Word of Mouth: Coachella Valley

Beyond music, we explore the stunning natural beauty of a region far greater than just Palm Springs

by Andrew Maness

For the uninitiated, everything east of Mt San Jacinto to the northern tip of the Salton Sea is Palm Springs. The globally renowned city is synonymous with the Californian desert lifestyle and as such is regarded as the definitive destination in the region. While Palm Springs is indeed home to many a fine hotel and an ever growing restaurant scene, it is not the only reason to visit this historically rich and increasingly vibrant locale. The Coachella Valley incorporates seven other cities as well, each with their own distinct vibe. Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Indio, Rancho Mirage and of course Coachella are all worthy destinations in their own right. Framed by the towering San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains to the west and Little San Bernadino mountains to the east, the Coachella Valley is home to stunning vistas that make for an otherworldly atmosphere depending on the time of day and where light is landing. It’s this stunning natural beauty that has drawn people to the area for leisure for nearly a century, although the prevalence of luxury resorts and an arid climate during winter months doesn’t hurt either. From the mid-century modern architecture, the time capsule restaurants, and hidden gem-holding second hand stores, the Coachella Valley is bursting with wildly different things to see and do.

La Quinta Resort & Club

The La Quinta Resort & Club started out as the La Quinta Hotel in 1926 as a secluded getaway for celebrities and socialites, many of whom were friends of the visionary behind the place, Walter Morgan. It was then and still is truly a world unto itself. With the Santa Rosa mountains looming above this sprawling 1,400 acre resort and club at the north end of “Marshall’s Cove” is comprised of 20 original bungalows where much of Hollywood’s Golden Age talent once stayed and more recently constructed units built in the similar Spanish style. While there’s no shortage of activities to choose from, including world class 5 golf courses to play at and a sunken tournament style tennis court with daily clinics during the BNP Paribas Open, simply walking the immaculately landscaped grounds is an experience. You can’t help but wonder about the goings on during the heydey in which the likes of Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall roamed the same paths. After writing “It Happened One Night” in one of the casitas, Frank Capra famously called the hotel his “Shangri-La for screenwriting”, I’d say it’s fair to just call it Shangri-La. Settling down in one of the deep leather club chairs near the fireplace inside Morgan’s in the desert with a house recipe Old Fashioned in hand is highly recommended, provided you’re there in cooler months of course.

BNP Paribas Open

Hands down the best time to visit the Coachella Valley is during the month of March when the climate is just right and there’s no shortage of events to check out. The largest and most exciting of these goings on is without question the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament that takes place over the course of the first two weeks of the month at the 54 acre Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Premier matches are played in the freshly renovated Stadium 1 facility with seating for 16,100 rabid tennis fans. You can now enjoy a view of the main court while dining at an outpost of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago or make your way over to the four year old Stadium 2 and dine at NOBU while watching world class athletes do their thing. The atmosphere was unlike anything I’ve experienced at a sporting event and no matter where you are on the grounds there is something happening that’ll interest those with even the most casual of interest in tennis. There are no airs being put on here, it’s all about fun and reverence for the game.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Housed in a striking building designed by E.Stewart Williams, the Palm Springs Art Museum is a great place to get out of the sun and soak up some culture instead. The 150,000 square foot space is located in the heart of downtown Palm Springs and features an impressive rotating collection with notable works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Picasso, Calder and more. While those names surely get people’s attention, there are 28 galleries with Native American and Western art, photography exhibits, architecture and design exhibits, as well as two outdoor sculpture gardens. Added bonus, admission is free every Thursday 4-8PM and every second Sunday, plan accordingly.

The Venue Sushi Bar + Sake Lounge

The Coachella Valley is a melting pot of people who simply enjoy the climate, so it should come as no surprise then that a chef born in Buffalo and raised in Turkey presides over a killer sushi and sake establishment in Palm Desert. Located on El Paseo (aka dusty Rodeo Drive) The Venue is worth a visit for the extensive sake list curated by Chef Engin Onural alone, though his experimental rolls, superb cocktail list and the overall ambiance will make you a repeat customer.

Palms to Pines Highway

While there are more daily flights to Palm Springs International Airport than ever, the best way to get to the Coachella Valley is to drive, preferably something fun and with an optional roof. The delightfully curvy ascent from the desert floor up to peaks that often get snow during the winter was the perfect route to enjoy the insane amount of lateral grip that the stunning pearl white 2018 Audi R8 V10 Plus Spyder we took for the weekend possesses, not to mention the chance to test the big red brake calipers each time you come upon a photo opportunity you nearly passed by. Planning your visit to the Coachella Valley around such a drive is quite the grand entrance and a thoughtful exit.

Venue and museum images courtesy of respective venues, all others by Andrew Maness