It only takes one visit to Palm Springs, California to fall in love and return over and over. In the early 1900s, Los Angeles county residents began to flock to this desert oasis in search of a quick mini-vacation to escape the city, and the Greater Palm Springs area has continued to grow ever since.
With its growing popularity, Palm Springs became more widely known across the nation as a place to relax, party, visit with the family and even retire. There is something for everyone that can be found within its 94-square miles, and it is the perfect destination for both extended trips and short ones.
If you are planning to make your first, or twentieth, trip to PS and are looking for something new or exciting to do, here are 27 of the best options, no matter what the reason is that you are visiting for.
Cultural and Artsy
Palm Springs has no shortage of cultural and artistic activities for the young and old alike. If you are looking for something that will entertain the whole family (or even as a solo adventure) for a few hours and to get yourself out of the heat, check out these top spots to learn and keep cool at the same time.
- Palm Springs Air Museum – This museum is geared toward the education and acknowledgment of World War II aircrafts and their pilots. The Air Museum doesn’t just house one of the largest collections of WWII aircrafts; it also holds artwork and other antiques from the war. Young and old alike can learn as well as show their appreciation for such a significant time in our country’s history. Want even more from the experience? Be sure to book a flight on one of their vintage warbirds!
- Palm Springs Art Museum – Founded in 1938, the now 10,000 square foot museum has gone through name changes, structural changes, building additions, and relocations. It is now home to 28 galleries, sculpture gardens, an artist’s center, lecture hall, theatre, visitor store, bistro, and more! Art lovers from around the world can find classic pieces of architecture, glass art, sculptures, photography, among various other contributions. Whether you’re into lectures, concerts, or exhibitions, the Palm Springs Art Museum is a gift that keeps on giving.
- Agua Caliente Cultural Museum – While it may not be open just yet, you don’t want to miss your opportunity to be one of the first to experience the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum. The Native Americans of this land have a long and rich history (roughly 2,000 years) that will soon be on display at this museum. Learn about the people, traditions, and this part of California’s desert with a museum that will be both visually stunning and also exciting for people of all ages. Keep your eyes peeled for opening dates, and plan to be there!
It’s not always easy to find a family-friendly vacation location that is unique and timeless. Palm Springs isn’t just a playground for adults but offers plenty of opportunities to get the kids involved as well.
- Wet N Wild – Let’s face it, Palm Springs is undeniably desert land, and in the summer this land gets hot. After exploring the countless scenes that PS has to offer, what could be better than a day of fun and play in the refreshing waters of the Wet N Wild waterpark? The park is currently (July 2019) undergoing renovations in order to give visitors an updated and unforgettable experience, but is due to reopen in 2020. Be sure to add this to your list of afternoon activities – if the new park is anything like the previous version, it’s a family fun way to splash around for a few hours.
- Living Desert Zoo and Gardens – Deemed as one of the top 10 zoos in the United States, this zoo is a fantastic trip for people of all ages. It opened in 1970 with the aim of desert conservation and preservation through rehabilitation and education. They genuinely make the desert an accessible learning experience with tours, wildlife talks, and their vast array of remarkable creatures to see. Even from visiting as a young child, it is impossible to forget. This is one zoo you’ll want to visit again and again.
- Take A Photo with Lucille Ball or Sonny Bono – This might be more of a trip down memory lane for the older generation, rather than the kids, but Lucille and Sonny are prime photo ops to remember the good old days. As notable residents of Palm Springs and iconic faces of the entertainment industry, the kids may one day thank you for the silly photos and new memories. You can even use finding them as a fun scavenger hunt through downtown and who knows what else you’ll find along the way!
Day Trips and Tours
While there is plenty to do in Downtown Palm Springs, some equally amazing sites are just a short drive away. Plan to give at least one day devoted to a day trip just outside of the city. You came all this way, may as well get as much out of it as possible!
- Joshua Tree Day Trip – If you’re in the area, it would be a shame to miss the famous Joshua Tree National Park. Known for its namesake trees, the one-hour drive to Joshua Tree is perfect for walking trails, photo opportunities, and stargazing (if you decide to stay into the evening). So pack a picnic, take a picture at skull rock and a lazy stroll through Cholla Cactus Garden for the perfect morning or afternoon activity. If you have an extra night, many a camper have found Joshua Tree to be well-worth all the buzz.
