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Weekend Getaway in Palm Springs, California

If you tire of the pool, these shops, restaurants, and sights will keep you entertained.

Stylish, midcentury modern homes—many once inhabited by Old Hollywood's elite—are a major draw to Palm Springs and accessible on various tours. 

Courtesy Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism

Clocking in at just under a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, Palm Springs has long been the place for busy Hollywood types—and the rest of us—to relax and recharge. Its reliably sunny skies make for perfect afternoons of doing absolutely nothing by a pool. And that's enough for most who visit, though there's plenty more to do, should the spirit move you.

What to See in Palm Springs

Apart from sunshine and swimming pools, it’s probably the well-preserved stock of midcentury architecture that lures many to Palm Springs. On the drive from L.A., once past the Instagram-famous San Gorgonio Pass windmills, the old Tramway Gas Station building (built in 1965 by Swiss architect Albert Frey) first welcomes road trippers. This is now home to the Visitor Center, open 9–5 daily.

Some of the most toured homes include designs by Richard Neutra, John Lautner, William Cody, and the often imitated Alexander tract houses, stylish and inexpensive to build. This being Palm Springs, some visitors may be less interested in who built these homes than which Hollywood celebrities lived inside them. Elvis and Priscilla Presley's honeymoon hideaway (an Alexander house) is a must-see, as is the baby grand piano–shaped mailbox still at the end of what was once Liberace's driveway. For quick weekend visits, a guided tour by van is your best bet for getting a sense of the city without robbing you of valuable pool time. Palm Springs Mod Squad offers a mix of celebrity and architectural tours, including interiors, lasting about 90 minutes. Prices vary by type, and custom tours are available.

picture of the old Tramway Gas Station in Palm Springs

The Tramway Gas Station, built in 1965 by Frey, now serves as the Palm Springs Visitors Center.

Steve Cukrov / Shutterstock

Where to Shop in Palm Springs

It's entirely understandable that after touring so much midcentury design, you might get the urge to fill your own house with modular sofas and '60s tchotchkes. By some miracle, these items still manage to turn up regularly in local second-hand shops and at fairly reasonable prices. Poke your head in charity shops such as Revivals (several locations; proceeds support the Desert AIDS Project) and Angel View (several locations; serving children and adults with disabilities), and who knows what you'll find. The antiques malls along East Sunny Dunes Road require less hunting but at higher prices. And for a mix of midcentury oddities in furniture, kitchenware, and jewelry, Dazzles stocks everything you never knew you wanted

Where to Eat in Palm Springs

If you're craving a healthy start to the day, visit Nature’s Health Food & Cafe, which serves fresh juices and vegan breakfast bowls alongside tonic elixirs. For a more lively spot, Sherman’s Deli & Bakery is the place to go for brunch or a slice of rich, triple-layer San Jacinto cake, named for the local mountain and sliced just as big. Portions here are clownishly large, and it’s unlikely you’ll leave without a doggie bag.

Still riding high on the Rat Pack years, Melvyn's Restaurant is exactly what you'd expect to find in Palm Springs. Well-dressed customers order everything flambé, celebrate birthdays, and quietly drink martinis—all while someone plays Frank Sinatra songs on the piano. Order the New York Steak a la Sinatra with truffle bordelaise or sole piccata. 

What was once Merv Griffin's Resort and Givenchy Spa in the ’90s has been doing a brisk business as the Parker Palm Springs since 2004. It’s easy to get lost along the jungle-lined pathways of this 13-acre property. Those blessed with a sense of direction should make a point to find Counter Reformation, a 14-seat wine bar that sprang up during this year’s major remodeling effort. The bar specializes in small-production wines paired with small plates such as foie gras macarons and Black Forest ham, leek, and Gruyère croquettes.

Let AAA Vacation Experts plan your trip. It's a free benefit for AAA Members. 

This article was originally published in February 2018 and updated in January 2019. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to confirm information