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Once the construction fences went up, curiosity soared about what was being built on South Indian Canyon across from the downtown multilevel parking garage. The wait is over: it’s called Drift Palm Springs, and this boutique hotel is quickly gaining a reputation as a place to stay, relax, or meet up with friends.

Even the Drift Palm Springs sign hints that this is no ordinary hotel. Like all of the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, it has its own vibes.

Welcome to Drift. Photo courtesy of Drift Palm Springs

What makes the Drift Palm Springs stand out?

Its proximity to everything happening in Downtown Palm Springs makes it a great home base while you dine in the area’s restaurants and shop in the many retail stores.

However, what makes the Drift Palm Springs unique from other hotels is its ability to welcome individuals, families, and retreats by easily adjusting the size of the accommodations.

There are 30 rooms, with 84 guest rooms. Confused? So was I. Then Paul Patino, Drift Palm Springs’ general manager, showed me what this meant. Once you unlock the door, you are in a spacious room with a kitchen bathed in light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Then the magic happens. Paul opened the door to the grand room, and after he unlocked another door, it revealed a bedroom. There is still one more door, and look! It opens into an additional room.

As Paul explains it, this is why the Drift Palm Springs works so well; it can be configured according to your needs. You can reserve a studio or up to four bedrooms with them all connected for your bachelorette party or family reunion.

Bedrooms at Drift are made for relaxing. Photo by Erin Feinblatt

‘Industrial chic’ décor

When walking into the space, my first reaction was that it felt so clean and the energy seemed great. I was drawn to the sliding doors leading to the patio, and there before me was a stunning view of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Back inside, I marveled at the furniture’s simple structure and classy style. It was all oversized yet comfy, with natural colored cushions. Paul shared that the owner, Philip Bates, designed and manufactured the furniture to his specifications. Various raw materials, stone, Italian brick, brass, and cedar wood provided a calming reaction against the tan walls. The term coined by the hotel management, “industrial chic,” fits the style of the décor perfectly.

Meeting space at the hotel is abundant, with areas that are perfect for intimate parties or corporate retreats. One “drawback” for a retreat is that the view out the window is of the beautiful mountains — it might be a bit distracting.

A special outdoor setting

Yes, there is a large pool, lounge chairs, and cabanas. One of the real draws is at night. The lighting is superb, and the fire pits scattered through the area add a special touch. You will want to have a cocktail, sit there, and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere under the desert sky.

A little prediction: I believe this will become a place where you can meet locals. One of the reasons is that the restaurant, Maleza, is open to the public and has a patio area where people can grab a drink after a day of work and enjoy it poolside.

The poolside views are delightful. Photo by Erin Feinblatt

South of the border dining

Maleza is quickly becoming a favorite restaurant in Downtown Palm Springs. If you can’t make it to the Baja Peninsula, here’s a great option.

This rustic restaurant lets you get your fill of Mexican food with the unique twist you look for when traveling down south, and of course you can also get a delicious cocktail made with mezcal, the hot spirit taking the United States by storm.

The bar at Maleza. Photo by Erin Feinblatt

Explore the surroundings

If you want to explore the neighborhood, ask for directions and then hop on one of the bikes available for guests to use. Head over to Old Las Palmas to see some magnificent original homes — this area offers a glimpse into a world that is often missed by visitors.

As a resident, I’m excited to have Drift as a new addition to our community. If you are planning to come to Palm Springs, I suggest you head over to the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels website and make your reservation before the word gets out, and you miss an opportunity to be one of the first to visit this special place in the heart of downtown.

Recently we took our sweet cocker spaniel, Fender, on a short trip to Palm Springs. It was a beautiful afternoon when we arrived at the so aptly named Azure Sky, one of the most recently renovated Palm Springs Small Preferred Hotels. Yes, the sky and enticing pool were both sparkling azure when we arrived at this stunning boutique hotel. 

The grounds are lushly landscaped with blooming native plants and palm trees that help create a tranquil getaway in the middle of the desert, but Azure Sky is also still ideally located in the heart of Palm Springs. Here you can have it all — a peaceful hideaway that is still close to the activities and restaurants that attract so many visitors to Palm Springs.

As we entered the hotel grounds, we were especially impressed by the striking, steel entryway gate, which introduces guests to the innovative contemporary design of the hotel.

