Known for its starry nights and warm desert breezes, Palm Springs, California elicits from many a traveler the desire to just dance. It is as if something wells up from your inner reaches in a primal need to express yourself under the palms. And if dancing in the open air under the shadow of Mount San Jacinto appeals to you, and if you wouldn’t mind a cocktail and a fine warm dinner too, you may wish to consider Las Casuelas Terraza.
A semi-outdoor cantina in the very heart of downtown Palm Springs, Las Casuelas has been providing her dishes since 1958 and her open aired dance floor to traveler and local alike since the 1990’s. When you hear the allure of her festive music pouring out onto the street, your feet automatically turn into the direction of it. Immediately upon entering the arched doorways, you feel transformed by its Pueblan architecture.
Located at 222 Palm Canyon Drive, it is a popular destination and may require waiting for a table. This however provides the opportunity to enjoy one of the house specialties….. The “Classic” (on the rocks) Margarita, which is rated tops in the valley.
Sharing the stage throughout the week at Las Casuelas are two bands, Hot Rocks and Palm Springs Sound Company. Both provide an eclectic range of tunes, from early Stones to more recent rock and pop. And both bands hold true to melody. What is also noticeable is the fact that, though the music readily entices folks to abandon their chairs and to get out on the dance floor, the refrains are not overwhelming. You could still hold a conversation at your table.
The clientele is also of a classy sort. The night that the music drew us to her tables, middle-aged ladies whirled with an older gentleman in a sporty fedora who seemed to be out there for every dance. Married couples who looked like they have been dancing together for their entire lives would hug after each song. Young ladies without escorts would move and sashay together, smiling infectiously.
It was a moveable feast.
The food is exemplary Mexican, but with some original contributions as well. The guacamole is mixed with pomegranate and the tamales are made from corn grown locally. There is a Tropical Salad with grilled chicken which adds flavor to an already enticing menu. The house specialties are its combination plates and ordering one of these provides you with a range of Las Casuelas’ features. And for dessert, do not pass on the Deep Fried Ice Cream. Its textures and sweetness are the perfect camino to fulfill your palate’s dreams.
The staff which served us were impeccable in friendliness and always willing to go an extra step further in assuring a pleasurable experience. I had the gratification of meeting two of its managers who were above helpful….Patrick Service and Eric Navarro. I had dined with my niece Epi, and Eric made it a point to bring laughter to our table.
And laughter seemed to be a serving at Las Casuelas from her menu. Waiters and waitresses originated it and passed it on willingly. The bar area, with its over-sized palm trunk as its centerpiece, was filled with it. Dancers all wore smiles bright!
Bright also are Palm Springs’ sunny days. A favorite snow-bird destination to avoid Midwestern, or even Canadian winters, many golden-agers head this way. Desert evenings can be cool as the warmth of the days are dissipated in the crystalline airs, but daytime temps are quite pleasant, being in the 70s and 80s.
And even though wintering in Palm Springs, California may connote an unaffordable experience, there are other nice hotels besides The Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage or the Wexler in Deepwell. I shopped Expedia one day and found a double-bed room for $60 at The Baymont Inn and Suites which is located downtown just off the strip. Another fine choice is The Royal Sun, which is a mile or two south of the downtown area, but is pressed nicely against the granite shadow of San Jacinto. This hotel averages under $100 per night and there is a BUZ stop right at the curb outside. The pink Buz line offers free rides, every 15 minutes, Thursdays through Sundays. The Royal Sun also has one of the better continental breakfasts, and I was very satisfied with it.
In reference to Thursdays in Palm Springs, a large portion of Palm Canyon Drive is cut off from traffic due to the town’s weekly Village Fest on this night. This occurrence has been going on for over 25 years and many of the vendors have been setting up their kiosks for nearly as long. It is a celebration of its local businesses, much larger than your average street fair. I met many of these business folk and all were of the laid back sort you would associate with Californians.
There was Melody, who called herself “The Body Whip Girl”, demonstrating her handmade healing balms, some for lips feet and even cuticles. She also makes a body butter…..which sounds alluring.
And there was Nora from The Palm Springs Fudge and Chocolate Shop which has been selling its oh-my-GOD chocolates on the strip for 23 years. (They also make a great date shake!)
And then there was the One Dream Design stand where I met Adam. His wife, Hong, is a sculptural ceramics artist whom he assists making their handcrafted, wheel-thrown and altered dishes, vases, bowls and other beautifully designed and richly coloured pieces. Some of the bigger ones take up to 10 weeks to bring to manifestation after days of firing and weeks of glazing… Amazing! There were artists of all sorts, from gourmet pretzel makers to Flamenco Dancers, who gave wonderful renderings of their art.
Also too, there was Federico. Federico Portuguez. A humble artist in true character, but a character nonetheless. Upon hearing that he had celebrated his 59th birthday the day before, I shook his hand while he told me that he was doing ok, “no leaks…. headlights 50/50” (as he wavered his hand) …and maybe we were both in need of a tune up shortly.
Federico’s art was that of acrylics. He makes a gel and builds it up to form a metallic paint. He then applies his paint to his canvases creating some very interesting, effectual works. Some were grand in scope, others were detailed, like fine sandpaper, to the smallest degree. All this he accomplishes out of the space of the dining room of his home.
One thing not necessarily associated with Palm Springs, other than its famed golf courses and the tram ride up Mount San Jacinto, are its outdoors opportunities. I tell you this now, with a degree of urgency, that upon planning a trip to this area you should also devote at least one full day to visiting Joshua Tree National Park.
Located in the mountains to the north of Palm Springs, up California State Road 62, this national treasure (long a hidden gem) is now gaining deserved attention. Though cooler than the valley floor in the winter (cooler in the hot summer months too) record numbers of people are beginning to set their sights to this high desert and its trails.
Two deserts actually meet in Joshua Tree; the high Mojave and the low Colorado. The Park is named after its famous yucca tree, the Joshua, which appeared to pioneering Mormons as if biblical Joshua was praying open-armed to his creator. One drive through Lost Horse Valley might make the traveler wish to stop his or her vehicle, exit said Conestoga Wagon, and perhaps whisper a prayer or two of their own under the outstretching arms of Moses’ successor. The roamer may then be able to catch the quietness of this place… where the desert wind breezes under the brim of your cap.
The area is known also for its 340 days of sunshine per year and its star filled nights. Wildflowers begin blooming in March through April. (Record numbers will be seen this year due to the wettest winter in California in decades.)
So, in closing, I recommend to the traveler and to the dance that is stirring within you…. come to Palm Springs. Sway under its starlight. Sojourn to where the high desert intersects with the low. Enjoy good food and good people. All under the palms and the shadow of Mount San Jacinto.
– John Syron, Writer and Traveler
Travel dates: February 2017