Last week, my hubs and I went to Palm Springs for the first time to celebrate our 1 year wedding anniversary. It was honestly our best vacation ever! I've heard so many great things about Palm Springs, and yet it was still even better than I imagined it.
We have a tendency to not plan activities ahead of time, which often leads to not doing a lot when we go on vacation. This time, I wanted to make sure that we took advantage of our time in the desert, so I created a surprise advent calendar (I'll post a step-by-step DIY tutorial for it soon) and wrote down lists of places to go and things to do. I'm so glad I did this, because we ended up enjoying so many activities and restaurants, and came across a few surprises!
I finally sat down to write my guide to Palm Springs. In part , lets talk about the food! There are some seriously delicious spots in the area. I even came across an amazing sushi place. Fresh fish in the desert? My mind was blown. Keep reading for all of my recommendations, plus the places I wish we'd gone!
I almost don't want to admit it, but we came here literally every day of the 10 days that we were in Palm Springs (one day I even went twice). That's how good it is. It's also right in downtown Palm Springs - super convenient and soooo cute! All of the storefronts there are covered in blooming bougainvilleas (and no, I still can't pronounce that word, haha). What we had:
- Avocado toast
- Berry Cool smoothie
- Blue Coco smoothie
- Classic bowls
- Nicecream (berry "ice cream" without cream or sugar - make it yourself with this recipe)
Everything we tried was totally yummy. They also have soups, salads, burgers, tacos, and wraps, and they're all raw! We didn't try any of those, but I can only expect that they're also delicious. We met the owner, who was super nice! He was excited about healthy living and enthusiastic about his shop (so committed, he even has a custom license plate on his Jeep!). The cafe itself is cute and strangely eclectic, as if a hippie from the future decorated it. There's awesome outdoor seating, and little cups full of puzzles that you can do while you hang out.
Summary: Natural healthy smoothies and snacks. Go for the food!
116 La Plaza, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
Part of the Arrive Hotel, this place was hands-down my favorite place to eat lunch+dinner. You can either sit in the open-air patio, indoors, or at the pool bar on the other side of the restaurant - all of these sitting choices are magnificent! The hotel is gorgeous - mostly wood and cement, every last detail is thought out and beautifully designed.
We came here a few times for both lunch and dinner. For lunch, I recommend the tacos, which you can mix and match. I tried the Carne Asada, Korean BBQ, Chicken Pastor, Tamarindo Shrimp, and Sesame Tuna. The tuna one was the only disappointment - the rest were delicious! For dinner, the side of coconut rice and peas is a must, and I had the Arugula Salad with added Carne Asada. It was the best salad+steak in.my.life. If you're Paleo, or just a fan of salads+steaks like me, then you have to try this.
The staff is so nice, and the vibe is chill, whether at night or during the day. They have misters during the day to cool you off from the desert heat, and a super cute (IG friendly) Ice Cream & Shop[pe] right next door. Go here!
Summary: fresh American food with Southern American influence. Go for the food and ambiance!
(inside Arrive Hotel) 1551 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
Gyoro-Gyoro Izakaya Japonaise
I stopped here for lunch and was in a major hurry. The staff was so sweet, and brought my food out super quickly so I wouldn't be late to my shoot! Their fish is amazingly fresh (the chef said they fly it in from LA). The space is huge but really well decorated in an old-fashioned Japanese style. There's both indoor and outdoor seating.
Their dinner menu is a little on the pricey side, but their lunch specials were super affordable! I had a Chirashi Bowl and it was one of the most delicious ones I've ever tasted. The restaurant is in downtown Palm Springs, so it's super convenient. Seriously, no excuse - if you like Japanese food, come here!
Summary: fresh Japanese. Go for the food and ambiance!
105 S Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
Workshop Kitchen + Bar
This place was on my list of must-go's, and Brad agreed to come here even though it was a bit out of our price range. The entrance is strange because there are actually three entryways, and you end up coming in through the patio, but the hostess is inside and on the other end of the restaurant. Once you successfully find the hostess, though, you're all set. The decor inside is breathtaking - cement, metal, and hanging light fixtures create a dark and romantic ambiance with tall booths and a long center table.