The pool area of Azure Sky. Photo courtesy of Azure Sky

This hotel was originally built in 1959 and was a timeshare and then apartments for many years. In June, an extensive two-year renovation was completed, resulting in a stylish retreat featuring wood and stone with an emphasis on natural light. The hotel has a modern vibe while still retaining its original mid-century charm that is so characteristic of Palm Springs. There are only 14 rooms so you almost feel as if you are staying in your own personal, private retreat — and since this property caters to adults, you can expect peace and quiet.

We were warmly welcomed in the chic, inviting lobby with a refreshing cocktail, and Fender was even greeted with a little doggie bag holding a special healthy treat, which he eagerly devoured. It is so nice to be able to visit such a wonderful hotel that is also dog friendly.  

We were then shown to the Agave Suite, which was spacious and comfortable. Our room included a lovely living room with a kitchenette and a separate comfy bedroom with a unique floating wooden bed featuring linens that were as soft as clouds — just like the clouds in the azure sky. We also enjoyed the outdoor private patio connected to our room. There are four different room configurations at different price points.

An Azure Sky bedroom. Photo courtesy of Azure Sky

This suite included almost every amenity possible except a TV, which we did not miss at all. It was nice to tune out the news of the day and enjoy our quiet retreat. The soothing palate of subdued colors enhanced the serenity of our room; even our dog was ready to curl up and take a snooze. There were bottles of cocktail mixes to purchase in our room so we enjoyed drinks as we embraced the restful atmosphere. My husband and I agreed that Azure Sky provided a much-welcomed escape from our busy, daily lives.

The luxurious courtyard with spectacular views of the dramatic San Jacinto Mountains offers guests ample outdoor areas for relaxing and contemplating life. Guests can gather around one of the two fire pits for pleasant conversation or quiet reflection. The expansive terrace surrounding the pool had plenty of lounge chairs and is another ideal place to relax after a refreshing swim or dip in the warm waters of the jacuzzi. Azure Sky is truly an enchanting getaway designed with the comfort of guests in mind. 

The inviting pool at Azure Sky. Photo by Todd Montgomery

After relaxing in our room, our only decision was where to go for dinner. So we adjourned to the comfortable Azure Sky lobby lounge and warmed ourselves in front of the fire crackling in the fireplace while we savored a cocktail and considered our dinner options. Of course Palm Springs offers many superb restaurants, but we found ourselves enjoying the ambiance of Azure Sky so much that we were reluctant to venture out for dinner. Instead, we ordered a pizza (which was delivered right to the lobby) and talked with a few of the other friendly Azure Sky guests while we nibbled and sipped. We met two pleasant young women from Paris who had been traveling around Southern California on business and they were also genuinely impressed with the upscale charm of Azure Sky.

Susan Montgomery and Fender enjoy Azure Sky. Photo by Todd Montgomery

Azure Sky offers a complimentary continental breakfast and freshly brewed coffee every morning, which helped us launch our day ahead in Palm Springs. We learned that the hotel is also the perfect venue for weddings and other special occasions. Sometimes all the rooms are sold out for events so that guests can have the entire property to themselves.

By the way, while we were in Palm Springs we had a delightful lunch with a friend at another PSPSH property, La Serena Villas, where the much celebrated restaurant, Azúcar, is located. We dined on delicious swordfish tacos, scrumptious chicken lettuce wraps, and a shrimp cocktail while we sipped the restaurant’s special margarita called the Rosearita, which is made with tequila, rose liqueur, and agave nectar. Azúcar’s outdoor patio setting around the La Serena Villas pool captures the quintessential relaxing spirit of Palm Springs. Our friendly restaurant server even brought Fender a bowl of water. We’ve learned that dogs are generally very welcome in Palm Springs.

The Rosearita. Photo by Todd Montgomery

We could not have had a more perfect day and of course we ended it at Azure Sky, which truly is over the top and quickly became our home away from home. We will be back — and so will Fender who loved Azure Sky as much as we did!

The Kirkwood Collection is expanding, with the luxury boutique hotel group adding La Serena Villas, The Del Marcos Hotel, and The Three Fifty Hotel to its portfolio.

Built in 1933, La Serena Villas is a dream destination for guests who want everything in one place. This Spanish hacienda-style property has 18 bungalows, with private patios boasting outdoor tubs and fire pits. Whispers Spa provides a variety of treatments, including facials and massages, and is open to guests of La Serena Villas, The Del Marcos Hotel, and The Three Fifty Hotel. The hotel’s restaurant, Azúcar, serves contemporary food with a focus on fresh local ingredients. For an after-dinner drink, head up to Sugar High, one of only two rooftop bars in Palm Springs.

