Palm Springs is one of the most interesting and fun towns to ride around in Southern California, especially when the weather is picture-perfect from fall through early spring. A stunning mountain backdrop, frequently capped with snow, contrasts to the modified desert landscape of palms, cacti and colorful flowering shrubs. Whereas much of the Coachella Valley is hidden behind walled communities, most of Palm Springs’ communities are available to explore by bike. Architecture ranges from Palm Springs modern to Spanish colonial, and a vibrant downtown is bursting with inviting restaurants, many of which are al fresco and perfect to combine with your ride.
In the mid 20th Century, Palm Springs was the playground of the Hollywood elite, with many of the biggest stars spending time here in a myriad of homes, whether rented or owned. Although they came here to escape the pressure and scrutiny of Hollywood, they created their own melodrama here in the valley. Details on who lived where is more reliable for some stars’ homes than others’, but the scavenger hunt through history makes this cycle down memory lanes a rewarding exercise. Pictured above is the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, which he and Priscilla rented in the 60’s.
I recently led 10 enthusiastic friends on enCYCLEpedia Southern California Ride PS1, “Palm Springs Vintage Star Tour – Where YOU Are the Star,” except instead of having them recite movie lines or sing songs of the various stars as outlined in the book, I played audio clips from movies or their songbook to bring history alive, and had them guess the former occupants based on those, while also regaling tales of yesteryear. The stops came in clusters, with welcome cycling mileage in between as we explored the Old Las Palmas, Deep Well and Movie Colony Districts in a ride of 14 miles. I actually added to what is in the book, which may have been a mistake, since the 40-odd stops ended up taking 4 hours, and we didn’t make it to lunch until 2:15, a delicious repast on the El Mirasol (North) patio. Next time I’ll reduce the stops or plan the lunch for mid-ride.
In contrast to the previous warm, dry winters, the Coachella Valley has had its more typical cooler temperatures during 2015-16 with precipitation bringing snow cover to the surrounding mountains.
After the storms pass, the scenery of green palms, colorful desert vegetation, blue skies and white mountains beyond creates a spectacular riding viewscape.
Following are photos from our bike rides around Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage, known in enCYCLEpedia as rides RM1, RM2 and PD1. Although these rides are mostly on the legal sidewalk ped/bike paths, the routes (except Hwy 111) typically have ample bike lanes for those that prefer.
It’s holiday season and once again you may find yourself getting together with friends to go out to eat. My advice will come as no surprise to you. Do a bike ride first! Living in Southern California means that this will be possible most days, even if you have to, shudder, don a windbreaker to fend off the winter chill, like when the temperature dips below 70F. That was the case on this clear beautiful Palm Springs day when the mercury barely hit 65F.
Bryan, Karin, Victor, Steve and I pedaled the 8-mile Tahquitz Creek Loop in Palm Springs, a route that consists mostly of bike trails that are so rare in these parts, albeit mostly on sidewalks next to roadways eastbound and next to golf courses (and the hazard of being whomped on the head) westbound.
This ride (enCYCLEpedia’s PS3) is best done in the counter-clockwise direction to take advantage of the stunning mountain views as you pedal west adjacent to the golf courses.
Of course being Palm Springs there are plenty of after-ride eateries to choose from. On this route the Manhattan in the Desert patio is one of our favorites on warmer days. Today we chose to reward ourselves at the Monsoon Indian Cuisine (Sunrise south of Ramon), with it’s delicious lunch buffet ($11). All left very satisfied.
Known mostly for it’s world renowned golf country clubs like PGA West and La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta holds great interest for those of us who just like to cycle, dine, and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.
The charming new old town is a great place to come for your just reward from your bike ride – a delightful al fresco meal. Offerings include breakfast at Old Town Coffee, the wide variety of offerings at Stuft Pizza, or others that range from Mexican to seafood. The highly regarded La Quinta Arts Festival is held at the adjacent Civic Center campus in early March.
My personal favorite Bike ‘n Brunch reward is the Napa Valley Pizza on the Stuft Pizza patio. Pizza prices are reduced during Happy Hour (3-6).
