Whether you like the great outdoors, shopping, spas or fine dining, Palm Springs has plenty of options for visitors. See a couple of the best sights if you’re here for a short time, or plan more of a must-see list for longer visits.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car and it ferries you up from the desert floor to the top of Mt San Jacinto for a bird’s eye view over the Coachella Valley.
The ten minute trip is inside sealed tram cars which rotate slowly, offering picturesque views of the valley floor below. Once you reach the Mountain Station — elevation 8,516 feet— enjoy two restaurants, observation decks, natural history museum, two theaters, a gift shop and over 50 miles of hiking trails.
Dine at the Peaks Restaurant for fine cuisine, get a snack at Pines Cafe or have a cocktail at the Lookout Lounge.
The Living Desert
About 20 minutes east of the city of Palm Springs is Palm Desert where you’ll find the Living Desert. Part botanical gardens, part zoo, this unique attraction is great for both adults and kids. Stroll the grounds and enjoy the plants, flowers, and cacti. Watch the desert animals and be sure to check the schedule at the gate for feeding times, and to see what’s on at the wildlife rehabilitation hospital. You might catch the veterinarians tending to a tiger with a toothache, a tortoise with a paw problem or just an annual checkup on previous patient.
El Paseo shopping district
During your visit to Palm Desert make time for El Paseo, the main shopping and commercial district in Palm Desert. It’s lined with high end designer stores from Vuitton to Tiffany but there’s also plenty for the budget shopper too. Walk the wide boulevard and find your way to Tommy Bahama where you’ll want to order a few appetizers and share them like tapas. The food is absolutely delicious and the service is impeccable. Plus the outdoor patio on the second storey lets you enjoy people watching and views.
Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert
With full bellies, it’s a nice 15-20 minute walk down El Paseo to the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert. Thanks to a donor, admission here is free, and the ever-changing art collection is interesting and fun. Don’t miss the sculpture garden out back with the cooling shade of palm trees and a waterfall. The collection is much different than the museum in Palm Springs, and the garden is a nice extra.
Palm Springs Art Museum
By some museum standards this one may be small, but there’s actually lots to see here. With exhibits ranging from modernism, to Native American, painting to sculpture and modern art too, there’s a great and surprising variety of art.
Located steps off the main road in downtown Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Art Museum‘s collection is loaned or donated by the area’s well-off residents. The museum’s collection rivals urban metropolitan museums, and includes works from Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Ansel Adams.
Desert Hills Premium Outlets
About 20 minutes west of Palm Springs is the Desert Hills Premium Outlets. For many visitors the amazing shopping experience here is definitely in the Top 10 Things to do in Palm Springs.
From experience I can say that spending 4-6 hours here is not unreasonable. There’s just so many stores. Pick a friend who’s as into shopping as you are and plan to spend at least half a day hopping from shop to shop. There’s a wealth of choice, and a whole section of premium luxury brands.
If vintage shopping is more your speed, read this guide to vintage shopping in Palm Springs.
Top 10 things to do in Palm Springs
Coachella Valley Preserve /Thousand Palm Oasis
Tucked out in the desert north of Highway 10, this large grove of palm trees has cropped up around a watering hole that’s gurgled to the surface thanks to the San Andreas Fault. Towering palm trees encircle the water, and while the ground is swampy in some places, boardwalks and pathways will lead you safely through.
The oasis is definitely a must-see in our Top 10 things to do in Palm Springs, and it’s an ideal visit on a hot sunny day, as the palm trees provide shade from the scorching desert heat.
In several places, the palms part to reveal vast expanses of desert sand. You’ll feel like Lawrence of Arabia traversing the Sahara in this gorgeous oasis which is free to visit. A small visitor center displays old photographs and artifacts, as well as some history of this place.
The oasis is about a 20-25 minute drive from Palm Springs. You can plan an hour-long visit just to see the oasis itself, or stay a little longer, and hike one of the numerous trails through the area.
Joshua Tree Park
This world famous park is known for its intense concentration of Joshua trees; which are found only in a few locales in the world; all of them in the continental USA.
The Joshua tree looks like a cactus, a deciduous tree and some type of dead wood all merged into one outlandish plant.
There are a few ways to see the park. Stop at one of the visitor centers on either the north or south end and grab a map, then drive yourself. You can also ditch the car and hike or bike to any number of cool viewpoints, natural wonders, or even out to one of several abandoned mine sites.
Some of my personal favorite things to see in the park are Skull Rock. As the name suggests is a giant skull shaped rock formation that makes for excellent photos. The Cholla Cactus Garden is an amazing (and short) quarter mile loop that will take you through a menacingly spiny field of cacti. Keys View is worth the drive to get a glimpse of the break in the earth known as the San Andreas fault line. On a very clear day, you might be able to see Mexico.
Another fun way to experience the park is with a guided small group hike. Read more about that here.
Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Canyon Drive is the ‘main drag’ in Palm Springs. Loaded with shops, restaurants and services, it’s a great place to stroll, shop and find a meal.
The area between E Vista Chino and Alejo is known as the Design District, and here you’ll find all kinds of furniture and designer shops, all with a mod twist.
South of Alejo down to Ramon is where the bulk of the action is.
See Modernist homes & architecture
The desert modern architecture is one of the draws here, and it’s even got it’s own annual event – Modernism Week. It’s easy enough to see the homes and modernist buildings on your own. Check out our rare access to an iconic Palm Springs Home in this post. Or take your own self guided Palm Springs Door Tour, our take on a popular local event that lets you see cool homes and their vibrant and colourful doors. (Download our e-book here)
Whatever you want to see, modernism is definitely one of the Top 10 things to do in Palm Springs.
Coachella Music Festival – Empire Polo Club, Indio
It’s the sight of the world famous Coachella Music Festival, and truth be told, there’s not much to see at the Empire Polo Club in Indio if the concert is not on. Unless of course there’s polo happening. You can see the massive site if you want to, though it’s probably better to come when the festival is on. There is a really great restaurant on site that’s open year round if you’re out this way.
There are so many more amazing sights in Palm Springs. If you have something you think we should add to this list, or otherwise share with visitors, let us know in comments below.