A patio swing

Guests can relax outside on their private patios. Photo courtesy of La Serena Villas

The Del Marcos Hotel is a mid-century modern treasure, designed by William F. Cody in 1947. This 17-room boutique hotel was named a historic site in 2012, and retains its original redwood and native stone. The rooms are all named after acclaimed architects and artists who left their mark in Palm Springs, including Nat Reed and Donald Wexler, whose family provided original prints and photos for his suite. The two-story hotel surrounds a large courtyard pool that has plenty of comfortable loungers.

The stone front of Del Marcos Hotel

Welcome to The Del Marcos Hotel. Photo courtesy of The Del Marcos Hotel

The pet-friendly Three Fifty Hotel is also a mid-century modern property, built in 1950 and fully renovated in 2017. Designed by Herbert W. Burns, the 10-room hotel features stunning, unobstructed views of the San Jacinto Mountains and a spacious heated pool and spa. The rooms are all poolside, and come with comfortable king-sized beds.

A pool with loungers and palm trees in the background

It’s always pool time at The Three Fifty Hotel. Photo courtesy of The Three Fifty Hotel

With the acquisition of La Serena Villas, The Del Marcos Hotel, and The Three Fifty Hotel, The Kirkwood Collection now has five properties in Greater Palm Springs and 10 boutique hotels and residences in California.

From the beginning, the land the Cahuilla called Se-Khi (“boiling water”), the place Spanish explorers dubbed the ridiculously wordy La Palma de la Mano de Dios (“the palm of God’s hand”), and the city now (succinctly) known as Palm Springs, should probably have been named what it is: Paradise.

In the early 1900s, Palm Springs was the spot to cure lung ailments, and evolved into a place where scads of tennis-happy movie stars and U.S. presidents with a penchant for golf and impeccable hospitality came to live their best lives away from the cameras. 

More recently it’s evolved into a foodie paradise with 18-carat jazz, award winning cabaret, and fantastic theatre. (I know, Americans spell it “theater,” but generally stage companies use the British spelling because … drama.) All the musicians and actors tired of the rat race live and thrive in 350 days of sunshine per year, with a gorgeous mountain backdrop (including the second highest peak in California) and a million stars dazzling the night sky. So, if you’re a bit earthy/crunchy, and crave a relationship with the Earth, Palm Springs is your mecca. 

We can’t float your boat (our water’s mostly underground), but we can sizzle your bacon (in the summer, with just the sun) in our soul-satisfying, untouched wilderness.

Hiking in Palm Springs

Palm trees and rocks against a blue sky in Indian Canyons in Palm Springs, California

A hike in Indian Canyons is always a good idea. Photo courtesy of Visit Palm Springs

Indian Canyons — Located at the end of South Palm Canyon, this is the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Out here, with the exception of the Trading Post at the “end” (and a few hiker amenities), it’s just you and nature. One blog purports that you may “run into some old rock art, house-pits, irrigation ditches, dams, trails or food preparation areas while hiking in the canyons,” and now I have to go back and find them all, damnit.

There are three canyons to hike here (weirdly I thought there were more) and just like the rooms in your house, they’re all a bit different.

Murray Canyon This is the only trail I have personally hiked in Indian Canyons. It’s a lot of flat land with nothing going on until you hit the copse of palm trees in the distance, and then I think a chorus of angels sang as we stepped beneath the trees and into another world. Suddenly it was all flora and wildlife, and I swear someone turned on an air conditioner. We crossed a couple of streams, one a bit bigger than expected, and we both chose a different path across. I was on the other side when I heard my friend shriek “RATTLER!” I did not see it (just the snake sunbathing at the entrance where we parked. I don’t know if he’s there every day, though. You know how snakes are.) We never made it to the small waterfall at the end. Someone, who was incredibly out of shape, got tired. Might have been me. 

Andreas Canyon — At 1.2 miles, it is the shortest of the three hikes, and I wish I’d known that. From their website: “A scenic foot trail leads through the canyon passing groves of stately skirted palms, unusual rock formations, and the perennial Andreas Creek. One can still see bedrock mortars and metates used centuries ago for preparing food. This tranquil setting is excellent for photography, bird-watching, or a picnic at one of the tables along the trail.”

