Palm Springs has been a popular desert destination for decades. And with a new crop of hip hotels and foodie-approved eateries, this resort area and its nine towns offer so much for travelers to experience. From its healing mineral waters to its world-renowned golf courses and numerous interesting museums, the greater Palm Springs area won’t disappoint.
Here are some suggestions for spending a day in Palm Springs -- though you’ll likely end up wanting more time in this pristine paradise.
Take A Ride On The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Palm Springs is home to the world’s largest rotating tramway, the aptly named Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. With stunning views of the Coachella Valley and Mount San Jacinto State Park, this roughly 10-minute journey is a great way to see the area.
At the end of the 2.5-mile ride lies the Mountain Station, which provides access to hiking trails, two restaurants, a gift shop, theaters, and multiple observation decks.
Tickets can be purchased at the tram site or ahead of time online.
Check Out The Museums
In case it’s a blisteringly hot day in the desert, some indoor options can be helpful. Enter the museums in Palm Springs.
The Palm Springs Art Museum includes a location in Palm Desert, a main location in Palm Springs, and an architecture-and-design-focused outpost in Palm Springs. At the main campus in Palm Springs, admission is free every second Sunday of the month as well as every Thursday evening. At the architecture and design center, admission is free every Thursday night. At the Palm Desert location, admission is always free, and there’s a noteworthy outdoor sculpture garden. Altogether, the museum contains two sculpture gardens, four classrooms, 28 galleries, a lecture hall, space for artists-in-residence, a cafe, a theater, and more.
Another neat museum in the region is the Palm Springs Air Museum. Established in 1996, the impressive space has been named one of the world’s best aviation museums. The museum explores the role of American air power during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Kids under the age of five as well as active-duty military and their immediate families can enter for free.
Visit Joshua Tree National Park
An estimated three million people visit Joshua Tree National Park each year. This area, which was designated a national park in 1994, consists of nearly 800,000 acres of pristine desert landscape. Its most noteworthy resident is also its namesake, the Dr. Seuss-like Joshua tree, which is part of the yucca family. The park is also home to bobcats, desert tortoises, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, coyotes, and more.
Visitors can hike, rock climb, and camp in Joshua Tree National Park, though hiking would be the best option for a day trip. There are numerous trails available for all levels of ability; one of the most popular is the 2.2-mile Old Mill Route, which winds past an abandoned mine from the Gold Rush era.
There’s typically a $30 entry fee per vehicle, but prices change from year to year.
Hike In Tahquitz Canyon
Those who prefer hiking with waterfall views will love Tahquitz Canyon. From July through September, free 2.5-hour ranger-led interpretive hikes are offered; they begin promptly at 8 a.m.
The canyon trail that leads to the 60-foot waterfall is a strenuous hike with a 350-foot elevation change. Only those with good balance and proper footwear should consider this activity, though the trail is less than 2 miles long.
Adult admission costs $12.50, and military can enter free of charge with identification.
Take A Dip In The Healing Waters
After your hike, relax in the hot mineral baths of California’s favorite spa destination. After all, the name Palm Springs refers to the nearby Agua Caliente hot springs.
A day pass for Miracle Springs Resort and Spa can be purchased for under $15. This large spa has eight warm pools to choose from.
A more contemporary wellness destination is Two Bunch Palms, which has a complete sustainability program and is carbon neutral.
Another option is the old-school Sagewater Spa, which has a full spa retreat on-site beside the natural healing waters. This vintage spot is actually one of the oldest hotels in the area; it was originally opened in the 1950s.
Play Golf On A Famous Course
Palm Springs is perhaps most famous for its world-class golf resorts designed by greats like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. However, many of the area’s courses are affiliated with private country clubs and cannot be easily accessed by the public. But don’t worry -- there are public courses in the Coachella Valley, too.
The Indian Springs Golf and Country Club in Indio has some of the most reasonable rates in the region, and the La Quinta Resort & Club boasts five full courses for all skill levels. Another great choice is pro golfer Nick Faldo’s gem of a course, Marriott’s Shadow Ridge. This Palm Desert spot is home to an impressive golf school and was the first domestic course designed by Faldo.
There are plenty of other options in the area as well; these are just the highlights. Keep in mind that 18 holes generally take about 4 hours to complete with a golf cart, so those with only one day in the area could consider just golfing nine holes.
Appreciate Mid-Century Architecture
Design buffs should know that Palm Springs is a hotbed of mid-century modern architecture. Even if you don’t visit during the famous Modernism Week with all its associated activities, you can still get to know this side of the Coachella Valley: There’s a self-guided walking tour of some of the most impressive examples. The best part? The tour is free.
Eating In Palm Springs
One of the most attractive attributes of the greater Palm Springs area is the abundance of delicious restaurants. I’ll detail just a few of my favorites.
For a modern take on Mexican cuisine, travelers should consider a trip to Tac/Quila, which is located right in Palm Springs and accepts only walk-in customers. With both indoor and outdoor seating, this spot boasts high quality ingredients, inventive dishes, live music, a living plant wall, and dynamic owners.
The James Beard award-winning Workshop Kitchen + Bar is housed within a former movie theater. This farm-to-table eatery serves up big flavor on small plates, has an unbelievably scrumptious brunch menu, and even offers vintage cocktail creations. Workshop calls the trendy Uptown Design District of Palm Springs home.
Another pick of mine is the pizza at Birba, another downtown Palm Springs spot. The restaurant also has an impressive Old World wine list.
For a classic steakhouse experience, visitors should consider Mr. Lyons in Palm Springs.
And finally, the cocktails really shine at Paul Bar / Food in Palm Springs. Its frozen sidecar just might be one of the best things I’ve ever consumed. This spot also serves homey comfort food like pot roast, meatloaf, and succotash.
Shopping In Palm Springs
The main drag of Palm Canyon offers plenty of upscale shopping options. Some notable stores include The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five with its famous pink wall, The Shag Store, and Destination PSP for funky souvenirs.
Those seeking unique items should be sure to visit the Street & Art Fair & Farmers Market at the College of the Desert. It is only open on Saturdays and Sundays, so plan accordingly. The Palm Springs Vintage Market is open the first Sunday of each month at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. I’ve uncovered great finds at both!
Bargain hunters can head to the Desert Hills Premium Outlets in nearby Cabazon, about 20 minutes from Palm Springs proper.
It’s clear that Palm Springs would make a delightful destination for a day trip, but there’s so much to do in the area that you just might find yourself spending more time there.