Travel: A Desert-ed ‘Digital Nomad’ in Palm Springs

An ‘online’ week in Greater Palm Springs is an adventure of light and heat and opportunity
By EDDIE RIVERA, Weekendr Editor
Published on Jun 1, 2022

The outside temperature gauge in the car is pushing past 112 degrees as I head east on the 210 and the 10, quickly leaving behind the burgs of Pasadena, Monrovia, Fontana, Ontario, Redlands, Calimesa, Yucaipa, and Banning, as I approach Palm Springs.

When I was first approached about an opportunity to work and visit Palm Springs as a “digital nomad”—essentially living and working in the fabled desert city for one week—I chuckled inside, as thrilled as I admittedly was.

I’ve essentially been a digital nomad for more than a decade now. I’ve lived and worked in cities from Montreal, Canada, to Pesaro, Italy, and Madrid, Spain (and Pasadena, California, of course), fueled by coffee, wi-fi, and a deep sense of “Where does that highway go to?” 

For me, Palm Springs was just down the street, though it’s more than 100 miles from the Rose Bowl. When the pandemic struck and closed all of  our doors, I was already at home.

But, my digital week would drop me smack in the middle of the Greater Palms Springs area, and would take me to the top of the San Jacinto Mountains, to the newly redesigned Margaritaville Resort, to a small handful of restaurants, the Flannery Exchange, a new co-working space; the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa, and the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, with hikes and art exhibits tossed in for good measure. 

Few digital nomads have it this good, I thought.

Margaritaville Resort, our first stop, is another offering from the Jimmy Buffett world empire, with more than 300 rooms and suites in a tropical rock and roll environment, with the appropriate  beach motif, smack in the middle of the desert, of course.   

While I expected hula girls, frat boys and loud, constant music, the resort property is actually a soothing blend of teals, blues, comforting art, and a large, friendly pool that wasn’t inundated with people. The food, from several venues,  is as good as you would expect from a major resort, and the overall vibe is basic grown-up-been-there-done-that-feed-me-relax-me, all of which the property does quite well.    

With two restful nights there, work seemed miles away, though the comfortable resort provided enough shady spots and quiet nooks to work throughout,  and a tasteful, spacious room with more than enough chargers to keep me “in the office.”

But I’m ahead of myself already. 

After unpacking in Margaritaville, I circled quickly back west to the gateway of Palm Springs, to the famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which, though I have visited it often, I never tire of. 

The world’s largest rotating tram car climbs more than two-and-one-half miles along the cliffs of Chino Canyon, transporting riders out of the desert floor to the pristine wilderness of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. 

During the journey, the tram cars rotate slowly as they rise up the mountainside, offering vistas of the valley floor below, before reaching the Mountain Station at an elevation of 8,516 feet.

At least one guide on a previous trip compared the journey to traveling from the Sonora Desert in Mexico to Alaska. In fact, there can be a thirty to forty degree difference in temperature between the start of the ride to the summit. Bring a jacket and suntan lotion.

While a trip to the Tramway may not be on the agenda of someone headed to the desert for work, it remains a must-see for at least one desert visit.

But back to the digital nomad concept—if actually living and working in a virtual and actual community in Palm Springs is a goal of yours, the Flannery Exchange, a mixed-use space, could be a realistic answer.

Flannery Exchange was conceptualized and designed by Founder Mike Flannery, with a  year-long makeover of the existing previous space. 

As they have described the concept, Flannery is “a creative hub where art, wellness, and social engagement meet, Flannery Exchange reflects the creative ideas and energy that live in the desert community. With soft, neutral tones and soaring glass walls, Flannery Exchange provides a well-rounded experience illuminated by natural light and unbeatable views of the surrounding Little San Bernardino, Santa Rosa, and the San Jacinto Mountains.” 

The inviting and surprisingly comfy mixed-use space is a quiet riot of handpicked accessories, custom-built furniture, and pops of color and texture, paying suitable homage to the area’s love affair with mid-century architecture and design. With a serious Palm Springs vibe throughout, there are  floor-to-ceiling glass panels, wood-adorned walls, fur-lined furniture, statement light pieces, and neon-colored patio chairs, all part of the single and combined work spaces.

Those spaces range from a dedicated desk with a premium stand-up desk in a community environment on the first floor, to conference rooms, small offices, and a large, private office with stand-up desk in a modern community environment on the first or second floor.

Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge was our destination for the first night’s dinner, at least it was supposed to be. Scheduling and work conflicts collided, and it remains on our to-do list for this spring. Don’t you make the same mistake. The website and menu look dangerously tempting, and we will make it a point to get there as soon as humanly possible.

But speaking of restaurants, let’s get to those, since the ones we visited were each extraordinary. 

We visited Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse, which was opened in 2002 by Donald Warren Callender, the other “Callender” of the Marie Callender’s restaurant chain. A barbeque restaurant with a built-in brewery, the spot is legendary in the Coachella Valley, hoisted high upon the shoulders of its larger-than-life founder’s reputation. 

