Palm Springs on a Budget

By Max Pesling / BT Editor
May 3, 2023
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Hotel pool in Palm Springs by Oliver Dumoulin - Unsplash
In America's most famous desert resort, a slew of surprisingly low-cost finds

Celebrity playground or golfer's paradise? Gay resort or hideaway for the filthy rich? Since the Roaring Twenties, the sunny, well-watered oasis of Palm Springs, about a hundred miles due east of Los Angeles in the Colorado Desert of southeastern California, has been widely known for all of the above, with oodles of glamorous eateries and posh resorts catering to a well-heeled clientele.

What's not nearly as well known is that the town of Palm Springs itself (as opposed to neighbors like Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage) attracts plenty of working-class Americans with some of the country's best resort bargains and prices generally well below destinations such as Provincetown, Key West, and Miami Beach. Rates are lowest in summer, of course, thanks to temps of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (being dry heat, though, it can still be perfectly fine for those into a not-too-active holiday). But even in peak season (generally January through May), when daytime temps hover around a delicious 70 to 80 degrees, you can score spiffy double rooms as low as $70, and every other eatery along chic Palm Canyon Drive will fill your plate for $20 or less. One tip: if possible, plan your visit during the week, as year-round weekend hordes from LA, San Diego, and elsewhere send room rates north.

Take in the Views

Palm Oasis at Agua Caliente Indian Reservation by Michael Kirsh - Unsplash

So what's there to do here besides shooting the links, hanging out by the pool, or watching the cactus grow? Apart from that spectacularly dry and sunny weather year-round (the prime reason folks started coming all those years ago), you can drive in a single afternoon from snow-capped mountains to sandy wilderness to lush green oases... and back to the "historic district" (meaning early- to mid-twentieth-century) with its clean-cut Mexican-village look.

For an awesome view over the valley, jump on the Aerial Tramway's rotating tram car; tickets are $29.95 per adult, with discounts for kids and seniors and annual passes available. Enjoy views of pristine wilderness during its 8,000-foot climb up the side of Mount San Jacinto. Once at the Mountain Station, enjoy two restaurants, observation decks, a natural history museum, two documentary theaters, a gift shop and over 50 miles of hiking trails.

Stop by the dramatic Indian Canyons reserve ($12 adult admission) for canyon trails as well as ranger-led interpretive hikes. For classic Western vistas, head to Andreas Canyon, where water springs up from the sand surrounding native palms (where do you think Palm Springs got its name?).

Tee Off for Less

For many a visitor the great outdoors means one of the 100-or-so local golf courses. Most are predictably pricey, ranging from $50 to $250 in season (less otherwise) for one round including a cart; you can save up to 50% off, however, by buying unsold next-day tee times through Stand-by Golf.

Explore Local Museums

Marilyn Monroe statue outside the Palm Springs Art Museum by Susi Kleiman - Unsplash

Head to the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens ($39.95, kids $29.95), a natural habitat where eagles, mountain lions, and other native fauna flourish.

Back downtown, check out the Palm Springs Desert Museum ($16 for an adult ticket) with one of the western United States' most impressive collections of natural history and western and modern art. The museum also hosts free admission on Thursday nights from 5-8pm, though reservations are required and limited. For an additional ticket ($5), visitors can also explore the Architecture and Design Center. The sculpture garden is free.

While tickets are a little pricier at The Palm Springs Air Museum ($22 for adults), admission is free for kids under 12 and active service members (plus their immediate family). The living history museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of static and flyable aircraft from WWII through the War on Terror.

Also not to miss, 2023 will see the opening of the brand new Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza, a captivating look at to the culture of the Cahuilla Indians—who to this day own (and lease out) much of the area. The new cultural plaza will feature a new Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, as well as a spa that celebrates the sacred Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring, gardens and an Oasis Trail.

Step Back in Time

Pioneertown was established in 1946 when Dick Curtis shared his dream for a "Living Breathing Movie Set." Seventeen investors contributed to the development of this functioning 1880s-themed town to serve as a filming location, vacation destination, and permanent residence for people working in the entertainment industry, ranchers, and desert lovers. As the golden age of Western films came to an end, so did the abundant production work in town; still, the community has always remained committed to keeping Pioneertown alive.

Today, Mane Street in Pioneertown still retains its charm and Old West image. Pioneertown is open and free to the public 365 days a year. Visitors are welcome to come enjoy the sites any day of the week but weekends are when the town really comes to life. Camp sites are available for campers and horses at the Pioneertown Corrals on a first come first serve basis, but visitors can also check out the Pioneertown Motel.

Book Affordable Accommodations

Mountains near Palm Springs by Venti Views - Unsplash

If you don't mind more motel-like surroundings, head to the pleasant, three-story Vagabond Inn. There's admittedly not much in the way of landscaping or shade around the pool and hot tub, but you can cool off in a little poolside coffee shop that serves breakfast and lunch goodies at low prices. Even during peak spring and summer dates, rates start around $85 per night.

The Motel 6 (at 660 S. Palm Canyon Drive) boasts a great location walkable to downtown, a heated pool and hot tub, and sleek rooms with pickled wood and the standard amenities. Rates are available around $70 per night.

Named after a cactus that looks like a dried-up twig, the even prettier Ocotillo Lodge rents out condos in the lodge as well as nearby private houses. The condos are low-slung 1950s-style casitas, each with full kitchen, huge bath, separate bedroom, and even a large-ish patio. Prices start at $153 per night.

Find Cheap (Yet Delicious) Eats

Restaurants are also a remarkable bargain, with scads of stylish eateries up and down Palm Canyon Drive vying for your dollar. Most have shaded sidewalk tables, under pergolas and vines, cooled in summer by fine misting systems and creating a fancy resort feel that would not be out of place on the Riviera-only here you'll pay a third of the price and you don't even have to speak French. For Mexican, Las Casuelas Original serves up everything from nachos and fresh guacamoles, to salads, frijoles, enchiladas, and much more—and all for a great price, even the steak platters are under $30.

For a funky musical experience, the Village Pub (266 S. Palm Canyon Dr.) has both live bands and a multinational menu, as well as budget-friendly brunch options, an assortment of appetizers and shareable plates, sandwiches and more.

After dining, stroll along Palm Canyon Drive's chic shops, cafes, and restaurants. It's a downtown blissfully free of billboards, junky shops, and burger joints—truly a boon in a world of crassly overdeveloped resorts.

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Kickoff Summertime at this Festival by the Smoky Mountains

With the Smoky Mountains rising over a vast network of lakes and rivers, Loudon County, Tennessee, is the road less traveled to the National Park and the preferred location for those looking for the ultimate mountain lake vacation. This picturesque and charming destination situated between Knoxville and Chattanooga is the most scenic and least congested route to the Smokies from I-75 and I-40 East. There’s no better time than the summer for celebrating the natural beauty, talent and tastes of eastern Tennessee. Get a little more out of your mountain getaway by adding a stop before or after to a beloved local festival, or even a concert series. Lenoir City Arts & Crafts Festival The quintessential summer-at-the-lake season kicks off in early June with the Annual Lenoir City Arts & Crafts Festival, a beloved event with a long-standing history in Lenoir City. This year marks the 60th celebration of the festival, which began in 1962 as a community fundraiser. Started by the Lenoir City General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), today the festival has raised more than half a million dollars for charities. This year's event will be held on Saturday and Sunday, June 3-4, 2023, at Lenoir City Park. While free to the public, a $3 donation is requested at the entrance. More than 225 artists and vendors from all over the Southeast and beyond will be featured at this year’s event. Items range from ceramics and glassware to metal work and jewelry, to baskets, woodwork and much more. Food and beverage vendors add to the enjoyment with tasty treats for all. Lenoir City Park overlooks Fort Loudoun Lake and the Smoky Mountains. It’s the outdoor centerpiece of the charming, historically preserved downtown of Lenoir City, which is a short distance from historic Loudon, Maryville and Knoxville, Tennessee. A "chalk walk" will also be featured this year, a competition event where participants can decorate an 4' x 4' area of sidewalk with chalk and pastels. Prizes will be awarded by age group, and there will also be a kid's corner for the youngest festival goers to draw for fun. Lakeside Concerts Summer concert series in Loudon County - courtesy of Visit Loudon County In addition to June's arts and crafts festival, Lenoir City also hosts Rockin' the Docks. Twice each summer thousands gather at Fort Loudon Lake to enjoy live bands, delicious food and activities for children followed by fireworks and more. Nightfall brings musical headliners and a fabulous fireworks display. This year’s Rockin’ the Docks festivals will be held May 27 and July 1. “We are thrilled to be hosting the 23rd Annual Lenoir City’s Rockin' The Docks,” says Zack Cusick, Director, Lenoir City Parks and Recreation. “We will be bringing live music, food and a spectacular fireworks show for Memorial Day and July 4th weekends. We would like to invite everyone to come by land or water to celebrate these two holiday weekends with us at the Lenoir City Park cove!” Saturday, May 27 - Concert to feature Hillbilly Jedi as the headliner; RMS Band and Ethan Vincil as the openers.Saturday, July 1 - Concert to feature WIMZ Garage Band as the headliner; RMS Band and Cole Sitzlar as the openers. Beyond the Festivals Golfing near the Smokies - courtesy of Visit Loudon County Along with discovering Loudon's authentic historic downtowns, art and antiques, contemporary and traditional restaurants, days are filled with boating, canoeing, fishing, waterskiing and simply exploring the land itself on foot or bike. If golf is your game, Loudon County is a great place to tee up. The area is home to several top-rated courses.Don’t miss a visit to Sweetwater Valley Farm (17988 West Lee Highway, Philadelphia, Tennessee 37846), a working dairy farm and cheese producer where visitors can sample and see the process.Stop by the award-winning Tennessee Valley Winery (15606 Hotchkiss Valley Road, Loudon, Tennessee 37774), where free tastings are offered at one of the oldest operating family-owned wineries in the state.Pick up barbecue at Calhoun's (4550 City Park Drive, Lenoir City, Tennessee 37772; 865-988-9838); the restaurant is dockside, overlooking Fort Loudoun Lake and one of the area’s largest marinas. From a slate of wing flavors to juicy brisket sandwiches to award-winning smoked ribs and salmon, Calhoun’s has a fix for any barbecue craving.


Top Places to Visit for Cinco de Mayo

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is most often used as just another good reason to gorge on tacos and margaritas at your favorite local Mexican restaurant, but there's a lot more to this celebration than most people understand. While the holiday is not as big of a celebration in Mexico, it does commemorate an important victory over their foreign adversaries during the French-Mexican War. Across North America, several towns schedule parades, festivals, and other cultural events, making it the perfect time of year to delve into Mexican history and heritage. Denver, Colorado Union Station in downtown Denver by Owen Lystrup - Unsplash The Denver Cinco de Mayo "Celebrate Culture" festival spans a full weekend each May, and features a parade along with fun events and great food. Venues are set up for Folklorico dancers, special attractions, and live musical acts playing mariachi, salsa, and cumbia. Denver's celebrations are particularly suited for families and young kids; there is a special children's carnival with crafts and activities, rides, and a small petting zoo. Visitors can also attend the chihuahua races, a green chili cook-off, taco eating contests, and the lowrider car show. San Antonio, Texas The Alamo by Gower Brown - Unsplash History lovers will appreciate the landmarks that San Antonio has to offer; in particular, The Alamo, the famous Roman Catholic mission and fortress, as well as the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, a Spanish fort. Head to the Historic Market Square for authentic Mexican cuisine as well as Tex-Mex options. Shop from artisans in El Mercado, where visitors can find artwork, pottery, leather goods, clothing, and more. Just outside of the city, Traders Village hosts a Cinco de Mayo event with free live music and carnival rides. Albuquerque, New Mexico Items for sale in Old Town Albuquerque by Brett Wharton - Unsplash Head over to the National Hispanic Cultural Center to view incredible visual art, peruse their library or archives of historical and literary works, and learn more about Mexican heritage in New Mexico. There's also the South Broadway Cultural Center—"one of Albuquerque's best-kept secrets"—where visitors can attend workshops and classes, live performances, and cultural events. This year, the city is also hosting a Cinco de Mayo bar crawl with participating cantinas featuring Mexican-inspired drinks, live music, and dancing. For a more family-friendly option, the Cinco de Mayo Folk Art Festival with be held on May 7th. Featuring more than 40 uniquely talented local artisans, there will be plenty of opportunities to view and purchase artwork, jewelry, or pottery. The outdoor event will also include food, live music, piñatas, and a kids craft table where children can make their own Mexican-inspired art. Puebla, Mexico Curious about the origins of Cinco de Mayo? Head to the source: Puebla, Mexico. It was here that the Battle of Puebla took place during the French-Mexican War. A heavily outnumbered Mexican army defeated the invading French troops; now, each year, the holiday commemorates this event and Mexico's successful defense of their sovereignty. Visitors to the town can watch a reenactment of the Battle of Puebla, attend a street party full of music and street tacos, see extravagant floats at the town's Cinco de Mayo parade, and listen to the sounds of mariachi.


