How to plan three perfect days in Palm Springs
Plan your next trip with our Dream Weekend series, which gives you the best recommendations for golf courses, hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing — so you can relax and focus on your round instead of your itinerary. Now on the tee: Palm Springs.
I grew up in Southern California’s Inland Empire, a giant metropolitan area that encompasses both Riverside and San Bernardino County. While there were plenty of reasonable public-access courses nearby to choose from, I always looked forward to playing in the desert — especially in the winter, when the courses are in peak high-season condition. Unfortunately, high season generally means high prices, so finding a nice course that is also a good value became an important mission.
Now that I live in New York, I cherish my holiday sojourns into the desert even more. There’s truly nothing like playing a round of golf in 75-degree weather in December when it’s snowing at home. While there are many worthy and recognizable tracks to recommend in the desert — PGA West, Desert Willow, Indian Wells, etc. — they are quite spread out geographically. What most people don’t realize is that the desert cities cover a vast area. Traveling from downtown Palm Springs to Indio could take you up to 40 minutes of drive time. That’s why I’m going to limit this weekend itinerary to Palm Springs proper, so your time in the car will be no longer than 20 minutes of off-highway driving, max. Let’s get started!
Fly into Palm Springs International airport (PSP), if you can. It’s worth a connection, even though there are more direct options now than there used to be (JetBlue even has a seasonal nonstop flight from JFK). Alternate airport options include Ontario (ONT), which will leave you with about an hour and fifteen minutes of drive time into the desert, or LAX (about two hours and 15 minutes without traffic).
1 p.m. Flashback Friday
Start your golf itinerary with my favorite Palm Springs track, Indian Canyons, about 20 minutes from PSP. The property has an old-school, Sinatra-era vibe, and both courses offer a beautiful and serene resort feel. I prefer the South course, which has a few holes on the front nine that run alongside the desert, where it isn’t uncommon to see a troupe of horseback riders walking by as you hit your tee and approach shots. The North course is more residential, but maintains the charming retro feel (and who doesn’t love browsing the backyards of coursefront real estate?). Rates for both courses range from a super twilight rate of $40 to $109 on the high end. You can also play nine holes after 2 p.m. for $40.
6 p.m. Close Quarters
Check into the ideally located Hyatt Palm Springs, where pretty much everything in downtown Palm Springs is within walking distance. (I had my 10-year high school reunion here!) January weekend rates start around $179/night.
7:30 p.m. On the Rocks
Walk a mere tenth of a mile north of the hotel to Las Casuelas, a super-fun and festive Mexican restaurant, and a Palm Springs staple for over 50 years. Chips and guac are a must to start, and while I’m partial to the burritos, you really can’t go wrong with your order. Just make sure to wash it all down with a margarita on the rocks with salt.
10 a.m. Breakfast of Champions
Sleep in a bit and plan to start your day with a brisk 15-minute walk down to Jake’s Palm Springs, a great weekend brunch spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a mod vibe. Since you’re on vacation, make sure to enjoy a breakfast cocktail from the extensive list (I like the Mali-Mosa), and indulge in the french toast with fresh blueberries, strawberries and blackberries. You need your daily serving of fruit, after all.
11:30 a.m. Short Game Shape-Up
Tee it up at Cimarron Golf Resort, less than seven miles from downtown. Even though it’s technically over the border in neighboring Cathedral City, it’s close enough to count for this itinerary. Two course options await you: the Boulder Course at 6,782 yards, and the Pebble Course at 3,020 yards. The views are fabulous, and if you aren’t happy with your game at the end of the round, there’s a Dave Pelz Scoring Game School on-site to whip your short game into shape. Rates range from $29-$39 to play the Pebble Course, and $44-$84 to play the Boulder Course.
4 p.m. Sky High
Make a quick stop at the fully interactive Palm Springs Air Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of flyable WWII aircraft and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. You can get up close and personal with over forty varieties of vintage aircraft, and recent additions to the museum include aircraft and exhibits from the Korean and Vietnam Wars as well. Ticket prices range from $14.50-$16.50, and there are special discounts for families, groups and children.
If museums aren’t your thing, take a happy hour stroll down North Palm Canyon Drive, where quaint boutiques and art galleries abound. Stop for a pre-dinner drink at Brickworks Bistro for prime people-watching and a cozy firepit-lit ambiance.
7 p.m. Setting the Scene
Enjoy one of the coolest patio dining experiences around at Spencer’s. The extensive menu offers plenty of options, from steak and lobster to various seafood dishes and pasta — and even pan-fried liver and bacon. A plethora of appetizer and side options ensure you’ll find something to please everyone at the table. One thing’s for sure: you can’t beat the setting.
8 a.m. Early Bird
Mosey on down to Cheeky’s, a 10-minute walk north from the Hyatt, for some morning fortification. A cheerful indoor/outdoor ambiance awaits, and getting in early ensures you won’t have to wait for a table. The menu changes weekly, but is populated with items like a three herb goat cheese frittata, short rib hash and jalapeño hash browns. Um, yum.
10 a.m. Nicklaus Newcomer
Spend your last day on the sun-drenched desert links at the Nicklaus-designed Escena. Right around the corner from PSP, this relative newcomer to the Palm Springs golf scene opened in 2005 and has quickly become a favorite of mine, with sweeping views of the surrounding San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains. Rates range from around $40-$75. In true Nicklaus Design fashion, it’s tougher than it looks, but the fabulously retro Escena Lounge & Grill is the perfect post-round place to drown your sorrows, if necessary.
Alternatively, if you happen to be flying out of Ontario or LAX, I can’t help but give a shoutout to my favorite hometown course, which is on your way to either airport: Oak Valley Golf Club, right off of the I-10 freeway, just over 30 miles from downtown Palm Springs.
I’ve played here countless times and I always find the course to be challenging but fair, with beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains. The greens are always running well, especially in the fall, when the course annually hosts the second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School. The best part? I think it’s one of the best bargains in Southern California, with green fees ranging from $45-$69. And as for dinner afterward, there’s only one place to go when you’re on your way west to the airport: In-N-Out! Nothing like a double-double and a chocolate milkshake to cap a great weekend of desert golf.