We sat outside on the patio, which was also a beautiful environment. String lights and desert trees are in abundance, and the patio is sheltered by buildings on all sides.
The food was all styled to perfection, and very tasty. This place was one of my favorites. We had the Roasted Heirloom Carrots, Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo, and Wood-Fired Pizza. Every dish was a magical blend of art and flavor. I was dying to try the Truffle Risotto, but couldn't justify it at $45 a pop.
Definitely come here for the experience, and make a reservation!
Summary: gourmet American food art. Go for the food and ambiance!
800 N Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
We had brunch here - it's a tiny space that seems to always be packed, so a prior reservation is definitely recommended. You walk in and sit in a gorgeous courtyard that feels straight out of France. The restaurant is French-themed, with picnic-feels during the day.
I ordered the Croissant Breakfast Sandwich and Brad had an omelette. The omelette was good but nothing special. My sandwich was delicious, but really heavy (so prepare to be stuffed!). They had really yummy fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice that I thoroughly enjoyed. I'd probably come again for the breakfast sandwich, but not very often - it's a bit pricey and the wait is long.
Summary: French-influenced American brunch. Go once for ambiance.
6 La Plaza, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
This cafe is too cute! Very Instagram-friendly, with tufted seating, wood ceilings, metal + glass chandeliers, and marble tables on the patio. They serve local coffee from Joshua Tree Coffee Co., and baked goods. Plus, all of their details are blogger-chic-pink (like #thatpinkdoor). Customs is connected to the Arrive Hotel (my fave - more on that later). Make sure to ask for some stickers when you order!
Summary: Blogger heaven. Go for the coffee and decor!
1551 North Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
This is a hipster Mexican restaurant inside of the Saguaro Hotel. They have a Happy Hour menu during the week 3pm-6pm, and a Taco Tuesday menu. The food was delicious and the decor reminiscent of old-timey Wild West movies. We were there during the week, so it wasn't too loud or rowdy, but it seems like the kind of hotel where it gets that way on the weekends. Even on a Tuesday afternoon, we ran into a rambunctious group of girls.
I had the Chicken Tortilla Soup, and Brad had tacos (I don't remember which ones). Both the soup and the tacos were very tasty. Also, if you like to drink, they have an impressive wall lined with fancy tequilas.
The one disappointing thing about this spot was that we came on a Tuesday specifically for the Taco Tuesday menu, where you can order tacos a la carte for cheap (rather than the regular taco plate that comes with 3 of the same taco). To our surprise (and to the waiter's surprise), the Taco Tuesday menu is only available from 6pm-9pm. The waiter actually let us order off of it, and then came back 5 minutes later only to say that actually we couldn't. Frustrating! I'd definitely come back for the Taco Tuesday menu, but the regular menu was a bit pricey for the amount of food.
If you come here, also make sure to explore the hotel a bit. The interior design is colorful, fun, and a blogger fave!
Summary: hipster Mexican. Go for Taco Tuesday.
(inside Saguaro Hotel) 1800 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
The name of this restaurant is a cute play on words because it's very much a fancy pub/sports bar, but the theme is actually blue drafting paper with technical drawings all over. I came here for both lunch and dinner. The reviews on Yelp say that the staff is rude and the kitchen is slow. It's not true about the staff, but the kitchen is indeed very slow. I do recommend coming here, but preferably for lunch on a weekday. Also save some time to play with the jumbo-sized Connect-4 and Jenga on the patio! They have a few other games as well, but these two are as tall as you!
They have some super fun menu items, like a Thai PB&J, asparagus fries, and a grilled mac and cheese sandwich. Brad tried the mac and cheese sando, and it was really amazing - not too gooey, just the right amount of crunch. I had the Pilsner Tomato Bisque soup and the beet salad for lunch. All of the food was great, but it did take a while to come out.
