Palm Springs and Coachella Valley, California (+ Gluten-Free) Getaway Travel Guide
Palm Springs is the best escape for Southern Californians, located just two hours away from nearby large cities, and a straight-shot off of the 15 and 10 East. It’s the ultimate desert oasis, surrounded by mountains and national parks, and stained with memories of the Rat Pack, Bono, Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood icons. It is where vintage meets modern and the birthplace of tiki and mid-century design.
I’ve been traveling there with my family since I was a young kitten, and it remains one of my favorite spots in the world. Gorgeous natural surroundings, amazing cuisine, great coffee, vintage shopping, mid-century homes and furniture, miles of hiking, hot springs and a tiki culture. Is there much more you need from a vacation destination? It’s also affordable, just as long as you avoid the tourist heavy weeks of Coachella (April), White Party (April), and Modernism Week (February).
Please find “*hosted” next to any of the places I was hosted. As always, all opinions are expressed as my own.
As far as we are concerned, there isn’t anywhere else to drink coffee, or matcha, in Palm Springs. Trust us, we’ve tried them all. This is the only small batch coffee shop in the area, and they change their specials each season, keeping you and your taste buds on the edge of your seat. And if they haven’t ran out of Cherry’s Famous (vegan/gluten-free) Rugelach - buy a box. You won’t regret it.
A newer cafe with great vegan and gluten-free options, using local and organic ingredients. Actually, almost everything can be made gluten-free. They even have a dedicated fryer for french fries and flautas. They also have bowls, plates, juices, burgers and more. Let the waiter know of any dietary restrictions. The staff is kind and we were impressed with the level of service. Be sure to say hello to the manager, Chris, if he’s there. No reservation is required.
We’ve been regulars of their brunch for years. This award-winning restaurant is tucked away underneath a canopy of trees, next to a historically famous tennis club. They have plenty of delicious gluten-free items (their Eggs Benedict is my fav) and are knowledgeable about cross-contamination. Also, open for lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended.
You can read more about the hotel connected to this restaurant down below. But this restaurant is located on the premises, and has quite a few gluten-free (I love their gluten-free waffles and whipped oat milk) and vegan options. We generally eat breakfast here when we stay at the hotel, but non-guests can dine here too. Make sure to speak with the chef regarding your food restrictions. Also open for lunch and dinner. Reservations are optional.
I’m also a regular of this little hippie organic spot. Same owner as MidMod Cafe. They have anything from juices to bowls and plates, with vegan and gluten-free options for just about any item. Ensure your server understands your food restrictions, as they are always accommodating. Also open for lunch and dinner. Be mindful of their summer ‘hours.’ No reservation is required. P.S. ALL of their desserts are vegan and delectable.
I crave this place every time I leave the desert. They have locations in Palm Springs, La Quinta and Rancho Mirage, and make the best sandwiches. They are extremely celiac safe. They bake their gluten-free sourdough (vegan) and multigrain breads at the Rancho Mirage location that has a gluten-free kitchen. They also mix the batter for their muffins and cookies there. When they bake desserts at their other locations, they use separate, celiac-safe equipment and seran wrap them immediately. And when they make your sandwiches, gloves are changed, paper is placed down, and gluten-free equipment is used. It’s no wonder this place always has a line. *Hosted
Delicious and fresh poke that’s gluten and dairy-free. Light, cool, and filling, this is the perfect choice for a quick meal on a warm desert day. They also offer yummy boba drinks, and have a location down the street, in Rancho Mirage.
Wow. This is the new kid on the block, and I am so glad they are here. If you don’t fall in love with the cool Scandinavian interior, you will definitely fall in love with the mouth-watering sushi prepared for you by award-winning chef, Engin Onural. And if whiskey is your thing/something you can do, then you will really be in love. They are versed in celiac disease, and we were shown the safe and unsafe options. Everything was delicious. Reservations are highly recommended.
