9 Vegan Things To Do in Palm Springs
This quirky Southern California city is the perfect place to enjoy a veg-friendly weekend oasis in the desert sun.
January 19, 2016
Though it may be located only an hour and a half from Los Angeles, Palm Springs is worlds away from its big city neighbor. While the City of Angels is characterized by gridlock traffic, bright lights, and a bustling pace, this sleepy desert city is pure relaxation. Surrounded by scenic mountains and rife with its namesake tree, Palm Springs is the perfect destination to slip away to for a few days of sunny escapism. Whether you’re a poolside couch potato or an outdoorsy go-getter, there’s something for everyone at this arid oasis.
If you’ve had the fortune of dining at a Native Foods Café, you’ve already partaken in a little piece of Palm Springs history. In 1994, Smoke Tree Village in Palm Springs became the first home to the now well-known casual vegan restaurant that would come to have 12 locations in three states by 2012. Chef and founder Tanya Petrovna has been wowing customers for nearly two decades with a plant-based menu that offers something for everyone, from an Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger to the Sesame Kale Macro Bowl. Wash your dish of choice down with the heavenly Lavender Lemonade—guaranteed to help you beat the oft-sweltering desert heat.
If you’re sticking around long enough to stock your fridge, Nature’s Health Food and Café is vegan shopping and snacking wonderland. Organic produce, supplements, and cleanses are the main attractions for the grocery section, but its café menu features an entire section dedicated to organic vegan entrees such as Pasta Primavera, Tofu Ranchero, and a Blackened Taco Tempeh Plate. Gluten-free? No problem, as many items are or can be made sans wheat ingredients. Don’t miss its fresh-pressed juices, either—they’re as fresh and wholesome as it gets.
With the styling of a mid-20th-century diner but equipped with 21st-century health smarts, Palm Greens Café has plenty of charm and zero junk. Breakfast is served all day, so enjoy a mid-afternoon feast of vegan cinnamon-swirl French toast with warm applesauce or maple syrup. Gluten-free options also abound—and are clearly labeled—on its menu. Pop in for dinner and try the Deconstructed Chile Relleno Bowl, with vegan mole sauce, grilled cilantro polenta, and heaps of roasted chiles, onions, and yams.
Although you’re free to lounge on a pool raft for the entirety of your stay (hey, we’re not judging), there are plenty of outdoor activities that you can fill your time with, as Palm Springs is surrounded by ample natural beauty. A mere 45 minutes from the city is the west entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, a reserve of compelling prehistoric beauty. Goliath boulders and whimsical Dr. Seuss-ian trees create an atmosphere that might make you think that dinosaurs will emerge from every corner, but this quaint park is perfect for camping, rock climbing, and reveling. Bird-watching, nature walking, and mountain-biking are also popular, or enjoy a brilliantly clear night sky for the perfect stargazing opportunity. Visit in spring or autumn for the best weather, as summer temperatures can go well into the triple digits.
Indio, about 30 minutes southeast of Palm Springs, boasts the title of the Date Capital of the World (who knew?), and date gardens spot the map all over the area. The most well-known and kitchiest of the bunch is Shields Date Garden, a charming, visitor-friendly shop and café that offers just about every type of date imaginable (there are far more than you can possibly imagine, for the record). It also screens a highly popular short film, “The Romance and Sex Life of the Date,” which is adorable even for those who couldn’t give two shakes about date reproduction.
If you prefer to stay within the city limits but still enjoy desert wonderment, don’t miss the Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium, which is home to 3,000 different varieties of desert flowers, succulents, and other foliage. Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife Patricia founded the arboretum in 1938 as an homage to their love of the American Southwest’s beauty. The pair also helped to design Frontierland at Anaheim’s Disneyland park, and collected desert plants from far and wide to curate their gardens. Take a leisurely stroll through their beautiful botanical assembly for four bucks, less than the cost of a fancy latte.
While snow and desert may seem like mortal enemies, Palm Springs has a secret frosty getaway on the border of town. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car, bringing desert dwellers and visitors on a lift from the desert floor to an elevation of more than 8,500 feet in only 10 minutes, with about a 30 degree temperature drop in between. Often, t-shirt weather is underway in town while a blanket of snow covers the mountaintops to which the car ascends. Additionally, once you arrive at the beauteous heights, there are trails, restaurants, and cocktail lounges to help you enjoy your stay at the getaway-from-a-getaway. For a special meal overlooking the Coachella Valley, call ahead to Peaks Restaurant and request vegan dishes for an unforgettably panoramic dinner.
Palm Springs hosts a number of special conferences and events throughout the year, but the two most popular are undoubtedly the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The former is held in early January, attracting big-name stars and hundreds of submissions from all over the world. At the 27th edition—which took place earlier this month—180 films from 60 countries were presented. Purchase tickets ahead of time to catch stunning independent films before they make widespread waves.
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—known colloquially by just “Coachella”—is one of the most popular music festivals in the US, with between 75,000 and 80,000 concert-goers expected for each day of its multiple-weekend run in Indio. This year, music fans are eager to feast their aural chops on acts such as Calvin Harris, Matt and Kim, Guns N’ Roses, Miike Snow, and more. (Sia and Grimes are just a few of the vegan musicians that caught our eye on this year’s lineup). Indie rock, hip-hop, and electronic music go head-to-head at this event, which—with more than 150 performing artists—pleases folks of many schools of fandom.
While Palm Springs’ outward appearance may seem geriatric (granted, there are quite a few golf courses), it has much to offer. With natural beauty to spare, plentiful veg-friendly dining, and world-class events, this desert city is an ideal destination for a mini vacation.