day trips palm springs

Hit the Highway

You’re vaccinated and ready for a getaway. This is where to set your GPS.

Lizbeth Scordo Attractions, Current PSL

day trips palm springs

PHOTOGRAPH BY LANCE GERBER

You finally feel ready to return to the wondrous world of travel, or maybe you’ve already dipped your toe back in. Either way, you’re in the right place. The Coachella Valley is a short drive from a variety of incredible destinations. Whether you want to stay put at a luxe resort, pursue an outdoor adventure, indulge in a grandiose gourmet experience, or all of the above, here are five road trips to help get you on your way.

Castle Hot Springs

Morristown, Arizona

After a year-plus of back-to-back Zooms and nightly Netflix sessions, there might be no better place on Earth to spend a few, glorious screen-free days than the intimate Castle Hot Springs resort set within a cocoon of canyons in a secluded stretch of the Sonoran Desert about an hour north of Phoenix. Yes, there’s WiFi, but even the password, RuSureUWant2?, encourages a digital detox. You’ll want to take daily dips in the resort’s namesake thermal hot springs, a trio of tucked-away pools surrounded by boulders and century-old date palms, fed by the cascading waters above. (Guest enjoy 24-hour access to the hot springs, and a moonlit midnight plunge can feel life changing.) The original resort dates back to the late 1800s, originally created as an exclusive health-focused getaway that hosted the likes of the Rockefellers and Calvin Coolidge until a 1976 blaze wiped it out. After a dormant four decades, the property has been rebuilt and reimagined with an Old West-meets-new luxury aesthetic. Manicured green lawns juxtapose the saguaro-dotted dusty mountains, and the lemon yellow main lodge — brand new but meant to feel like an historic, arts-and-crafts style building — spills out to a resort-style swimming pool and sprawling sun deck with umbrella-covered chaise lounges and an enormous stone firepit.

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PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF CASTLE HOT SPRINGS
The namesake waters of Castle Hot Springs resort in the Sonoran Desert.

Along with most of the activities — including daily yoga and meditation, guided hikes, biking, bocce, and archery — the stay includes meals, and signature restaurant Harvest sources a good chunk of the produce straight from the resort’s own eco-friendly, organic farm, greenhouse, citrus grove, and culinary garden. (Take a farmer-led tour, ending with a mini tasting, offered every afternoon.)

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You might find just-picked seasonal veggies in the breakfast quiche or a Wagyu burger layered with farm lettuce and greenhouse tomato jam at lunch.

But it’s the daily-changing five-course dinner that truly puts the kitchen’s — and the farm’s — talents on full display. Starters let the veggies shine with velvety soups blended with colorful carrots or earthy Japanese turnips and berry-topped baby gem salads while entrées can include a hearty Niman Ranch New York strip and whipped potatoes or line-caught swordfish topped with heirloom beet gastrique. The cocktail program rivals that of big-city bars with housemade shrubs, syrups, and garnishes all derived from the farm. Pull up a leather stool for a nightcap at the lodge’s cowboy-glam Bar 1896, where bartenders will customize a concoction to your taste and what they have on hand from the garden.

Spread out over 1,100 acres, the adults-only resort has a way of feeling dreamily private and serene even among just over 30 stylish standalone bungalows and cabins featuring beamed ceilings, king beds, concrete floors, outdoor soaking tubs and telescope-equipped wooden decks for impromptu stargazing.

Top off your stay with a heart-pounding experience: the ultra-adventurous via ferrata course, one of only a handful in the country — a specially designed system that utilizes rock-affixed ladders, rungs, and cables allowing your to safely scale a 400-foot peak and traverse a breathtaking aerial walkway. If you’d rather be horizontal, try the Desert Zen massage, performed in a cabana situated along the property’s spring water creek. Either way, you’ll end up exhilarated.