Close your eyes and imagine if Frida Kahlo curated a restaurant. Seriously one of the prettiest interiors, and their food is delicioso. Most of their menu items are naturally gluten-free, or can be modified as such. I’m obsessed with their tacos and the La Serena Lettuce Wraps. They are open for both lunch and dinner, and reservations are recommended. *Hosted
Located in the Uptown Design District of Palm Springs, this place fits into the chic neighborhood. Their menu has many gluten-free options, and the kitchen is able to take extra precautions if they are aware of your restrictions. They have amazing salads, plates and desserts. Their interior is beautiful, however, eating on their patio on a warm night is just as gorgeous. They are also open for lunch, and brunch. Reservations are recommended. *Hosted
Open since 2015, it is one of the chicest restaurants in town. It’s truly mid-century Hollywood meets modern in both architecture and design. Using ingredients sourced from local farms, sustainable Chef Eric Dandee makes incredible dishes, like salmon and pureed parsnips. He went above and beyond for my gluten and dairy-free meal, and can accomodate most food restrictions. Reservations recommended.*Hosted
Not ready to end your night after dinner? Then checkout Seymour’s, their speakeasy that’s on-location. Talk about that old Hollywood feel.
Where Franky, Sammy, Dean and their pals got the Rat Pack started, and where the energy of that era comes back alive. Located inside the Club Trinidad Hotel, you might miss this gem, if you didn’t already know about it. A full-course dinner, classic cocktails, and a nostalgic live performance. The kitchen staff was very accommodating to my needs, and what I could and couldn’t eat on the menu. They also offer Sunday brunch and show. All of your senses will be in for a treat. Reservations are recommended. *Hosted
Craving ice cream? This place has your vegan ice cream dreams covered, and is right across the street from Sandfish. The interior is bright and cheerful, and they sell a lot of Palm Springs essentials. They also have gluten-free cones.
Did you know tiki culture had one of its first starts in Palm Springs? This cute little tiki bar, with the most delicious cocktails and mocktails stands in the same location as the once revered Don the Beachcomber restaurant. But like, no joke, it’s really small. So, get there when they open, if you’re hoping for a table. P.S. It is right next door to Ernest Coffee.
Can’t afford to stay at the Ace? You can still join in on the fun by heading to the Amigo Room, their bar. They have some great themed-nights, like karaoke. Don’t leave without a photobooth photoshoot.
Things to Do
Does anything sound more exciting than taking the world’s largest rotating aerial tram for 10 minutes and over 8,500 ft up to San Jacinto mountain? Didn’t think so. It’s surreal to go from playing in the desert, to playing in the snow at the top. It’s always at least 30 degrees fahrenheit cooler up at the top, and if you’re feeling ambitious (and weather permitting), you can hike to San Jacinto peak. Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can hike all of the way to Idyllwild. For those not ready for anything too extreme, Mount San Jacinto State Park has quite a few family friendly trails, like Deer Springs Tail, which is one of our favorites. There is a gift shop at the top, and even a restaurant with GF and vegan options, called Peaks Restaurant.
If you are nerdy like us, you’ve probably driven past the famous wind turbines of the desert and wondered how they operate. This tour answers all your questions more, giving you a comprehensive history of wind energy. You also get to see and know the turbines up close and personal.
One museum, with three unique locations to showcase different art. The Palm Springs location was designed by E. Stewart Williams, and has contemporary, modernist paintings and sculptures (including an outdoor sculpture garden), western American art, Native American and Mesoamerican art and artifacts, contemporary studio glass art, modern architecture and design, photography and graphics. The Annenberg Theatre is also located on site. All three locations host great exhibits, and every Thursday night is free to the public, as well as the second Sunday of each month. The location in Palm Desert is always free to enter.
