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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Graham

Travel: The winter magic of Palm Desert

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

“Wilderness. The word itself is music.”

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

To many visitors, Palm Desert is just another part of Palm Springs, an extension of the desert scenery down Highway 111.

But it is indeed its own city, with lots there for anyone with a camera.

Palm Desert is the home of the Living Desert Zoo, the MacCallum Theater, the high-end El Paseo shopping district and the upscale JW Marriott Desert Springs hotel.

And those wide-open desert vistas are just stunning.

I brought my iPhone 14 Pro Max to Palm Desert recently to revel in the majesty of the winter desert, and to show what's possible with a smartphone.

Please watch the latest episode of #PhotowalksTV to see what I'm talking about.

Meanwhile, if you go, some travel tips for you.

--Getting there

Palm Desert is a two-hours drive from Los Angeles, or about four hours from Las Vegas and Phoenix. Plane travelers are welcomed via the Palm Springs International Airport.

--Where to stay

I stumbled onto a classic 1950s era hotel called the Inn at Deep Canyon. It's conveniently located near Highway 111, your main road, El Paseo is right around the corner, but more importantly, that pool. All the rooms wrap around the classic desert pool, the one we dream about.

I love their description, on the website:

The Inn is a place "where guests become friends and friends return again and again to renew old acquaintances at one of the finest small hotels in Palm Desert with HEATED SALTWATER POOL and Hot tub. Imagine such a place. Your special hideaway where dreams come true and you feel like the most important person in the world."

I don't know that I'd go that far, but I loved hanging at the pool and never wanted to leave.

What to do in Palm Desert?


Make the Living Zoo and Cactus Garden your first stop. This small zoo brings the large animals accessible to you (love those giraffes) and the Wallabees hop around you, Kangaroo style in their gated area. They are easy to capture on your smartphone. Said my friend Joshua Kalev about visiting: "You feel like you're on a safari!"

The other animals are harder to capture on your smartphone, because they're further away. Cameras with zoom lenses needed for great shots of the zebras, rhinos and like. Luckily, I had both.

Admission is $30 for adults and $20 for kids.

How about some Pink Flamingoes for free? They are lounging in a body of water in front of the tony JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa and lots of fun to watch and photograph. With your smartphone you'll have no issues, as you can get right in their face. Use the 3X telephoto lens, if you have it, on your phone. It's what I used to isolate just one bird and get the water reflection in this shot.

For $5, the folks at Marriott will give you a boat ride through their manmade bodies of desert water surrounding the hotel. Make sure to get a reservation first.

Also free are the ducks at the Palm Desert Civic Center. This is a huge, 40 acre park with lots to explore.

But speaking of exploring:

The Desert

You can't beat the wide open spaces of open land in the Palm Desert area.

There are three great desert hikes for you:

Bump and Grind is right in town, behind the large Target big box store, and from here you can walk up a hill and catch an awesome overview of the area.

If climbing isn't your thing, the Randall Henderson Trail is up the hill on Highway 74, right off El Paseo, about four miles from town. It's where I shot my thumbnail shot, with the big open spaces of the desert behind me. It's absolutely stunning, and near this welcome to Palm Desert sign.

Another few miles up the road is Vista Point, where I shot the morning sunrise and several time lapse videos. There's parking and you can't beat the view.



Palm Desert has many high end restaurants, but as readers know, I happen to be a fan of classic Jewish delis, and was thrilled to see that Sherman's, the deli from Palm Springs, has a second location. There’s a new deli in Palm Desert, J’s, which I hope to check out on the next visit.


High end stores aren't my thing, but I got a kick out of walking down El Paseo anyway. I loved all the art on display by stores and in the meridians that cars zip by.

If you're reading this in January, remember that the desert really comes alive in the winter, with warmer temps than most other places, snow-capped mountains from the rain, green grass, flowers in bloom and such.

And if that doesn't do it for you, just lay in the pool and look up into the skies.


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