12 Best Things to Do in Palm Springs, CA (with Photos)

Blessed with year-round warm weather and bright blue skies, Palm Springs has long been a popular holiday destination. The sun-kissed city was once a favorite haunt of Hollywood stars in the 50s and 60s, and now attracts hikers, hipsters, families, retirees and LGBTQI+ travelers.

Surrounded by the Sonoran Desert, the city is set in a scenic spot with four different mountain ranges rising up around it. As such, it has incredible scenery and nature for visitors to explore. Hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are all popular things to do in Palm Springs.

There are some fantastic museums and modern architecture to check out, and life in the city revolves around the lively Palm Canyon Drive. With so many tourist attractions, Palm Springs is the perfect place to both relax and unwind, or explore the great outdoors.

12. Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway

© dreamstime

Alexander Estate is known for being the serene and secluded spot where Elvis and Priscilla Presley spent their honeymoon. Located just five minutes drive northwest of downtown, the beautiful building is very interesting to explore, thanks to its unique layout and connection to The King.

Nicknamed the ‘House of Tomorrow’, the estate is an excellent example of mid-century modernism with its three floors all being circular in shape. It was this intriguing aesthetic that attracted the Presleys—the couple also lived here between 1966 and 1967.

Perfectly restored to its original 1960s splendor, its interior boasts an delightful Art Deco design with funky furnishings and panoramic views over the mountains and valley.

11. North Palm Canyon Drive

North Palm Canyon Drive© dreamstime

The main place to go out in the city, North Palm Canyon Drive is lined by countless shops, restaurants, art galleries, and attractions. Running its way right through the center of town, it has everything you could ever want and more, thanks to its endless entertainment options.

To the north of Palm Springs, the road takes you through pristine desert before suddenly turning onto the city’s main thoroughfare, which is bordered by tall palms and bustling businesses. Here you can find numerous museums and theaters with interesting historic sights and attractive architecture.

Besides visiting its innumerable establishments and taking in its lively ambience, locals and tourists alike can enjoy VillageFest—the weekly street market which takes place along the drive.

10. Idyllwild

Idyllwild© dreamstime

Lying an hour’s drive southwest of the city you can find the community of Idyllwild, a popular mountain retreat town. Perfect for a quiet and peaceful getaway, it offers all kinds of epic outdoor activities.

Nestled amidst the San Jacinto Mountains, the small town is surrounded by pines and cedars with incredible formations, such as Tahquitz and Suicide Rock rising up around it. Due to this it attracts hikers, mountain bikers, and rock climbers with many artists and musicians also residing in town.

In addition to exploring its scenic surroundings and basking in its beautiful views, visitors can take in its small town look and feel. Cozy cafes and local restaurants line its laidback streets.

9. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens© dreamstime

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens can be found twenty minutes drive to the southeast of the city center. Sprawling across a huge area, its amazing animals and exhibits shine a light on desert ecosystems from Africa, North America and Australasia.

Established in 1970 as a wilderness preserve, its scope has expanded considerably with over five hundred animals now residing amidst its sun-scorched confines. Aside from bobcats and badgers, you can also spot cheetahs, hyenas, and mountain lions, with elegant giraffes and ungainly ostriches also on show.

There are also gorgeous gardens to explore with some focusing on cacti and palms, and others on the landscapes and flora of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.

8. Palm Springs Air Museum

Palm Springs Air Museum© dreamstime

Home to a massive collection of military aircraft, the fantastic Palm Springs Air Museum is located just ten minutes drive east of downtown, right next to the airport. In its huge hangars you can find fascinating artifacts and exhibits that focus on the role pilots and planes played in winning WWII.

Founded in 1996, the museum now boasts one of the biggest and best collections of flying World War II warplanes in the world. Aside from strolling around its forty or so glinting jets and climbing inside a hulking great bomber, you can also occasionally watch flight demonstrations overhead.

In addition, it also has innumerable flight related artworks and exhibitions, as well as a fun simulator, and a movie theater where you can watch educational films.

7. Coachella Valley Preserve

Coachella Valley Preserve© dreamstime

Encompassing a vast swathe of desert, mountains, and even wetlands, the Coachella Valley Preserve is an incredible place to explore. Set just twenty minutes drive to the east of Downtown Palm Springs, it has countless outdoor activities on offer.

