Palm Springs, California’s 12 Best Attractions & Things to Do

Palm Springs is a desert resort town surrounded by four mountain ranges in the Sonoran Desert. The resort city is popular for weekend getaways because it is only a three-hour drive from San Diego and a two-hour drive from Los Angeles.

The city, along with several neighbouring communities collectively referred to as the Coachella Valley, is a popular winter destination known for its mid-century modern architecture, abundance of championship golf courses, mild climate, and friendly atmosphere.

Apart from golf resorts and swimming pools, the area is densely packed with tourist attractions, activities, and places to visit. Downtown, visitors can partake in a variety of activities, including shopping, dining, museum visits, and exploration of the surrounding desert, mountains, and canyons.

Palm Springs’ high season runs from November to March, when most of North America is cold and the population is swelled by visitors and snowbirds.

Palm Springs attracts a serious lineup of Hollywood celebrities during the annual Palm Springs Film Festival in January, and Modernism Week in February attracts architecture and design enthusiasts from all over the world.

Additionally, the city is congested in April due to the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, which take place in Indio, approximately 30 minutes from downtown.

1. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a ride.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a short ride into the mountains that will quickly transport you away from the desert heat. Mount San Jacinto, on the outskirts of Palm Springs, soars over 10,000 feet above the desert floor and is easily accessible via the scenic tramway.

The tramway, which began operations in 1963, features the world’s largest rotating aerial tram cars. Similar to a ski lift, the cars are suspended from cables strung between metal towers installed on the mountainside.

The view of the desert from the top is breathtaking, and on hot days, the cool air (which is occasionally 30 to 40 degrees cooler than on the desert floor) can provide welcome relief. The summit is snow-covered in the winter.

In less than ten minutes, the tram will whisk you up Chino Canyon to an elevation of 8,500 feet. At the summit, dubbed the Mountain Station, there are observation decks, two restaurants, historical exhibits, and videos detailing the tram’s construction.

From here, 50 miles of hiking trails wind through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument’s pine forests, including one to the summit of Mount San Jacinto (11 miles round trip). Additionally, the park offers camping.

It’s enjoyable to swim in the desert heat of Palm Springs, then drive to the tram, ride it up the mountain, and play in the snow within an hour.

One Tramway in Palm Springs, California

2. Pay a visit to the Palm Springs Air Museum

The Palm Springs Air Museum is home to a sizable collection of military aircraft, the majority of which are still in service. There are aircraft from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. It’s an intriguing place to visit because the majority of docents are veterans with personal ties to the aircraft types discussed.

Static displays of the aircraft are on display, and several of them, including a massive B-17 bomber, can be toured inside. Much of the collection is housed in air-conditioned hangars, making it an ideal place to visit during the city’s extreme summer heat.

Palm Springs International Airport, approximately ten minutes from downtown Palm Springs, is home to the Palm Springs Air Museum. For those interested in flying in some of the museum’s rare warbirds, the air museum offers flights.

745 North Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs, California

3. Hike a canyon to view a waterfall.

The Indian Canyons, located at Palm Springs’ southern end, is a well-known protected nature preserve comprised of three distinct canyon environments. The area is administered by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and is ideal for hiking and exploring the desert scenery.

Begin by visiting one of the most popular areas, Palm Canyon. This 15-mile-long canyon is lined with giant palm trees and is home to a creek and waterfalls. Actually, the canyon is home to the world’s largest grove of California fan palms.

The canyon features numerous hiking trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. In the Indian Canyons park, a trading post sells souvenirs, Indian art, and other tribal-related items.

Andreas Canyon, another canyon area within Indian Canyons National Park, is also worth visiting for its bird watching opportunities. Murray Canyon is nearby, offering a less travelled hiking trail and a better chance of seeing deer and other wildlife. Numerous hiking trails are located throughout the park, many of which lead into multiple canyons.

Tahquitz Canyon is another tribally protected canyon area that is adjacent to but not included in the Indian Canyons area. Numerous hiking trails and a 60-foot-tall waterfall are available in this canyon. A visitor’s centre is available, which features artefact displays, hiking information, and a small theatre that screens a documentary about the canyon.

4. Take part in golf

Palm Springs and nearby cities such as La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, and Palm Desert are home to over 100 championship-level golf courses. Numerous the city’s finest courses are open to the public and are accessible to everyone (waiting lists are long during popular periods).

Due to the city’s excellent weather (an average of over 300 days of sunshine per year), particularly during the winter months, it is a popular golf destination. Summer temperatures are scorching, necessitating games in the early morning.

Apart from the immaculately maintained and challenging courses, you’ll appreciate the breathtaking scenery and desert backdrops. As you play, you’ll be treated to a changing desert landscape, with distant views of the area’s various mountain ranges.

PGA West (home of the American Express Desert Classic, formerly the Bob Hope Classic), Indian Wells Golf Resort (home of the Renaissance Indian Wells, Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, and Indian Wells Resort Hotel), Marriott’s Shadow Ridge, and Indian Canyons Golf Resort are all popular public golf courses in the area.

5.Visit the Palm Springs Art Museum.

Palm Springs Art Museum features collections of fine art, natural history, and performing arts. The museum, which opened in the late 1930s, used to focus almost exclusively on desert subjects and artists, but has since shifted its focus to a well-curated collection of modern and contemporary art, including Native American art.

