Nestled between three striking mountain ranges, this sunny Southern California oasis has lured travelers in search of inspiration and relaxation for more than a century. Located in the Coachella Valley desert region, this popular getaway is just a few hours’ drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego.
The valley’s nine resort cities — known as Greater Palm Springs — provide an incomparable blend of cultural experiences for every type of visitor. Plan an incredible desert escape with some of these favorite activities.
1. Palm Springs Art Museum
Spend an hour immersed in this treasure trove of innovative and forward-thinking art with an outdoor sculpture garden, lecture hall, theater, store, and plans for a new bistro. Across from the Palm Springs Art Museum, don’t miss the surrounding area’s whimsical outdoor art like the Marilyn Monroe statue, a car suspended over a reflecting pool, and big babies crawling in the courtyard from artist David Cerny.
Guests can soon admire the Desert Modernist architectural style of Albert Frey and Lawrence Kocher as their groundbreaking Aluminaire House will be reassembled to live permanently next to the museum. Also, explore the museum’s Architecture and Design Center down the road.
Pro Tip: Visit on Thursday evenings for free from 5 to 8 p.m.
2. Palm Springs Air Museum
In an air-conditioned hangar, get up close to 72 vintage World War II and Korean and Vietnam War-era aircraft. Speak with docents who have experience flying the planes or purchase tickets to soar over the desert in one of five warbirds. Kids 12 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. Check the Palm Springs Air Museum website for annual traditions and upcoming events.
Presidents, heads of state, and royalty have been welcomed to this sprawling estate in Rancho Mirage since the 1960s thanks to billionaire publisher Walter Annenberg, who created TV Guide, Seventeen Magazine, and one of the first TV stations out of Philadelphia. Today, savor the peaceful setting with a wildflower, succulent, and cacti walk and imagine a time when this former meeting place was used to discuss and exchange international relations over golf or dinner.
Admire more than 70 species of arid-adapted desert plants amongst twin reflecting pools, wind through a labyrinth, or contemplate life on the Obama bench. Don’t miss the introductory 35-minute film showcasing the numerous presidents and celebs who brought the estate to life. Admission is free.
Pro Tip: Visit Sunnylands to participate in free yoga, bird walks, and paid private tours of the home.
4. The Living Desert Zoo And Gardens
Unlike most zoos, this impressive thousand-acre landscape in Palm Desert affords animals wide open spaces and specializes in deserts of the world with a mission of desert conservation through preservation, education, and appreciation. Recently certified as an Autism Center (CAC), The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens with over 500 animals showcases bighorn sheep, African wild dogs, black rhinos, and other fascinating species.
In the open Australian habitat area, wallabies bounce alongside you, and visitors can feed giraffes too. A special event called Glow in the Park 2023 arrives this spring, and every year during the holidays, WildLights transforms the setting into a winter wonderland.
Pro Tip: Arrive early in the day mid-week when it’s cooler and there are fewer crowds.
5. Moorten Botanical Garden
The world’s first “cactarium,” Moorten Botanical Garden, is still thriving thanks to Mr. Moorten who still oversees this intimate desert garden scape created by his parents in 1940. Wander the trail to admire funky odd-looking cacti from all over the world, categorized by geography. Be on the lookout for Moorten’s home (dubbed the Cactus Castle), gold mining relics, an adobe wall, gigantic crystals, fossils, and desert tortoises amongst the flora. Visitors can take home a plant from the nursery.
6. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Zoom 2.5 miles straight up along the cliffs of Chino Canyon to 8,516 feet in the world’s largest rotating aerial tramway to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Up to 30 guests at a time are transported to the pristine wilderness forest of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. From the desert to the mountain, children bring sleds in winter months as snow often greets visitors. Admire the sweeping views of Greater Palm Springs from the observation decks, grab a bite at one of the restaurants, or immerse yourself in nature with over 50 miles of hiking trails.
Pro Tip: Buy tickets in advance online and visit on a weekday for fewer crowds.
7. Rancho Mirage Library And Observatory
Experience the universe up close with free public exploration nights at Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory — where star clusters, planets, and nebulae are amplified 100-350x through a PlaneWave CDK700 telescope. Ask questions and learn fun facts from astronomers and volunteer docents. Drop in from 6:30 to 8 p.m., weather permitting, as no registration is needed. Other monthly events include film screenings, lectures, and photography exhibits.
Pro Tip: Visitors can check out a telescope at this library just like a book, and even obtain a temporary visitor library card.
8. Tahquitz Canyon Loop Trail
This 1.7-mile trail on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation in Palm Springs will have you scrambling around smooth boulders, ancient irrigation systems, and native plants while towering rock faces hug the trail and the valley floor sprawls in the distance. The desert terrain is otherworldly. Come at the right time of year and find yourself staring at a surreal 60-foot waterfall.
9. Indian Canyons
Indian Canyons nature preserve offers numerous trails for hiking and horseback riding for any level once you enter this sacred land. Andreas Canyon’s 1-mile loop on a fairly flat trail follows a stream by groves of California fan palms and feels more “jungle” than desert. A small waterfall toward the end of the loop is a welcome cool-off respite during warmer months. The 3-mile Victor Trail scales up and around varying terrain, first by an awe-inspiring grove of stately skirted palms hugging a creek, then by red barrel cacti and through over 150 species of plants.
Both of these trails are Home to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians who thrived here before any settlers and are still the area’s largest landowner. An admission fee is charged to enter — with discounted prices for seniors, children, students, and military — which helps to maintain the visitor centers and keep the trails accessible for all. Many other free hiking trails are available in the area, with varying degrees of difficulty, but none with visitor services or accessibility accommodations.