Fairmont Grand Del Mar and Addison Restaurant

Del Mar, California

“Grand” sums up almost every detail of the enchanting Fairmont Grand Del Mar. The property feels like a palatial Mediterranean villa with its winding, mile-long drive to the entrance, meticulous grounds, ornate lobby and common spaces with gilded ceilings, imported-stone fireplaces, enormous woven rugs, formal furnishings, columned verandas, and sweeping spiral staircases with intricate ironwork. That’s before you enter any of about 300 rooms and suites, each similarly decorated and equally lavish with private outdoor spaces.

Perhaps the grandest part of a visit is a dinner at Addison, located on the property, up a hill from the main resort, in its own equally opulent Old World manse. (A hotel BMW will whisk you up and back.) It’s San Diego’s only Michelin-starred restaurant and also one of the most astounding fine dining experiences in the country that’s remained relatively under the radar. Each course doubles as an edible work of art: the dishware itself is dreamy, and service staff synchronizes their every move, simultaneously placing dishes before swapping positions to unveil each course, perfectly pouring a swirl of sauce here or putting on a finishing tableside touch there. It’s the creation of chef William Bradley, who’s been at the helm since Addison opened almost 15 years ago, elevating SoCal ingredients to swoon-worthy heights. The menu changes to reflect the seasons, but there’s always a pretty prelude of tiny, jewel-box bites that could include Kumamotos garnished with paper-thin pickled gooseberries or finger lime-topped squid ink toast. The chef’s tongue-in-cheek play on “eggs and rice” is a blend of Koshihikari Japanese rice and Thomas Keller’s own Regiis Ova caviar, and Bradley often serves his signature California artichoke plated with whipped parmesan and red mullet roe, plus a bevy of intricate dessert bites, before sending guests home with jars of housemade granola for the next day’s breakfast.

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PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY FAIRMONT GRAND DEL MAR
The heated resort pool at Fairmont Grand Del Mar has vanishing edges and underwater speakers.

The 10-course tasting menu is a worthy splurge at $275 a person. While there’s a five-course option, you’ll want to double down on the longer dinner and take the wine pairing, curated from a 12,000-bottle collection. If you invest in one memorable post-pandemic meal this summer, make it this one.

After the gastronomic decadence, take advantage of the resort’s array of outdoor offerings, including onsite tennis and pickleball and hiking trails you can access from the property.

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View from the Deluxe Veranda Room balcony at Grand Del Mar.

The hotel also arranges for bike rentals, horseback rides, and tee times at the its private course as well as beach service, shuttling guests to the sand and providing chairs and umbrella setups. The property’s four pools (which pipe in underwater music to give your lap swimming some background beats) are separate enough to never feel crowded, and those without kids in tow can take advantage of the “relaxation pool,” reserved for grownups. Take in the flawless San Diego weather at sundown over evening cocktails at Fireside Lounge, a COVID-era pop-up set on the sweeping central lawn with firepits, cabana seating, and a rotating lineup of live musicians.

Los Olivos and Solvang, California

Swirling and sipping at a rambling winery while taking in vineyard views is lovely and all, but to taste until your heart’s content without having to get in a car, there’s no better town than Los Olivos, home to many of the Santa Ynez Valley’s top tasting rooms, nearly all situated along or just off rustic-modern main drag Grand Avenue. Last summer, stalwart Stolpman Vineyards opened its Fresh Garage – an Instagrammable outdoor tasting space adjacent to its main tasting room where you can try a flight of its chilled carbonic wines poured by a crew of hip staffers. For a couple-hour kickback, stop into the Coquelicot Estate Vineyard’s expansive outdoor tasting space with gargantuan oak trees and a bocce court. Hit Holus Bolus and The Joy Fantastic and you’ll likely get to chat with one of the husband-and-wife winemakers, including Amy Christine (one of just a few hundred people in the world to hold the title master of wine) while tasting killer Syrahs bottled with whimsical labels. From there, stop into sustainable producer Liquid Farm’s nearby tasting room for some of its cult-favorite Chardonnays and Pinots.

