February 21, 2013

Palm Springs: top 5 desert hot spots to hit if you’re under 75 years old

The colour of the sky ALL THE TIME in Palm Springs.

“Palm Springs? Are you rubbing BENGAY on your great grandpa?”

That’s just one of the many, many inquisitive tweets I received when I mentioned that I was spending a week in Palm Springs with my family. Sure, I get it, there’s a lot of old people there. But you know what? They’re so old they’ve figured life out.

Yes, you might find yourself in a jacuzzi wondering which is higher, the temperature of the water or the age of the confused senior sitting beside you. Think cast-of-Cocoon-soup.

Yes, you might find yourself at something called a “Sunset Supper” and realize Palm Springs just hoodwinked you into eating dinner at 4:45pm. Because that’s when the sun actually sets behind the mountains. And that Palm Springs has cleverly rebranded the much-maligned “Early Bird Special”. You’ll be back behind the gates of your golf compound you’re staying at by 7pm. Doesn’t matter, because everybody is up and driving around in golf carts at 5:30am.

In other words, Palm Springs is AWESOME.

Me and my mother-in-law, the lovely Joyce Barber.

The weather is perfect. The climate is dry. The sky is a deep, rich cobalt blue. The sun is hot. The entire Coachella Valley is surrounded by beautiful, jagged, moonscape mountains.

And despite what anyone tells you, there is actually plenty of things to do if you are, like me, under 75 years of age and want to taste something a little more exciting than scotch broth soup.

Matt Barber, Alexis Taylor, Grant Lawrence, Jill Barber enjoying brunch at the Ace Hotel restaurant.

1. The Ace Hotel. This is pretty much ground-zero of swingin’ hipster culture in the desert. The converted Howard Johnson’s is a very hep, mid-century modern one-stop shop: hotel, restaurant, hole-in-the-wall bar, pool, and live music. Some rooms come complete with an outdoor patio and fireplace. And the brunch cannot be beat. I suggest the Breakfast Biscuit Briskett.

2. The Workshop Kitchen and Bar. This is a fairly great new restaurant in the uptown area of Palm Springs, built into a heritage building with a swank inner courtyard. They serve both high-brow and low-brow chow and booze (cans of Pabst for $3). The starters were by far the best part of the meal, including wood-charred brussel sprouts and duck fat fries.

3. Joshua Tree National Park. The spiritual heart of Palm Springs, located high above the town, this park is a must-see explosion of high-desert flora and fauna, animals, birds, rock formations, and the famed Joshua Tree itself. Just don’t leave the trail, like my brother-in-law Matthew Barber did. That’s when he painfully experienced the desert’s famed “jumping” Cholla cactus. As in he wound up with a leg full of barbed needles that he had to extract one by one while being watched by a wily coyote.

4. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. If you’re really hungry after your adventure in the park, even further up in the hills beyond Joshua Tree is Pioneertown, a faux-1870’s village that was built by Hollywood in the 1940’s  and used as a western movie set. In the ’70’s, a couple named Pappy and Harriet took over the town saloon and turned it into an outlaw biker bar. Forty years later, this dusty cantina is still rockin’, complete with gigantic BBQ meals, live concerts from the likes of the Hives, and a clientele that mixes the original bikers with tourists, cowboys, Marines, and local desert rats.  Have the ribs.

5. Old Town Coffee Company. My favourite food is the chocolate chip cookie. I am always on the hunt for the best. I taste-test every cookie I can. I found an outrageous entry into these sweet sweepstakes in the quaint Old Town village of La Quinta, a Republican stronghold in the far eastern end of the Coachella Valley. Your cookie is handed to you fresh and hot from the oven, is the size of a snack plate, and falls apart into a gooey mess like a Republican presidential campaign. Incredibly delicious.

Livin' la vida loca in Palm Springs! ("la vida loca" means something good, right?)

Have you been to Palm Springs? Any other tips? Did you like or loathe the desert? Feel free to comment.

Special thanks to Darryl, Ann, Kyle, and Heather Barber, Brian and Joyce Barber, Matthew Barber, and Bob Deck.

More photos:

This is the "jumping" Cholla cactus that launched itself into Matt's leg. Photo by Matthew Barber.

Look carefully to see the coyote that watched. Photo by Matthew Barber.

My meal at Pappy and Harriet's Pioneer Palace.

A classic Joshua tree. Photo by Matthew Barber.

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