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Under the Palm Desert Sun

BY Laura Levy Shatkin

As if 350 days of sunshine per year wasn’t enough, majestic mountain hikes, world-class dining and lush emerald green golf courses make this Southern California oasis a must-see. This is Palm Desert, one of the nine distinct communities commonly dubbed Greater Palm Springs.

Situated in the heart of the Coachella Valley and flanked by the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain ranges, Palm Desert is largely shielded from inclement weather and has a distinct character that deserves a focused visit.

Palm Desert rests less on the laurels of old Hollywood glamour and more on the vibrancy of its activities. Most of these are open to the public, rather than inside the large gated private resorts of neighboring Palm Springs.

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As if 350 days of sunshine per year wasn’t enough, majestic mountain hikes, world-class dining and lush emerald green golf courses make this Southern California oasis a must-see. This is Palm Desert, one of the nine distinct communities commonly dubbed Greater Palm Springs.

Situated in the heart of the Coachella Valley and flanked by the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain ranges, Palm Desert is largely shielded from inclement weather and has a distinct character that deserves a focused visit.

Palm Desert rests less on the laurels of old Hollywood glamour and more on the vibrancy of its activities. Most of these are open to the public, rather than inside the large gated private resorts of neighboring Palm Springs.

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A Breath of Fresh Air Hiking the area is blissful, relaxing and so convenient. Just north of downtown’s main street, El Paseo, you’ll find the 3-mile long Bump and Grind Trail (alltrails.com/trail/us/california/bump-and-grind-trail) with amazing views of the palms and emerald green golf courses along with vast, uninhabited mountain vistas. Head left at the trailhead and face a steeper challenge, but veer right and the incline is gradual.

Don’t want to miss your lap swimming or aqua aerobics? Grab a lane at the Palm Desert Aquatic Center (pdpool.com), the 8-acre facility with three pools and ample water exercise classes that are open to the public.

Catch a glimpse of the natural desert habitat of unique desert zoo animals—accessible on foot or by tram—at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens (livingdesert.org). Stroll through the peaceful Winged Wonders Butterfly Exhibit, watch the twice-daily Cheetah Runs or feed the giraffes.

Take a San Andreas Fault Eco-Tour with a local guide (red-jeep.com) and explore the backcountry trails of this wilderness zone. Learn about the elaborate aquaphor system that supplies local water from the Colorado River and the Native American tribes that once inhabited the land.

Arts and Entertainment
Buy tickets to a show at the 1,127-seat McCallum Theatre (mccallumtheatre.com/index.php/shows), located on the campus of College of the Desert. World class dance, theatre and music fill the stage regularly: Irish Rovers, Suzanne Somers and John Cleese, to name a few.

Linger at The Galen, Palm Desert’s branch of the Palm Springs Art Museum (psmuseum.org/palm-desert) sculpture garden, where large installations are tastefully surrounded by beautifully landscaped desert gardens and paths. On Wednesdays, the Farmers Market sets up in an adjacent parking lot. Browse through the stands of regional organic fruits and vegetables, local dates, fresh eggs and avocado oils.

Shopping and Dining El Paseo (elpaseocatalogue.com/elpaseo), known as the “Rodeo Drive of the Desert,” boasts over 200 shops ranging from locally owned boutiques to higher-end designers like Burberry, lululemon, and Gucci. If walking doesn’t suit you, climb aboard the yellow courtesy carts that ride regularly down the mile-long stretch. Weekend shopping is best at the year-round COD Street Fair (codaastreetfair.com), where hundreds of merchants, artists and entertainers gather in the open air.

Right off the strip, try brunch at Wilma and Frieda’s for whimsical dishes like savory crab benedict and dessert-like blackberry vanilla custard stuffed French toast. The shopping-weary can head to happy hour at WP Kitchen &

Bar (wolfgangpuck.com/dining/wp-kitchen-bar-palm-desert-ca) for Wolfgang Puck’s casual Cal cuisine. Or grab a lunch salad at the giant outdoor patio at Tommy Bahama Cafe (tommybahama.com/restaurants/palm-desert).

Just a short drive away is the liveliest casual dining spot, aptly named Eureka! (eurekarestaurantgroup.com) The burger-focused casual menu reaches far with dishes like the charred shishito peppers and slow roasted pork ribs.

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Stevenson’s Studio LLC / JW MarriotT

This page, Top: Farming at Oasis Date Farm and Cafe. Bottom: Mountain View Course at Desert Willow Golf Resort. Opposite Page, Top: JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort. Bottom: The Spa at Desert Springs at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa

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Taste the Dates Experience the natural wonder in the “Date Capital of the World,” (oasisdate.com) in Thermal, California. Sip on an impossibly creamy and refreshing date shake at the Oasis Date Farm and Cafe, situated among the thousands of acres of date palm trees. This roadside diner doubles as a gift shop with free date samples and gift boxes with more than 10 varieties of dates ready for shipping. Lunch might be Spinach salad with a date dressing and a date burger.

Staying and Playing For the luxury resort experience, don’t miss the expansive 450-acre JW Marriott Desert Springs (marriott.com/hotels/travel/ctdca-jw-marriott-desert-springs-resort-and-spa), with two championship 18-hole golf courses, five outdoor pools and an award-winning spa. Bringing the entire family? Try the Marriott’s Desert Springs Villas on the adjoining property. Each villa block has a pool and hot tub and shares tennis and golf privileges with the hotel. 

Golfer paradise is but a drive away at Desert Willow Golf Resort (desertwillow.com) where the Mountain View Course is pristine. The course has stunning views, relaxing play and tee times open to residents and visitors alike. Dine on fresh catch tacos or a papaya Mandarin salad at one of the prettiest perches in town, The Terrace, just one of the many dining options here. 

On the quieter side, venture to the 50-room Desert Hot Springs Spa (dhsspa.com) with eight hot mineral spring pools and a beautiful spa. Get your dose of mid-century modern architecture with an overnight stay, or just spend a day and enjoy the pools along with a scrub, masque, deep tissue massage or hot stone reflexology. 

Whatever your desires, you can find them under the Palm Desert sun. Just a two-hour drive from both San Diego and Los Angeles, Palm Desert is a Southern California oasis teeming with activities for the young and the young-at-heart.