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn currently offers some of the most luxurious rooms in the valley, with fireplaces in every room, elegant furnishings, live plants, and plantation shutters, plus a pleasant pool area with a living wall and fire features, an excellent option for post-tasting unwinding. Onsite restaurant Nella Kitchen & Bar offers an Italian-influenced menu centered around Roman flatbread Pinsas and sharable plates as well as an extensive wine list. And the buzzed-about Bar Le Côté, a new seafood tavern from the couple behind lauded French eatery Bell’s, in Los Alamos is slated to open this summer.

Drive five miles south on the scenery-heavy Alamo Pintado Road and you’ll feel like you’ve crossed an international border when you arrive in Solvang, the self-proclaimed “Danish capital of America.” But rather than an Epcot Center-esque façade, you’ll find a real-deal European-style historic hamlet with gorgeous gabled-roofed buildings, wooden windmills, and town squares.

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The Winston occupies an old clock tower building.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY HEATHER DAENITZ, CRAFT & CLUSTER

Once known mainly for Danish bakeries and aebleskiver shops, Solvang’s culinary scene is rapidly growing in size and diversity. Peasant’s Feast has garnered plenty of well-deserved accolades since its less-than-ideal March 2020 opening thanks to its dialed-up comfort menu sourced largely from local farms and purveyors. Roasted mushroom tacos come on hand-pressed corn tortillas, unexpectedly garnished with pea shoots; the house-pickled veggie plate is a colorful, crunchy delight; and the house ranch-slathered crispy hot chicken sandwich on brioche is the menu’s most decadent dynamo. The new kid on the block is the much-anticipated steak-and-seafood-focused Coast Range — led by a hospitality team including Lincoln Carson of downtown L.A.’s late-great Bon Temps — slated for an early summer opening. Arm yourself with picnic provisions — artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, and other gourmet goodies — at the Cailloux Cheese Shop. Or try the pork belly ramen laced with seasonal farmers market veggies from the window at Ramen Kotori.

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Wine from Coquelicot Estate Vineyard and mussels from Nella Kitchen & Bar.

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The new Vinland Hotel & Lounge welcomes the cocktail crowd to its V Lounge.

You can’t toss a cork without hitting a tasting room in Solvang, but definitely add Dana V. Wines to your list. There you can taste longtime wine industry vet Dana Volk’s diverse selection of vinos with a side of people watching around a patio firepit. (Evening hours make it a solid pre-dinner pick). Forgo the town’s many trinket shops for the unassuming Elverhoj Museum of History & Art, which houses a collection of Rembrandt etchings.

And Solvang officially has its own burgeoning cocktail scene with the kitschy High Roller Tiki Lounge, Coast Range’s glam new Vaquero Bar and the airy V Lounge, off the lobby of the new Vinland Hotel, serving classic-meets-whimsical libations. (Try the smoking old fashioned theatrically presented under a glass cover.) For an overnight, check into the Vinland’s sister boutique hotel The Winston, built within an old clock tower building with soaring ceilings, orange walls covered in wild large-format art, and rooms with skylights, velvet headboards, and marble bathrooms. “Invisible service” means you let yourself in via a door code, texting when you need anything.

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Monterey, California

For a fresh-air outing with wow-worthy water views, get onto the 18-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail, an up-close, car-less alternative to world-famous 17-Mile Drive. Known to locals as the “Rec Trail,” the paved oceanfront path traces the route of the old Southern Pacific Railway and can connect pedestrians with fabled local attractions including Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row. To log more miles, rent a bike (Adventures by the Sea has multiple locations to pick up both traditional and e-bikes) and make your way north toward Castroville or south to Pacific Grove, home to Lovers Point State Marine Reserve, a beach and park perfect for picnics and picture-taking. (Its east-facing orientation makes it one of the only places on the West Coast where the sun rises over the water.)

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Surfers, kayakers, and picnickers seek Lovers Point.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHRISTOPHER VON STEINBACH

In addition to striking scenery, you’ll encounter wildlife in every direction — which makes the area popular with birdwatchers who come to spot some of the almost 500 species that have been recorded in Monterey County. You might also see harbor seals, sea otters, and sea lions at play, giving your trek a one-of-a-kind natural soundtrack.