A botanical garden lover’s dream! This ‘living museum’ has been around since 1938, and only costs $5 to visit. It features more than 3,000 varieties of plants from the world. A personal favorite, would be the world's first Cactarium (coined by the Moortens), a Quonset hut overflowing with exotic desert plants. The garden benches make for the perfect place to meditate, or have your next instagram photoshoot. They also have a nursery you can shop in, and rent out their space for social events. Keep in mind, they are closed on Wednesdays. *Hosted
I had heard of the zoo, but thought, it wasn’t worth visiting, considering San Diego has a world renowned zoo which I am already a member of and frequent regularly. Well… I was pleasantly surprised. This a big zoo, and has some truly amazing exhibits focusing on the desert ecosystem. We actually became members because we liked it so much. They even have hiking trails on the premises!
Other than walking tours, bicycle tours are my favorite. It’s such a fun way to get to know any city you’re in. This is great for people of all ages, as they even offer electric bikes to use! Our tour went through some of Palm Springs’ older neighborhoods and into the Andreas Canyon trailhead. From there, we got to go on a scenic nature hike that included incredible amazing rock formations, stream crossings, shady palm trees and desert canyon scenery. Our guide knew about everything from architectural history, to the history of the Agua Caliente tribe, archaeology, botany, and more. They also offer bike rentals, jeep and van tours, as well as canyon tours. Looking forward to check out their other tours soon! *Hosted
Each Thursday night, blocks of downtown Palm Springs are closed off for a festival of over 200 booths full of unique food (a few GF options too), handcrafted items and art. Think of an extra large farmer’s market. It’s fun for everyone.
What better way to get to know the history of old Hollywood in Palm Springs, then on a 26 passenger luxury charter bus with an award winning guide! Our guide told us all about what was once “Hollywood’s Playground,” and some of the interesting stories that came with. We visited famous neighborhoods, including the homes of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Liberace, Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Sonny and Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonardo Dicaprio and many others. With just a two hour distance between Hollywood and Palm Springs, it’s no wonder why the desert feels like a natural extension of that world. *Hosted
The Historical Society hosts 10 really interesting and different walking tours throughout the week, focusing on various topics and neighborhoods in town, from architecture, to glamour, to Frank Sinatra’s old Neighborhood, and others ranging from 1.5 - 2.5 hours. I had the pleasure of going on the Celebrity Haven - The Tennis Club Neighborhood Tour (2.5 hours). With yellow umbrellas provided (great for the bright sun), we learned quite a bit about the overall history of Palm Springs. We were given an overview of the architectural history of the city, including how the city captures the essence of “The Atomic Age” better than any other place, and was a key location for Modernist design. The historical society also runs the McCallus Adobe Museum, the Cornelia White House Museum and Welwood Murray Memorial Library, and admission is free. Check out their website for other events. *Hosted
Head to #thatpinkdoor and enjoy an entire neighborhood of fun ‘instagrammable’ doors! Please respect their properties and do not trespass.
Serving the entire Coachella Valley, the Palm Springs cultural Center offers programs like the Palm Springs farmer’s markets, live performances, film festivals, art installations, lecture series. They are very diverse in their programming, and have a connection to over 100 community partners. It’s a hub for the community as an affordable place to conduct programming. Definitely check out their events calendar! *Hosted
Desert X is biennial themed art show comprised of outdoor installations that are placed throughout the Coachella Valley. You pick up your treasure map at Ace Hotel, and you get to plan out a road trip, locating the treasures that are art. It is very cool, and very thought-provoking.
This three-mile round hike is gorgeous, and leads you to a 60-foot waterfall half-way through. Entry is not free, but it’s worth it. They also have guided tours which I’ve heard great things about.
I love how beautiful these trails are along or through a gorgeous oasis. There is also a fee to enter, and it’s worth it.
A pit-stop on the PCT, this is on the 10W, and it’s so beautiful. We had a lot of time hiking here in the fall, and playing in the cool water. It’s free to enter, park, and recreate.
***Whitewater Preserve and Whitewater Canyon Road are currently CLOSED due to massive flood damage on 2/14/19. They hope to reopen by September but will remain closed and inaccessible until Riverside County has repaired Whitewater Canyon Road.
They will post updates on the road condition and reopening in multiple locations:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WhitewaterPreserve/