Winter is the most wonderful time of year to visit Palm Springs if rest, relaxation and clear blue skies are what you’re after. It’s the perfect season for golf or tennis at any of Coachella Valley’s many prime resorts, or horseback riding and hiking through the canyons without breaking a sweat. And since the Greater Palm Springs areas covers Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, Indio, and Coachella, there’s plenty to keep you busy.
Nighttime at the zoo is magic, especially at Palm Desert’s The Living Desert for its annual “WildLights at The Living Desert” event from 6-9 p.m. nightly through New Year’s Eve. It’s a lovely winter wonderland with colorful, twinkling holiday lights virtually everywhere, plus bonfires for s’mores, music, the Holiday Express Train, and displays including a giant Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Photo Credit: Avalon Palm Springs
For New Year’s Eve, the newly rebranded Avalon Palm Springs (formerly The Viceroy) is hosting two special events. The first includes an $85 four-course dinner at the poolside Chi Chi restaurant featuring live music, a Champagne toast, and an optional wine pairing. The second is a Cocktail Party Under the Stars ($75) with libations, nibbles, and dancing until 1 a.m., and a balloon drop and Champagne toast at the stroke of midnight. Overnight holiday rates start at $200.
I personally love its poolside cabanas and Kelly Wearstler’s shabby-chic interior touches. Best of all, you get 20 percent off your Avalon dining and bar tab when you book a 60-minute spa treatment at the new, organic Estrella Spa. For a perfect New Year’s Day recovery regimen, opt for a 105-minute “Waxing Moon Phase Ritual” Moon Magic Treatment to cleanse, detoxify and reset. It boasts a full body exfoliation, warm oil scalp treatment, and deep-cleansing facial to remineralize stressed skin. Double down with a fresh green juice from Chi Chi, a nap in a hammock, and a dip in one of Avalon’s five pools, and you’re ready to take on 2016.
Photo Credit: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
While the adults play, the kids can have fun too at the New Year with Camp Hyatt at Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa. From 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., Hyatt’s $80 Glow in the Dark Pajama Party includes hosted games, family movies, party favors and, for the little ones still awake, a midnight countdown.
The morning after, take the whole family for an uplifting New Year’s Day ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway from the sunny desert floor to the snowy pine forest of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Didn’t pack your sled? No problem, they have plenty at the top. To make things extra easy, there’s also an all-day Ride 'n' Dine package ($36 for adults, $23.50 for kids) that includes a carved turkey, ham or veggie lasagna dinner at Pines Café located 8,500 feet above sea level. The holiday menu features a spinach salad with a choice of dressings; a choice of carved turkey, honey glazed ham or vegetable lasagna.
Photo Credit: The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage
You’ll feel on top of the world at the mountain-top Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage, hands down the best above-it-all luxury getaway in Palm Springs. Start the New Year off right with an eye-popping view from your bluff-top room, then a restorative visit to the spa for a seasonal special: 50-minute Chocolate Truffle Body Wrap, 50-minute Chocolate Truffle Facial and a glass of Champagne. Book ahead for an unforgettable New Year’s Day dinner at The Edge Steakhouse, Palm Springs’ newest and finest special occasion restaurant for prime, dry-aged meats and creative small plates such as Chioggia and Bull’s Blood Beets, Confit Rabbit Terrine, and The Edge Caesar with grana Padano and white anchovies.
Photo Credit: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Back down the hill in downtown, the 27th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival will be held January 1-11, so don’t be surprised if you run into Rooney Mara by the pool, or Matt Damon and director Ridley Scott sipping martinis in Frank Sinatra’s booth at Melvyn’s. They’re just three of the special guests at this year’s PSIFF, one of the most prestigious film festivals in North America. Highlights include Variety’s “10 Directors to Watch” with Will Smith and Charlie Kaufman, the swanky Black Tie Awards Gala, and awards events honoring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Bryan Cranston. Oh, and there will be lots and lots of movies.