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Travel guide: 10 best things to do in Palm Springs

Are you leaving soon for Palm Springs, California? Lucky you!

Surrounded by mountains and dotted with countless palm trees, with its mid-century homes, pastel colors, blue skies and joie de vivre, Palm Springs has that je-ne-sais-quoi that charms visitors at first sight.

Between retirees who come to spend the winter in the sun, those who come to party, hikers and art and architecture enthusiasts, there is a Palm Springs for everyone.

It is the perfect place to stay for a few days or even a few weeks. Here are all our tips for planning your visit and, most importantly, our 10 suggestions for must-do activities in Palm Springs.

Organize your stay in Palm Springs

Top activities to do in Palm Springs

In this article

How to get to Palm Springs?

The city has its own airport, which is very original since it is partly located outside, so it’s possible to get there by plane.

Another option, often preferred, is to drive from San Diego or Los Angeles, since Palm Springs is 2.5 hours and 1.45 hours respectively from these two cities.

Palm Springs is a great place to add to a California road trip.

How long should you stay in Palm Springs?

It all depends on what you want to do. Some come for a few days to relax around the pool and party, while others stay all winter.

Generally speaking, you should allow 3 or 4 full days to visit the city, especially if you plan to hike, play golf or visit Joshua Park, which deserves at least a day by itself.

Street in Palm Springs
A street in Palm Springs in December

When to visit Palm Spring?

Fall and spring are the best seasons to visit Palm Springs, but it can be visited year round.

In winter, the temperature will be cooler and it is possible (but not frequent) to have rain, which is annoying since a large majority of the activities and places to visit are often outside. I know, it rained both times I was there!

In summer, expect blazing sun and high temperatures during the day. The pool will become a good companion!

Where to stay?

Palm Springs is surrounded by 8 cities, which make up Greater Palm Springs: Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella.

You have the option of staying in Palm Springs itself, with slightly higher rates, or in one of the surrounding cities. Hotel prices there will generally be a little lower and you’ll be a short drive from downtown Palm Springs.

Note that a car is highly recommended for your travels, especially if you intend to explore the surroundings of the city.

Hotel Le Paloma

As for hotels, you can choose from resorts reminiscent of all-inclusives in the South, motel chains or boutique hotels, which are our favorite type of accommodation in Palm Springs.

These independent hotels are all unique, with vibrantly colored decorations and a pool. Some are more festive, like the Saguaro (which we don’t recommend on weekends unless you want to party), others are more luxurious or quiet.

Here are 2 that we liked during our stay:

What to do in Palm Springs: 10 must-do activities

1. Take in the sights at Indian Canyons

Indian Canyons in Palm Springs

Located on the ancestral lands of the Cahuilla First Nations, Indian Canyons offers several hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty.

What makes this place so unique for visitors today is the presence of palm groves and oases that transport us at times to the Sahara.

Surrounded by mountains, it is a treat for the eyes.

Palm trees at Indian Canyons, Palm Springs

The park is divided into three sectors:

  • Andreas Canyon
  • Murray Canyon
  • Palm Canyon where there is a small visitor center.
Andreas Caynon Trail entrance - Indian Canyons
A short loop accessible from the Andreas Canyon parking lot allows you to see a beautiful concentration of palm trees.
Palm trees at Indian Canyons, Palm Springs
Palm trees - Indian Canyons

Bring your own water and lunch and check the schedule online before you come, the park is not open every day depending on the season.

It is possible to do only a small loop to see the palm groves at Andreas Canyon, but we recommend that you allow the whole day to explore the park.

Even after two visits, we didn’t have time to do all the trails we wanted.

Note: When you buy a ticket for Indian Canyons, you get a discount for the entrance to Tahquitz Canyon, a short hike to a waterfall. Although the place is full of meaning for the Cahuilla people, it is not a must-see, in our opinion.

2. Take a tour to see the mid-century houses

One of the Swiss House in Palm Springs
One of Charles Dubois’ Swiss Miss A-Frame homes in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is nothing less than the mecca of desert modernism and mid-century architecture.

It has the largest concentration of such homes in the United States, if not the world.

