Palm Springs – best day trip ever

- Travel Guides

We were back in Palm Springs over the New Year and it seems mean not to share what was, for us, a highlight of our Southern California trip. Like most highlights, this one came about by recommendation from a local – Mr ‘party starter’ himself, the very lovely Alex Goldy from the very cool Ace Hotel (the place to stay in Palm Springs if you are not, as we were, AirBnBing it).

So, it was New Years Day, the day after the night before at the Ace New Year’s Eve party and, hangovers be damned, we were on a mission to explore the famous Joshua Tree National Park. A National Park with serious street cred for my music loving family, what with its famous desert recording studios and all. Fate was playing its part that day too, after an unusually cold and grey spell, the famous Palm Springs deep blue sky had thankfully returned.

I am sure Alex won’t mind me sharing the map of his recommended route with you. See here for a map

Truth be told we were late setting off so Alex’s first recommended stop at Shield’s Date Garden never happened, The troops were getting a little twitchy but after a 90 minute drive we arrived at the Cottonwood Springs entry point and got permitted up – the $15 permit per car is valid for 7 days so hang on to it if you have time for multiple visits – there’s plenty to see.

First stop was the cactus garden – this is the home of the feared La Cholla cactus, growing like wildfire across the desert basin.

La Cholla


It looks harmless enough, cute even, but DO NOT TOUCH!! Also known as the jumping cactus, once attached to shoes, clothing or worse still, skin, its incredibly difficult to remove. Unlike other cactus, the spines are hollow and seek out moisture so when they come into contact with skin, the tips curve and lock under the top layer of skin – painful!

Moving swiftly on, past ever changing scenery, next stop was the dramatic Skull Rock.

Skull rock boy


By mid afternoon the sun was starting to sink in the sky and the lighting on those smooth, enticingly climbable rocks was gorgeous. Wish we’d had longer to explore – this would be a perfect picnic spot…


Skull Rock moon


Past Skull Rock the number of those fascinating Joshua Trees increases and a few brief photo stops were needed to find the perfect specimen – this one I think comes close. Note also the unusually thick layer of snow on the ground – it may look sunny but it was perishingly cold up there!

Joshua Tree


The final stop before leaving the park, and just as the sun was starting to set, was Keys View. A spectacular viewpoint with dramatic vistas back down to the Palm Springs Valley below. On warmer days this would be a wonderful area to hike and is apparently hugely popular with people coming here to practise yoga and meditate – you can see why. It really is stunning.

Keys view


As the skies turned pink, it was time for us to leave the park. No more photo stops, driving shots only

Driving shot sunset

We were on a mission to get to Alex’s last top tip, dinner at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown. Famous for its barbecue menu and live music from top bands, it’s definitely a ‘happening joint’. First signs were not good, you can’t book and, it being New Years Day, the place was completely rammed. The table wait when we arrived around 5.30pm was 2.5 hours!! We decided to stay for a drink to listen to the unbelievably good Shadow Mountain Band that were playing…


P&H sign

band P&H


Every half hour I’d check back at the front desk to see how far we’d moved up the table waiting list. Progress was slow and in the end we decided to give it up but, like a miracle, just as we said we were leaving, one of the waitresses declared she was fed up of looking for people on the list and a table was ours! What a way to start a New Year: good fortune, great music, the best ribs ever and a truly memorable end to a fabulous Palm Springs day out.


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