Palm Springs is a vacation destination located in the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by four mountain ranges. Because it is only a three-hour drive from San Diego and a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, the resort city is popular for weekend getaways.
The city, along with several surrounding communities known collectively as the Coachella Valley, is a popular winter destination, known for its mid-century modern style, plethora of championship golf courses, warm weather, and a fun and welcoming vibe.
Aside from golf resorts and swimming pools, there are numerous tourist attractions, things to do, and places to visit. Downtown, you can choose from a variety of activities such as shopping, dining, museum visits, and exploring the surrounding desert, mountains, and canyons.
Palm Springs’ high season runs from November to March, when it is cold in most of North America, and the population swells with visitors and snowbirds.
During the annual Palm Springs Film Festival in January, the city attracts a serious lineup of Hollywood celebrities, and Modernism Week in February draws architecture and design fans from all over the world. The city is also crowded in April because of the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, which are held in Indio, about 30 minutes away from downtown.
1. Take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a quick ride into the mountains that will take you out of the desert heat. Mount San Jacinto, which stands on the outskirts of Palm Springs, rises more than 10,000 feet above the desert floor and is easily accessible via the scenic tramway.
The tramway, which opened in 1963, has the largest rotating aerial tram cars in the world. The cars are suspended from cables that are strung atop metal towers installed on the mountainside, much like a ski lift.
The view of the desert from the top is spectacular, and on hot days, the cool air (sometimes 30 to 40 degrees cooler than on the desert floor) can be a welcome relief. During the winter, the top is covered in snow.
The tram will take you up Chino Canyon to an elevation of 8,500 feet in less than 10 minutes. At the top, known as the Mountain Station, there are observation decks, two restaurants, historical displays, and videos about the tram’s construction.
From here, 50 miles of hiking trails wind through the pine forests of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, including one to Mount San Jacinto’s summit (11 miles round trip). There is also camping available in the park.
It’s fun to swim in Palm Springs in the desert heat, then drive to the tram, ride it up the mountain, and play in the snow, all within an hour.
Palm Springs, California, One Tram Way
2. Pay a visit to the Palm Springs Air Museum
The Palm Springs Air Museum houses a large collection of military planes, many of which are still operational. There are planes from World War II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It’s an intriguing place to visit because the majority of the docents who give tours are veterans themselves, with personal connections to the types of aircraft they discuss.
The aircraft are displayed in static displays, and some of them, including a massive B-17 bomber, can be toured inside. Much of the collection is displayed inside air-conditioned hangars, making it an excellent place to visit if you want to escape the city’s extreme summer heat.
The Palm Springs Air Museum is located at Palm Springs International Airport, approximately 10 minutes from downtown Palm Springs. The air museum offers flights on some of their rare warbirds for those who want to get up in the air.
Palm Springs, California, 745 North Gene Autry Trail
3. Go on a canyon hike to see a waterfall.
The Indian Canyons, located at the southern end of Palm Springs, is a well-known protected nature preserve that includes three distinct canyon environments. The area is part of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians reservation and is ideal for hiking and exploring the desert scenery.
Begin with one of the main areas, Palm Canyon. This 15-mile-long canyon is lined with large palm trees and features a creek and waterfalls. The canyon actually contains the world’s largest grove of California fan palms.
The canyon has a variety of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty. A trading post in the Indian Canyons park sells souvenirs, Indian art, and other tribal-related items.
Andreas Canyon, another canyon area within the Indian Canyons park, is also worth visiting and is known for its bird watching opportunities. Murray Canyon is nearby, with a less-frequently used hiking trail and better chances of seeing deer and other wildlife. There are numerous hiking trails in the park, many of which lead into multiple canyons.
Tahquitz Canyon is another tribally protected canyon area located near but not within the Indian Canyons space. This canyon has numerous hiking trails and a 60-foot-tall waterfall. A visitor’s centre with artefact displays, hiking information, and a small theatre showing a documentary about the canyon is available.
4. Participate in golf
Over 100 championship-level golf courses can be found in Palm Springs and nearby cities such as La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, and Palm Desert. Many of the city’s best courses are open to the public and open to all (waiting lists are long during popular periods).
The city is a popular golf destination due to the excellent weather (an average of over 300 days of sunshine per year), particularly during the winter months. Summer temperatures are extreme, necessitating early morning games.
Aside from the well-kept and challenging courses, you’ll also enjoy the stunning scenery and desert backdrops. You’ll be treated to a changing desert landscape as you play, with the area’s various mountain ranges always visible in the distance.
PGA West (home of the American Express Desert Classic, formerly the Bob Hope Classic), the Indian Wells Golf Resort (home of the Renaissance Indian Wells, the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, and the Indian Wells Resort Hotel), Marriott’s Shadow Ridge, and the Indian Canyons Golf Resort are all popular public golf courses in the area.
5. Pay a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum.
The Palm Springs Art Museum exhibits fine art, natural history, and performing arts. The museum has been open since the late 1930s and used to focus almost entirely on desert subjects and artists, but over time, the focus has shifted to a well-curated collection of modern and contemporary art, including Native American art.
