Palm Springs is forever reinventing itself. That’s part of what brings me back year after year, era after era. The latest incarnation is what you might call Instagram Modernism. Hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops that are purpose-built (or meticulously refashioned) for a multitude of iPhone angles and maximum likes. Here’s where to score the most ♥s in PS in 2019.
Lavishly reinvented for its opening this past fall, Villa Royale overhauled its 38 mid-century, Mission-Revival-chic rooms with standout visuals. The 1947 estate-like property has black-and-white chaises under saturation-friendly bougainvillea. Polished mahogany woodwork and tile from Portugal, Spain and Mexico add vibrant accents everywhere. So do paintings of retro icons such as Debbie Harry, JFK and Charles Bronson (all done by artists who lived on property for inspiration during construction). The mountains are so close you could smooch them, and at night, fire pits illuminate the pathways and Sinatra-blue cushioned seating areas. Oversized marshmallow beds are done up with Mascioni linens and duvet covers. The style comes with substance, too. Staffers work hard to keep your cocktail glass filled at poolside, and the on-site restaurant, Del Rey, has swanky leather banquettes and share-able plates of pastas and chops. Dogs (and their social media accounts) are welcome, too.
The vodka-and-grapefruit libation on the menu at chef Jason Niederkorn’s Pink Cabana restaurant inside the new Sands Hotel and Spa in Indian Wells comes with a tiny flower that’s clipped with an even tinier clothespin to the cocktail glass. The waiter carefully instructs you to nibble the South American herb–known as a buzz button–and, almost instantly, your tongue and lips start to tingle as the flavors of the drink take on an unexpected new dimension. In its own way, “Pushing Buttons” is a symbol for the radical transformation taking place at the Sands, the first boutique luxury hotel worthy of attention in a stretch of desert formerly known for pro tennis and grandmas in Rolls Royce golf carts. The Sands is the third desert hotel for PRG Hospitality, along with Sparrows Lodge and Holiday House, both in Palm Springs. With a big pool surrounded by pink day beds and 46 Morocco-inspired rooms by Hollywood interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, the Sands extends the line of ring-a-ding-ding desert cool to the deeper end of the Coachella Valley.
Sushi in the desert is usually a “thanks, next” proposition but at Sandfish, chef Engin Onural’s new spot in the Uptown section of Palm Springs makes raw fish a “yes, please” affair. Onural is among the world’s small coterie of “sushi ambassadors”–he qualified for the World Sushi Cup a few years back–and you can taste why. His Scandinavia-meets-Japan menu has items like rolls of crab meat and avocado topped with salmon, ponzu sauce and bonito flakes. Not cheap but then, who wants to skimp on fish in the blazing heat?
Here’s a little secret I’m almost afraid to share: Rancho Mirage has one of the best Japanese restaurants in Southern California. Shabu Shabu Zen, tucked away in a strip mall off Highway 111, focuses on traditional teppan-style hot pot cooking, but with grace, style and a level of hospitality (or omotenashi, in Japanese) that makes the experience worthy of a trip from Los Angeles. The restaurant uses the highest quality Miyazaki Wagyu and Washu beef, housemade soy sauce and sesame seed sauce, and other ingredients rare to see outside of Tokyo. The sleek black tables are a perfect backdrop for your overhead table shots.
The old-school fressers in Palm Springs might gasp at the prices and tatty hipster crowd, but there’s flavor on the menu at the first desert outpost of the L.A.-based nouveau noshery. Wexler’s, inside the Arrive hotel on North Palm Canyon Drive, has double-smoked pastrami lox, spaetzle mac and cheese, and OG corned beef on rye. If nothing else, your Aunt Myrna will “wow” your sandwich shot on Facebook.
Kreem‘s cones and floats look as exceptional as they taste, which is to say they taste beautiful. Bianca Simonian’s East Palm Canyon shop makes all the ice creams by hand, in-house, with organic, non-GMO, preservative-free ingredients. Vegans and the milk-opposed have plenty of options, and there’s even home made almond milk for the Portland-sourced coffee from Heart Coffee Roasters. Canine cones are a thing here, too–an adorable, wag-inducing thing.