Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide

One of the best things about Palm Springs is that when the rest of the world is bundled up & cold: you can almost always count on warm, sunny days in the desert.  Once you exit your plane at Palm Springs International Airport & feel that balmy breeze: you’ll know you’re in the desert.  And you’ll understand why its been a special getaway for Hollywood stars since the 1920’s.  I lived in the desert for seven years, & return every Christmas to visit my family…so I’m pretty familiar with the best things to do & places to see!  Here’s your “Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide…”

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Girl Who Travels the World

Driving through neighborhoods like Indian Canyons gives you images like this: vintage cars pulled up in front of gorgeous, mid-century modern homes.

Fast Facts About 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 carousel by the time you reach the terminal.  Renting a car here is easy ~ no shuttles necessary.  Just walk out the main doors, turn right, & you’ll find all rental agencies there. 
  • When is the Best Time to Visit Palm Springs?  Most blogs will tell you to visit between January & April, & these are indeed the busiest (& most expensive) months in the desert.  Weather is near-perfect during this time, ranging from the 70’s to 90’s ~ but hotels are busy & at peak prices.  What most blogs won’t tell you about are the shoulder months: November is a great time to visit the desert, if you like averages around 80 degrees (who doesn’t?!).  Thanksgiving Week is always crazy busy, but the rest of the month you’ll find lower prices.  My other favorite month in the desert is May.  Sure, temps are warming up to the 90’s, but that also means you get beautiful, balmy nights & warm breezes ~ plus hotels drop their prices. 

And yes, summertime is insanely hot: but if you’re an avid golfer, don’t rule it out ~ you can play some of the top courses for pennies on the dollar. 

Best Things to Do in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

Come & get your desert glow.

  • Special Events in the Desert:  Every January, the American Express Golf Classic comes to La Quinta. Stars like Gwen Stefani & Keith Urban have played in recent years ~ buy a ticket & watch your favorite pros hit the links.  Also in January is the world-renowned Palm Springs International Film Festival, which always draws major celebs & a line-up of stellar international movies.  Then, for the last two weeks in February, Modernism Week lands in Palm Springs, where you can tour some of the town’s most famous mid-century modern homes.  Every March, the BNP Paribas Open brings the world’s top tennis players to compete in Indian Wells: this is a fun one!  April is time for two of the world’s most famous music festivals: Coachella & Stagecoach; book WAY in advance, as hotels get crazy busy. 

And you may think nothing happens in the desert during summer ~ but you’d be wrong.  Check out Splash House, which brings DJ’s & EDM music to rotating pools in August….this is like a pool party on steroids.

Best Things to Do in Palm Springs

Where to Hike, Spa, Golf, Brunch, & Lay Out in Palm Springs 

  • LAY OUT: Chances are, your hotel will have an amazing pool (most in the desert do) ~ but some of my favorites are: the La Quinta Resort & Spa (they have about 35+ pools spread throughout their property), Tommy Bahama Miramonte Resort, Renaissance Esmeralda, & Margaritaville’s (the former Riviera) in Palm Springs. 

For a complete run-down of the best Palm Springs hotel pools, read this article.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Best Hotel Pools in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

For a party: head to the Ace Hotel pool. For relaxation: head to the La Quinta Resort or the Miramonte.

  • GOLF: Palm Springs is one of the premier golf destinations in the country ~ this is a perfect spot for a guy’s golf getaway. My parents’ live on one of PGA West’s top courses, & ALL DAY LONG, groups of guys come through, stoked to be playing such an iconic course. If you’re a serious golfer, I’d stay in La Quinta, which has some of the best courses in the world: like the PGA West Stadium Course, among many others.

Here’s my list of the best golf courses in the desert.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Best Golf Courses in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, Desert Willow

Desert Willow is one of the most perennially-popular golf courses in the desert, & offers two 18-hole tracks: Firecliff & Mountain View.

  • BRUNCH: Everybody’s got to eat ~ & in the desert, you can do it in style….al fresco. Some of the best brunch spots in Palm Springs include Wilma & Frieda’s, Cheeky’s, Spencer’s, & for old-school vibes, there’s Billy Reed’s. 

For a more complete list of Palm Springs brunch spots, click here.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Best Brunch Spots in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World, The Pink Cabana

The prettiest, most “Palm Springs” restaurant & a great place to brunch is The Pink Cabana restaurant at the Sands Hotel, in Indian Wells.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide

  • 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 destination for the super-fit: the Bump N’ Grind Trail, located in Palm Desert. Then you’ve got further afield-trips, like stunning Ladder Canyon in Mecca, or the lower part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which can be accessed up Highway 74 by Idyllwild.

If you want to hike with kids or dogs, read this article that lists my top five favorite hikes in the desert.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Best Day Hikes in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

The Hike to the Cross is a great family-friendly, dog-friendly hike located centrally in Palm Desert.

