Best Things to Do in Palm Springs!
Sooo…you’re headed to Palm Springs for a sunny getaway & are wondering what to do? This article is for you! I’ve written extensively about Palm Springs, & I’ll link to several posts here that will give you more information on specific topics. From laying out at one of the desert’s many pools, to golf, to visiting further-flung destinations such as Salvation Mountain, the Cabazon dinosaurs, or Joshua Tree National Park: you’ve got lots of choices. And hopefully reading this will help you figure out what you really want to do on your desert getaway. So with that, here are the “Best Things to Do in Palm Springs…“
How to Get to Palm Springs?
- How to Get to Palm Springs: Fly into Palm Springs International Airport, a gem of an airport. It’s so small & convenient, your bag will most likely be at the baggage carousel by the time you reach the terminal. Renting a car here is easy ~ no shuttles necessary; just walk the main doors, turn right, & you’ll find all the rental car centers there.
Best Things to Do in Palm Springs
Where to Sight-See, Hike, Bike, & Spa
- SIGHT-SEE: The #1 Most Popular activity in Palm Springs, according to Trip Advisor, is to take a ride on the legendary Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ~ which takes you up to the tippy-top of the San Jacinto Mountains, giving you amazing views over the entire valley. What is there to do once you’re up there? There are a couple of restaurants & a cocktail lounge up top, so adults can grab drinks while admiring the view. There are also observation decks, a small Natural History Museum that kids may enjoy, picnic tables, & over 50 miles of hiking trails! I once hiked all the way to the top of San Jacinto ~ which is about 11 miles round-trip. It’s a longgg hike at a high altitude, but beautiful. Shorter hikes are also available for families, like the beautiful one-mile route to Wellman’s Divide. It’s always cooler on top of the tram, so bring a jacket unless it’s summertime.
Great Activities for Kids in Palm Springs: If you’re traveling with kids, the Living Desert is one of the most popular desert attractions ~ my family actually went last week with out-of-town guests, & it was a hit! Popular animals here include the cheetahs, bighorn sheep, camels, jaguars, & of course: the giraffes. On the drive out to the desert, if you’re coming from the L.A. area, you’ll pass right by the Cabazon dinosaurs: another hit with the young crowd. (Mom may also enjoy the shopping at the Cabazon Outlets). The Palm Desert Air Museum is another very popular attraction in town, & kids who are obsessed with flying and/or history may enjoy a quick stop here.
Another spot that’s popular for photographers are the iconic Palm Springs windmills. Read this article for all my best tips on creating your own photo shoot at the windmills. And for avid gardeners & history buffs: check out Moorten Botanical Gardens or the historic Sunnylands Estate & Gardens, which is a great place to soak in both Presidential history as well as the history of Palm Springs.
Best Things to Do in Palm Springs
Where to Lay Out, Golf, & Brunch
- LAY OUT: Chances are, your hotel will have an amazing pool (most in Palm Springs do) ~ but here’s a quick run-down: the Ace Hotel, the Saguaro, & now Arrive are all known for hosting a “younger” crowd with lively pool scenes. The rooftop pool at Kimpton’s Rowan Hotel is a refined new place to lay out, with “next-to-the-mountain” views & a rooftop bar to grab drinks at. Margaritaville’s (formerly the Riviera) lovely & large pool area is perfect for visiting bachelorette parties, while the Parker Palm Springs pool is a great place to spot potential celebrities in Palm Springs ~ with its ultra-exclusive vibe. More “adult” & smaller pools can be found at the Del Marcos, Korakia Pensione, Casa Cody, & Movie Colony hotels.
And moving out of Palm Springs, the La Quinta Resort & Spa is my personal favorite pool area in the desert ~ they have about 35+ pools spread throughout their property, so you’re always guaranteed to find ones that are quieter. The same goes at the Miramonte Resort & Spa, which has a very relaxing vibe (great for girl’s getaways). And the Renaissance Esmeralda has a HUGE pool area, great for both families & those simply wanting to lay out.
For a full run-down of the best Palm Springs hotel pools, read this article.
- GOLF: Palm Springs is one of the premier golf destinations in the country ~ this is a perfect spot for a guy’s golf getaway. Popular golf courses in Palm Springs include Indian Canyons Golf Resort (which also offers you glimpses of incredible mid-century modern homes along the course), Escena Golf Club, & Tahquitz Creek. More serious golfers may enjoy staying in La Quinta better, as it’s home to some of the best courses in the world: like all of the popular (& often-televised) PGA West courses, including the Stadium Course with its “Island Alcatraz,” & my personal favorite, the Mountain Course.
Here’s my complete list of the best golf courses in the desert.
