Travel: The winter magic of Palm Desert
“Wilderness. The word itself is music.”
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Winter in the California desert is the best time to leave the South Bay bubble and visit. Warm weather, the colors, wide open spaces, blooming flowers, snow-capped mountains—does it get any better than this?
Palm Springs is the poster child for the California desert, and I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. But recently, I ventured down Highway 111 to discover more, as in Palm Desert, another desert city that will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.
What’s Palm Desert about, in a nutshell? Animals, swanky hotels and golf courses and way more open spaces than I’ve seen in Palm Springs.
I recently brought my iPhone 14 Pro Max (and a few other cameras) to Palm Desert to revel in the majesty of the winter desert, and to show what’s possible with a smartphone. Please watch the latest episode of #PhotowalksTV to see more of what I’m talking about.
What to do in Palm Desert?
Make the Living Desert and Cactus Garden your first stop. This small zoo brings the large animals accessible to you (love those giraffes) and the Wallabees hop around you, Kangaroo style in their gated area. They are easy to capture on your smartphone.
Said my friend Joshua Kalev about visiting: “You feel like you’re on a safari!”
The other animals are harder to capture on your smartphone, because they’re further away. Cameras with zoom lenses needed for great shots of the zebras, rhinos and like. Luckily, I had both.
Admission is $30 for adults and $20 for kids.
How about some Pink Flamingoes for free? They are lounging in a body of water in front of the tony JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa and lots of fun to watch and photograph. With your smartphone you’ll have no issues, as you can get right in their face. Use the 3X telephoto lens, if you have it, on your phone. It’s what I used to isolate just one bird and get the water reflection in this shot.
For $5, the folks at Marriott will give you a boat ride through their manmade bodies of desert water surrounding the hotel. Make sure to get a reservation first.
Also free are the ducks at the Palm Desert Civic Center. This is a huge, 40 acre park with lots to explore.
But speaking of exploring:
You can’t beat the wide open spaces of open land in the Palm Desert area.
There are 3 great desert hikes for you:
- Bump and Grind is right in town, behind the large Target big box store, and from here you can walk up a hill and catch an awesome overview of the area. 72440 Painters Path, Palm Desert, CA, 92260
- If climbing isn’t your thing, the Randall Henderson Trail is up the hill on Highway 74, right off El Paseo, about four miles from town. It’s where I shot the above photograph of the open desert. It’s absolutely stunning, and near the classic welcome to Palm Desert sign.
- Another few miles up the road is Vista Point, where I shot the morning sunrise and several time lapse videos. There’s parking and you can’t beat the view.
Palm Desert has many high end restaurants, but as readers know, I happen to be a fan of classic Jewish delis, and was thrilled to see that Sherman’s, the deli from Palm Springs, has a second location. There’s a new deli in Palm Desert, J’s, which I hope to check out on the next visit.
High end stores aren’t my thing, but I got a kick out of walking down El Paseo anyway. I loved all the art on display by stores and in the meridians that cars zip by.
Meanwhile, if you go, some travel tips for you.
Palm Desert is a two-hours drive from the South Bay, or about four hours from Las Vegas and Phoenix. Plane travelers are welcomed via the Palm Springs International Airport.
Where to stay
I stumbled onto a classic 1950s era hotel called the Inn at Deep Canyon. It’s conveniently located near Highway 111, your main road, El Paseo is right around the corner, but more importantly, that pool. All the rooms wrap around the classic desert pool, the one we dream about.
I love their description, on the website:
The Inn is a place “where guests become friends and friends return again and again to renew old acquaintances at one of the finest small hotels in Palm Desert with HEATED SALTWATER POOL and Hot tub. Imagine such a place. Your special hideaway where dreams come true and you feel like the most important person in the world.”
I don’t know that I’d go that far, but I loved hanging at the pool and never wanted to leave. I can’t wait to go back.