The Bear Creek Trail leads from just west of Old Town, parallel to the La Quinta Cove neighborhood, gradually rising 350 feet up to the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains. It’s perhaps the best Class I bike trail in the valley, even though it’s only 2 miles long. enCYCLEpedia ride LQ1 includes this trail and an exploration of Old Town, with some options to extend the ride.
While La Quinta is the “Gem of the Desert,” we regard Lake Cahuilla Regional Park as the “Hidden Gem of the Desert.” It is reachable from Old Town by trying enCYCLEpedia ride LQ2, which can be done in the bike lanes or adjacent scenic sidewalks for those of us who prefer to stay away from those 4,000 pound machines whizzing by erratically. It is free to cycle in, but there is a nominal fee to drive in.
Lake Cahuilla is about the only lake that you can cycle next to in the valley. From the east and north ends the views of the Santa Rosa Mountains can be quite spectacular. You can’t ride all the way around it, but you can ride enough on both sides of it to get a variety of great vistas. The paths around the lake are gravel drives, best for hybrids or mountain bikes. There is also a concrete apron, but parts of it are frequently taken up by fishermen.
If you enjoy birdwatching, this can one of the best places in the valley. Shown here are a conglomeration of white pelicans, herons, gulls, cormorants and grebes on New Years Day 2015. They are going after the stocked fish in the lake, just as the fishermen do when they come here for the fishing derbies.
The Cove to Lake Trail (hike-only) runs 2.9 miles between the La Quinta Cove neighborhood and Lake Cahuilla park, with the trailhead to the west of the entrance kiosk. These endangered bighorn sheep sometimes visit the valley bottom, munching on desert vegetation and the grass at the adjacent private Quarry golf course. It makes for a nice Bike ‘n Hike ‘n Brunch experience! Beware though; where there is game there can be big cats who want them.
Swimming and private boats are not allowed in the reservoir, with the exception of the swim for the Desert Triathlon held in early March.
The public park area features picnic areas, restrooms and seasonal facilities including a large swimming pool, boat rentals and refreshment stands. On Easter this park is overflowing, a tradition. The adjacent RV campground, which does not $gouge during the peak season like private ones do, is popular with snowbirds, making this a great Camp n’ Ride ‘n Brunch cycling experience.
Even when it’s colder than normal, the viewscapes here can be wonderful. This is taken from the Lake Cahuilla entry kiosk.
Enjoying a meal al fresco on a perfectly sunny desert day is a sublime experience, but incorporating it into a bike ride adds beneficial exercise and fun. enCYCLEpedia presents our favorite combinations of easy scenic bicycle rides and al fresco dining experiences in the Coachella Valley. Bike routes that include these restaurants as destinations are described in the book “enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides” (2nd edition Oct ’17). Don’t be ashamed to ride on the pretty landscaped valley sidewalks when it’s a safer option, but be extra careful anytime you cross a driveway or street. More info: enCYCLE’s website (Palm Springs area is Chapter 9). Banner photo: Escena Lounge & Grill (courtesy of Sunrise Golf).
What to wear? Most places mentioned are super casual. For the more upscale establishments like Spencer’s or those along El Paseo perhaps bring or wear a more appropriate frock. Golf course establishments typically require a collared shirt. Personally I carry a light Hawaiian shirt to wear over my tee!
1. Downtown Palm Springs
Palm Springs is THE place in the Coachella Valley to cycle on a beautiful winter’s day and find a delightful patio to savor a well deserved meal. Most of the patio restaurants are along South Palm Canyon Drive between Tamarisk and Baristo, but there are plenty others a block or two farther afield. Palm Canyon and Indian Canyon now have sharrows (bike symbols) in their left lanes between Alejo and Ramon. You can also cycle on parallel roads to the west that comprise the city’s bike routes, and just ride a block or two east to Palm Canyon to get to your patio restaurant of choice, including Cheeky’s for imaginative breakfasts, Blue Coyote or Las Casuelas Terraza for a festive al fresco Mexican experience, Lulu’s with varied menu and people-watching patio (photo), or Ruby’s family style diner, to name just a few. Or, you can pedal west on Baristo Road a few blocks to experience the fabulous outdoor patio of upscale Spencer’s. Along Indian Canyon Drive, at La Plaza are Bill’s, a pizza favorite (photo), Tyler’s, a burger favorite, and Farm for French breakfast/lunch. Wang’s Chinese restaurant’s popular Zen Patio is north of Ramon. Thai Smile for lunch and Oscar’s Cafe for breakfast/lunch are al fresco at Tahquitz Canyon, with Sherman’s Deli’s large patio another block to the east. Tropicale’s patio is fun for an upscale brunch, located east on Amado. [enCYCLE ride: PS1,3]
Gary & Elizabeth on Lulu’s patio.
