The desert oasis of Palm Springs is surrounded by four mountain ranges and eight towns: La Quinta, Indio, Coachella, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Desert Hots Springs, and Cathedral City. With all the natural scenery, each charming hamlet has its own unique vibe. There are so many options for day trips.
Note: Thank you to Visit Greater Palm Springs for hosting me on a press trip. All opinions are my own.
1. Shop The El Paseo Shopping District
The El Paseo Shopping District in Palm Desert is the Rodeo Drive of the area. With over 300 stores in the district, you can literally shop till you drop. Begin your day with brunch at Wilma & Frieda’s Café to fuel up for your shopping spree. This is some seriously good food with a tagline of “comfort food with a twist.” Must tries are the homemade pop tarts, a signature dish crafted from house-made pie crust and fruit preserves, and any of the “bennies” which are eggs benedict on homemade English muffins.
Spend the afternoon exploring the independent boutiques and art galleries. The Gardens on El Paseo has designer favorites like Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton as well as national stores like Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma. Drop by the Hotel Paseo, a stunning boutique hotel built to resemble a Midcentury Modern building. Head outside to sip a cocktail at the pool bar and enjoy the relaxing vibe of this outdoor courtyard and “backyard” area. Stunning mountain views just add to the enjoyment.
2. Joshua Tree National Park
Plan to take a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park during your stay in the Greater Palm Springs area. The Mojave and Colorado distinct desert ecosystems converge in the park. It is a fascinating environment with a rich diversity of plants and animals. The park is named for the iconic Joshua tree, a member of the agave family. The trees with their spiky, twisted shapes have a surreal appearance often equated to something you’d see in a Dr. Seuss book.
Two areas you should see in the park are the Cottonwood Spring Oasis and Black Rock Canyon. Seven miles from the southern entrance is the Cottonwood Spring Oasis, which was a water source for the Cahuilla Indians for centuries. An easy hike is to explore the Cottonwood Wash to dry falls. You’ll often see bighorn sheep in the early morning. Continue through palo verde and desert willow trees to Moorten’s Mill historic ruins. The Black Rock Canyon area has a lovely Joshua tree forest. The best way to experience it is to hike the Hi-View Nature Trail. It is rated moderate, but it starts with a hike up a steep ridge to discover the Joshua tree forests. The trail continues up to a ridge with incredible views of the national park.
Another option is to visit after dark. Joshua Tree National Park is an International Dark Sky Park and has some of the darkest nights in southern California. The stars, and especially the Milky Way, really pop when away from city lights.
Pro Tip: Locals recommend entering the park from the southern or northern entrances, enjoy your day, and exit through the opposite entrance. Make sure to visit the park website for the 10 Summer Hiking Essentials.
3. Shields Date Gardens
I love when locals recommend visiting a place and it turns out to be such a great experience. The Shields Date Gardens is such a unique attraction and well worth the stop. It has a vintage feel about it that is pretty cool. Established in 1924, it is a place to learn all about date production. Begin with the original film shown in the Romance Theater that opened in 1951. Titled The Romance and Sex Life of the Date the title was pretty racy back in the day. Floyd Shields is featured in the film, and you can learn about date cultivation. Next, take a walk through the 17-acre date farm. In 2011, the Vanderzalms were closing their biblical garden in Vancouver, Canada, and looking for a home for the statues. They were added to the date farm and a garden path was created to show the 14 scenes and 23 statues depicting the life of Christ.
Head back into the store and stop by the 1960s original shake counter and try one of its famous date shakes. Shop for fresh dates and tons of products made from dates to include Floyd Shields’ innovative Date Crystals created in 1936 as easier to use in cooking. There is also Date Sugar sold in the original style reusable metal tins brought back for the 90th anniversary. If you are like me and did not taste the dates until I got home, you will be glad to know they ship. If you want to spend more time, enjoy lunch at the café in a courtyard overlooking the date garden.
4. Take A Spa Day
The greater Palm Springs area offers a variety of spa experiences. The Spa at Desert Springs in the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa has 48 treatment rooms with a service menu incorporating ancient healing methods and locally grown citrus and dates into the treatments. The ultra-luxurious Ritz-Carlton Spa, Rancho Mirage is nestled into the hillside and offers treatment rooms, some with private terraces with stunning views. The theme of desert wellness is carried throughout this lovely space. The spa menu elevates massages, facials, and body treatments with the incorporation of indigenous botanicals.
The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort And Spa
I visited the Spa at the Westin Mission Hills which is a beautiful wellness spa. It recently received a makeover which created a beautiful, clean, and rejuvenating oasis. I enjoyed a Hydrate Facial with Maja that was just incredible. This relaxing experience included an upper body massage. I’ll be honest I am not sure exactly what the treatment was because I fell dead asleep, which is rare for me so it shows how relaxing it was. She applied a variety of enzymes, peptides, antioxidants, and hyaluronic acid selected for my skin type and condition. Make sure to allow extra time to relax in the garden courtyard with a hot tub.
