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Palm Springs Vacation

To escape some of the cold weather in Dallas, we headed to the sunny and warm Palm Springs California area to spend a week golfing, exploring, and having a good 'ole time with family and friends. There is so much to see and do around Palm Springs, that we had to make hard choices between several activities. We quickly and easily filled our activity grid with morning, afternoon, and evening fun things to do. If you are planning a trip way, here are some of the things that we enjoyed.

Golf

The Palm Springs area is a golfers heaven with over 100 courses within a 30 mile radius. All of the courses that we played were in near perfect condition, very lush and green, well landscaped, and fun to play. Depending on the season, rates are well over $100 per round, but the off season rates are more reasonable and during the season you can save some money with twilight rates. We rode bikes around the Palm Springs municipal course and although a lot of the holes seemed like they were flat, similar, and side by side, it looked like it was excellent condition and would be enjoyable to play at a very reasonable price. Palm Springs Golf is a web site that has great information on a lot of the Palm Springs courses. Here is a brief description of the courses that we played.

Escena Golf Club is the newest course in Palm Springs designed by Jack Nicklaus and features meticulously landscaped native areas, multiple lakes and streams, and wide fairways. This 7,173 yard layout is framed by clusters of towering Mexican fan palms, pepper trees, and small native trees. The views of the surrounding mountains are amazing, particularly if you live in Texas, call large ant piles a hill, and haven't seen a real mountain for awhile. It is amazing how lush and green this course is when just 5 feet from the course boundary is dry, barren, desert. Escena it appears that it gets few rounds because you don't find many divots or ball marks. We rated Escena a 9 out of 10 - pretty open, a lot of variety, excellent condition, and not real challenging. It is a very enjoyable, fun, and relaxing round of golf where you should score well depending on what set of tee boxes you select.

EscenaEscena

Classic ClubClassic Club is home of the PGA Tour's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and it is as close to prefect as you can get. You'll find 5,000 Pine, California Pepper & Olive Trees with 11,000 cubic yards of mulch and pine straw and 30 acres of lake and water features, including 14 stone bridges. You'll encounter rolling terrain plus several elevated tees; 30 acres of lake and water features; flowering bushes and shrubs; 5,000 Pine, California Pepper and Olive trees; and 11,000 cubic yards of mulch and pine straw ground cover.

The course is in near perfect condition and playing golf near the surrounding mountains and vistas that are exclusive to the Coachella Valley makes for an incredibly beautiful experience. We seemed to forget about our score and just focused on the beauty and condition. We gave it a 9.5 - some challenge, excellent variety, and unmatched condition. Click here to read our more detailed review of Classic Club.

PGA Statium PGA West Stadium Course - if you like a challenge that will test your skills to the limit, then you need to try the Stadium Course. The original home of the Skins Game, the Stadium course provides the ultimate challenge with hundreds of pot bunkers, sand, water and side hill lies. This course has hundreds of burms, natural grass areas, elevated and well protected greens, lakes, and more - all of which demand excellent course management and good club selection. A 19-foot-steep-faced deep green side bunker that flanks the par-5 16th hole trapped my ball and kept it there for 4 strokes - and that was just one of the many hazards that caused us problems on that hole! The course rating from the tips for PGA West is 76.1 and the slope is 150! We gave it a 20 on a scale of 10 for difficulty. Don't let the difficultly discourage you from playing this course, if you can forget about scoring well, you'll enjoy the natural beauty, the variety, and challenge of trying to determine where to hit the ball. If you want to see some more pictures, click here. Golf Digest consistently rates this course as a "Top 100". When all the other courses were lush and green and in perfect condition, the Stadium rated a 7 on the condition scale compared to the other courses we played or saw so our rating was an 8.5 overall.

Westin Mission Hills North Gary Player Course is designed for golfers of all levels and preserves and enhances the natural beauty of the desert environment. After playing PGA West, this course seemed like a piece of cake! This Gary Player designed course is 7,062 yards and features 20 acres of lakes, four waterfalls, beautiful landscaping, small greens, and strategically placed bunkers. We found the course to be very pretty, fairly easy, with minimal variety, and in excellent condition (a 10). The fairways are wide, well landscaped, and perfectly groomed. The greens were a little bigger than average, very true, moderately fast, and in excellent condition. A great course by any standard but compared to the others, we rated it a 9 due to lack of challenge and variety. Some of the accolades that Westin Mission Hills has won include: 4.5 stars in Golf Digest's Places to Play and Golf Magazines' Silver Medal Resort Winner.

Before you read on, you might want to check our list of favorite Palm Springs and other California Golf Courses.