5 Ways to Celebrate Mother's Day

More often than not, its the mothers of the family that do the most planning and details-handling for everyone's activities. While mom might be in charge of the schedule, don't let Mother's Day sneak up on you this year. Plan a weekend getaway, day trip, or a just a special afternoon to celebrate and give mom some much-needed relaxation.Relax with a Budget-friendly Spa Retreat Stone massage by Engin Akyurt - Unsplash Is there anything more relaxing than a spa vacation? Head to Florida to try the Salt Spa St. Augustine for an unforgettable, but affordable, relaxation experience. Inspired by the Wieliczka salt mine in Poland, this 5-star halotherapy (salt therapy) health resort offers several different natural health services. A single session in their salt cave filled with 25,000 pounds of Himalayan crystal salt costs only $36 (45 minutes). Other services include a float sessions in a sensory deprivation tank filled with 900+ pounds of Epsom salt, infrared sauna sessions, massages, rejuvenating facials, and more. For a more rural escape, take a short drive northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. The natural hot springs are surrounded by nothing but the rugged, desert landscape. Visitors can stargaze while enjoying one of the several outdoor thermal pools, swim in the saltwater pool, or take a dip in the natural mud fountain where guests can "bake" in mud before rinsing off. Pick Out New Reads at a Quaint Bookstore Books at the Strand Book Store by Filip Mishevski - Unsplash If relaxing with a good book (or just simply having some peace and quiet) sounds like your mom's ideal afternoon, plan a trip to New York City, where you'll have your pick of beloved bookstores. The Strand is a popular spot in the East Village, famous for its "18 miles of books," but there are several other wonderful establishments throughout the city. Bauman Rare Books on Madison Avenue keeps an ever-changing display of rare books in an assortment of subjects, and Argosy Book Store in midtown Manhattan is an antiquarian and out-of-print items. On the Upper East Side, Ursus Books & Gallery specializes in art books; and, in Brooklyn, Honey and Wax Booksellers offers rare first prints as well as more unique, whimsical editions and copies of books. Enjoy Afternoon Tea in an Historic Setting Afternoon tea by Sebastian Coman - Unsplash Treat your mother to a classy dining experience with high tea in a gorgeous setting. In Nashville, visitors can book a "delightfully southern" afternoon tea at The Hermitage Hotel every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The event, “Spillin’ Tea with Draper James,” is inspired by recipes from Reese Witherspoon’s cookbook, Whiskey in a Teacup, and includes champagne, tea sandwiches, pastries, scones, and a commemorative keepsake menu. In Boston's Back Bay, The Courtyard Tea Room overlooks the beautiful Italianate Courtyard at the Boston Public Library. The tea room serves a classic tea with a twist of New England culinary favorites, and also offers signature tea-infused cocktails "inspired by literary greats who were inspired by the great spirits featured in our menu." Spend a Weekend in Wine Country Wine glass at a vineyard by Kym Ellis - Unsplash Unwind with a glass of wine and enjoy the idyllic scenery that comes along with a trip to wine country. Spend a weekend in Afton, Virginia with a stay at the The Farmhouse at Veritas, a bed and breakfast next to Veritas Vineyards and Winery and nestled in the heart of the Monticello American Viticulture Area. Explore other vineyards in the area, including Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard, Afton Mountain Vineyards, Flying Fox, Hazy Mountain, King Family Vineyards, and more. If a weekend trip isn't quite in the cards, plan a special meal or tasting at a vineyard within driving distance. In Rhode Island, head to Newport Vineyards for a special Mother's Day brunch, with a farm-to-table buffet crafted by executive chef Andy Teixeira. Or, head over to the finger lakes region of New York, where the Seneca Lake Wine Trail is hosting a Rosé in May event this year. Get a Break From the Daily Grind A family enjoys a night out by Pablo Merchán Montes - Unsplash Some moms might cherish a weekend spent doing family activities together; others might be craving a little alone time. While the two options seem to be polar opposites, either one of these can be satisfied with a simple "staycation." For family activities, pick a fun hotel in your hometown and "be a tourist" by trying new cuisine and activities. For alone time, book a kid-free hotel or a quiet Airbnb with a tranquil atmosphere, ideal for enjoying time to herself. Both scenarios can be tailored to specific interests and budgets, but in either case, be sure to set aside extra to book a house cleaning service, schedule grocery deliveries, or simply just put in the extra work to make sure any household tasks that need to be done are still taken care of—the real key here is to not make mom regret taking time off by returning to a chaotic living situation.


