Three Perfect Desert Getaways for Fall
Head to these warm-weather hot spots for high-end spas, spectacular dining, and sublime relaxation.
We love the East Bay’s temperate climate, but with the mercury dropping and a freak El Niño on the horizon, we’re already planning our escapes to warm weather. Whether you want old Hollywood glamour, the chance to unplug, or the flashing lights of adulthood’s biggest playground, check out these destinations, which promise balmy temperatures during the day, fun at night, and around-the-clock reasons to start booking your vacation now.
Palm Springs / Refreshingly Retro
Silver Screen stars first discovered this desert hideaway back in the ’20s, and now it’s your turn. Palm Springs offers a mix of retro Hollywood glamour, plenty of sunshine, and balmy daily highs—in the 70s in winter—making it an ideal getaway when the weather cools. With activities ranging from spa days and gallery browsing to golf and hiking, Palm Springs and its palm-studded landscapes beckon to travelers who want lots of options and old-school celeb cred. You may run out of time before you run out of things to do, but that’s all the more reason to return. —Karen Brost
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
This scenic 2.5–mile ride up the cliffs of Chino Canyon takes just 10 minutes, but the views go on forever. Bring a coat: When you reach the top, you just may be able to have a snowball fight before you return to the desert’s welcome warmth. $16.95–$24.95, pstramway.com.
Palm Springs has one of the largest collections of sleek mid-century modern buildings. Download an app for $4.99, and take a self-guided tour of more than 80 mid-century landmarks, or contact the Palm Springs Historical Society, and book your choice of seven guided walking tours, including one in the trendy neighborhood where those cool cats in the Rat Pack once played. $18, psmodcom.org/index.php/app, pshistoricalsociety.org.
La Quinta Resort and Club
This iconic desert retreat, which just completed a multimillion-dollar restoration, covers 45 lushly landscaped acres and includes an amazing 41 swimming pools. After a visit to Spa La Quinta or a round of golf on one of the three award-winning courses at PGA West, settle in to your charming, well-appointed casita. Starting at $339, laquintaresort.com.
Two Bunch Palms
Shh . . . Two Bunch Palms resort welcomes day guests to its whisper-only spa. Indulge in a relaxing Two Bunch Bliss Massage, or bask in therapeutic mineral waters in a centuries-old stone grotto nestled under a canopy of trees. twobunchpalms.com.
Serious Food and Drink
This new downtown eatery has garnered a following by offering upscale comfort food, craft beer, and handcrafted cocktails. The seasonally changing dishes, ranging from a Hass avocado flatbread to an eight-ounce burger and fries, are made from locally sourced ingredients. seriousfoodanddrink.com.
Built on the site of the original Don the Beachcomber restaurant, Bootlegger Tiki blends kitschy Polynesian decor with a full menu of tempting tropical drinks, including mai tais and zombies made from the original 1930s recipes. And yes, some even come with umbrellas. bootleggertiki.com.
Every Thursday night, downtown Palm Springs throws a huge party featuring music, street performers, and more than 200 art and food booths. The people watching is a party in itself. palmspringsvillagefest.com.
Multiple airlines offer nonstop service from SFO to Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), located two miles east of downtown Palm Springs. Flight time is an hour and a half, and local taxi services are readily available.
Sedona / Digital Detox
Sedona is not so much a town as an experience. Isolated within a vast network of red rock formations, stop-and-stare vistas of endless blue skies, and vortices that spiritual seekers claim heal most anything, it’s no wonder Sedona is considered a sacred space coveted by healers, artists, and those in need of solace. So lose the phone—heck, you’ll likely be so in the moment exploring that you’ll forget to take pictures. Take some time to slow down, meander along quiet hiking trails, enjoy a spa treatment, and chill out on a lounge chair under the epic night sky. —Michelle Bigley
L’Auberge de Sedona
At the tail end of a multimillion dollar renovation, Sedona’s award-winning resort, known for its luxe rooms and cottages, offers antidotes to modern living: guided moonlit meditation, “quiet mind” spa treatments, farmers market feast brunches on Sundays, and L’Apothecary cocktails poolside. Or just take some time to unplug on a terrace shaded by piñon pines and juniper. lauberge.com.
Ancient indigenous people considered Sedona’s vortices sacred spaces, with male or female energy. The vibe at this rock formation is considered feminine by New Age types, especially where Oak Creek meets Cathedral Rock. Go early in the morning or later in the evening, when crowds aren’t flocking to receive a boost in their compassion and kindness. fs.usda.gov/coconino.
Chef Jeff Smedstad’s wildly popular gourmet Mexican-inspired eatery has locals lining up for hours to score a table: No reservations are accepted. Signature dishes such as lamb adobo, smoked pork cheeks, and elote (grilled corn) are best enjoyed by the picture windows overlooking Sedona’s majestic mountains. elotecafe.com.
Mii Amo Spa
Nestled against Boynton Canyon’s red rocks at Enchantment Resort, this destination spa curates multiday wellness escapes. Native American–inspired massages, crystal treatments, exercise classes, mindfulness workshops, meals, and accommodations are all included in the rates, and the spa affords breathtaking views of the canyon. Starting at $2,850 for three days, miiamo.com.
Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village
Sedona’s most upscale shopping area resembles an artsy Mexican village, with its sycamore-shaded walkways and Southwest architecture. Stroll through galleries such as Mountain Trails and Bear Cloud (where you can score Southwest-style home decor, sculptures, or small votives to remind you to unplug back home), or pick up cask-aged liquors at Vom Fass to help you unwind under the stars. tlaq.com.
Sedona Star Gazing
With roughly 300 clear nights a year and strict light restrictions on businesses, seeing the Sedona night sky is easy. And these brainiacs take astronomy for nonscience folks to stellar heights. Expect to stay up until it’s fully dark, and then, with the help of hefty telescopes, peep into deep space and all its mysteries. $35–$60, eveningskytours.com.
Sedona Arts Center
Are those vortices churning up your inner artist? Sign up for a day- or weeklong art class to study painting, ceramics, photography, and even filmmaking. Check out the center’s gallery, which boasts the largest collection of local artwork in town. sedonaartscenter.org.
There are no direct flights between the Bay Area and Flagstaff’s Pulliam Airport (the closest commercial airport to Sedona, 25 miles away). However, you can catch a flight to Phoenix and rent a car for the roughly 120-mile drive, or catch the Arizona Shuttle (arizonashuttle.com), which makes the 2.5–hour trip, for $51 each way.
Las Vegas / Sinfully Sublime
Smack in the middle of the Mojave Desert and surrounded by mountains, Sin City has emerged in recent years as a modern-day oasis. Posh resorts boast chef-driven restaurants and Broadway-caliber shows. Shopping destinations mix high-end retail and eye-popping art. Bars serve up cocktails that will delight your taste buds. There’s even a giant Ferris wheel. Autumn is a great time to visit, as the scorching temperatures drop and summer crowds thin. We think those ad execs have it all wrong: What happens in Vegas will stay with you—until you can go back to do it all again. —Matt Villano
Bardot Brasserie at Aria
The latest Michael Mina outpost, which opened in Aria last January, transports diners straight to Paris, complete with white linens, bistro tables, and servers with ‘tude. Be sure to try the escargot wrapped in puff pastry shells, and the French onion soup with Périgord truffle and braised oxtail. The wine list has more than 300 offerings from the most famous wine regions in France. aria.com.
The New York–New York Cirque du Soleil show received an extensive makeover this past spring, including all new choreography and projections, and some new costumes by designer Thierry Mugler. Don’t miss red-mohawked Brandon Pereyda, who performs an amazing aerial acrobatics act while in chains. $69–$125, zumanity.com.
The Shops at Crystals
This 500,000-square-foot upscale shopping destination in CityCenter has been referred to as the largest collection of high-end fashion stores under one roof in the United States. Among the brands: Tiffany & Co., Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, and Tom Ford (to name a few). Crystals also has mind-bending public art, including Glacia, a series of ice columns that drip into different shapes every day. theshopsatcrystals.com.
Qua Baths and Spas at Caesars Palace
This is the only spa in the world to offer treatments cobranded with Nobu (the Japanese restaurant). The result: The 100-minute (and $400-plus) Nagomi Ritual, which includes a floral footbath, aroma massage, and a reflexology facial. The spa also has arctic ice rooms, with honest-to-goodness snow. caesarspalace.com.
Everything in Vegas is bigger, which means the High Roller—the world’s tallest observation wheel at 550 feet tall—fits right in. It takes about 30 minutes to circle the wheel in one of its cabins, and the best views are at night, when neon steals the show. Be sure to hit the wheel’s bar before boarding: In Vegas, it’s perfectly acceptable to drink a piña colada while soaring over town. $26.95–$52, caesars.com/linq/high-roller.
Stop by Level 1.5 at this sparkly three-level bar inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to sample mixologist Mariena Mercer’s magic. Past winter menus included bottled Negronis. If you’re feeling particularly wild, go off menu and order the Verbena: a margarita that comes with a dried flower (“buzz button”) to numb your taste buds before you drink. cosmopolitanlasvegas.com.
Delano Las Vegas
South Beach cool meets desert chic at this all-suite hotel, formerly known as The Hotel, at the south end of the Strip. Downstairs in the lobby, earth tones and boulders from the nearby Spring Mountains set a nature-oriented tone. Upstairs, the spacious bedrooms and sitting rooms are decked out in all white, and include original desert-inspired artwork. Starting at $200, delanolasvegas.com.
Flights to McCarran International Airport (LAS) depart regularly from Oakland and SFO; nonstop flights usually run about 90 minutes. To avoid serpentine taxi lines, prearrange a town car with Executive Las Vegas (executivelasvegas.com). Take note: Uber drivers cannot pick up at the airport or on the Strip.