Along with fine art, the museum houses a sizable collection of Native American craftwork and artefacts. Additionally, the museum features a natural science collection of animals and fossils, making it an excellent destination for children and families.

Additionally, the property features two outdoor sculpture gardens. The museum’s permanent collections include paintings, photography, glass, pottery, architecture, and design, with an emphasis on Western art and artists from the American West. Additionally, there are travelling and changing exhibitions and shows.

Throughout the year, the museum’s large Annenberg Theater hosts an extensive series of music, dance, and theatre productions and performances.

101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs, California

6. Visit the Coachella Valley Preserve and take a hike.

This vast, protected natural area spans over 13,000 acres of pristine desert and mountain terrain. It is a partnership between the federal government, state governments, and private landowners that enables the management and preservation of the natural environment.

Coachella Valley Preserve, east of Palm Springs, is home to a diverse range of wildlife. It is divided into three distinct preserve zones. The best area to visit is the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve near Palm Desert. Thirty miles of hiking trails and numerous oases are available.

7.Botanical Gardens & Cactuarium de Moorten

The Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactuarium are located just south of downtown Palm Springs on Palm Canyon Drive.

The one-of-a-kind nature space is home to an incredible collection of cacti and desert plants, ranging from fully grown trees to newly sprouted plants. The gardens are most beautiful in the spring, when the desert begins to bloom and the trees revert to their natural state of green.

Moorten is open all year, but visitors may enjoy a free guided tour of the facilities during the colder months, from fall to spring.

The gardens also function as a commercial nursery, which means that you may purchase plants to take home in addition to visiting the botanical garden.

1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, California

8.Zoo and Gardens of the Living Desert

What began 50 years ago as a concept to conserve some raw desert land while the surrounding region was built into a resort has grown into a world-class zoo. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in adjacent Palm Desert allows visitors to view desert flora and wildlife while also learning about desert ecosystems from across the world.

Additionally, the little zoo is home to camels, coyotes, wolves, foxes, badgers, mountain lions, raptors, zebras, giraffes, hyenas, leopards, and gazelles.

The ideal time to visit is typically early in the morning, while the animals are still active and the heat of the day has not yet set in. Consult the zoo’s daily schedule for information on guided nature walks, wildlife presentations, and animal feeding times.

Participating in the daily giraffe feeding is an experience not to be missed. From a tower, guests may feed their giraffe herd. It is done in the mornings during the summer, and all day during the other months. You may also assist keepers with feeding, grooming, and training the zoo’s camels.

47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert, California

9.Attend the VillageFest Weekly Street Party on a weekly basis.

Throughout the year, downtown Palm Springs transforms into a giant street celebration for VillageFest, with over 180 vendors along the city’s main thoroughfare. Palm Canyon Drive is restricted to traffic for a quarter-mile, with booths set up on both sides.

This is a wonderful evening out where you can buy for arts and crafts, jewellery, and other unique treasures while sampling delectable treats from local eateries and craftsmen. While you browse, musical performers, buskers, and other street artists give extra entertainment.

The evening market begins in the early evening, about 6 or 7 p.m., depending on the season, and continues until 10 p.m.

10.Architecture and Design Center at the Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs is home to the world’s biggest intact collection of mid-century modern structures. Modernism Week is held every February to commemorate the design movement. Architecture and design enthusiasts come from all over the world to events such as open houses, film screenings, and home tours of historically significant sites.

The Architecture and Design Center at the Palm Springs Art Museum is a one-of-a-kind and free attraction that is well worth a visit, especially if you are interested in architecture or design.

The structure is a protected historic site and is housed in a preserved 1960 mid-century modern bank building, similar in style to many other buildings in Palm Springs that still stand from this era.

The Architecture and Design Center houses the Palm Springs Art Museum’s architecture collections and hosts temporary exhibitions as well as a rotating display of material from the permanent collection.

The Frey House II, an important modernist home in the mountains designed by iconic architect Albert Frey for his own family, is also operated by the art museum. Docent-led tours of the house are available.

11. Visit the Palm Springs Historical Society to learn about the city’s history.

The city’s historical society has a small but comprehensive museum right on Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of downtown. It is housed in two preserved nineteenth-century buildings and features a free museum as well as other exhibits.

The society is also well-known for their excellent walking (and biking) tours of the city, which are available in a variety of themes. You may join a walking tour that focuses on the city’s architecture, Native American heritage, Rat Pack links, and famous inhabitants.

221 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, California

12. Make your way to the Windmills

The San Gorgonio Pass, located just west of Palm Springs, is one of the windiest areas on Earth, which is why it is densely forested with windmills (well actually wind turbines).

The pass, which is positioned on each side of the I-10 highway as it approaches the Coachella Valley, features not just strong winds, but also consistent wind, which is necessary for power generation. Wind turbines span thousands of acres of desert and hillside, quietly creating power for the region.

Visitors may view the wind turbines by leaving the I-10 highway at the Indian Canyon exit or by joining a tour. Palm Springs Windmill Tours is the only authorised tour that takes you “beyond the gate” and up up and personal with these monstrous machines.

62950 20th Street, Palm Springs, California

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