Palm Canyon — At 15 miles, it’s the Mack Daddy of the trio. At the top is that Trading Post I mentioned earlier and just beyond the lip is one of the most breathtaking views you’ll see in your lifetime. In fact, here’s this tidbit from their website: “Palm Canyon is one of the areas of great beauty in Western North America. A moderately graded foot path winds down into the canyon for picnicking near the stream, meditation, exploring, hiking, or horseback riding.”

While it falls under the Indian Canyons banner, the Tahquitz Trail is just west of downtown, and was the stand-in for Shangri-La in the 1937 film Lost Horizon. It’s that stunning. This is not a difficult hike (I did it with ease), and you are rewarded at the end with a beautiful waterfall gushing into a pool of water. And yes, you can hop on in.

All of the above: $12 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, $6 for children. Military get in for free (thank you for your service!). Equestrian fees are $11 (where riding is allowed).

Horseback riding around town

Two people ride horses through the Palm Springs desert landscape

Just horsin’ around in Palm Springs. Photo courtesy of Visit Palm Springs

For centuries, this was the only way to get around in Palm Springs — everybody was on a horse. Palm Springs is a great place to experience what it was like in the Old West, and Smoketree Stables will get you as close to that feeling without the hardship. I love horseback riding, but throughout the years haven’t been particularly successful at it. I had one horse that decided I needed to experience a run at full gallop my first time riding. Yet, I persisted. Several horses have tried to knock me off with low hanging branches, and one time the saddle was improperly buckled, and the saddle and I ended up perpendicular to the horse’s belly. Cats and dogs, on the other hand, love me as long as I don’t try to ride them. 

This link has everything you need to know for a much better experience than the ones I’ve had. They’ll hook you up so you can ride through Murray Canyon on a personal or group ride.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway gondola moving up Mt. San Jacinto

Temperatures are much cooler at the top of the tramway. Courtesy of Visit Palm Springs

Most of us go for the gondola ride to the top, and have a nice lunch then gaze at the city below before we get in line for the ride back down. However, if you are an action figure, Mt. San Jacinto State Park is the place for you. Luckily, you are already in it. From their website: “Mt. San Jacinto State Park offers over 50 miles of hiking trails located within a 14,000-acre pristine wilderness, one of the last in California. All trails are accessed by exiting the Mountain Station and descending a concrete pathway to Long Valley. There you will find picnic tables, the ranger station, flush toilets, and several easy trails.”

This is the link that will lead you to the trails and a map. And the outdoor fun is not just limited to hiking. During the winter you can snowshoe and cross-country ski, and if you’re a crazy person you can camp. This stuff requires a wilderness permit, but it’s free.

For those who are certifiably insane, you can hike the tram station to Idyllwild. That link is to a great little website that tells you everything you need to know about any particular trail, plus hiker experiences, current temps, and difficulty. Tram to Idyllwild is a tough hike that is 9.6 miles and takes roughly six hours point to point. 

Stargazing in the desert

Palm Springs is shy on street lamps, which keeps the light pollution at bay. Many of our preferred hotels are tucked away in even less lit neighborhoods so you can hang by the pool in a chaise lounge and oooh and ahhh with a cocktail in your hand. But for those who are looking to get up close and personal with the cosmos, book with Sky Watcher. A knowledgable guide with telescopes and special glasses (not filled with alcohol) will take you on a tour of our planetary neighbors. 

Where to stay

Villa Royale Hotel exterior sign with a hedge and palm trees behind it

Welcome to the Villa Royale. Photo courtesy of Villa Royale

Any of our Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels will be a great experience, but for this particular type of outing, I have a few specific suggestions.

For that “by the pool under the night sky with a cocktail” experience, Villa Royale is a good choice. On the southeast end of Palm Springs, it’s far enough away from Palm Canyon that the few street lamps we do have won’t hinder your experience. 

For a completely earthy-crunchy immersion, try the exotic Korakia. Dressed up as a pensione somewhere in the Middle East, they’ve got yogurt and yoga and they’re very big on tea.

Deeper pockets will take you to The Willows Historic Palm Springs Inn. It sits higher up than most of the other inns (stargazing at a premium) and has a wonderful garden where Albert Einstein himself used to sunbathe nude. If you see dead people, that would be a great sighting. 

Here’s a link for you to sort it out yourself because I have to go. I’m craving granola.