Hiking

In addition to being a golfing mecca, Palm Springs is a fantastic place to go if you want to hike. You have plenty of choices from flat and easy to very strenuous, from desert to canyons to mountain trails, and from to guided tours to go for it on your own. For example, at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tram within the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area you will find 54 miles of hiking trails which should be sufficient to satisfy the appetite of the most avid outdoor enthusiast. The trails in this park range from the awe-inspiring five and one-half mile trek to the 10,834 foot peak of San Jacinto to the just over one mile nature walk through picturesque Long Valley, located just behind the Tram's Mountain Station. If you like to hike here are a few sites to check out that have pictures, maps, and good information: Hiking in Palm Springs and the Bureau of Land Management.

You can't leave the Palm Springs area without visiting and hiking in Joshua Tree National Park which is about 45 minutes from Palm Springs. Joshua Tree offers a fascinating variety of plants, animals, strange Joshua Trees, and a number of unique rock formations. The land was shaped by strong winds, unpredictable torrents of rain, and climatic extremes and is truly unique. The Park has miles of hiking trails, each of which is somewhat different from the others. We parked in the Jumbo Rocks Campground and hiked some of the trails and then had a blast as we blazed our own trail (don't tell the rangers) through the boulders and rock formations - scurrying up and down the rocks and through some narrow crevices pretending you're a lizard. Plan on a whole day for Joshua trees - pack a lunch and lots of water and have a good time.

Wow - I made it to the topJoshua Tree hike

Painted Canyon - we also hiked the 5 mile Ladder Canyon Loop in Painted Canyon which is about 40 minutes from Palm Springs and well worth the drive - a 5 out of 5 on our hiking scale.

Painted Canyon cuts through the middle of a colorful, twisted, exotic landscape providing a very fun hike through narrow slots, up and down a series of ladders, and finally to the top and along a ridge with fantastic views of the valley and the Salton Sea.

Which way to go?Enterance to Indian CanyonThrough the narrow slots

Indian Canyon was the third place we hiked and it has three different areas for hiking - Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. We hiked some of the 15 miles of trails in Palm Canyon. The first part of the hike winds along a stream bed through towering palms and then opens up with trails through different sections of the sounding hills. Worth the price of admission and a 3 out of 5 on the fun hikes scale.

Hiking through the palms

Palm Spring AdventuresAdventures

Jeep tour to the faultOff Road Adventures - at first we were skeptical about spending the money to take a jeep eco-tour, but when we got back we were ready to go again and decided it was one of the highlights of the entire trip. We went with Desert Adventures (888 440-5337) in a 7 passenger open air jeep driven by the Director of Ranch Operations, Mitch Cazier. Mitch was fantastic - his wealth of information, eco and geological knowledge, and open and friendly communication style made the trip fun and informative. I understand that all of the guides are excellent and extremely knowledgeable about history, geology, and the environment.

Desert Adventures offers a variety of tours including desert sightseeing tours, hiking, biking, and eco-tours through the San Andreas fault or Joshua Tree National Park. We took a combo tour that took us through the desert and San Andreas fault to an old mining camp and an Indian village - and we learned some amazing facts and enjoyed every moment of the four hour tour. Desert Adventures was voted the Best Attraction and Best Front Line Staff by the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors authority and is the winner of numerous local, regional, and national awards. We were still reminiscing about the trip and some of the fun facts we learned. To test our knowledge we turned the facts we learned it into a quiz game one evening, with each person having to ask a question from something they learned on the trip. The first person to spit out the right answer was the winner - amazing how much we learned.

Other Fun Activities

Some of the other fun things we saw and did included:

  • Casinos - if you like some pretty good entertainment and gambling, there are several casinos within 15 minutes of downtown Palm Springs. We lost a few bucks at Fantasy Springs Casino which has been voted the #1 casino in the region 7 years in a row. In surveys, it was also voted: Best Casino for Dancing, Best Place to Enjoy Rock 'n' Roll, Best Casino for Dining, Best Casino for Entertainment. After our second night of looking for some fun nightlife, we discovered that the nightlife seems to shut down around 10, except for the casinos
  • Biking - you have lots of choices for biking on or off the roads, including biking tours - check out Big Wheel Tours which offers a 20 mile downhill ride through the San Andreas Fault or a full range of off-road tours and even a hike, bike, and jeep tour combo. We wanted to spend some time exploring downtown Palm Springs so one afternoon we rented bikes, which were delivered to us downtown. Palm Springs is fairly bike friendly and has a number of bike paths - click here for a trail map that shows some bike routes. We took a part of the trail (wide, paved, and flat) that wound through town, along an arroyo, beside a golf course, and through some homes. We than blazed own own route around town and back to the where we needed to drop the bikes off, which just happened to be very close to a watering hole (coincidence or planned?). In conjunction with the bike ride, we:
    • had to stop by Blue Coyote for appetizers and a fabulous margarita - if you think the margaritas are good and strong in Texas, then you have to try the Wild Coyote Margarita at Blue Coyote Bar & Grill in downtown Palm Springs - watch it, these duds are good but potent. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we came back another day for a late lunch. It doesn't get much better than sitting on their great patio, sipping (and you need to slowly sip) margaritas, and munching on some good appetizers on a beautiful Palm Springs day.
    • attended Village Fest which is held on Thursday nights and is consistently voted the best event in Palm Springs - they close Palm Canyon Drive and have live music, arts and craft vendors, food, and more
    • eat some ok Mexican food (we travel all the way from Texas to have Mexican food in Palm Springs - that just doesn't sound right!) at Las Casuelas Mexican Restaurant and finished the evening dancing on their patio with a very fun and lively crowd
  • The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens - we took the grand kids to The Living Desert which is a 1200 acre wildlife and botanical park with rare and endangered desert animals and African wildlife plus lots of desert fauna. We found this to be mostly desert vegetation and were a little disappointed.
  • Empire Polo ClubThe Tram - you have to play tourist and take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of the mountain for a magnificent view of the mountains and valley. There are 54 miles of hiking trails, a lounge, and two dining options at the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway - Peaks, a fine dining experience with a breathtaking view of the Coachella Valley and Pines Café, a cafeteria-style restaurant.
  • Polo - on our way to the desert tour, we spent a few relaxing hours with a picnic lunch and beer watching some polo matches at The Empire Polo Club - a beautiful setting with the horses and mountains in the background