Colin and Richard at Bill’s Pizza.
Steve cycles by Tahquitz Golf Course.
2. The River at Rancho Mirage
Reached via the sidewalk bike trails along Hwy 111 or Bob Hope, the refreshing pools of The River complex are not a mirage, but will revive you on a warm day, and the choice for eats here are stellar. The fabulous waterfront patio of Acqua California Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Other choices for lunch and dinner include franchises of Cheesecake Factory, Babe’s BBQ, PF Chang’s, and The Yard House, each offering an al fresco option. [enCYCLE ride: RM2]
3. Old Town La Quinta
Granted it’s a newly-built old town, but it charms nonetheless. Access it south from Hwy 111 on Washington, right on Eisenhower, left on Tampico, and right on Bermudas one block. La Quinta prefers you to ride in bike lanes or specifically marked sidewalk trails, but if you ride courteously on the unmarked sidewalk paths you will rarely if ever be hassled by the authorities. We particularly like the patio of Stuft Pizza, where they have happy hour food prices from 3 to 6 pm. I love their Napa Valley Pizza (photo). For breakfast, Old Town Coffee is popular with cyclists where tables are set out on the square (photo). A few more options can be found around Old Town including The Grill on Main and Old Town Tavern. From Old Town you can ride uphill several miles on the scenic Bear Creek bike trail (photo), with some optional easy dirt paths at the top of La Quinta Cove. [enCYCLE rides: LQ1,2,3]
The Bear Creek Trail leads from just west of Old Town, parallel to the La Quinta Cove neighborhood, gradually rising 350 feet up to the foothills of the Santa Rosa Mountains. It’s perhaps the best Class I bike trail in the valley, even though it’s only 2 miles long. Ride LQ1 includes this trail and an exploration of Old Town, with some options.
My personal favorite Bike ‘n Brunch reward is the Napa Pizza on the Stuft Pizza patio.
Old Town Coffee, a cyclists’ handoout.
4. Escena Golf Club, Palm Springs
A stand-alone destination, Escena Lounge & Grill at the Escena Golf Club is a popular Bike ‘n Brunch choice with delicious food served on an expansive patio with fabulous mountain views (photo below and banner photo). From the bike path along the west side of Gene Autry next to the airport (photo), pedal east on the south sidewalk of Vista Chino to the community entrance on the right, then ride another half mile to the golf club. Then try the first 2.3-mile section of the regional CV Link trail just beyond the Escena entrance along Whitewater Channel between Vista Chino and Ramon. There are also several casual restaurants with patios at Ramon and Gene Autry, including Panera Bread and Dickey’s BBQ. [enCYCLE rides: PS4, PS3]
Very scenic delicious dining at Escena. (Photo courtesy of Escena).
