The Greater Palm Springs region: an oasis for culture, culinary delights and resorts

By Alexandra Cohen

Close your eyes. Imagine a place with palm tree-lined streets, beautiful summer weather in the spring and fall, resorts, golfing, hiking, shopping, and more. For many years, I had heard such wonderful things about The Greater Palm Springs (GPS) region, and when I finally had the opportunity to travel there myself, it lived up to the hype.

The Greater Palm Springs region encompasses nine cities – Palm Springs itself, as well as Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella (after which is named perhaps the world’s most famous music festival). During our visit, we stayed in Indian Wells, a 30-minute drive from the downtown core of Palm Springs and a 10 to 15-minute commute to several of the other neighboring cities with their attractions, including Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, and La Quinta. The city of Palm Springs offers a laid-back atmosphere with a walkable downtown area, which features a variety of shops, as well as restaurants which often have sprawling patios. Every Thursday, Palm Canyon Drive is closed to vehicular traffic as VillageFest, a street fair, takes over. At the time of our visit, the theme of the night was Halloween, and children and families walked the streets in costumes, trick-or-treating at each of the booths.

WHERE TO STAY: During my time in Palm Springs, I had the great pleasure of staying at The Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa (www.renesmeralda.com), a beautiful resort in Indian Wells, which is conveniently nestled between the Palm Desert and La Quinta regions, just at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Adjacent to the Indian Wells Golf Resort, The Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa is located off Highway 111 and is approximately a 30-minute drive to the airport and Downtown Palm Springs.

A few years ago, the resort underwent a multi-million-dollar re-design, which included the creation of new guestrooms and suites, the development of a beautiful new two-story lobby, an olive tree grove, and a new set of menus for their restaurants.

Let me tell you, a stay at this hotel truly does feel luxurious. Wherever you turn, you are treated to stunning views of the blue, typically cloudless sky, the desert mountains and the nearby palm trees. The hotel’s large pool area features two swimming pools, one with a fountain and the other with zero-entry and a sandy beach, as well as two hot tubs. There is plenty of seating, but for those hoping for a particularly special day, it is possible to reserve VIP chairs or cabana seating. My travel partner and I enjoyed a lovely day in a cabana, which comes with couches, a television, water, and a large fruit platter. We also ordered drinks and lunch from the tasty and diverse pool menu. The service was truly top-notch.

Are you a golfer? The hotel offers packages that include the option to golf at the neighboring Indian Wells Golf Resort, which is one of the few properties to have two courses ranked in the Top 25 “Best Municipal Courses in the United States” by Golfweek Magazine. Tee times may be reserved through the Golf Resort directly.

The Renaissance Esmeralda also features a fitness center with state-of-the-art facilities, tennis facilities, an entertainment zone with arcade games, virtual reality, and an escape room, a camp for children, and a fantastic spa. Spa Esmeralda, located on the lobby level, is a 13,000-square-foot spa featuring 11 indoor treatment rooms, eight treatment cabanas, one indoor suite for couples, steam rooms, relaxation lounges, and a garden courtyard with a jacuzzi. Available spa treatments include single and couples’ massages, body scrubs, and facials. I had the opportunity to experience the incredibly relaxing Esmeralda Signature Massage with the spa’s signature aromatherapy, as well as a foot scrub. I could not have felt more relaxed by the time I finished my treatment and made my way to the garden courtyard to lounge. Although I did not experience this myself, Spa Esmeralda also features Agim Salon, which is overseen by celebrity stylist Agim. Treatments include cuts, styling, consultations, and nail care.

Now, what about the hotel rooms themselves? The resort features spacious and beautifully appointed rooms and suites. This large hotel includes 560 rooms, 103 of which are suites, ranging from 420 to 2,879 square feet, all with balconies and stellar views. Each room features amenities including 300-thread count sheets (the bed is very comfortable!), double sinks with a marble vanity, good closet space, televisions, an in-room safe, Keurig coffeemakers, offerings of coffee and tea, and a fridge. High-speed internet also comes with each room.