- BRUNCH & LUNCH: Eating in the desert is a stylish affair….& with so many al fresco dining options here ~ there’s no shortage of choice. Some of the best brunch spots in Palm Springs include Cheeky’s, FARM, Wilma & Frieda’s, old-school Billy Reed’s, & the bottomless mimosa haven of Pinocchio’s in the Desert. One of the most Instagrammable spots in the entire desert is also a great brunch spot: The Pink Cabana, located in Indian Wells at the Sands Resort.
For a more complete list of great Palm Springs brunch spots, click here.
As far as lunch goes, you may want to visit Tommy Bahama’s in Palm Desert which gets my vote for the #1 best lunch spot in the desert. Or if you’d rather stay in Palm Springs, try Lulu’s California Bistro (great people-watching), the always-popular Las Casuelas for great Mexican food, or grab take-out from desert classic Sherman’s Deli.
Best Things to Do in Palm Springs
Where to Hike, Bike, & SPA
- HIKE: You’ve got all kinds of iconic hikes in the desert, from the massively popular (& often with a HUGE line at the entrance) Indian Canyons, to the main destination for the super-fit: the Bump N’ Grind Trail, located in Palm Desert R/C Raceway. Families will enjoy the shorter & slightly easier “Hike to the Cross,” which is accessed off of Thrush Road in Palm Desert. Then you’ve got further afield-trips, like stunning Ladder Canyon in Mecca, which we did as a family ~ in total, it’s a 6-mile trek, mainly flat.
I also love the “Top of the Cove” area in La Quinta for hiking; my friend & I routinely do the Boo Hoff trail, as well as the “Cove to Lake Cahuilla” trail, a good 6-mile out-and-back. For more info on all my favorite desert hikes, read this article that lists my top five favorite hikes in the desert.
- BIKE: In Palm Springs, you can enjoy a nice, flat bike ride around the Movie Colony era or Indian Canyons to view gorgeous mid-century modern homes (like in the photo below). Or you can rent an electric bike in La Quinta & head up to the top of the La Quinta Cove via a nice, paved pathway. Mountain bike enthusiasts can head out to challenging terrain such as Dunn Road in the Cathedral City Canyon, or Murray Hill.
This article gives you a more comprehensive list of ALL the best bike rides in the Palm Springs area.
- SPA: If you’re headed out to the desert for a girl’s getaway or bachelorette party, you may want to visit some of the area’s world-class spas. In this category, don’t rule out Desert Hot Springs, which has some of the best spas in the desert: such as juice-fasting haven We Care, or the popular hot springs at Two Bunch Palms (try their water massages here). In Palm Springs, the Parker has the biggest “WOW” factor spa, & it’s highly likely you’ll run into a celebrity or two. Two more good ones are The Well Spa at the Miramonte (which is very tranquil), & the La Quinta Resort Spa, where you can luxuriate in an outdoor bath, surrounded by citrus trees.
What to Do in Palm Springs
Where to Shop, Road Trip, & DINE
- SHOP: The most popular place to shop in Palm Springs is right along South Palm Canyon Drive, in the heart of Palm Springs. Here, you’ll find everything from Trina Turk to local boutiques, & amazing vintage stores (Joshua Tree also has some great ones). Another great shopping area is along El Paseo Drive in Palm Desert, which features everything from high-end art galleries to Tommy Bahamas, Anthropologie, & Chico’s. If you’re in La Quinta, check out the shops at Old Town La Quinta, which are mainly locally-owned, small boutiques.
- FIND MID-CENTURY MODERN HOMES: Palm Springs is renowned for its mid-century modern architecture, & is home to more mid-century homes than anywhere in the country. Take a drive around Indian Canyons Golf Course or the “Movie Colony” neighborhood in Palm Springs to find some….
- TAKE A MINI-ROADTRIP: Use Palm Springs as your base for exploring the greater desert area. Great road trips include heading out to adorable Pioneer Town & Joshua Tree, which is currently one of the most-visited National Parks in the country. If you love rainbows & the eclectic: head out to Salvation Mountain, which looks like Candy Land come to life. While you’re out there, check out the innovative & kooky housing of Slab City (some of the “houses” even look like space ships), made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book, “Into the Wild.”
- HAPPY HOUR & DINE: This post is running long, so I’m going to write a whole separate “Dining Guide” for Palm Springs! But here’s a quick list of some of the city’s most popular dining spots: Azucar, Las Casuelas Terraza, Lulu’s, The Barn Kitchen (at high-end Sparrows Lodge), Copley’s (for old-school charm), & the Rooster & Pig is consistently rated as one of the finest dining spots in town.
You can’t come to the desert without pretending you’re a member of the Rat Pack & tipping back a libation while listening to some groovy music: here’s a list of all my favorite happy hour spots in Palm Springs & beyond.
Best Things to Do in Palm Springs
Thanks for reading this article! If you have any questions about travel in Palm Springs, please reach out in the comments below…
Read Next: Best Pools for Laying Out in Palm Springs