- San Andreas Faultline – A trip to Palm Springs would not be complete without taking a trip to the 750-mile fault that tears through California. With all of the recent earthquakes, this fault line is a natural attraction for seismology lovers. As the subject of the movie, San Andreas, and the assumed location of “The Big One,” this fault is also a great learning adventure for those who want to understand the geology of the land better. Book a tour, and it’ll be so much more than just viewing a crack in the ground.
- Celebrity Homes Tour – It is well known that Palm Springs has long been a playground and quick getaway location for the rich and the famous. This 2.5-hour tour takes you on an adventure to see just how stars such as Lucille Ball and Sonny Bono lived. While you won’t be able to actually step inside the homes, being able to appreciate the architecture and lifestyle of decades past is an exciting way to view a different side of Palm Springs’ history.
- Palm Springs Walk of Stars – In its heyday, Palm Springs was like a mini version of Hollywood, with famous celebrities escaping the limelight to live and play in the desert. It only makes sense, then, that PS would have its own version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. With honorees such as Frank Sinatra, Marylin Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, former US President Ronald Reagan, and many many others, this stroll is a fun way to see some of the notable people who walked the streets before you.
- Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway – Calling all Elvis Presley fans! The mid-century modern house known as The Alexander Estate is a fan favorite for those who want to step in the shoes of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. The home is where they spent their honeymoon and also lived in from 1966 to 1967. Events and tours are held regularly in honor of the King of Rock and Roll. If a guided tour simply isn’t good enough for you – you can also reserve the house for private functions. Thank you, thank you very much.
- Take A Ride in A Hot Air Balloon – There’s no better way to get a real lay of the land than to take to the skies. With a birds-eye view of the desert, you can develop a whole new appreciation for the massive expanse of land. Imagine the scene at sunrise or sunset, and you’re sure to have a romantic rendezvous for the books, complete with a little bubbly post-flight. If you want to keep it budget-friendly, keep an eye out on Groupon for deals on your next air tour.
Palm Springs is a perfect place for nature lovers. With so much land available to explore, you can get lost in the beauty of the flora and fauna that inhabit this place.
- Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – With an incline of 6,000 feet, one of the most notable experiences in Palm Springs is the Aerial Tramway, and it is not for the faint of heart. Open year-round, the tramway is an activity that isn’t to be missed. As the world’s largest rotating tramcar, the 10-minute, 2.5-mile ride travels from the aptly named Valley Station to the Mountain Station. The trip itself provides breathtaking views of the entire desert and mountain range. During the winter, you can participate in skiing or simply enjoy a day in the snow. In summer, the Mount San Jacinto State Park has no shortage of trails for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing. After a few hours of exploring, be sure to grab a bite to eat at Pines Café, Peaks restaurant, or The Lookout Lounge.
- Hike Tahquitz Canyon – This hiking trail is best for those who have a little bit of bushwalking experience as it requires some climbing over rocky and steep terrain. It truly is a part of the desert with no bathrooms and minimal shade, but the views, waterfalls, and wildlife are worth the trip. Hikers are encouraged to bring plenty of water, and it’s probably best to go in Spring to avoid the intense summer sun. As the home of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Native American tribe, the area is rich with the history of the native people.
- Enjoy A Horseback Ride – Love animals? Want a relaxing way to see the trails without having to hike it? Smoke Tree Stables provides guided day tours and hourly rides for visitors who want to take in the views and get that truly western experience. Grab your cowboy boots and get ready to giddy-up, partner!
- Moorten Botanical Garden – The Moorten Botanical Garden isn’t your average botanical garden. This family-owned desert oasis is located on one-acre of land and is beautifully filled with cacti and other desert-dwelling plants. It’s an inexpensive activity for the whole family, and because it’s not very big, it’s perfect for small children (or adults) with short attention spans. Just make sure they don’t touch! This would also be a great place to hold your wedding if you’re looking for a magical desert setting and photos.
Health and Fitness
For many of us, being able to take time to be active IS part of the vacation. If you’re looking for activities that will make you feel fit and healthy, PS can deliver.
- Head to A Golf Course – As a golfer, you simply cannot head to PS without hitting the tee. If a casual round of golf sounds like your ideal morning, Palm Springs does not disappoint. With stunning mountain backdrops and greens as far as the eye can see, there are endless golf resorts and country clubs to choose from. If you don’t want to be left in the rough, grab your nine iron, channel your inner Tiger Woods, and get ready to add Palm Springs Golf Master to your resume.