Avoid Busy Summer Beaches at These Hidden Gems

Once spring rolls around, beach lovers everywhere are eager to get to the coast and enjoy sun and sand. For many, the ocean breeze, warm water, and rejuvenating sun are the perfect getaway—however, crowded shores with rowdy visitors can put a damper even the most idyllic setting. Head to these under-the-radar beaches to ensure you don't miss out on the tranquility of a coastal getaway.Kauapea Beach, Hawaii This secret beach on the North Shore of Kauai past the town of Kilauea is only accessible by a steep, somewhat slippery hike. The golden sands and red rocks make this a beautiful beach, and in one area a "natural shower" even flows from the coastline cliff overhangs. Be prepared, though: the far side of the beach is "clothing optional." Sandbridge Beach, Virginia Sandbridge Beach pier by Brianna Tracy - Unsplash While not exactly a "secret" beach to local Virginians, the beach in Sandbridge is much more secluded than it is 25 miles north in Virginia Beach. Technically, it's part of the northern tip of the Outer Banks, and the beach boasts beautiful sunsets. While there isn't much to do in Sandbridge, that's part of the appeal; it's just a peaceful little coast town near the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Cumberland Island, Georgia Take a 45-minute ride by ferry from St. Marys, Georgia to Cumberland Island, and you'll find secluded beaches and abundant wildlife. The island is mostly uninhabited and the land is protected as part of the Cumberland Island National Seashore, which means that animals like wild horses and loggerhead turtles flourish in the area. Bird-watchers will find peregrine falcons and warblers, and fishing opportunities are plentiful. Aside from hiking, biking, and kayaking, though, the best way to enjoy the shoreline is by soaking up the sun on its 18-mile stretch of shoreline. Carova Beach, North Carolina North Carolina beaches stay popular all season long. Carova Beach, however, misses out on the crowds thanks to the fact that it is only accessible by 4x4 vehicles on non-paved roads. This Outer Banks beach is also where legendary Corolla wild horses roam free.Despite the isolation, visitors still have access to great restaurants, ice cream shops, lessons for kiteboarding and hang gliding, fishing charters, and kayak rentals to explore the Currituck Sound. Ship Island, Mississippi Ferries docked at Ship Island, Mississippi - courtesy of Natalie Strong Coastal Mississippi isn't always known for having the clear gulf coast waters that nearby Alabama and Florida beaches boast—but if you're willing to take a ferry ride out of Gulfport, you'll be met with the most gorgeous turquoise waters along the shores of Ship Island. While there are no overnight accommodations on the little island and camping isn't allowed, its beauty and seclusion make up for it. The only thing to do other than swim and relax is take a tour of the historic Fort Massachusetts, commissioned during the 1850s to protect the coast of Mississippi. Enderts Beach, California Within the Redwood National Park along the northern California coast is the shimmering pebble-lined Enderts Beach. The beach is only accessible via a 3/4 mile hike from the Last Chance Section of the California Coastal Trail, although the Nickel Creek Campground is close by for overnight accommodations. While the colder waters don't make this the best swimming beach, it is the perfect place to read or explore the coastline, full of sea caves and tidal pools. Dry Tortugas, Florida Fort Jefferson on the island of Dry Tortugas by Christopher Osten - Unsplash This beach is located nearly 70 miles west of Key West, on the remote Dry Tortugas National Park and is accessible only by boat or seaplane—making it strikingly less crowded than the rest of Florida's beaches. In addition to swimming in the clear waters and relaxing along its powdery beach shores, visitors can spot all kinds of marine life and an assortment of birds. Tour Fort Jefferson, dive to a shipwreck, snorkel and view coral reefs, or even camp overnight. Roque Bluffs, Maine Amidst the 274-acre Roque Bluffs State Park are both a freshwater and a saltwater beach, plus miles of hiking trails. This area is very rural, so even on the hottest summer days, the beaches have no crowds. Depending on the time of year, visitors will want to make a stop at Welch Farm, a family-owned blueberry farm where you can learn about the history of blueberry farming in Maine and pick up some fresh grown berries. Secret Beach, Oregon Secret Beach in Oregon by Venti Views - Unsplash Yes, it is really called Secret Beach. While its name may imply that it has given away its allure, the beach itself is easy to miss—which may explain why it remains to be so secluded. Visitors first have to make their way to the Secret Beach Trailhead on the Oregon Coast Highway (Highway 101). From there, two trails take you to the same beach: the first trail is a 200 yard hike, while the second is a bit more wooded and meandering. The beach features a stunning chiseled rocky coastline. Try to visit during low tide, when sea caves, coves, and tide pools can be explored best.