At Parker Palm Springs, the spa treatments come with good people-watching and free use of the hotel's other facilities (www.theparkerpalmsprings.com). Shopping hubs include the Galleria (www.gmcb.com/galleria), an outdoor hamlet with several vintage and modern decor boutiques; the Route 66 West jewelry outlet (www.route66west.com) and the massive Trina Turk store (www.trinaturk.com).
Joshua Tree National Park has two entrances about an hour from Palm Springs (www.nps.gov/jotr). Much closer, there is also ample hiking at Indian Canyons, which offers scenic, palm-tree-lined trails with historic Native American sites (www.indian-canyons.com). Big Wheel Tours offers several guided biking and hiking treks (www.bwbtours.com).
FOR THEM (THE KIDS)
The Living Desert Zoo boasts many African and Central American animals but not a lot of shade, so go in the morning (www.livingdesert.org). The Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert is an arty play mecca good on a hot day (www.cdmod.org). Even the city's Ruth Hardy Park is a cool hot spot for kids (700 Tamarisk St.).
FOR ALL OF US
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ascends 8,500 feet into the foresty San Jacinto Mountains; $24 for adults and $17 for kids (www.pstramway.com). The aforementioned Indian Canyons are also family-friendly. And everyone in our group had fun strolling Village- fest, a downtown street fair and art crawl held every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. (www.villagefest.org).
The international vacation rental sites VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and HomeAway.com each boasts hundreds of private listings in Palm Springs ranging from under $100 a night for a one-bedroom to $15,000 a month for an "estate." Bing Crosby's old place goes for $21,000 a week at VacationPalmSprings.com. We found our affordable and cozy five-bedroom hangout at another local site, AcmeHouseCo.com, which lists about 40 mid-range homes.
Southern California's plethora of airports helps make Palm Springs a cheap destination. Sun Country flies direct to Palm Springs Airport through mid-May. You can also try Ontario International (45 minutes away by car), John Wayne Airport in Orange County (90 minutes) or LAX in Los Angeles (2 to 3 hours, depending on traffic).