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Cannery Row is popular for its waterfront hotels, restaurants, and boutiques.

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Picnic, see wildlife, and work out on the 18-mile-long Monterey Bay “Rec Trail.”

Art abounds along the peninsula, one of California’s oldest artist colonies. Spend an afternoon at the Monterey Museum of Art to view its collection of California-centric works dating from the late 19th century to the present. Look for photography by the likes of Ansel Adams and paintings by early California Impressionist artists. You can also take in Monterey’s heritage by visiting some of the town’s historic adobes scattered along downtown’s Path of History.

Lose yourself in living art — stunning specimens of sea life — at the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, a not-for-profit venue focused on ocean conservation where you can come face to face with neon-pink giant octopus, crystal jelly fish, majestic sea turtles, and African penguins, among hundreds of other spectacular species. Afterward, sample local suds at Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill in Monterey’s historic downtown. The restaurant also serves barbecue-heavy fare of smoked brisket and St. Louis-style pork ribs. Do dinner at wine bar Jeninni centered around a modern Mediterranean menu, where you can pre-order paella for the table or indulge in a double-decker lamb burger alongside eggplant fries. To wake up on the waterfront, book a room at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, perched above the surf, which boasts ocean views from everywhere, including its outdoor restaurant and bar, glass-walled gym, and rooftop spa.

Pasadena, California

Glorious gardens abound in these parts, but for some of SoCal’s most legendary landscape, hit up The Huntington, which, in addition to its conservatory, library, and art collection, offers 127 acres of botanical gardens. Tackle the whole shebang or focus on fewer fauna by touring a couple collections and themed gardens — from the tropical jungle gardens to the one of the largest orchid offerings in the country, plus lily ponds, outdoor sculpture, and the iconic Japanese garden featuring koi ponds, a bonsai collection, and an authentic Japanese teahouse. Descanso Gardens in nearby La Cañada Flintridge has an equally attractive Japanese garden filled with maples, native Asian plants, and a ’60s-era traditional farmhouse and teahouse, along with a 5-acre rose garden that’s 1,200 plants strong and an “ancient forest” boasting a collection of cycads, several of which are endangered and represent some of the oldest plant species on Earth. The Gamble House — which bills itself as the most complete and best-preserved work of architects Charles and Henry Greene — is a requisite stop for arts and crafts buffs. While the interior tours have resumed, the property now offers a fully outdoor tour dedicated to the house’s grounds, gardens, terraces, and porches.

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The Langham Huntington in Pasadena.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF THE LANGHAM HUNTINGTON, PASADENA

Time your trip with the second Sunday of the month and you can peruse the Rose Bowl Flea Market, one of the most famous fleas in the United States, where you’ll find art, apparel, antiques, Americana, and a hefty dose of quirk. Don’t miss dinner at Old Town’s Union, a modern Italian eatery and wine bar that’s equal parts neighborhood joint and dining destination, attracting Angelenos from all parts with its housemade fresh pastas complemented by local farm-plucked ingredients (think: Stracciatella-and- stone fruit salads or a Fresno chile-laced spaghetti alla chitarra.)

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The Langham Huntington’s Afternoon Tea With Wedgwood.

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The Red Wine Room at The Royce Wood-Fired Steakhouse.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MATT AMERNDAIZ

The name might skew a bit hokey, but Frenchifornia’s Parisian pastries are the real deal, so be sure to stop for some of the French bakery’s signature chocolate-almond croissants and caneles while you’re here.

While vacation rentals are plentiful in Pasadena, they can’t top a stay at The Langham Huntington, erected more than a century ago as a winter resort for the wealthy. Today, the property still has a classic California-elegant feel, with its groomed grounds, horseshoe garden and retro lap pool. The property’s iconic Picture Bridge has reopened after a renovation with recreations of artist Frank M. Moore’s 1930s scenery-inspired oil paintings adorning its gables. Choose a room with views of the San Gabriel Mountains and supplement your stay with the hotel’s signature Afternoon Tea With Wedgwood, one of the top tea services in town.