Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs

When you fly into Palm Springs, it’s a pretty easy decision whether to rent a car or not.  If you’re staying in a downtown hotel close to Palm Canyon Drive, such as Casa Cody, & simply want to lay out & shop the strip: then a car isn’t necessary.  If, on the other hand, you’re looking to golf, hike, or road trip out to places like Joshua Tree or Pioneertown: renting a car is a must.  In this “Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs,” I’ll tackle the most common questions & concerns you might have before renting a car here!

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs, Girl's Road Trip to Joshua Tree ~ Video Post, Girl Who Travels the World

 Renting a car in Palm Springs allows you to road trip out to Joshua Tree (pictured here), Pioneertown, the Palm Springs windmills, & colorful Salvation Mountain…

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

Driving around the Indian Canyons neighborhood in Palm Springs will let you see houses like this…

Check all car rental rates at Palm Springs International Airport here….

Overview of Palm Springs Car Rentals

Palm Springs car rental companies are listed below in order from highest customer satisfaction to least (i.e. National is the top-rated & Thrifty the least).  Rates can be as low as $25/day during the off-season, & run all the way up to $200+/day during season for an SUV or luxury car.

Bottom Line: If I was renting a car at Palm Springs International, I’d go with National or Alamo because of their high customer satisfaction ratings, the wide range of vehicles they offer, long hours, ease of returning the car, & friendliness of service. 

FAQ for Palm Springs Car Rentals

  • Do I Even Need to Rent a Car in Palm Springs? If you’re just in town for the weekend, & staying right off Palm Canyon, at hotels like the Del Marcos or the Kimpton Rowan: you most likely don’t need to rent a car. From most hotels in downtown Palm Springs, you can easily walk or Uber to your destinations ~ as long as you’re planning to stay right in town.  But, if you’re staying longer than three days, OR you really want to get out & explore places like Joshua Tree, get in some great desert hikes & golf: it will be much easier to rent a car.
  • What’s the Best Time of Day to Rent a Car at Palm Springs Airport (PSP)? Pretty much across-the-board, for all rental car companies at Palm Springs Airport: they’re busiest from 11AM-3PM.  Before & after that, it’s typically much quieter, & you’ll encounter fewer lines.  The early morning, from 6AM-9AM is by far the quietest time of day, but it’s also fairly quiet from 5PM-8PM as well.
  • How Far Do I Have to Walk to Car Rental Places at PSP? Not far at all.  If you’re flying into Palm Springs, all you need to do once you’ve exited Baggage Claim is walk across a few lanes of airport traffic (this is usually a very mellow airport), as all the car rental places are grouped together right near the terminal. 
  • What Kind of Cars Can I Rent? You can rent anything from a standard 4-door Honda to a cute little convertible, larger SUV’s, or even nicer vehicles like Range Rovers ~ especially from the higher-quality rental companies like National & Alamo.
  • How Hard is it to Drive in Palm Springs, & How Far are Popular Destinations? Compared to driving in cities like Los Angeles, driving around Palm Springs is a breeze.  Right in downtown Palm Springs, you’ve got to watch for pedestrians & bikers, so keep it slow around there ~ but once you’re past that area, the main desert thoroughfares are nice & wide, often have several lanes, & move pretty quickly.  You’ve also got the fast-moving I-10 Fwy if you’re headed to further out destinations like Joshua Tree (1-hour drive), Pioneertown (45-minutes), or Salvation Mountain (over an hour).  But if you’re driving to other desert cities like La Quinta (40-minutes) or Palm Desert (20-minutes), you can take popular Hwy 111 that runs thru all these cities ~ where speeds average between 45-55 MPH.  The Palm Springs Aerial Tram is a 10-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs, the Living Desert (a popular zoo) is a 25-minute drive, & the Shops at El Paseo are also about 25-minutes from Palm Springs.

Driving in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

This is a pretty typical shot of what it’s like driving on Hwy 111 in Palm Springs: nice, wide lanes & not much traffic.