Azure Palm Hot Springs Resort And Day Spa Oasis
Wow! This half-day spa experience was the highlight of my trip. What an awesome experience I had at the Azure Palm Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa Oasis. Currently, the hotel offers rooms available on a half-day basis. We checked in and went to our luxurious Santa Rosa Suites. The minute you walk into the room you are stunned into silence at the unparalleled views of the Santa Rosa Mountain Range. The room has large concrete soaking tubs you can fill with the hot mineral spring water and enjoy its relaxing, healing properties in the privacy of your suite.
This adult-only retreat is a complete wellness experience. The pool area is a quiet, peaceful oasis with plenty of fluffy towels and iced mineral water to sip. The pool area has two covered hot tubs and a large resort style pool. All are filled with the pure, crystal clear hot mineral spring water that Desert Hot Springs is known for. It comes out of the ground at a blistering 174 degrees infused with healing minerals. It is then cooled for the pools to various temperatures. Also available are indoor hot tubs, a sauna, a Himalayan salt room, and ice room.
The spa offers more than 30 treatment options. I tried the Azure Body Buff which is a 60-minute facial for the body. Before beginning the treatment, you are required to soak in the mineral hot springs water for 30 minutes. You can do this in your room or in the pools. The therapist uses an exfoliating mitt with warm water and proceeds with a vigorous, total body scrub. I was shocked at how much dead skin came off me so I must have needed this treatment. After I took a warm shower, my treatment ended with the application of a warm desert sage body butter massaged in. My skin was glowing.
Pro Tip: If you plan to have a meal at the café, verify the hours.
5. Cabot’s Pueblo Museum
If you are like me, you have never heard of Cabot Yerxa. He was a true Renaissance man who was a pioneer of Desert Hot Springs who homesteaded 160 acres in 1913. He discovered water on his land after local indigenous people shared the locations of two springs. He built two wells: one the hot mineral waters Desert Hot Springs is famous for and one from a pure cold water aquifer. The area became known as Miracle Hill.
Yerxa lived and traveled throughout the United States, Europe, Cuba, and South America. He was an environmentalist and a man who upcycled before it was a thing. His artistic talents and his role as a human rights activist focusing on the crisis facing Native American Tribes merged when he began building his pueblo which is now the Cabot’s Pueblo Museum. He started building in 1941 with the intent to create his home and a museum. Inspired by Hopi culture, it is handmade from mostly reclaimed and found materials from the Coachella Valley. He also used adobe and made bricks. It is filled with Native American art and artifacts, his own art, and souvenirs of his travels. It opened in 1950, and Cabot often had visiting artists staying and working on the property. The Pueblo has an interesting feel about it and is unique. When completed it was four stories tall and more than 5,000 square feet spread across 35 rooms.
Located in Desert Hot Springs, this interesting museum is well worth the stop.
6. The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is one of the top zoos in the United States and it is easy to see why. This is a desert zoo and only has animals from deserts around the world. Opening in November 2021, the rhino savanna is the zoo’s newest habitat. Two African black rhinos will soon call the 4-acre habitat home along with antelope species like the klipspringer and waterbuck, birds, and the naked mole rat. It will give you the feeling of an African safari.
One of the unique features of this zoo is the hiking trails that venture into the pristine Colorado desert in the Living Desert’s nature preserve. There are three private trails only open to zoo visitors. There are three loops and the first two are easy. I recommend the Adventure Loop, a mile-long trail that takes you through a desert riparian woodland and onto a rocky desert mountain slope. Make sure to climb up to the San Andreas Fault interpretive exhibit. Even though the elevation change is not that much, just that small climb gives you fabulous views of the Coachella Valley. For the more fit, head out on the Wilderness Loop for a 3.5-mile hike with a 1000 feet elevation change. It traverses a rocky desert canyon with lots of scrambling over the rocks. The views from the top are spectacular.
Pro Tip: Make sure to bring water and apply sunscreen
7. Mid-Century Modern Architecture Tour
Join the Palm Springs Mod Squad and guide Kurt Cyr for the Essential Palm Springs Tour. Although it is not technically a day trip from Palm Springs, I included it because it takes you through neighborhoods around the city that you would not know to visit. Cyr’s knowledge of the Mid-century Modern architecture is impressive, especially about six local architects who helped shape the mod architectural look of the city. Learn about the features that create this look in the variety of homes and commercial buildings you will see. Cyr also throws in some Hollywood history with the celebrity homes that were built during this period.
Pro Tip: Have Cyr work with you to craft a personalized tour of the area.
I have to say I was surprised at how much there is to see and do in these desert towns. When planning a visit to the area, note it is very dry. Before visiting start drinking a little more water than normal and once you arrive carry a water bottle with you to sip throughout the day. Sunscreen and a hat are a must.
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