  • SIGHT-SEE: If you’re traveling with kids, the Living Desert is one of the most popular desert attractions, along with the Palm Desert Air Museum.  And of course, legendary Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ~ which takes you up to the top of the San Jacinto Mountains, giving you amazing views of the valley. There are several hikes you can do at the top, or simply enjoy a nice picnic lunch.  Another place that’s popular for photographers are the iconic Palm Springs windmills.  And for avid gardeners & history buffs: check out Moorten Botanical Gardens, or historic Sunnylands Estate & Gardens, a great place to soak in the history of Palm Springs.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Tips for Photo Shoots at Palm Springs Windmills, Girl Who Travels the World

The Palm Springs windmills are a great place for impromptu photo shoots.

  • SPA:  If you’re headed out to the desert for a bachelorette party, you may want to visit one of the area’s world-class spas. Don’t rule out Desert Hot Springs, which has some of the most famous spas in the desert: such as celebrity haunt & juice-fasting haven We Care, to the hot springs at adult’s-only Two Bunch Palms (they do amazing water massages here).  In Palm Springs, the Parker Palm Springs has the biggest “WOW” factor spa, & you may run into a celebrity here.  Another favorite is the La Quinta Resort Spa, where you can luxuriate in a foaming outdoor bath surrounded by fragrant citrus trees.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Girl Who Travels the World

Want to feel like a celebrity? Head to Yacht Club Spa at the Parker Palm Springs.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide

  • SHOP:  The two most popular, high-end places to shop in Palm Springs are along El Paseo in Palm Desert (where you can grab a tasty lunch at Tommy Bahamas), or right along South Palm Canyon Drive, in the heart of Palm Springs.  The shopping in Palm Springs tends to combine eclectic with high-end, while El Paseo is more just high-end.  If you’re in La Quinta, check out Old Town La Quinta

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Girl Who Travels the World

Visit quaint Old Town La Quinta for great shopping & restaurants with mountain views.

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 channel your inner “Mad Men“….

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Girl Who Travels the World, Mid-Century Modern Home

It’s typical for mid-century modern homes to paint their front doors a bold color…like this bright orange one.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Girl Who Travels the World, Mad Men“Mad Men” in Palm Springs.

  • MINI-ROADTRIP:  Use Palm Springs as your base for exploring the greater desert area.  Great road trips include heading out to western-themed Pioneer Town & Joshua Tree, which is currently one of the most-visited National Parks in the country. If you love c-o-l-o-r & rainbows: 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.” 

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, 20 Photos to Inspire Your Joshua Tree Trip, Girl Who Travels the World

Joshua Tree is only about an hour’s drive from Palm Springs, & gives you some of the most iconic scenery in the country. Bring along U2’s classic “Joshua Tree” album…

  • HAPPY HOUR: 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 my favorite happy hour spots in Palm Springs & beyond.

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Best Happy Hour Spots in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

For a sexy vibe & some of the finest craft cocktails in town, head to Bootlegger Tiki.

Where to Stay in Palm Springs…

When choosing a hotel in Palm Springs, the first question to ask is: should you stay in Palm Springs, or another desert city?  Palm Springs is the best choice for couples, as it has a plethora of romantic hotels.  It’s also great for girl’s getaways, with loads of shopping & great restaurants on Palm Canyon Drive.  For families, Rancho Mirage & Palm Desert are better choices.  Palm Springs is a more “adult” destination.  And if you’re headed to the desert for golf or just looking for relaxation: I’d stay in La Quinta or Indian Wells, which are quieter than Palm Springs, & where you’ll find the best golf in the desert. 

Ultimate Palm Springs Travel Guide, Girl Who Travels the World

The Korakia Pensione is such a romantic spot, it’s often booked for intimate wedding receptions…

  • Best Party “FUN” Hotels in Palm Springs:  Again, you’ve got lots of choices here: the Ace Hotel & its pool is one of the most well-known party spots in Palm Springs, as is the colorful Saguaro Hotel.  While ARRIVE Palm Springs is the newest & hippest kid on the block: a place to see & be seen.

Best Hotel Pools in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

The Saguaro Hotel is an Instagrammer’s DREAM with colorful umbrellas & a rainbow-colored building. Come for the pictures ~ stay for the party…

  • Best Hotels for Families: If you’re traveling with kids, stay in Palm Desert or Rancho Mirage ~ where you’ve got more kid-friendly options & some of the best pools for kids.  Like at the JW Marriott in Palm Desert, or the Omni Rancho Las Palmas in Rancho Mirage ~ which has slides for kids, waterfalls, & hidden jacuzzis for the adults…

Best Pools for Families in Palm Springs, Girl Who Travels the World

The Omni Rancho Las Palmas Hotel in Rancho Mirage.

For a complete run-down on my favorite Palm Springs hotels for families, read this article.