Recreation destinations under the sunFeature Story, Top Highlights Thursday, November 17th, 2011
While San Diego LGBT Weekly makes its home in one of the world’s most popular resort and vacation destinations, even we at the newsmagazine and our fellow San Diegans need a place to “get away from it all.” Less than 150 miles from the coast into the desert lies that mythical gay mecca called Palm Springs. This shimmering city-under-the-sun and its neighboring oases are famous for casinos, spas, shopping, sun worshipping and innumerable other outdoor activities. For your convenience, we’ve compiled a top-ten list of quintessential desert must-dos.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, situated in Chino Canyon, has been one of Palm Springs’ most popular tourist attractions since it was opened in 1963. The tram, which is the world’s largest rotating tramcar, offers a scenic view of rugged Chino Canyon, as its 10 minute ride ascends to an elevation of 8516 ft. Once at the top visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the Coachella Valley and the surrounding mountains. There is also plenty of hiking and sightseeing through pristine Mt. San Jacinto State Park. After your day of exploring visitors are invited to relax and unwind with cocktails at the Lookout Lounge and enjoy a meal at either Peaks Restaurant, a fine dining concept or Pines Café which is a more laid back option with a cafeteria-style setting.
The Living Desert Reserve and Botanical Gardens
Opened in 1970, The Living Desert was established in order to preserve the natural habitat of animals and plants indigenous to the area, as more and more resorts started to be built. Today the 1,200 acre facility houses many exotic and endangered species such as bighorn sheep, leopards, striped hyenas and golden eagles to name a few. The reserve allows guests to view these animals as they roam about freely in their natural habitat. The Botanical Gardens feature over 1,500 species of plants found in the deserts of both North America and Africa. The reserve also offers a variety of both educational and interactive activities featuring a Wildlife hospital where visitors and staff can interact while procedures are being performed on animals, live animal shows, a children’s discovery center and endangered species carousel.
Cabazon and Desert Hills Outlet Stores
While in Palm Springs be sure not to pass up the great deals one can find at the Cabazon and Desert Hills Outlet Stores. This shopping destination located just 20 minutes from downtown Palm Springs has more than 150 name-brand designer outlet shops such as Barney’s, Coach, Cole Haan, Crate & Barrel, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Prada and Gucci. While buyers can enjoy shopping for already discounted items the outlet also offers numerous yearly events and promotions, which can help you save even more.
Indian Wells Golf Resort
If golf is your game then you won’t want to pass up the opportunity to play at the Indian Wells Golf Resort the next time you are in Palm Springs. Only 20 minutes from the Palm Springs International Airport, Indian Wells has become one of Southern California’s most desirable golfing destinations. Recently featured in Golfweek’s Top 20 “Best Courses You Can Play,” the grounds feature 36-holes set in a scenic desert setting with mountain views, amazing water features and golf for players of every level. Be sure to checkout the IW Clubhouse which features a wide variety of high end amenities and dining options.
Agua Caliente Casino and Spa
If you’re feeling lucky, the Agua Caliente Casino and Spa might be just the place for you. This destination spot features the usual casino attractions with an ample supply of slot machines, table games, poker room and a high limit room and is also home to one of Southern California’s premier concert venues. “The Show” has been host to such musical acts as Cyndi Lauper, Melissa Etheridge, Patti Labelle and comedy acts from the talented Chelsea Handler and Lisa Lampanelli. The Sunstone Spa is the perfect place to relax after a late night of fun and excitement. The 10,500 sq. ft. spa features a state of the art fitness center and wide variety of spa services featuring balancing massage, men’s specific treatment, reflexology, cabana treatments, couples’ therapy rooms with private decks and a “co-edrelaxation” lounge.
The Greater Palm Springs Pride
One annual event you won’t want to miss out on is Palm Springs Pride. The weekend-long event features one of the most scenic parade routes in the world, with thousands of local spectators coming out to show their support for the LGBT community. Following the parade, festivities continue at Palm Springs Stadium where there is a live entertainment stage with a wide variety of special guest performances and more than 100 booths, where commercial vendors and non-profit groups show off the best of their offerings to the LGBT community. Of course there is also plenty of food and drink available to help keep the celebration going. Be sure to check out our full feature on Palm Springs Pride.
What started more than 20 years ago has become one of Palm Springs’ most favorite traditions. Every Thursday evening Palm Canyon Drive is host to VillageFest. This event offers more than 200 booths featuring handmade items, unique food, a variety of live entertainment and a great opportunity to people watch. Most of the trendy shops and restaurants already located on Palm Canyon Drive remain open later than their normal business hours so they can accommodate the large number of tourists and locals that come out to enjoy the evening. Be sure to bring your four legged family members as this event is dog friendly.
Balloon Above the Desert
This unique attraction allows you to see Palm Springs from a point of view that most don’t get to appreciate. Balloon Above the Desert offers breathtaking views of some of the most serene landscapes in California. Vineyards, polo fields, world famous golf courses, and of course the mountains are some of the sights you will find on your aerial tour, the route which is determined by the breeze. Pilots of these balloons offer a guided tour of your surroundings, all while serving you champagne and cookies.
Joshua Tree National Park
If the great outdoors are calling to you then Joshua Tree National Park is the place for you. This desert park is home to a wide variety of indigenous plants and animals, that can still be seen in their natural habitat. The park offers a wide variety of activities that feature 12 self-guided nature trails, hiking trails, mountain biking and rock climbing. If you are planning to stay for more than a day, the park has more than nine campgrounds to accommodate you and backcountry camping is permitted. Be sure to stop by the visitor center before you start your visit so that park staff can help you plan accordingly.
Since 1988 Desert Adventures has been giving people a stunning desert experience like no other. Desert Adventures operates on the 840-acre Metate Ranch on the San Andreas Fault. The ranch offers endless miles of trails that can be explored by either Jeep or on foot. The ranch is also set up to accommodate individual travelers or large groups and can even host special events such as weddings and company functions. Some of the tours available to visitors are the Painted Hills Jeep Tour, Nightwatch Jeep Tour, Joshua Tree National Park 4WD tour and private hiking or sightseeing guides.
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