Big Adventure, this roadside attraction is as kitschy as ever and still features Huell Howser's words of approval painted on a sign outside the ticketing booth. While obviously designed for kids, there's no shortage of adults wanting their picture taken next to a Tyrannosaurus Rex because why not? Dinosaurs will always be cool.
Our last stop, just two minutes away from the dinosaurs, was the Desert Hills Premium Outlets (48400 Seminole Dr., Cabazon, 951-849-6641; www.premiumoutlets.com/outlet/desert-hills). An expansive, sprawling shopping center, it features nearly every designer store you can think of, from Alexander McQueen to Versace, as well as mall favorites such as Adidas, Vans, Tommy Hilfiger and Coach. We easily knocked out two different activities in one afternoon, eventually getting back on the 10 freeway and heading for home with the brightest blue skies lighting our way.