There’s a reason Elvis and Priscilla honeymooned in Palm Springs, and Rat Pack legends Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. made it their Hollywood playground: The desert city’s Midcentury moment is so red-hot it has lasted for decades. If you’re among the hordes descending on Palm Springs for Coachella, don’t limit yourself to the festival. We’ve put together a Palm Springs to-do list that even a young Elvis would love tender.
Check into the Sparrow's Lodge, a chicly revamped 1950s resort that feels more adult-summer-camp than motor lodge, thanks to the exposed beam ceilings, outdoor firepits and horse troughs. The hotel's best asset: the open-air pool overlooking the San Jacinto Mountains. Refreshed? Hop on the new, free Buzz shuttle (which arrives every 15 minutes) to downtown Palm Springs, and grab lunch at local favorite Cheeky's. The bacon flight ($5 for five flavors, which may include jalapeño, chocolate glaze or … Manishevitz) and the juicy local grass-fed burger with pesto fries won’t disappoint. Once you’re sated, head to the nearby Palm Springs Art Museum, where Ai Weiwei’s blinged-out installation “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold” is on display through May. The spanking new Architecture and Design Center, a renovation of a 1961 building by Palm Springs starchitect E. Stewart Williams, is just a few blocks away. But don’t linger too long: You’ll want to see the city from 8,516 feet up, on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, before dusk. Ride down at sunset to catch the San Jacinto Mountains and the Coachella Valley bathed in a dreamy pink light. For dinner, hightail it to Copley’s, Cary Grant’s former guesthouse turned Palm Springs hot spot. (Reservations are a must, as is the artichoke and mascarpone ravioli.) Post-meal it's all about drinks by the pool: at the Hacienda Beach Club, in-the-know Coachella kids gather around a turquoise pool for orange liqueur margaritas and berry mojitos until the late hours.
Go light on the hotel breakfast (included in your room rate). At Peninsula Pastry, the French owners whip up some of the best pain au chocolat and croissants in the country. (One reason they’re so good: the flour is imported from France’s Beauce region.) Spend the rest of the morning touring the city’s architectural masterpieces; we recommend the three-hour excursion with Palm Springs Modern Tours, or you can drive yourself with help from a map from the Palm Springs Visitors Center. Two must-see landmarks: Liberace’s terra-cotta-roofed manse, and Elvis’s Honeymoon Hideaway, where Lisa Marie is rumored to have been conceived.
Grab lunch on the sun-soaked patio at Tyler’s Burgers (get there early, before they run out of their cult-favorite potato salad). Then spend your afternoon shopping for iconic Midcentury artifacts. Modern Way stocks original Florence Knoll sofas and rosewood Eames lounge chairs; at A La Mod you’ll find Nautilus swivel chairs by Vladimir Kagan, or maybe a leather and brass ottoman by Karl Springer. Don’t have the budget for $5,000 side tables? Duck into Raymond Lawrence for fun, colorful tchotchkes that could fit in a carry on: acrylic candelabras, Coachella Valley–made beauty products, and mod felted wool throw pillow covers. Once you’ve used up your souvenir budget, head back to the hotel for a poolside nap — and prep for this evening’s bar crawl. Start at the aptly named Bar for upscale small plates like the Tuscan kale salad or the asiago, baby clam and bacon pizza; there’s also a hefty whiskey list that includes everything from Buffalo Trace to 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle ($160 a glass). Then it’s on to the Ace Hotel’s hipster Amigo Room (come back on Monday, when local drag queens host a trivia night). Next hit Palm Spring’s sceneyest new watering hole, the dimly lit Bootlegger Tiki, for a flaming Gooney Goo Goo (port, OJ, cognac, lime and cinnamon syrup — and, yes, it’s flaming) served under glowing blowfish lamps.
Stop for a hearty Sunday brunch at Workshop Kitchen + Bar, where chef Michael Beckman (formerly of three-Michelin-starred Lameloise, in Burgundy), churns out classic American fare: blue crab eggs benedict, Maine lobster breakfast burritos. You may not want to see Bootlegger Tiki again so soon after last night, but the adjacent Ernest Coffee (under the same cool ownership) is a must for a caffeine jolt. Once you’ve fueled up, head 33 miles northeast to Joshua Tree National Park. There you’ll find nearly 800,000 acres of otherworldly desert landscape where roadrunners and bighorn sheep roam. Check out the Cholla Cactus Garden and hike the three-mile trail to 3,371-foot Mastodon Peak to glimpse the Salton Sea. The nearby Natural Sisters Café serves delicious smoothies and fresh organic salads. From there it’s a 20-minute drive north to Integratron, a tricked-out domed energy machine built for “rejeuvenation” in the late ’50s (by appointment only). Sign up for the 60-minute Sound Bath, a sonic healing session that will leave you deeply relaxed (and, some say, looking 10 years younger). End the day with a plate of mesquite barbecue and live music at Pappy & Harriets, in the historic movie set village of Pioneer Town. Only in California.