HOTEL DINING: We started off our dining experiences in the Greater Palm Springs region at our hotel. First, at The Place Lobby Bar, which offers an extensive and creative cocktail menu, as well as many light bites. Both indoor and outdoor seating are available; we enjoyed sitting outside, which offered a nice view of the pool area and mountains. We started with the Indian Wells Rosé cocktail, which included hangar rose vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, St. Germaine, raspberries, rosé, and a pink rim. We shared the Caprese salad and the wagyu beef sliders, both of which were delicious, and also were able to select a sushi roll from the other lobby restaurant, Glo Sushi. The Place also offers a few dessert options, including raspberry cheesecake, a 6-layer chocolate cake, or a cookie skillet. A children’s menu is also available for those ages 12 and under.

The second restaurant that we tried at the Renaissance Esmeralda was Cava, which is on the terrace level with a patio adjacent to the swimming pools. Cava has different menus available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During our dinner, we enjoyed glasses of prosecco followed by a sampling of their Brussels sprouts appetizer, which was creatively combined with pistachio, orange glaze, and lemon zest. For the main course, we shared the ribeye steak, cooked to perfection, and a flavorful roasted half-chicken, which came with garlic mashed potatoes, baby squash, and a red pepper coulis. For dessert, we had a key lime pie, though we were also certainly tempted by the other options, which included chocolate croissant bread pudding, crème brûlée, and more.

DINING OUT: Outside of our dining experiences within the Renaissance Esmeralda, we also sought to venture beyond the front doors of our hotel and experience what some of the neighboring regions had to offer.

PACIFICA: Located at The Gardens on El Paseo, deemed to be the premier shopping and dining destination in the Southern California Desert region, I highly recommend visiting Pacifica Seafood Restaurant during your trip. Their fine dining menu focuses on their selection of fresh seafood, as well as their hand-crafted cocktails and award-winning wine list.

Their list of beverages is hand-delivered by your server on an iPad, which allows you to easily scroll through the extensive list of options. We ended up opting for The Garden and the Blueberry Lemon Drop, both of which were very tasty. To start the meal, we had some oysters on the half shell, paired with a light mignonette, and the ahi tuna tartare, which is paired with a sake-soy sesame marinade, avocado, mango, wasabi aioli, wasabi tobiko caviar, and chili oil. For our main course, we shared the pan-seared scallops, which come with carrots, celery root puree, seared leeks, and brown butter, and at the advice of our server, we also tried the pan-seared Chilean seabass, a menu highlight, which had a honey-soy glaze and was served on top of ginger sticky rice and bok choy with a green curry-coconut sauce. For dessert, we completed our meal with a raspberry-infused crème brûlée and some iced wine.

Although clearly, the name of the restaurant itself indicates a specialization in seafood, which we chose to take advantage of, meat lovers have plenty of options to choose from, including a grilled center-cut filet mignon, a bone-in ribeye steak paired with gnocchi, braised boneless beef short ribs, and even a surf & turf option pairing filet mignon with a lobster tail, for those wishing to try a little bit of both. Sunset dinners at Pacifica run from 3:30-5 p.m., at which time $27 will buy you two courses at substantially reduced prices.

Pacifica is located at The Gardens on El Paseo (73505 El Paseo in Palm Desert). Go to www.pacificaseafoodrestaurant.com or call 760-674-8666 for more information.

ARNOLD PALMER’S RESTAURANT: When you hear the word Arnold Palmer, food is not the first thing that comes to mind. Known as “The King,” this professional golfer won 92 national and international championships. He was also successful in the corporate world as chairman of the world-encompassing Arnold Palmer Group.

Arnold Palmer’s Restaurant opened in 2004. Though he sadly passed away in 2016, the restaurant remains a staple in the La Quinta area. For those interested in exploring Palmer’s career, visitors can explore a massive collection of memorabilia detailing his decades-long professional golf career in the “Palmer Room,” which includes trophies, photos, personal items, and more. Equally, however, for those who are just interested in a nice dinner with a fantastic ambiance, this place is for you.

