Travel Feature Story

Palm Springs and Indian Wells: A Tale of Two Deserts

By: CANDICE MERRILL
Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 | 4:34 PM

A trip to the Palm Springs area is always an adventure; close enough to drive but far enough away to make you feel like you’ve gone somewhere. And you can choose your adventure too, it’s not all about lying by the pool or golfing anymore. With the resurgence of downtown Palm Springs there are all manner of things to do from restaurants, shops, museums, and nightlife the downtown area has got it going on. But if unwinding is your goal there are still resorts that offer extreme pampering.

This is a tale of two deserts: Palm Springs and Indian Wells. We began our trip in Palm Springs at the Hyatt located in the city’s heart on Palm Canyon Drive and within walking distance of all the fun stuff. It’s an all-suite hotel so every room has a separate living area and furnished balconies, this was great for my companion and me since I am a night-owl and he is a morning person. The suite has two televisions, a refrigerator, coffeemaker and big cushy bed. Our balcony overlooked the rugged hills that surround the city.

Our first destination that day was to dinner at Mr Lyons, a Palm Springs institution for over 70 years. We started our evening in the new speakeasy, Seymour’s which had literally been open only hours when we arrived. Seymour’s is located at the back of Mr. Lyons and is reminiscent of times gone by. It is an homage to a beloved Palm Springs resident Seymour Lazar and it is dark and cozy just like a speakeasy should be.

Mr. Lyon’s on the other hand is a wonderfully large space with green velvet banquettes and wood paneled walls. It’s menu is unabashedly carnivore (there are some non-meat choices) with a large offering of steaks and all the accouterments. I was glad to see they offered a small 5oz cut of Filet Mignon which was what I ordered. I enjoyed many dishes that night but a few of the stand-outs were the Steamed Carlsbad Mussels in the most delightful Jalapeno, Green Curry Broth which I used a baguette to sop up that sweet-hot broth. The Indio Corn was also delicious, sweet with a bite from jalapeno chilies. And of course the 5oz Fillet was the right size, just enough, and cooked perfectly with a smokey exterior and juicy interior.

Our next activity was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the aerial tramway. Ascending two and one half miles off the desert floor the tramway takes the rider to another world full of green trees and cool breezes. It’s the perfect way to beat the heat, take a hike, or just get another perspective. The tram offers 360 degree vistas because it revolves while it’s climbing. It’s really quite a thrilling ride and the views are breathtaking. Depending on when you go you might encounter snow, we missed the snow fall by one day. So be ready for any kind of weather by bringing layers of clothes and comfortable shoes.

All that clean mountain air can give you an appetite so once we touched down on the desert floor we headed for a new restaurant called Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge. Located in what used to be the Palm Springs Post Office, the restaurant is in what is called the Design District and fits in very well. White walls with pops of color here and there the restaurant gives off a minimalist vibe. The menu is eclectic with West Coast Modern American Cuisine featuring fresh vegetables, seafood and meats.

We shared some appetizers including a grilled artichoke and delicious cheese plate. I ordered the Smoked Carne Asada and Eggs with over-medium eggs, tender strips of smoked beef and crispy home fries. My companion had the rich Corn and Crab Chowder with plenty of succulent crab, sweet corn and a touch of applewood bacon.

After a lunch like that we wanted to walk it off to our hotel but if we hadn’t there is a great service Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., it’s called the Buzz Trolley and it will take you up and down Palm Canyon Drive for free.

It was Cinco de Mayo and we were planning some celebrating Latin-style at Las Casuelas Terraza. With two leafy patios, live music and an extensive menu the restaurant seems to be a favorite among Palm Springs’ residents. Instead of ordering dinner we shared a variety of appetizers with, of course, one of Las Casuelas Terraza’s margaritas.

Freshly made Guacamole and tangy Ceviche Eduardo arrived at our table along with loaded Nachos Rancheros. Two kinds of Quesadillas one with beef and one with veggies and bacon completed our feast. All of it was delicious and made for a great Cinco de Mayo.

Since it was Thursday we were also able to experience VillageFest, a free outdoor street festival that is located on Palm Canyon Drive. The streets are alive and full of over 200 booths offering art, handcrafted gifts and plenty of food. During VillageFest the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Architecture and Design Center are free until 8:00 p.m.

After such an exciting two days it was time to experience the other desert, Indian Wells and the Hyatt Regency Resort. But before we checked in we had one more restaurant to visit, Rio Azul.

Rio Azul is the dream of Chef Ernest Gastelum and offers an array of eclectic and traditional dishes. We were treated to the crispy chicken tacos, Conchinita Pibil, guacamole made table-side and Green Corn Tamales.

The guacamole was chunky with tomato and onion and bits of cilantro. The star of the meal was the Conchinita Pibil which is slow-roasted pork cooked in a banana leaf with fresh orange and lime juice, achiote sauce, Serrano and Habanero pepper and is topped with pickled red onions. The pork is succulent with a spicy bite, simply delicious. I liked the tacos as well because they were engineered not to fall apart when you bit into them. The filling was somehow encased in the crispy corn tortilla and the topping was artfully tucked into the top. The taste? Yum.

But now I was ready for some pampering so it was off to Indian Wells I went. The Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort and Spa is located on 45 acres of gardens and just 20 minutes outside of Palm Springs. It’s a beautiful property that boasts seven pools, a spa, salon and much more. Our room was spacious with a huge flat-screen, king sized bed, refrigerator and furnished balcony that overlooked one of the pools.

If you have kids take them to Camp Hyatt where they can learn about the flora, fauna, culture and geography of the desert and meet with Shelley the Tortoise and Spike the Bearded Dragon. But it you’re sans kids like we were, make yourself comfortable on the balcony or sit by the adult only pool.

After relaxing and getting caught up with work and such it was time for dinner. We were treated to a private dinner with a variety of dishes, many which can be found in the resort’s restaurant, Lantana. Mediterranean Quinoa with roasted vegetables, Caprese salad and fresh rolls and butter began our meal. A variety of main dishes; Seared sea scallops, Grilled filet mignon and Chicken roulade were served with roasted baby potatoes and sauteed green beans. All were fresh and delicious, my only regret is that I just couldn’t eat that much but I did manage to taste a bit of it all.

The next day I was scheduled into the spa for a 50 minute facial. The spa is located on the grounds offering a full array of services. My facial was tailored for my skin-type and left me feeling relaxed and my skin soft and supple. I would have loved to spend more time in the sauna or pool but I had to leave this desert oasis and return to reality.

Whether you like your vacation action-packed or pampered there’s a desert for you. Whichever experience you pick there’s a Hyatt hotel that will meet you needs.

The 411:

Hyatt Palm Springs, 285 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
(760) 322-9000, www.palmsprings.hyatt.com

Seymour’s Speakeasy and Mr. Lyons, 233 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
(760) 327-1551, www.mrlyonsps.com

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, 1 Tram Way Road, Palm Springs
(760) 325-1449, www.pstramway.com

Eight4Nine, 849 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
(760) 325-8490, www.eight4nine.com

The Buzz Trolley, Thursday-Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 a.m.
www.new.buzzps.com

Las Casuelas Terraza, 222 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
(760) 325-2794, www.lascasuelas.com

VillageFest, Palm Canyon Drive, Thursdays, 7:00 – 10:00 p.m.
(760) 320-3781, www.villagefest.org

Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill, 350 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs
(760) 992-5641, www.rioazulpalmsprings.com

Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, 44600 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells
(760) 776-1234, www.indianwells.regency.hyatt.com

Lantana Restaurant, Reservations: (760) 674-4165

Agua Serena Spa, Reservations: (760) 674-4100

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