We Missed It

Given more time, here are a few of the other things that we would have enjoyed doing:

  • get on the sand dunes with an ATV or dune buggy from OffRoad Rentals (325-0376)
  • hike Tahquitz Canyon which has a spectacular waterfall, rock art, ancient irrigation, native wildlife, and plants
  • enjoy Anza-Borrego Desert State Park - the largest desert park in the United States with washes, wildflowers, palm groves, sweeping vistas, 500 miles of dirt roads, plenty of hiking trails, and lots of wildlife
  • hike some of the trails at Indian Canyons
  • play more golf
  • take a another desert tour with Desert Adventures
  • pedal off the beaten path on an off road bike tour with Big Wheel Tours

Lodging

You have lots of choices of where to stay depending on what you're looking to do, who you know, how much you want to spend, and what type of accommodations you need. For our first night, we stayed at the La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta which is a few miles from Palm Springs - this was not your typical La Quinta that you see along side the road. Wow, what a fantastic golf and tennis resort with an extremely helpful and friendly staff. The drive into La Quinta is very beautiful with trees and flowers and the mountains as a back drop. We stayed in one of the one bedroom Casitas which were very well appointed and equipped. After checking in and dropping off the bags we immediately headed to the outside Top of the Plaza Bar for margaritas and to listen to an excellent and fun band. This is not your typical bar, it was all open air, with an elevated seating area that you get to by wondering through the flowers, cascading waterfalls, and ponds. We liked the band so much we came back later in the week to hear them again and sample the excellent margaritas. The Resort has shops, several very good restaurants, tennis courts (some of which are clay), great accommodations, two excellent golf courses, and much more. Visit their website to learn more.

Casita La Quinta ResortBand at the bar

The rest of the week we stayed at the Marriott's Shadow Ridge in Palm Desert in a mini suite which had two queen beds, a mini kitchen (small refrigerator, sink, and microwave), and a patio overlooking the golf course and mountains. The Shadow Ridge has a lot of nice amenities, but the only one we ever had time to take advantage of was the pool, jacuzzi, and pool bar.

Dining

We didn't come to Palm Springs to sample their fine cuisine, as such we can't give you much help here. Palm Springs and the surround area have plenty of choices on everything from fast food to gourmet cuisine. We enjoyed quite a few places with open patios, a couple with music, and some that weren't so good. Here are a couple recommendations:

  • we did have a good Italian dinner at a nearby locals restaurant in La Quinta called Mario's Italian (760 777-4055) - good food and reasonable prices.
  • we enjoyed the music, open patio, and fun crowd at Las Casuelas Mexican Restaurant in downtown Palm Springs.
  • John Henry's Cafe is very popular with the locals, serving home-cooked continental food such as pork chops, fresh fish, and pasta for about $12 an entree. Everything was excellent and dinning under the stars on their patio was great. There are only about 40 tables, so reservations are a must - 760-327-7667. Their address is 1785 East Tochquitz Canyon Way in Palm Springs.
  • we stopped at the Marriott Desert Springs in Palm Desert which is a beautiful and well landscaped property with a very good golf course, some of which you can see as you enter the property. There is a newly renovated lobby which is great for a drink or appetizer. They have a gondola that departs from the lobby and takes you around the property or to one of the restaurants - kind of touristy but a good time filler!

Bottom Line

What a fun filled busy week which we wish could have been much longer. There is so much to see and do, that we'll just have to find a reason to come back. If you like golf vacations or you like to visit places that offer a wide variety of fun things to see and do, you should visit Palm Springs. Have fun.