It is a must to take a tour to admire the houses with their typical architecture.

Many of these houses are also decorated with colorful doors and original details.

Mid-century home in Palm Springs, California

You can opt for a self-guided itinerary like the one proposed here, which will allow you to roam freely around the city.

If you are interested in a guided tour, here are some options:

3. Visit the Moorten Botanical Garden

Moorten Botanical Garden Trail - Palm Springs
Trail in Moorten Botanical Garden

If you like plants, especially cacti and succulents, you should not miss a stop at the Moorten Botanical Garden, which has more than 3000 specimens.

Green house - Moorten Botanical Garden Palm Springs

The visit, quite quick, allows to see a great variety of cacti of all sizes and shapes.

A greenhouse also allows you to admire rare and unique plants.

4. Board the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

During the ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tram
During the ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which rotates on itself during the ascent, is the largest cable car of its kind in the world.

The 2.5 mile ride provides a breathtaking view of the area and an escape from the heat in the summer.

On the way up, almost to the top - Aerial Tram Palm SPrings
During the climb, almost at the top

During the rise, you’ll go from an altitude of 2643 feet to 8516 feet.

You will have guessed it, when you reach the top, it is a completely different vegetation that awaits you and especially, another climate.

At the top, cactus and palm trees give way to snow and alpine forest.

The pine trees and the alpine forest took over the desert.
Pines and alpine forest have replaced cactus
The forest at the top

There is a restaurant and several hiking trails on site.

One of the most popular is the Desert View Loop Trail. This is a flat 1.7 km trail that winds through the pine forests of Mount San Jacinto Park and offers several viewpoints.

Don’t forget your coat, there is sometimes a 30 degree difference between the top and the bottom! Information and ticket

5. Visit the Palm Springs Air Museum

Airplane at the Palm Springs Aviation Museum

Adjacent to the Palm Springs Airport, the Aviation Museum houses one of the largest collections of World War II aircraft in flying condition, as well as aircraft from the Vietnam and Korean Wars.

The planes are distributed in different hangars as well as outside of them.

Feel free to talk to the volunteers on site, many of whom are veterans, former pilots or their descendants, which makes for some really interesting stories. Information and ticket

6. Go to Joshua Park

Joshua Tree National Park - California

A must-visit for outdoor and desert plant enthusiasts is Joshua National Park.

Located just under an hour from Palm Springs, you can see the famous Joshua trees, several other species of cactus, as well as unique rock formations.

Since the park is very busy, with little or no cell phone reception, a minimum of service points as well as sometimes intense weather conditions (read here heat and sunshine) it is essential to plan your visit to the park well.

Check out our guide to planning your day in Joshua Park.

7. Visit downtown and shop on North Palm Canyon Drive

Marilyn Monroe statue in downtown Palm Springs
Marilyn Monroe statue in downtown Palm Springs

North Palm Canyon Drive is the main street in Palm Springs and has a high concentration of stores, restaurants and cafes.

Of course, most of the stores are touristy, but there are still a few that are worth a visit.

One example is the Shag Store, which is dedicated to the works of artist Josh Agle, also known as Shag. You will find a lot of items (glasses, prints and reproductions, mugs, keychains, souvenirs and gifts) to bring back decorated with his works.

Destination PSP is another store where you can find souvenirs and gifts in the colorful, retro Palm Springs style.

While you’re downtown, take the opportunity to see the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, admire the giant statue of Marilyn Monroe or enjoy a meal of Mexican cuisine at El Patio.

8. Visit the Palm Springs Art Museum

Artwork in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum
Artwork in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum

For art lovers, why not stop by the Palm Springs Museum of Art?

Choose from the main pavilion in downtown Palm Springs, the Architecture and Design Pavilion or the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden in Palm Desert.

9. Visit The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Several animals, such as lions and rhinoceroses, can be seen at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in a desert environment.

With walking trails and a garden section, this is a great activity to do with the family.

10. Relaxing around a pool

The Palm Springs Hotel pool
The Palm Springs Hotel pool

Because of course, a stay in Palm Springs would not be complete without a well-deserved break to relax, read or sip a cocktail around a pool!

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