The museum also has a large collection of Native American craftwork and artefacts, in addition to fine art. The museum also has a natural science collection of animals and fossils on display, making it a great place for kids and families to visit.
There are also two outdoor sculpture gardens on the property. The permanent collections of the museum include paintings, photography, glass, pottery, architecture, and design, with an emphasis on American Western art and artists. There are also temporary exhibitions and shows that travel and change.
The museum’s large Annenberg Theater hosts an extensive series of music, dance, and theatre productions and performances throughout the year.
Palm Springs, California 101 Museum Drive
6. Go on a hike through the Coachella Valley Preserve.
This vast, protected outdoor space encompasses over 13,000 acres of untainted desert and mountain terrain. It is a collaboration of federal, state, and private landowners that allows for the management and preservation of the natural environment.
The Coachella Valley Preserve, located east of Palm Springs, is home to a variety of wildlife. It consists of three distinct preserve areas. The Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve area near Palm Desert is the best to visit. There are 30 miles of hiking trails and numerous oases.
7.Moorten Botanical Gardens & Cactuarium
The Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactuarium is located on the south end of Palm Canyon Drive, just past downtown Palm Springs.
The one-of-a-kind nature space features an incredible display of cacti and desert plants ranging from fully grown trees to plants that are just taking root. The gardens are at their best in the spring, when the desert begins to bloom and trees begin to turn green again.
Moorten is open all year, but during the cooler months, from fall to spring, you can take a free guided tour of the facility.
The gardens are also a commercial nursery, so you can buy some of the plants to take home with you in addition to visiting the botanical garden.
Palm Springs, California 1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive
8.The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
What began as an idea 50 years ago to preserve some raw desert land as the surrounding area developed into a resort has evolved into a world-class zoo. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in nearby Palm Desert provides an opportunity to see desert flora and fauna as well as gain insight into desert ecosystems from around the world.
The small zoo also houses camels, coyotes, wolves, foxes, badgers, mountain lions, raptors, zebras, giraffes, hyenas, leopards, gazelles, and other animals from North America and Africa.
The best time to visit is usually in the morning, when the animals are still active before the heat of the day sets in. To learn about guided nature walks, wildlife shows, and animal feeding times, consult the zoo’s daily schedule.
Participating in the daily giraffe feeding is a highlight. Guests can feed their giraffe herd from a tower. During the summer, it is done in the mornings, and during the other months, it is done all day. You can also interact with the zoo’s camels by assisting keepers with feeding, grooming, and training.
Palm Desert, California, 47900 Portola Avenue
9. Attend the VillageFest Weekly Street Party.
Every Thursday evening throughout the year, downtown Palm Springs transforms into a massive street party for VillageFest, with over 180 vendors set up along the city’s main street. A quarter-mile stretch of Palm Canyon Drive is closed to traffic, with booths set up on both sides.
This is a fun evening out where you can shop for arts and crafts, jewellery, and other interesting trinkets, as well as sample some tasty snacks from local restaurants and artisans. Musical performers, buskers, and other street artists provide additional entertainment while you shop.
The night market event begins in the early evening, around 6 or 7 p.m., depending on the season, and lasts until 10 p.m.
10.The Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
Palm Springs has the world’s largest collection of intact mid-century modern buildings. Every February, the city celebrates the design movement with Modernism Week. Fans of design and architecture travel from all over the world to attend events such as open houses, film screenings, and home tours of architecturally significant structures.
The Architecture and Design Center at the Palm Springs Art Museum is a one-of-a-kind and free attraction that is well worth a visit, especially if you are interested in architecture or design.
The structure is a protected historic site and is housed in a preserved 1960 mid-century modern bank building, similar in style to many other buildings in Palm Springs that still stand from this era.
The Architecture and Design Center houses the Palm Springs Art Museum’s architecture collections and hosts temporary exhibitions as well as a rotating display of material from the permanent collection.
The Frey House II, an important modernist home in the mountains designed by iconic architect Albert Frey for his own family, is also operated by the art museum. Docent-led tours of the house are available.
11. Visit the Palm Springs Historical Society to learn about the city’s history.
The city’s historical society has a small but comprehensive museum right on Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of downtown. It is housed in two preserved nineteenth-century buildings and features a free museum as well as other exhibits.
The society is also well-known for their excellent walking (and biking) tours of the city, which are available in a variety of themes. You can take a walking tour that explores the city’s architecture, Native American history, connections to the Rat Pack, or celebrity residents.
Palm Springs, California, 221 South Palm Canyon Drive
12. Go to the Windmills
The San Gorgonio Pass, just outside of Palm Springs, is one of the windiest places on the planet, which is why it’s dotted with windmills (well actually wind turbines).
The pass, which is located on either side of the I-10 freeway as it enters the Coachella Valley, has not only extreme wind, but also constant wind, which is required for power generation. Wind turbines cover acres of desert and hillsides, silently generating electricity for the region.
The wind turbines can be seen by exiting the I-10 freeway at the Indian Canyon exit or by taking a tour. Palm Springs Windmill Tours is the only official tour that allows you to go “behind the fence” and get up close and personal with these massive machines.
Palm Springs, California, 62950 20th Street
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