Socially Distanced Palm Springs Getaway Guide
February 4, 2021
A 3-Night Socially Distanced Visit to Palm Springs
Drive to Palm Springs for a socially-distanced Palm Springs getaway. Between the desert’s vast array of restaurant curbside pickup options, an expansive national park just an hour away, and self-driving tours, there are ways that you can make this trip safe not just for you and your family, but for the essential workers too.
Day 1: Drive to Palm Springs
You won’t go hungry in the desert that’s for sure. They’ve got all the best restaurants down there. But, since this is a socially-distanced trip, it might be best to have breakfast on hand to minimize the amount of deliveries ($$$$) and pickups that would need to be done each day. On the way out, I picked up a half dozen box (bagels + cream cheese) from Noah’s Bagels. It was only $9.95 and ended up being such a good decision; we had plans each morning and I didn’t have to stress about finding something to eat because I could have a bagel every day of the trip. You can also have the box delivered to you before you leave if you don’t want to go inside to pick up.
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Hotel vs. Airbnb
I had been struggling to find an Airbnb because most of the available options fell into two categories: a condo/apartment/guest house with a shared pool and patio space, or a house in Cathedral City that cost $250 per night. I really wanted a private pool or jacuzzi and personal patio so I could social distance and not worry about being in the same space as others. With the 11.5% occupancy tax that Palm Springs charges for short-term residents (guests staying less than 28 days) plus the increased cleaning fees (many places are charging $200) and then the service fee, we are talking a lot of money for a short getaway. So, when we found this Airbnb — a casita-style condo with a private outdoor space complete with jacuzzi, outdoor fire pit, and stunning view of the mountains smack dab in the center of Palm Springs for $145 a night — we knew this was the one. And we were not disappointed! It was absolutely perfect for our stay.
If you want to stay away from all of those unnecessary fees and book a hotel, I would recommend a property with rooms that are stand alone, so you really don’t have to interact with others at a front desk, elevator, lobby, etc. You can look for hotel reviews on TripAdvisor | Booking.com | Hotels.com.
Palm Springs Movie Night
Tomorrow will be a long day, and it might have taken you awhile to drive to Palm Springs today, so we are taking it easy tonight. If you’d like to pick up food, there are some great curbside pickup options below, or you can do delivery. This is pretty cheesy, but ever since the movie Palm Springs had become available for streaming on Hulu, I decided that it would be the perfect first night activity for a social distancing trip to Palm Springs. I didn’t know much about the film, only that it was a romcom and had received praise at Sundance. While I wouldn’t say that Palm Springs as a destination played a significant role in the movie, it was still a fun thing to do that first evening to get into the desert mood.
Day 2: Joshua Tree + On the Mark Cheese & Charcuterie Board
Drive about an hour to Joshua Tree National Park for a day filled with nature. But before you do, take a look at the weather. As we entered the park and started driving down the main drag, we noticed that the people stepping out of their cars were wearing parkas and windbreakers and were dressed for an entirely different season than we were. I was wearing bike shorts and a tank top and my boyfriend was in basketball shorts and a tank as well. Looking at the car dashboard we realized that although it was 80 degrees in Palm Springs, it was a balmy 57 degrees in Joshua Tree. Once we stepped outside, we also noticed a wind chill like you would experience walking down the street in a New York winter. Moral of the story is to not assume temps are the same in Joshua Tree as in the desert and pack accordingly. You’ll also want to bring long pants — even if it’s extremely hot outside — to cover your legs. If you go off the trail, there is a lot of scrapeable brush. My leg got pretty scratched up in those bike shorts and the scar is just now starting to fade.
It’s a $30 entrance fee per car for a week pass (there is no day pass option) or you can purchase an annual pass. The annual pass is a MUCH better deal if you plan on visiting Joshua Tree for multiple days or heading out to any other national parks in the same calendar year.
This was my second time in Joshua Tree and we were clearly going with the spontaneity/no research theme, so we simply chose to get out of the car and explore whenever we felt like it.
If it’s your first time, you may want to do a bit of research on what exhibits make the most sense for you to get out of the car and explore. The classic “must do” hike is the Hidden Valley Trail which is just an easy one mile loop. The Barker Dam Nature Trail is just about the same distance at 1.3 miles and a great place to potentially see some wildlife. There are also some interesting rock formations you can visit. Skull Rock and Arch Rock are two of the most popular. The Cholla Cactus Garden and Keys View are two of the other most famous sights to see in Joshua Tree.