Gene Autry bike path next to Aviation Museum
5. South Palm Springs
This very popular district is fun to cycle around on its residential streets lined with classic Palm Springs homes. Your brunching options are the scenic patio at South Course Restaurant of Indian Canyons Golf Club along Murray Canyon, or try some choices along Hwy 111 east of Sunrise. Manhattan In the Desert (east of Barona) has a delectably huge deli menu that spans all three meals, and a tempting bakery counter. A detour north up South Palm Canyon from Belardo/East Palm Canyon brings you to popular El Mirasol for Mexican food. Koffi is a local hangout for coffee and light fare at El Camino Real and 111. [enCYCLE ride: PS2]
6. El Paseo, Palm Desert
Cycle here either via Indian Wells Hwy 111 shoulder or sidewalk, or from the bike-friendly sidewalks in Palm Desert. From the north, Monterey, Portola and Cook intersect El Paseo. As in downtown Palm Springs, it’s best to ride on the less crowded parallel streets to the south and hop into the town for grub. Some popular patios in this area are California Pizza Kitchen, Daily Grill, Pacifica Seafood, Tommy Bahama’s, Café Des Beaux-Artes, or Wilma & Frieda in The Gardens. Palm Desert’s Manhattan in the Desert is tucked away at the east end of El Paseo. To the west of Monterey, Westfield Mall offers Stuft Pizza and Bobby Mao’s Chinese kitchen, each with a large mountain-view patio. Louise’s Pantry for breakfast/lunch is along the 111 frontage road across from Palm Desert’s new location of Bill’s Pizza, for fabulous pizza on a patio.[enCYCLE ride: RM2]
Uncrowded very early morning.
The median of El Paseo is adorned with modern sculptures.
7. Desert Willow Golf Course, Palm Desert
The beautiful half-mile long sidewalk trail leading up the hill from the Desert Springs (ie Ralph’s) Shopping Center northwest of Cook and Country Club leads to the clubhouse of Desert Willow Country Club, an upscale city-owned golf course. Its Lakeview Terrace has a wonderful outdoor view patio and serves delicious food, perfect for your mid-ride meal. If you hanker for Chinese food, the patio at City Wok in the Ralph’s center is popular. [enCYCLE rides: PD1, RM1,2]
Along the path to the clubhouse restaurant.
Beautiful paths at a high point in the valley overlook pretty Desert Willow Golf Course and mountains in all directions.
8. Restaurant Row, Rancho Mirage
Cycle the bike sidewalk along Hwy 111 between Frank Sinatra or Country Club, or from Palm Desert, head west on either of those boulevards to the end. Las Casuelas Nuevas has a very popular patio for Mexican cuisine and an elaborate Sunday brunch, and Fisherman’s is the spot for an al fresco fish lunch or Sunday breakfast. We love to go to The Palms Cafe II for al fresco breakfast, especially when we sub a giant banana nut pancake for toast. [enCYCLE rides: RM1,2]
9. Highway 111, La Quinta – Indio
A sidewalk path is now continuous along the south side of Hwy 111 from Indian Wells all the way through La Quinta to the Indio border so that you can extend your rides in La Quinta or Indian Wells to access plenty of al fresco dining options. Most are actually on the north side of the road, where the sidewalk has a couple of breaks. Choices start with Broken Yolk for breakfast and festive Las Casuelas Quinta at Washington. Across from In ‘n Out Burger at Simon is Pokehana for a healthy poke fix, Panera Bread, Chipotle and Habit Burger past Adams, and Pho Vu Vietnamese and IHOP after Dune Palms. Mimi’s Cafe at the Costco entrance road has a small outside patio. For one of the finest garden patios in the desert follow the north sidewalk past Jefferson to Jackalope Ranch. [enCYCLE rides: LQ3, IW1]
10. Indian Wells
If you ride on Indian Wells’ sidewalk path (once a designated bike path as shown in the photo) west adjacent to the south side of Hwy 111 toward the towering mountains you will reach Cook Street, across which is Eureka! Their semi-covered and fanned patio is the perfect stop along your bicycle exploration to enjoy fabulous gourmet burgers like the Fresno Fig (photo, below, shown next to enCYCLEpedia), salads and crafted brews. Continuing a bit farther west leads to El Paseo (#6 above). There are also lots of restaurants, some with patios, along Hwy 111 in the El Paseo area that you can access via frontage roads. And those up for something more upscale can venture into some of Indian Wells’ resorts along the route, including Vue Grille at Indian Wells Golf Resort featuring a Sunday brunch splurge.[enCYCLE rides: IW1, RM2]
The pretty Indian Wells bike trail along Hwy 111 is a great connector between Palm Desert and La Quinta.