Palm Springs residents and visitors alike bask in the desert’s warmth and sunshine. There’s nothing like lounging all day at the pool, hiking through the canyons and mountains, or playing a round of golf, especially when you know where you are coming from it’s freezing, or raining, or the freeways are in gridlock. But you also need a place to eat, shop, and be entertained. And for that, downtown Palm Springs can’t be beat.
Palm Springs is not some suburb filled with shopping malls and parking lots. It has always been a small town, with a distinctive village feel. The main drag, Palm Canyon Drive, has been the focus for dining, shopping and fun for decades, and after the recent, major downtown renovation project that replaced the aging and unfortunate Palm Springs Mall with a beautiful new plaza accented by shady date palms, palo verde trees, outdoor art and seating, the center of downtown at Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way is truly back.
Palm Canyon Drive is lined with mature, impeccably groomed, native palm trees, and close by, the towering San Jacinto Mountains form a dramatic backdrop. The palms are encircled with lights and when lit up at night, the effect is exceptional and magical. With its numerous dining establishments, local boutiques and nationally known shops, Palm Canyon Drive is great for strolling and relaxing. You can take a break from shopping and stop in at any number of cafes and restaurants, many of which feature charming, people-watching patios overlooking the street.
The street is an easily walkable blend of architectural styles, from the contemporary new plaza shared with the Kimpton Rowan Hotel and Starbucks Reserve, to midcentury modern facades evoking the rat pack era, to the original, Spanish Colonial style of La Plaza, home to the Plaza Theater (currently acquiring funds for a major restoration), and intimate, local shops and restaurants.
Perhaps one of the most popular attractions of downtown Palm Springs is the weekly VillageFest. Every Thursday evening, several blocks of Palm Canyon Drive are blocked off for a fair featuring local artisans, food and entertainment. The warm, desert night air makes this a must-see during your stay in Palm Springs, or for fortunate residents, a place to visit time and time again.
Side streets off Palm Canyon Drive are not to be missed, either. To the east on Tahquitz Canyon Way, you’ll find several more restaurants and the under-construction Agua Caliente Cultural Center and Spa. This large complex scheduled to open in late 2020, will feature a native culture and history museum, landscaped terraces, the original hot springs (the reason why Palm Springs is here), and a large spa (the fifth on the site since the 1880s). Trek a bit further east and visit a famous haunt for locals and tourists, Sherman’s Deli with its dog-friendly patio seating.
A bit east from Palm Canyon Drive on Arenas Road, is center of gay Palm Springs – the Castro or West Hollywood as it were, of the desert. Arenas Road is lined with shops, restaurants and lively bars. Day and night, Arenas Road is probably the most popular location for the scores of gay visitors and the sizable, permanent gay population of Palm Springs.
All sorts of new shops are along the west side of Palm Canyon Drive from Tahquitz Canyon Way north to the Hyatt Regency. The side streets, such as Museum Way are home to several local businesses as well. And if you continue west a bit on Museum Way, you’ll run right into the Palm Springs Art Museum. Along the way, you’ll encounter a construction zone for a beautiful new downtown park.
Palm Canyon Drive is busiest roughly between Baristo Road in the south, where there is a major parking structure across from a branch of the Palm Springs Art Museum devoted to architecture and design, and Alejo Road in the north. But don’t stop there. From Alejo north for several blocks you’ll find the Uptown Design District, so named for the many interior design shops featuring both new and vintage midcentury modern furnishings. Now, this part of Palm Canyon Drive is one of the hottest night spots in town with dozens of new, popular restaurants and lounges.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, there are many hotels, both large and intimate, within blocks of Palm Canyon Drive. Besides the Rowan Hotel just to the west, the Tennis Club area features several, new boutique hotels, many with notable restaurants. And if you’re looking for a place to live that’s walking distance from all the action, there are several neighborhoods nearby. Lucky residents of the Tennis Club area, the Movie Colony and Old Las Palmas can step out their doors and be downtown or uptown in minutes.
Lounging poolside may be enough for you, but if you’re looking for some city life (without the aggravation of city parking, crowds and noise), and a lively area filled with interesting and unique restaurants, clubs and shops, you’ll find it in downtown Palm Springs.