Other popular day trip hikes in the area include Joshua Tree National Park, just an hour’s drive from Palm Springs, and Coachella Valley Preserve, a 20,000-acre hiking sanctuary located just 30 minutes from the center of Palm Springs.
Pro Tip: Bring sun protection and plenty of water. Don’t hike in the summer due to the extreme heat.
Greater Palm Springs is a golfer’s dream destination, with over 130 courses of varying levels of ability, access, and cost to choose from. Among the best in the desert is La Quinta Resort — a collection of 5 golf courses including 3 at PGA West — that will challenge any golfer. Bridging the gap is the historic Desert Island Country Club, newly reimagined and opened to the public; and the Indian Wells Golf Resort, a 36-hole pedigreed course with a spectacular veranda to relax on after your round.
Pro Tip: Many courses offer short-term seasonal membership programs with preferential access and discounted tee times. Deals can often be found with a bit of research and flexibility.
11. Modernism Tours
At the entrance to Palm Springs stands the city’s welcome sign and iconic angled-roof Palm Springs Visitor Center (once a gas station). Start there for a deeper appreciation of the modernist architecture and design of the desert — and learn why celebrities flocked there.
Book a private tour like Palm Springs Mod Squad with local expert Kurt Cyr. Consider taking a self-guided driving or walking tour with Modern Tours Palm Springs or the Palm Springs Historical Society to learn about Modernist treasures and the Golden Era of celebrities who lived in desert homes.
Hop on a bike in neighborhoods such as Vista Las Palmas and Indian Canyons to gawk at the colorful doors, perfectly manicured desert and rock yards, and vintage cars often parked outside. Cruise by the Kaufmann Desert House, Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms Estate, and Elvis’s Honeymoon Hideaway.
12. Unique And Vintage Boutiques
Shop for vintage finds and one-of-a-kind pieces of art, décor, jewelry, furniture, and more at the desert’s best thrift stores like Angel View, Revivals, Goodwill, and Sunny Dunes Antique Mall. Our favorite places for home décor include Re(x), Christopher Kennedy, Pink Cactus, and The Shops at 1345 in Downtown Palm Springs. It’s easy to find special fun local gifts at Peepa’s and the Mojave Flea Trading Post.
Newcomers include the new 40,000 square foot Market Market, housing 50 vendors selling vintage and repurposed goods, and Luxuria, offering vintage Louis Vuitton handbags, fine jewelry, and elegant home goods. Go regularly to score pre-owned furniture, art, or décor at popular Misty’s Consignments in Rancho Mirage. For those looking for old school clothes, shop at The Frippery for colorful caftans and dresses or modern preloved labels at preLoved Palm Springs.
Pro Tip: Visit the open-air Palm Springs Vintage Market on the first Sunday of every month from October through May.
13. Thermal Spas
There are many choices for daytime soaking in the desert — like Sunstone Spa at Agua Caliente Casino, Desert Springs Spa at JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa, Spa La Quinta at La Quinta Resort & Club, The Well Spa at Miramonte Indian Wells Resort & Spa, and many more that offer relaxing services often with private adults-only water therapy.
Choose a hotel poolside destination from several at ResortPass. For full-immersion luxe leisure, adults-only Two Bunch Palms Resort in Desert Hot Springs has been luring guests to relaxing lithium waters since 1940.
Soon, hot healing mineral water will spring forth right in downtown Palm Springs at the new Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza. The new spa destination will feature private mineral baths and a mineral pool, a cultural museum, gardens, and a gathering place.
14. Acrisure Arena
Just off Interstate 10, a world-class 11,000-seat venue has blossomed in the desert. Acrisure Arena is home to the area’s first professional sports team, the Coachella Valley Firebirds (hockey). While comedy kicked off the opening with acts from Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle, large-scale concerts have rocked the stadium with Harry Styles, The Eagles, and John Mayer headlining.
15. Modernism Week
This celebration of mid-century modern architecture occurs every February (16–26 this year) and over several days as a preview in October, filled with home tours, cocktail parties, speakers, and vintage markets. But any time is a good time to explore the largest percentage of mid-century modern homes and commercial architecture in America. Visit Modernism Week to chart a mid-mod adventure.
16. BNP Paribas Open
The BNP Paribas Open is an annual tournament and celebration during the first couple weeks of March where visitors can take in the action at the spectacular Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Get tickets in advance on their website.
17. Desert X
Returning to the Coachella Valley in 2023 from March 4 to May 7 for the fourth installment, Desert X showcases large-scale international contemporary art in the dramatic desert landscape. Focusing on social and environmental themes, some will require audience participation, and oftentimes finding the art is part of the fun. Viewings are free and open typically from sunrise to sunset. Exact locations for this year will be divulged on a map on their website or on the Desert X 2023 app beginning March 4.
Palm Springs is filled with hip boutique midcentury modern hotels. Many of these poolside hideaways feel like your own private retreat. Soak in the Palm Springs atmosphere by booking at 14-room newcomer Azure Sky with private patios, grand kitchenettes, and an impressive poolscape; Moroccan Mediterranean-style Korakia; or the ultraluxe Hermann Bungalows within L’Horizon Resort and Spa.
The Colony Palms feels like the Beverly Hills of the desert (but way better) with its green and white accents and palm tree-flanked pool where you can also drop in for candlelit dinner. Fall in love with Villa Royale’s new redesign sprawling over 3 pools while other places you’ll want to lay your head include La Serena Villas, Talavera, Limon, Sparrows Lodge, Ingleside Inn, Monkey Tree, Sands Hotel and Spa, newly revamped pink Trixie Motel, and the recently opened Paloma Resort in Cathedral City.