Popular with locals and tourists alike, the preserve was established to protect the natural habitat of the endemic and endangered Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard. This small, camouflaged critter can sometimes be spied among the sand dunes of the endless Inigo Hills and Sonoran Desert.

Visitors can hike, mountain bike or horseback ride along its 30 miles of trails, which also take you to lush oases and verdant wetland ecosystems.

6. VillageFest

VillageFest© dreamstime

Every Thursday evening, part of Palm Canyon Drive is closed off to cars and hundreds of vendors set up stands and stalls for the colorful and chaotic VillageFest. The weekly street market has a party atmosphere with live music taking place and amazing entertainers and artists.

Founded in 1991 the VillageFest was a way to draw people to downtown, and the vibrant market is a firm favorite with both locals and tourists. It now impressively has more than two hundred vendors with fresh food stalls next to stands selling clothes, jewellery, and artwork.

In addition to enjoying its unique ambience and brilliant buskers, many nearby businesses also stay open later or offer enticing deals with admission to the Art Museum being free on Thursday nights.

5. Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon© dreamstime

Just a stone’s throw from Palm Canyon Drive is Tahquitz Canyon. Nestled amidst the San Jacinto Mountains, it has a two mile trail loop to hike along, with a radiant waterfall to be found at its end.

For millennia, the canyon has been one of the most sacred sites of the Cahuilla people with the area playing an important role in one of their creation myths. At its entrance there is an interesting visitor center that has artifacts and exhibits on both the people and the canyon.

The highlight though is definitely the Tahquitz Falls which tower 60 feet in height and lie hidden among the canyon’s craggy confines.

4. Palm Springs Art Museum

Palm Springs Art Museum© dreamstime

One of Palm Springs’s standout attractions is undoubtedly the brilliant Palm Springs Art Museum right in the center of town. Home to a huge collection of artworks, it boasts everything from paintings and photos to ceramics and sculptures, and regularly hosts concerts, plays, and dance performances.

Originally housed in just a small room, the museum now occupies a large building just off of Palm Canyon Drive. As well as art, it also has sections dedicated to archaeology, natural science, and Native American artifacts. In addition to all the fascinating fossils and fine arts on display, there are also two outdoor sculpture gardens to explore.

Since opening in 1938, the museum has delighted countless generations and always has something new going on, thanks to its packed schedule of theater plays and music performances.

3. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park© dreamstime

Located just under an hour’s drive to the east of Palm Springs is one of the most majestic landscapes in the Southwest. Set at the spot where the Colorado and Mojave Deserts meet, Joshua Tree National Park is a treat to explore.

Amidst its vast swathes of wilderness are magnificent mountains and canyons with impressive and unusual rock formations. The park’s most distinctive feature though are the striking silhouettes of the tree-like yuccas for which it is named.

Aside from hiking and mountain biking along its scenic trails, visitors can camp or rock climb with great wildlife viewing also on offer. In addition, there are phenomenal views and photos to be had of the Joshua Trees standing out delightfully against the desert all around them.

2. Indian Canyons

Indian Canyons© dreamstime

Much closer to town you can find the awe-inspiring Indian Canyons, a popular place to visit in Palm Springs. Situated just ten minutes drive south of the center, the three canyons lie nestled amidst the San Jacinto Mountains and offer picture-perfect scenery and views.

Part of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians reservation, the craggy canyons have epic trails for visitors to hike or horseback ride along amidst the local flora and fauna. Aside from rocky gorges and desert landscapes, you’ll also come across pretty streams and waterfalls, and the largest grove of California Fan Palms in the world.

At the area’s visitor centre you can learn all about the history, culture, and heritage of the Cahuilla and even buy Native American artworks, jewellery, and pottery as souvenirs.

1. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway© dreamstime

When in town, no visit can ever be complete without going for a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The largest rotating cable car of its kind in the world, it boasts breathtaking views as it lifts you almost to the top of the towering San Jacinto Peak.

Since opening in 1963, the aerial tramway has been the city’s most popular tourist attraction and it is easy to see why. Rising 8,517 feet in height, it takes you from the sun-scorched desert floor right up into the chilly mountain climes in a mere twelve minutes.

Besides taking in the beautiful views, you can hike amidst the stunning scenery, enjoy a meal in the mountaintop restaurant or learn how the tramway was built through historical displays and films.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *