Why Palm Springs Is Obsessed With This Sweet Treat

Coachella Valley’s famous date shake is a whole desert vibe.

Palm Springs, California is known for many things. The city is part showcase of midcentury modern architecture, part serene oasis full of hot springs and desert vistas, and part playground of the Rat Pack era—if you ask nicely at Melvyn's, you can have your steak Diane prepared tableside at table 13, once reserved at all times for Frank Sinatra. But what's easy to overlook in Palm Springs, and in the Coachella Valley at large (yes, that Coachella Valley), is the area's long agricultural history. In fact, it's famous for one particular product: dates.

"Palm Desert is actually named after the date palm," Chef Tanya Petrovna, founder of Native Foods and owner of Chef Tanya's Kitchen, tells The Takeout. "They grow in the desert really well. There's date fields, organic date farms—it's a whole date industry out here."

How dates came to California

Dates have been grown in the Middle East for thousands of years, but they didn't really catch on in the Golden State until the early 1900s, when farmers discovered that they thrived in the deserts of Southern California. In 2018, Tracy Conrad reported in The Desert Sun that back in 1919, the valley produced 100,000 pounds of dates; six years later, it was a million pounds, and by 1955, it was 48 million pounds.


Today, people use dates as an alternative sweetener, especially in plant-based baking. Throughout the 20th century, residents of the valley had such an abundance of dates that they used them anywhere and everywhere they could think of—including the date shake.

The famous Palm Springs date shake, explained

The treat is simple, if unexpected. It consists of dates, vanilla ice cream, and milk, all blended into a milkshake best appreciated in scorching desert temperatures.

The shakes go all the way back to 1930, when Valerie Jean's Date Shop started selling a never-before-seen way to enjoy the valley's most famous crop. "Once [owner Russell] Nicoll added chopped dates to a vanilla milkshake, that soda fountain standard began to morph into the quintessential Coachella drink," Matthew Rowley wrote for Imbibe in 2021. "The shake didn't merely keep heat at bay; its caramel and toffee tastes with hints of chocolate and molasses, plus dates' intense sweetness, made it a sensation: already familiar, yet new. By the end of the 1930s, shops were selling date milkshakes in Los Angeles and as far north as Oregon."


Variations are sold all around the valley. Chef Tanya's is a plant-based version made with dates, some bright citrus for contrast, oat milk ice cream, and crystallized dates on top for some textural intrigue.

Today there are two time-capsule institutions considered the standard bearers for date shakes around Palm Springs. One is Shields Date Garden, opened in Indio in 1924. A hundred years later, it's still a popular valley attraction. People come to see the date palms, to have a shake, and to watch the 1951 film that plays on a loop in an on-site theater: The Romance & Sex Life of the Date.

The other destination is Hadley Fruit Orchards, opened in 1931. Maybe because of its location in Cabazon—home to those dinosaurs you probably saw in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, or on the way from Los Angeles to Palm Springs—Hadley has the benefit of many, many celebrity endorsements.


Walking into the fruit stand, I was immediately struck by two things: the seemingly endless array of Hadley's dried fruit, nuts, and candy on shelf after shelf at the expansive, newly renovated store; and the hundreds of headshots of famous people all over the walls.

Nicolas Cage, Courteney Cox, Bridget Fonda, Pierce Brosnan, Nick Nolte, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Mike Myers were up there, among so many others. "I should have bought more honey roasted peanut butter," Kathy Bates wrote. "Delicious!"

"I've been loving your date shakes since I was three years old," Jonathan Silverman wrote, "and they keep getting better!"

As I approached the counter, I was struck by something else: the separate line and dedicated register just for ordering date shakes. You can order them with mix-ins like strawberries, coffee, chocolate, malt, extra dates, or that peanut butter that Kathy Bates praised so highly. I ordered mine the original way. It tasted light and refreshing like a vanilla milkshake, but also contained a deeper richness. It was more than just the taste of fruit. It was the flavor of something grown and ripened and baked by the desert sun.

If you can't get to Palm Springs anytime soon, Hadley's has a recipe on its website if you want to make the shake at home. You just won't get to enjoy that version in the shadow of a dinosaur.