A long weekend in Greater Palm Springs: Luxury within reach of Los Angeles

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- If you're looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, you don't have to go far for a luxurious retreat. Just two hours east of LA, the Greater Palm Springs area is a year-round vacation destination bursting with rich culture, abundant natural beauty and oh so much to do.

There's so much to, in fact, that it might be hard to decide how to kick off your long weekend in the Coachella Valley. Here are five of the Greater Palm Springs area's most popular attractions that are not to be missed:

Admire the desert modern architecture on a tour (Palm Springs)

Palm Springs is known for its desert modern architecture.

What do Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Loretta Young all have in common? They've all lived in Palm Springs and are among the celebrities who have laid claim to some of the city's most iconic homes.

Famous residents aside, you'll notice the city's distinctive architecture almost instantly. Known as desert modern, the sleek style is characterized by its use of glass, striking lines and integration with nature and the surrounding landscape. And while you can find architecutre inspired by the architecture school all around the country, Palm Springs is where it all began.

Kurt Cyr, the founder of Palm Springs Mod Squad, offers several tours throughout the city's most prestigious neighborhoods like Deepwell, Movie Colony and others that he termed ground zero for desert modern design.

On his tours, Cyr explains how a handful of noted architects like Bill Krisel, William F. Cody and John Lautner were single-handedly responsible for crafting the city's distinctive look. While the city's style has evolved with the times over the past several decades, the desert modern influence is still evident even in new builds, which are also included on Cyr's tour.

Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (Palm Springs)

The views on the Palm Springs aerial tramway are not to be missed.

As you drive into Palm Springs on the 10 Freeway, you're seemingly surrounded by nothing but desert.

But once you ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway more than two miles up Mount San Jacinto, that changes. During the short ride, you'll actually pass through five different climate zones, and you can see the transition happen right in front of your very eyes during the ascent. Minutes after boarding the tram down in the desert, you'll find yourself in the Alpine climate near the top of the mountain, surrounded by lush trees and - during the winter - maybe even snow and ice, so be sure to bring a jacket!

The flora and fauna, though, aren't the tram's biggest draw by any stretch of the imagination - that would be the views. Both on the tram and at the top, riders are treated to Instagram-worthy vistas of the Coachella Valley and surrounding areas. You can see all the way to Salton Sea 60 miles away on a clear day, and nighttime visitors might even be able to catch a glimpse of the lights of Las Vegas more than 200 miles away.

But the fun doesn't stop on the tram. Upon reaching the top - elevation 8,516 feet - visitors can proceed directly into 22-square-mile Mount San Jacinto State Park for exploration on foot and more amazing views.

If hiking isn't your thing, the Mountain Station at the top of the tram offers two eateries, fine-dining restaurant Peaks and cafeteria-style Pines Café, as well as a gift shop and a small theater.

The tram itself also has technical bragging rights. With cars that can hold approximately 80 adults at a time, it's been designated the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world.

Hike in a desert oasis in Indian Canyons (Palm Springs)

Indian Canyons is home to dozens of miles of hiking trails.

After you've experienced the 30-degree temperature difference from the valley floor up Mount San Jacinto, head back down for a much warmer adventure: a hike in Indian Canyons.

Indian Canyons is part of a larger 300-square-mile Native American reservation, and Andreas Canyon is one of the reservation's most popular hiking trails. Just over a mile long, the looped trail guides visitors along Andreas Creek. The lush trail is said to be the world's second-largest oasis of California palms, the state's only native palm tree species, which offer a respite from the beaming sun as they tower over the peaceful riverbed.

There are also birds, small lizards and other flora along the trail, and breathtaking rock formations jutting from the ground offer endless Instagram fare.

If you're looking for a longer or more advanced hike, the reservation offers more than 60 miles of trails that range from easy to strenuous.

Shop 'til you drop along El Paseo (Palm Desert)

El Paseo is the Rodeo Drive of the Palm Springs area.

The greater Palm Springs area might be two hours outside of Los Angeles, but the shopping is just as good -- so good that El Paseo, a shopping district in nearby Palm Desert, has been termed the area's Rodeo Drive.

Several high-fashion houses have set up shop on the western side of the district, with Burberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other designers catering to the luxury crowd. Meanwhile, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, lululemon and Tommy Bahama cater to shoppers in the upper-moderate price point.

If you're looking for something you just can't find in any other city, the district is bursting with small boutiques like Grayse, Mares Menswear and Candice Held that are full of hidden gems.

Clothing and jewelry aside, you can also find everything from high-end art galleries to cigar retailers and dog groomers along El Paseo. And after a long afternoon of shopping, there are bars and restaurants throughout the district offering everything from pizza to sushi.

Enjoy a date shake at Shields Date Garden (Indio)

The date shake is the unofficial drink of the Coachella Valley.

No visit to greater Palm Springs is complete without a date shake, the unofficial drink of the Coachella Valley.

While dates might seem like an odd fruit to claim as your own, the Coachella Valley boasts the perfect climate for growing dates. Many of them are grown at Shields Date Garden, whose presence in the valley dates back nearly a century. The business was founded by Floyd and Bess Shields, who helped pioneer the area's nascent date industry in the early 1920s. Small as it may have been a century ago, Shields now produces more than a million pounds of dates per year that are shipped all over the United States.

Some of those dates, though, don't travel quite so far and are instead used to make Shields' famous date shake. It shines in its simplicity with only three ingredients: date crystals, ice milk (which is similar to ice cream but with less butterfat) and cold milk, all blended together behind an retro soda fountain counter.

Some say the drink's unique flavor resembles chocolate, others taste caramel and others still detect a hint of vanilla.

And if a milkshake isn't your thing, there's also a full-service café on the property that offers breakfast and dinner dishes, many of which are inspired by the signature dates that Shields is known for.

This story sponsored by Greater Palm Springs.
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