While you can choose between indoor dining in multiple spaces, including the Master Dining Room or Arnie’s Lounge, we chose to dine on the live entertainment patio, which was truly one of the nicest restaurant patios we have had the pleasure of visiting. The patio included live entertainment and also had heaters, misters, and cozy fire pits available to ensure year-round comfort (though none of these were needed on the night of our visit).

The menu features some of Palmer’s favorites, including fresh seafood, aged beef, and a variety of comfort foods.  The daily specials are also frequently evolving, some of which we enjoyed during our visit. To start, we had a Hamachi appetizer, which was one of the specials and was incredibly light and fresh. We also enjoyed the Purple Haze cocktail, which contained aviation gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, Chambord, lemon and blackberry garnish, as well as the Pomegranate Tini, which featured ketel one, lychee liqueur, triple sec, grapefruit, lemon, and pomegranate syrup. For dinner, we shared the rack of lamb, another special that was paired with delicious spinach and ricotta dumplings, as well as the whole roasted branzino, which contained a scallop mousse stuffing and was paired with green beans, shallots, and almond brown butter sauce. Our selected side dish was the jalapeno potato au gratin – other side dish offerings at the restaurant include balsamic Brussels sprouts, sauteed mushrooms, truffle French fries, and more. We sampled some of the fantastic wine selections available at the restaurant alongside our meals, and for dessert, we shared a warm chocolate brownie and a chocolate martini.

This is a restaurant that would be on my list to visit again should I return to the Greater Palm Springs area.

The restaurant is single-level and ADA-compliant.  

Arnold Palmer’s Restaurant is located at 78164 Avenue 52 in La Quinta. It is open Monday to Saturday, beginning at 5 p.m. For more details, log on to www.arnoldpalmersrestaurant.com or call 760-771-GOLF (4653).

WHAT TO DO: When you aren’t relaxing at a hotel pool or playing a round of golf, there are plenty of other activities to consider during your visit to Palm Springs.

TRAMWAY: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (https://pstramway.com/) is the world’s largest rotating tram car. It travels over two and a half miles along the cliffs of Chino Canyon, carrying you from the Valley Station (elevation of 2,643 ft) to the Mountain Station (elevation of 8,516 ft). The tram car ride in itself offers incredible views of the nearby mountains and the sandy desert, but at the top, you get to explore the wilderness of the Mount San Jacinto State Park, which includes two restaurants, numerous observation desks, a natural history museum, two documentary theatres, a gift shop, and over 50 miles of hiking trails. All of the above are fully wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant, though it is worth noting that the Valley Station, from where the tram departs, is off the beaten path and has limited cell service – driving a rental car is generally preferable to relying upon taxi or rideshare options.

JOSHUA TREE: You may have heard of the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park, another exciting place to visit and less than a one-hour drive from Downtown Palm Springs. This is an amazing place to drive or hike through, where you can explore a fascinating variety of plants and animals. The park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. While many people prefer to come during the daytime for the views, stargazing is also a popular activity there during the nighttime.

There is very limited cell phone reception in the park, and cell service should not be relied upon. Free public Wi-Fi can be accessed at some of the visitor centers. It is recommended that you download the official National Park Service app to access the free offline maps ahead of time. To fully experience the wonders of this park, it is advised to plan to spend several hours there.

FESTIVALS: The Greater Palm Springs area is home to a large variety of festivals. The Palm Springs International Film Festival starts the year in January with a star-studded gala event featuring nearly 180 screenings in theatres around the region. Arts festivals include the Southwest Arts Festival, Art Palm Springs, and the Indian Wells Art Festival. Perhaps most world-renowned, however, are the two music festivals that take over the Palm Springs area every April: Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, which welcomes more than 250,000 music fans annually in April, followed immediately by Stagecoach, the ultimate hub for the 85,000 country music fans who gather from across the world.

SHOPPING: While you can certainly peruse shops by walking through Downtown Palm Springs, as well as Old Town La Quinta, true shopping lovers may also wish to explore the Uptown Design District for one-of-a-kind boutiques, Palm Desert’s El Paseo for upscale, luxury retailers, or Desert Hills Premium Outlets for the best deals.

For more about Palm Springs please go to https://www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.