Other than the obvious reasons, part of Southern California’s beauty lies in the fact that no matter where you are, you’re always within two hours of either the beach, mountains, or desert. You can be on a surfboard in the water in Huntington Beach on Friday, shredding pow on the slopes of Big Bear on Saturday and come Sunday if you find yourself driving a classic red convertible Mustang with the top down en route to La Quinta– congratulations!– you’re truly owning California. Road trips are a vital part of So Cal living and you can’t call yourself a true local until you’ve taken one to Palm Springs and its surrounding areas… and until you’ve done it correctly. There are more than a few must-sees along the way that you absolutely can’t miss and we’ve got you covered. Behold, what to see and do when you’re high-tailing it to the desert.
First things first, you’re officially on a road trip and you’re actually going to need that classic car. There’s no better place to get it than at Classic Mustang Rentals in Costa Mesa. They’ll set you up with a timeless beauty, teach you all the old car intricacies like how to get that pop top drop top down, how to tune the radio to your favorite oldies station (KOLA 99.9FM), and most importantly, where exactly that dang gas tank is located– trust me, it’s tricky! You put the key in the ignition, utilize some of that ol’ elbow grease– power steering didn’t come easy in the 60s– and you are off.
Native Knowledge: Coming from Orange County you’ll hop on and off various interstates trying unsuccessfully to avoid the 91 at all costs (pure traffic hell) until you finally reach the 10. From here you’ve got a straight shot onto road trip bliss. You’re officially in the 909 now and as any true 909er will tell you, there’s no place like Baker’s Drive Thru. It’s like the Lakers are to LA or Shamu is to SD… the Inland Empire lives and breathes Baker’s and it’s definitely worth a pit stop off the Beaumont Avenue exit. You can’t go wrong with a Papa Meal… supersized. Their hearty burgers and hand-dipped real ice cream milk shakes give– gasp!– In-N-Out Burger a run for its money. However, if that last statement caused your So Cal heart to skip some beats and your mouth is already salivating for that Double-Double, go for it, it’s just a few exits away. The IE will forgive you; you better hope.
Your first official stop should be the Desert Hill Premium Outlets. It’s the perfect excuse to add a shopping spree to your trip (and your credit card). Discount stores from Balenciaga to Billabong, from Jimmy Choo to J. Crew, from Armani to Asics; it’s basically like everything is already on sale so why wouldn’t you buy that new jacket? And bathing suit? And extra-soft velour body suit with matching sneakers? You need it and it’s a good deal. Sold! With over 180 luxury outdoor stores, Cabazon’s outlet mall is the largest collection of outlets in California, making it a sure thing that there will be something for everyone in your hot little speedster. There’s no guarantee all your new loot will fit in it though! #firstworldproblems
Just passed the outlets is Hadley Fruit Orchards, a California landmark that has been in business for six decades. Step inside the brightly colored old wooden building and you are immediately transported back to the 60’s. The Hadley family helped popularize trail mix so you’re sure to find plenty of organic fruits and nuts as well as baked goods, dried and candied fruit, and of course their legendary Date Shakes. Boasting probably the largest selection of dates you’ll find– ever– their offerings range from the sweet dates you find in the creamy shakes to date cakes and even dates stuffed with walnuts! What!?!? Oh, hello healthy new you!
Grab some dates for a snack and and head next door to the World’s Biggest Dinosaurs. The two dinosaurs were the brain child(ren) of Claude Bell, a former Knott’s Berry Farm sculptor, who started construction on the first one (Dinny the Apatosaurus) in 1964– ultimately taking 11 years and over $250,000 to complete. Standing at 150-feet long, and 45-feet high, Dinny is towered over by his younger sibling, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, aptly called Rex, who stands at 65-feet high. There’s a gift shop inside Dinny, and stairs that lead up Rex’s neck to a viewing area behind the dinosaur’s teeth. The famous dinosaurs have made appearances in a few movies, most notably Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. Self-guided tours are available every day from 10am-5pm and cost $8.95 for adults and $7.95 for children.
Once you’ve taken that obligatory dino selfie, you’re off to the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. One of the largest casino’s in California, the resort has 310 rooms and sits on 44-acres. In addition to the hotel and casino, the property includes golf, shopping, bowling, plenty of restaurants, and the Oasis Pool and Sage Spa. Furthermore, Morongo’s entertainment and nightlife scene draw plenty of out-of-towners, including A-list celebrities that come all the way from Tinseltown to try their luck in the new exclusive room for high rollers. Dance at Vibe Night Club, dine at the resort’s fine dining option, Cielo, or just slide a few chips at the roulette table and let Lady Luck decide how long you’re staying.
Winner or loser you have to leave sometime. As you’re heading east on the 10, veer off onto Highway 111 and follow that till you see the Palms Springs Aerial Tramway signs. Follow those up the mountain, and you’ll arrive at the Valley Station where you can catch a rotating tramcar to an elevation of 8,500 feet up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon. At the top enjoy panoramic views of Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley. Enjoy a snack from Pines Café before you explore over 54 miles of hiking (the sometimes snow covered!) trails of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Fares are $24.95 for adults and $16.95 for children, and the experience is sure to get some of that are-we-there-yet-I’m-tired-of-sitting-in-the-car energy out.
Native Knowledge: Be sure to bring a jacket! It gets cold up there… and yes, even in the summertime!
Alas, it’s time for the final stretch. Back on the 10 and just passed Palm Springs and Palm Desert is La Quinta, a resort city and one of the leading golf destinations in the US. In a town full of sprawling ritzy resorts The Chateau at Lake La Quinta sticks out amongst its bigger competition. A quaint 24-room boutique hotel located on the lagoon, it has a homey feel that is mixed with class and luxury… and multiple little amenities to make your stay that much better (we’re talking 400-thread-count sheets and Bvlgari bath products). The gourmet restaurant, Mélange features an outdoor area that boats can actually dock at while their inhabitants come in for a fine dining experience worth boating over for. Outdoor fire pits mixed with an expansive wine collection and surely you’ll be wanting to cozy up the rest of the night in one of their lakeside bungalows. Your weekend road trip is officially over. Until tomorrow that is when you have to drive back… unless, of course, you can figure out a way to stay here all week. “Hi boss, I’ll be at the pool. At the Chateau.” Click.
You’re golden. You’re Californian. And you’re truly living it up. I’m proud of you. Just be sure to get that Mustang back in time!
Photos by: Michael Wesley.
As seen in Locale Magazine.