Travel January 22, 2024

By Courtney V.

A Traveler’s Guide to Palm Springs, CA

Winter can be a difficult time to find a travel contract in an appealing climate. If you’ve never considered yourself a “desert dweller,” I’m here to change your mind. When I first accepted a contract in Palm Springs, California, I was skeptical. It appeared to be full of snowbirds that come to the desert for half the year to play golf and escape wintry weather. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Palm Springs has much more to offer, even for a young traveler.

Palm Springs is one of several cities within the Coachella Valley. Coachella? Like the music festival? Yes! Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, along with Stagecoach (a popular country music festival) are both held in the desert during the month of April. If music festivals aren’t your scene, here are plenty of other activities that may entice you:

Eats and Sweets

I could live here for the rest of my life and still not have tried every restaurant in the valley because it has SO much to offer. Here are a few of my favorites that I have been able to try!

The Tonga Hut Restaurant and Tiki Bar

Located in downtown Palm Springs, Tonga Hut is a great tiki bar with an extensive list of tropical drinks, small plates, and larger meals. This place has a great atmosphere whether you want to stop for a drink or have dinner with friends! There is a hidden “secret room” that you can book ahead of time for a larger group if available.

TKB Bakery and Deli

If you’re always searching for a great sandwich (like me), look no further because TKB has the BEST sandwiches in the desert! There are so many fantastic options to accommodate any taste, and the bread is *chef’s kiss*. Try the chicken chipotle on jalapeno focaccia; you won’t regret it!

Swiss Donuts

When you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, Swiss Donuts is the place to go. I typically wouldn’t choose donuts as a treat; however, when a box of these shows up in the break room at work, it’s impossible to say no.

Paul Bar/Food

Don’t let its seemingly drab exterior fool you; this gem is in an obscure strip mall in Palm Springs smack dab between a dispensary and a smoke shop. Walking inside, you’re transported back in time to an upscale speakeasy with servers in bowties and a beautifully ornate mahogany bar. A must during your time in the desert!

Attractions

Yes, we all find ourselves sucked into “tourist traps” sometimes, but I promise these are actually worth it!

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

One of the desert’s main attractions, the aerial tramway transports you up over 8,500 feet to Mt. San Jacinto State Park where you’ll find incredible views. There are several short hiking trails to choose from that take you to viewpoints. For a longer adventure, you can hike a 10 mile out-and-back trail to the peak (10,800 ft elevation). This is one of those “you gotta do it once” attractions.

Palm Springs VillageFest

Every Thursday night from 6-10pm, downtown Palm Springs (Palm Canyon Drive) transforms into a large street fair full of food vendors, artists, and entertainers. It became a weekly excuse to not have to cook dinner on Thursdays!

Weekend Trips

Its close proximity to different climates/cities also makes Palm Spring an appealing location for a traveler. If you are willing to drive just two and a half hours, you could find yourself on the coast with your toes in the sand or in the mountains skiing for the weekend.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park is a unique landscape that I have come to love more and more with every visit. Whether it’s driving through the abundance of funky Joshua Trees, staring in wonder at seemingly impossible rock formations, or stargazing once the sun sets, there is something to do at any time of day in the park. On your way in or out, be sure to stop at some of the eclectic shops in the town of Yucca Valley.

Big Bear Lake

My favorite part of spending the winter in the desert is that it’s sunny and warm every day, but when I WANT to find the snow and cold, I don’t have to look very far. Big Bear Lake has become one of my favorite places to spend a weekend away from the desert. Bring your skis or snowboard and make sure to book an Airbnb with a Jacuzzi (this is essential) for a couple of days in the fresh mountain air.

The Coast

It’s difficult to point out every cool beach town in SoCal you could visit for a day trip or for an entire weekend, however, when the ocean is calling, it’s within reach!

Outdoor Adventure

If you are someone who could hike every weekend and be content, Palm Springs has absolutely no shortage of beautiful hiking trails in the area. While many trails in the valley become monotonous (similar views/terrain), there are a couple that have stood out as favorites.

Whitewater Canyon View Loop Trail

Located in Whitewater Preserve not far from Palm Springs, this is a 3.7-mile loop trail that features plenty of greenery and wildflowers. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep as they are often spotted within the canyon. This was also the trail I was on when I encountered my first rattlesnake so don’t ignore the signs and always be aware of your surroundings!

Ladder Canyon & Painted Canyon

An all-around unique trail which includes rock formations, slot canyons, and requires you to climb several ladders to ascend from the canyon floor to a ridge trail. There is also an option to complete a ropes trail instead of ladders!

Art Smith Trail

One of the only trails in the desert I’ve gone back to more than once, this trail provides a great workout with steep ascents, great views of the desert floor below, and a surprise palm tree oasis.

As you can see, Palm Springs has much more to offer than just warm weather…it also offers very HOT weather in the summer months, which many people try to avoid. The best time to sign a contract in the area is between October to April; however, if you’re willing to withstand the heat, you could likely negotiate a great pay package and save a ton on housing during the summer months.

If you’re worried about making friends in the area, don’t fret too much. I’ve come to find there is a large traveler community, as many facilities in the area employ traveler therapists (many of whom come back each winter!). This list hardly scratches the surface of restaurants, activities, and attractions within the desert, but it’s a good place to start when you find yourself escaping to the desert next winter!

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