You’ll either have no service or spotty service depending on your provider, so make sure you download a Spotify playlist or a podcast or two before you enter to set the mood while you drive through the national park. We spent just a couple of hours there, but it would be quite easy to spend a lot more. Just make sure you account for the hour drive back to and from Palm Springs when planning out your day. And you’ll want to bring water for the trip but not drink too much of it unless you are dehydrated. There are toilets, but not the flushing kind.
We have some friends who insisted we get a custom cheese and charcuterie board from a place called On the Mark. They checked in via text enough times for us to realize that a) we weren’t getting out of going and b) we wouldn’t want to get out of it if they were this emphatic about it. So after Joshua Tree, we gave On the Mark a call and ordered a custom board for two. They ask about your preferences and if there is anything that you wouldn’t want on your board. We got the $20 a person board and wow, this was definitely a trip highlight. It was absolutely delicious and a lot of fun to try the vast array of nuts, berries, olives, etc. I don’t believe they do curbside pickup, but if you aren’t comfortable going in-store, it is worth a try to give them a call and see if you can pay over the phone and if they would bring it out to your car.
You’ll probably be pretty tired from a full day at Joshua Tree, so a little jacuzzi time and a movie with your cheese board should be a sufficient ending to the evening.
Day 3: Self-Driving Palm Springs Windmill Tour
I had really wanted to do a jeep tour around the San Andreas Fault, but then 2020 happened and the only way to do so was by booking the entire jeep which was $250 a person or $500 for the two of us. So, I went on TripAdvisor and saw a banner ad for the self-driving Palm Springs windmill tour. Props to the company for successfully pivoting to a socially distanced option. For $40 a car, you are given a sanitized tablet, a brief history lesson, and a map before you are off on your own driving around looking at windmills. Some of these windmills are functioning today and others are just kind of chilling there because they were not made to work effectively. But, you’ll learn all about this on the tour.
The windmills near Palm Springs are so iconic; I must say that I really enjoyed learning all about exactly why the windmills are located in that pass and what they actually do. The “tour” itself was just okay, but I learned a lot and was thrilled to have an additional activity on the itinerary.
The company does provide a sanitized tablet for you to use, but if you have your own ipad or phone, it makes more sense to just use your own device. The tour is essentially an unlisted YouTube video and the link is provided to you after you purchase the ticket, so it is super simple to pull up the video on your phone and watch it on your device as you drive around the windmills. Plan on spending about an hour and half on the tour. Hours or operation are from 9 to 1 and tours begin every half hour.
While it was nice to actually have somewhere to be, we also wanted to make sure we spent some time hanging out by the jacuzzi reading as you would on a proper vacation. We decided to spend the afternoon doing just that. If you would rather continue exploring Palm Springs, I recommend doing the self-guided driving tour of mid-century modern homes that I discuss below on the final day.
At around 5:30, we got in the car and drove to pick up food from my all-time favorite restaurant, Tommy Bahama. I’m not embarrassed to say this was one of the main reasons for the whole trip. While there is a Tommy Bahama restaurant in Palm Springs, we prefer the location on El Paseo in Palm Desert because they have the filet mignon salad on the menu. Also, it’s really fun to walk around and peer into the shops and restaurants on El Paseo. We had our order delayed for a half hour, so we could walk up and down El Paseo and do some distanced people watching.
Day 4: Self-Guided Driving Tour + Heading Home
We decided to do our own self-guided driving tour of the mid-century modern homes in Palm Springs. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin’s houses were first on the list, but we also used this fantastic self-guided architecture tour post to check out homes built by famous architects in Racquet Club Estates, Little Tuscany, and our favorite, the Movie Colony. While that post is excellent, we both determined that we actually preferred driving around the different areas and checking out all of the homes as opposed to “address hopping” to and from the homes built by famous architects. This was our personal preference because we didn’t have any sort of attachment to or knowledge of any of the architects that built these homes. If you are an architecture aficionado, you might want to take the more pointed “address hopping” approach that is detailed in the post.
On the way back to Los Angeles, we stopped at The Sandwich Spot to pick up some sub sandwiches for the drive home. I don’t believe you can order for delivery or for curbside pickup, but there are lots of other casual spots with curbside pickup available if you would prefer that option.
We were back in LA in under two hours and just like that, our first and only trip for 2020 was a wrap!
6 Awesome Restaurants in Palm Springs with Curbside Pickup:
Ristorante Mamma Gina
Kaiser Grille Palm Desert
Rooster and the Pig
And for takeout…Yiannis Taverna for authentic Greek food.
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