  • Is it Better to Book Ahead, or Can I Just Book at Counter? I’ve rented cars all over the world, & it’s almost always better to rent a car in advance.  The price is better, & once you’re there in person ~ they know you need a car, & will typically charge more.  Plus, you don’t want to run into a situation where they’ve run out of cars, or run out of the car-type you need. 
  • Is it Easy to Return a Car at the Palm Springs Airport?  Because this airport is so small, returning a car is fairly straightforward: follow the signage towards “Car Rental Return,”  Pretty much all companies are grouped together ~ but National, Avis, & Budget all score the highest marks in terms of friendly employees & ease of check-out.
  • How Do I Avoid Getting Charged Any Excess Fees or for Damage, etc?  No matter where I am in the world, I always take photos of the car right when I pick it up, as I’m walking around with the service agent.  If there’s a spot with particular damage (i.e. a back fender, etc.), I take a zoomed-in photo of that spot, so that I will have clear, time-stamped evidence in case of any dispute.  Be sure to look inside the car as well, & note any odd smells (i.e. from smoking or pets), & have the agent make note of it on their form.  Beyond that, all you’ll typically need to worry about is returning the car with the same amount of gas ~  there are plenty of gas stations in Palm Springs to fill up at prior to returning the car. 
  • Who Should I Book the Car Through?  I have a special relationship with Discover Cars via my website, & so I would recommend booking with them via this link.  For instance, I just looked up car rental rates in Palm Springs for next week on Discover Cars vs. Kayak.  Renting an SUV on Discover Cars for one week cost $37/day, vs. on Kayak it was a whopping $120/day!!!  The savings for a one-week trip would be nearly $600!! 

So by all means, do your own research: but I think you’ll find that Discover Cars is hard to beat.

 Road Trip Adventures by Palm Springs…

Here’s a partial list of adventures you can have with a car in the desert….from Joshua Tree & golf courses in La Quinta, to candy-colored Salvation Mountain, which is about an hour east of Palm Springs.

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs, 20 Photos to Inspire Your Joshua Tree Trip, Girl Who Travels the World

Joshua Tree offers up great backdrops for photos, & a plethora of hiking trails.

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs, 20 Photos to Inspire Your Joshua Tree Trip, Girl Who Travels the World

And sunsets in Joshua Tree are spectacular….

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

Pioneertown is en route to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs, & makes for a great pitstop & photo op…

Check out video of a girl’s road trip to Joshua Tree & Pioneertown….

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs, Best Golf Courses in La Quinta & Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

If you’re staying in Palm Springs, but playing golf at spots like PGA West: you’ll likely need a car. Ubers are harder to get the further east you go in the valley…

Top Five Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Bump N Grind Trail

VIEWS from the Bump N Grind trail in Palm Desert.

For detailed info & photos of the Bump-n-Grind hiking trail, read this article.

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs, Best Day Hikes by Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, San Jacinto

And views from the VERY top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tram: the city’s #1 tourist attraction. 

Rental Car Guide for Palm Springs, Tips for Photo Shoots at Palm Springs Windmills, Girl Who Travels the World

The windmills are just a short 10-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs. (And yes ~ my friend Chelsey photo-shopped in that dramatic pink sky!) This is a great place to take family photos.

For tips on how to get to the Palm Springs windmills, where to park, & where to get the best shots: click here.

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs, Ultimate Guide to Visiting Salvation Mountain, Girl Who Travels the World

And finally, there’s NO way to reach Salvation Mountain without a car….you may be stranded out in Slab City otherwise!

Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs

More Bottom Line: In Palm Springs, I’d go with National or Alamo as my top choices for car rentals ~ particularly as most companies will be within a few dollars of each other price-wise.  If you want to rent a car for more than a month, you’ll likely save money by renting thru Costco ~ but I’d still check with Discover Cars for a good comparison of rates.

xoxo Noelia 

Read Next: Best Retro Chic Hotels in Palm Springs

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Tips for Renting a Car in Palm Springs, California, Girl Who Travels the World