I came again for dinner and that was a bit of a disaster. An hour into waiting for my food (their signature burger, no bun), I ask the waiter and he found out that they accidentally gave my order to another table. Super weird because I had a very custom order (maybe someone else in the restaurant also ordered lettuce instead of buns and asparagus instead of potato fries.. but somehow I doubt it). They brought out my order 5 minutes later, but it was wrong. I finally ate about an hour and a half after sitting down.
Summary: playful American food. Go for weekday lunch!
1501 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, CA (menu)
This is the restaurant inside of the Ace Hotel. The hotel itself is gorgeous, with desert hipster decor (Ace Hotel is a favorite for me and the hubs). The restaurant is a throwback to a road-side diner from the 70s. The vibes in the restaurant were fun, but I personally was disappointed by the food.
I tried the Karma Burger, which is their vegan option - I'd had one recently at By Chloe in NYC and I was craving it again. Unfortunately, it tasted nothing like the one I was craving, and in fact, I couldn't finish it because I really didn't enjoy the taste. Brad had the Desert Highway Burger and said it was good.
The one super cool thing about this place is that they host Bingo on Monday nights during dinner. The woman who leads it is a retired performer and a staple of Palm Springs - she and her co-hosts are super entertaining, plus you can choose to share your booth with strangers! We met some awesome Canadians in town for work. If you're coming for Bingo night, definitely make a reservation. They have two rounds per night, and it fills up.
There's also a coffee bar during the day that serves Stumptown, and a bar at night called Amigo. There is a photobooth, but it was broken when we stopped by.
Summary: mediocre American diner food. Go for Monday night Bingo.
(inside Ace Hotel) 701 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
Really popular pizza place, they offer gluten-free and cauliflower crust. The vibes here are amazing, especially at night. Most of the restaurant is outdoors, with romantic lighting and a wall of shrubs protecting you from the street. The restaurant seems to fill up, so I'd recommend making a reservation. They do have first-come-first-served seating on the outer edge (on couches!) as well as at the bar if you do happen to come here on a whim.
We had the Three Kale Salad and a custom pizza. The salad was incredible - beets, avocado, seeds - a ton of flavor. The pizza, however, was really sauce-heavy and made me feel super gross afterward. I didn't even eat the leftovers the next day (whaaat!). Brad enjoyed the pizza but agreed that it was heavy. We tried to order the cauliflower crust, but they were out, so we stuck to gluten-free.
I'd recommend coming here for the vibes/decor alone, but maybe steer clear of the pizza (unless you like the heavy stuff).
Summary: hipster pizza and Italian. Go for the ambiance.
622 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
This is a smoothie shop on the main strip in downtown Palm Springs. To be honest, we only came here because Raw Remedy was closed that day, but this place was good as well! I had a bit of trouble communicating what I wanted (unfortunately I always have to customize my smoothies because they always come with honey and other sweet things that I don't eat), but ended up with a great drink.
Their specialty item is aguas frescas, and the staff happily give out samples. We didn't try those, but the reviews are very positive about them online. I'm not sure if the shop is being renovated, but the decor is definitely lacking - not a place we wanted to hang out in. Definitely a great backup for a quick in-and-out smoothie or bowl!
Summary: fresh juices, smoothies, and bowls. Go if Raw Remedy is closed.
264 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA (menu)
Places I wish we'd gone (but ran out of time):
- Wilma & Frieda's Cafe - popular American brunch spot among bloggers
- Rooster and the Pig - Vietnamese
- Eight4Nine - American brunch + dinner with fun high-gloss white decor
- The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge - farm-to-table pre-fixe dinner
- The Edge Steakhouse at Rancho Mirage - steak with an amazing view
- Coachella Valley Brewing - local brewery and taproom
Part 2 of my Palm Springs guide with activities to do is coming soon! Also watch out for a post on the inaugural season of Desert X (an art show all over the desert!) and the how-to for the DIY advent calendar.
Julia O Test is a lifestyle blogger and photographer based in San Francisco.