- Play a Spot of Tennis – Just like golf, Palm Springs is the place to fine-tune your tennis skills. Hailed as the “Original Sport of Palm Springs” beginners and pros alike can spend a warm desert afternoon with private lessons, country club facilities, or a friendly rally. If you really want to serve up a unique tennis experience, stay at the Palm Springs Tennis Club where you can find a little bit of everything for your game, set, match.
- Treat Yourself to A Day At the Spa – The ultimate goal for Palm Springs is to find relaxation in the desert. What better way to achieve this than to treat yourself to a massage or even a full day at the spa? Azure Spa in the Riviera is bound to have the perfect relaxation service for you. Or you can head to Indian Wells and visit The WELL Spa, Spa Esmeralda, or Agua Serena Spa for a relaxation experience you won’t soon forget.
- Head to A Pool Party – If you don’t want to stray too far from your hotel or want a fun way to keep cool under the blazing sun, join the cool crowd at a day-to-night pool party at one of the many resorts. Sit back and relax to the sounds of a DJ spinning the hottest music with a cocktail in hand, surrounded by old and new friends. Get started with Splash House which is hosted by the Saguaro, the Riviera, and the Renaissance, twice a year. Want something a little more family-friendly? The Palm Desert Aquatic Center combines a pool party and movies that the whole family can enjoy.
Check Out the Scene
One of the best ways to get to know a place is to visit it like a local. Add these activities into your itinerary if you want to do more than just be a tourist.
- Attend Coachella – Music and festival lovers from across the globe travel to the desert every April to get a glimpse of some of the best musical artists of the year. If you want to see what all the hype is about, plan your trip for spring and buy your tickets early! Spread across two weekends, there is no shortage of activities, food vendors, wellness classes, games, merchandise, celebrity sightings, and more! Bring along the babies and the oldies for a rockin’ good time and a one of a kind opportunity to play in the desert.
- Take a DIY Foodie Tour – No matter where you choose to spend your vacation, it’s all about the food. But don’t let this remote oasis fool you – there is plenty of it! No matter what your taste buds are calling for or how many different people you have to consider, there are endless dining options. From breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all the snacks in between, restaurants like Cheeky’s, Workshop Kitchen + Bar, The Purple Palm, plus so many others will give you a dining experience that might just make you want to move there.
- Palm Springs VillageFest – If you’re looking for something family and pet-friendly to do on a Thursday night and want to be part of the community, the PS VillageFest is an open market filled with food vendors, artists selling their works, antique stalls, and live entertainment. What better way to see behind the scenes of a city, than to visit its street fair! Grab some locally sourced treats or a piece of artwork that will forever remind you of that balmy Thursday night when you were a Palm Springs local.
- Stay In A Boutique Hotel – If there’s one thing we can all agree on – Palm Springs is a city of architectural amazingness. When looking to book your stay, this is your chance to get away from the commercial chain of hotels! PS is known for it’s funky and quirky boutiques and AirBnB’s. When booking at one of these locations, you aren’t just getting a place to rest your head each night – you’re getting an experience. From romantic hideaways, retro architecture, family-oriented, or adults-only locations, there is something for everyone and photos that are oh-so Instagram worthy. Check out the website Boutique Hotel for an updated list of hotels for every type of traveler. You may have to make multiple trips, just so that you can experience more than one!
- Stroll Along Palm Canyon Drive – When visiting Palm Springs, Palm Canyon Drive is the street of all streets. Here you will find a bit of everything – restaurants, specialty shops, quirky stores, and people watching. The shopping and sightseeing make for a perfect stroll when you need a day to relax from all the other activities on your itinerary. Because it’s suitable for groups and solo travelers, spending a few hours here before deciding on your next adventure is the perfect way to get out and about.
- Enjoy the Nightlife – People from all walks of life can enjoy and appreciate the active nightlife this sleepy desert town has to offer. During the day, Palm Springs may be full of leisurely activities and relaxed afternoons by the pool, but at night this place can really wake up. Palm Canyon Drive offers laid back live music while party spots Zelda’s, Toucan’s, and Hunter’s all drag you onto the dance floor to give you a chance to get down with locals and tourists alike.
- Try Your Hand At the Casinos – If you’d like to take some time to yourself to hit the slots or play your favorite game of cards, Agua Caliente Casino could be the place for you. Try not to get lost in the restaurants, entertainment or spa options that the casino has to offer as well! Another popular option is Morongo Casino which is just a short drive away from downtown PS, and isn’t to be missed if you like to frequent the gambling scene.