As my hosts Richard and Jeff Delaney regaled me with tales of Callendar’s life and times in the desert, the food began, and frankly, didn’t stop for quite a while. First up was a cornbread skillet, roasted corn on the cob, brisket mac & cheese (yes, macaroni and cheese, with beef brisket piled high upon a small mac mountain), and fried green tomatoes, a new experience for me.

The second course was a beet salad, a pork rib sampler, along with a short rib sampler. This is serious barbeque, and although there have been barbeque camps warring with each other since man learned fire, I daresay few would disagree with the offerings at Babe’s.

But I digress. Next up was the aforementioned brisket, some tri-tip and some more short ribs, along with a sampling of summer slaw (which I passed on) and a ½ yam, which I devoured. 

Clearly, you don’t come to Babe’s to dine, you come to eat.

And yes, there was a fourth and fifth course—fish and chips, salmon and a goat cheese tamale, all of them. Each was dramatically good, especially the goat cheese tamale. Most of each was headed back to the hotel with me, to deal with at an appropriately hungrier time.

And there was desert. Rhubarb pie was chosen from a curated selection of pies, including apple, raspberry , and cherry, all available with ice cream, of course.

Staggering out to the car, I thanked the Universe for cattle, as I begged for absolution. 

The next afternoon I hung out with the giraffes and rhinos at the always-fascinating Living Desert & Zoo in Palm Desert. With hundreds of acres for the animals to roam, it’s a fascinating spot to indulge a love and appreciation for animals while viewing them in a supportive environment. 

It’s gonna be hot there at the Living Desert. Bring water and sunscreen and a cap.

That evening found me at the Kaiser Grill in Palm Springs.

 Apparently not my destination. 

The host kindly noted to me that my reservation was for Palm Desert, some 20 minutes east. Once again, a host was waiting graciously, as I was almost the only patron actually in the restaurant. This was during the heart of the pandemic, and all were sufficiently masked, or ordering pickup meals.

With a whole evening to spend, I chatted with my waiter who told me how the restaurant managed through its darkest days. Apparently it was with love and community, as numerous long time loyal customers ordered perhaps a few more meals than they needed, or visited the restaurant with gifts of support for the many years spent with friends and family at the bar, or at a crowded table for special occasions.

Later as the pandemic changed shape,  there were busy tables in the parking lot to serve those loyal customers when no one was allowed in the door. My visit was in the early days of limited indoor dining, and it was a challenge the restaurant seemed to face confidently. 

Though there is a very tempting steak menu at the Kaiser, I was by then totally satiated on beef for the week. I opted for seafood and the macadamia-crusted mahi mahi, which was cooked perfectly and promptly.  

The mahi-mahi was followed by New York cheesecake because I could, but more satisfying than either of the two dishes was the real sense of “We’ll get through this,” that I felt at Kaiser Grill. They deserve another visit this summer, even if it’s 110 in the shade.

Following dinner, I returned home to my “palace,” the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage.

How did I not mention this before?  On Wednesday, I walked through French doors into the largest hotel room I had ever stayed in. Anywhere in the world. The doors opened into a large open luxury suite that was a combination of living room, dining room and bar. 

The centerpiece was either the full-size pool table or the massive dining room table set for nine. My bedroom was through an adjoining room. 

I came to realize the following day that I had entered through the doors of a main suite that easily could have provided a party or banquet for a dozen guests. My sleeping quarters alone were a good king-size in any hotel anywhere. 

I was only one person. I did the best I could. 

The Omni, which features 444 stylish guest rooms or 22 luxury suites in a Spanish Colonial-inspired style, is a text book exercise in hotel luxury. All of the rooms have the aforementioned French doors which open to either furnished private patios or balconies with views of the verdant grounds and mountain surroundings.

The suites at Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa offer some serious opulence with separate rooms for sleeping and living, wet bars, dining tables, fireplaces, pool tables and grand bathrooms with dual vanities and granite countertops. Don’t visit alone.

Though there are pools all over the property, it seems as though I never found time, as there was so much else to see on this visit, and there was always some work to finish. I was there to live and work after all.

I divided my last day between the Coachella Walls Mural Project, assisted by the Arts GPS app, the Thousand Palms Oasis and the Coachella Valley Preserve. The mural project was organized by Coachella-based artist Armando Lerma and curator Medvin Sobio, in April 2014, coinciding, naturally, with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and continued with a second phase in 2016. 

Ricardo Angeles Mendoza, a Mexican artist, recently completed Hungry Dog of the Desert outside the $4 million Veterans Memorial Park.

The park draws visitors for heritage festivals, concerts, and other events, while the murals encourage guests to walk and enjoy the art-intensive environment.

So, I lived and worked in Palm Springs for a week under 112-degree skies, and never broke a sweat. The hotels and restaurants and attractions were each magnificent, and heavily air conditioned, and though the week might be nothing like the average “nomad” might experience, it was a memorable and swanky reminder that, for those of the proper adventurous mindset, the world is your office. 

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