The desert city of Palm Springs in Southern California is known for its hot springs, lavish spa hotels, vast golf courses, and of course, the world-famous Coachella Valley festival.
However, there is a highly diverse range of things to do in Palm Springs and the surrounding areas. From hiking in the iconic desert landscape to fantastic attractions like the aerial tramway and culture-rich museums, Palm Springs makes the perfect place for a weekend getaway. Read on to discover what to do in Palm Springs all year round.
What to Do in Palm Springs
This list of Palm Springs attractions features something for every traveler, including natural wonders, scenic views, cultural activities, and a splash of relaxation and pampering. Keep in mind too that some activities are in the greater Palm Springs area including Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, Coachella, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, Indian Wells, and La Quinta. There are all easy to access and worth visiting with a car.
Stroll down Palm Canyon Drive
You can miss spending some time on this famous street while visiting Palm Springs. Lined with palm trees on either side that frame the mountains as the backdrop, it’s not only pleasing to the eye but a pleasure to walk down too. It’s here that you’ll find an abundance of restaurants, shopping, historic buildings, and galleries. Not to mention the Palm Springs sign too.
You’ll also spot part of the Palm Springs Walk of Stars on Palm Canyon Drive that extends onto Tahquitz Canyon Way and Museum Drive. Famous stars such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, former presidents, plus many, many more have stars here.
Take a scenic ride on the Aerial Tramway
The impressive Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the largest rotating tram car worldwide, traveling over 2.5 miles through the wilderness along Chino Canyon from Coachella Valley to San Jacinto Peak. The scenic rides last around 10 minutes, and during this time, the tramcar rotates slowly to give 360-degree views.
Once you arrive at Mountain Station at the top, you can enjoy even more breathtaking views 8,516 feet above sea level. There is plenty to do here before heading back down, such as enjoying a meal or drinks with a view at one of the two restaurants or strolling through the natural history museum. There are also various observation decks, allowing you to get different perspectives over the desert and over 50 miles of trails to hike and explore.
The Aerial Tramway operates from 10 am to 9:30 pm Monday to Friday and 8 am to 9:30 pm Saturday and Sunday. If you’re in Palm Springs for a few days, I recommend going once during the day and at night as they give totally different experiences.
Go on a Bike and Hike Adventure in Indian Canyons
Indian Canyon is one of the most scenic areas around Palm Springs, consisting of a group of canyons, palm groves, unusual rock formations, and the perennial Andreas Creek. However, this area is not just beautiful but also highly sacred as the Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
The best way to explore the canyons is via hiking and biking. You can book a 10-mile group Bike and Hike Tour, where your guide will take you to the best spots and teach you a bit about the area’s history.
The trip begins from central Palm Springs, where you’ll cycle through historic neighborhoods to the Indian Canyons. You’ll then stop off at some of the best sights to explore on foot, including Andreas Canyon.
Explore the desert on an Open-Air Jeep Tour
Although hiking and biking are peaceful and pleasant ways to explore Palm Springs, you can cover more ground in a 4WD. On The San Andreas Fault Open-Air Jeep Tour, a local guide will take you through a large part of the California desert. You’ll also learn about the area’s history and insights into native plants, animals, and geology as you explore.
The tour departs from Metate Ranch reserve in Palm Springs and you’ll travel out to the active earthquake fault system to see the unique landscape it has created. You’ll also visit a natural oasis and walk through ancient canyons while learning about how these natural wonders came to be and how the Cahuilla Indians were able to survive and thrive here.
Relax at a Hot Springs Spa
The unique geology of Palm Springs means several mineral springs flow beneath the surface around the region. These are pumped into the spas in the town, allowing visitors to enjoy a long soak in the hot mineral waters after a day of hiking and exploring.
Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel is one of the most popular natural mineral water resorts. However, you don’t have to stay the night here to soak up the healing benefits as you can buy a day pass instead that gives access to the spa’s eight natural hot mineral water pools. Azule Palms is another excellent option should you want to treat yourself to a day or overnight package at a luxurious hot spring spa.
Hike Tahquitz Canyon
Venture on this hike to see a 60-foot waterfall that is a welcomed sight after a tough hike. Though this trail will have you climbing up boulders and is tough in the sense of elevation it is short in distance. The loop trail is 1.7 miles (2.7 km) with 350 feet of elevation and is one of the best hikes in Palm Springs. Take off for the hike from the visitor center on your own or join a ranger-led hike.
Visit Palm Springs Art Museum
One of the most popular Palm Springs attractions is the Palm Springs Art Museum in the city center. The museum, founded in 1938, is an artistic cultural center with several temporary exhibitions and permanent collections.
The artwork ranges from native American to modern and contemporary, along with the recently added architecture and design collection. The center also puts on performing arts, music, and dance events.
If you’re in town on a Thursday, you can take advantage of the free museum admission from 5:00 to 7:00 pm every Thursday evening. And don’t miss the gorgeous outdoor sculpture museum, too!
Watch the sunset at Coachella Valley Vista Point
One of the most iconic Palm Springs activities is seeing the sunset at Coachella Valley Vista Point. This observation point is about five miles up Hwy 74 and about 30-minutes from Palm Springs city center. The drive is incredibly scenic as the road turns into a winding incline through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains.
The view from the vista point is marvelous any time of the day, but the spot gives one of the best sunsets in the region. For that reason, I recommend planning your visit to this viewpoint just before the sun starts going down. There are plenty of parking spaces, and you can walk onto some rocky parts to get a better view.
If you can’t make it for sunset, it’s still worth visiting during the day. You can then continue to Pines Scenic Byway for even more spectacular desert vistas.
Go hiking in Mount San Jacinto State Park
Mt San Jacinto State Park is just a one-hour drive from Palm Springs and a must-visit on the way to or from the desert town. The state park is situated within the Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains, resulting in incredibly scenic vistas.
One of the most popular hiking trails is the moderately challenging 6.7-mile (10.8 km) Suicide Rock via Deer Springs Trail, which leads to the 7510 ft peak. Or, for experienced hikers looking for a demanding but rewarding trek, tackle the San Jacinto Trail. The 10.5-mile (16.9-km) route starts from the tramway and first passes Miller Peak before the final climb to the vast 10,834 ft mountain. Whichever you choose, always remember to bring plenty of water, it is the desert after all!
Take a day trip to Joshua Tree
Another of the most popular places to visit in Palm Springs is the nearby Joshua Tree National Park. This well-known park is less than an hour’s drive from Palm Springs and has enough incredible sights to keep you occupied for a whole day or more.
Joshua Tree is best known for its giant boulders and fascinating rock art with highlights that include the skull-shaped rock formation, the stunning Cholla Cactus Garden, and Keys View viewpoint. There are also many fantastic hikes, such as the trails in Cottonwood Spring and climbing opportunities at Arch Rock for the daredevils.
Hike or drive Painted Canyon Road in Mecca Hills
Another excellent attraction close to Palm Springs that is well worth checking out is the Painted Canyon Road. You’ll find it in Mecca Hills, about a one-hour drive south of Palm Springs. Painted Canyon Road is a loop of high-walled canyons featuring naturally colored rocks.
The area results from the San Andreas Fault, with a spectacular canvas of Pink, red, gray, brown, and green hues on the canyon walls. You can see the 9.4-mile road either via 4WD or by foot; however, there are some narrow parts that you can only reach by walking. Don’t miss Ladder Canyon, where ladders are placed along walls, enabling hikers to climb up to the dry waterfalls.
Check out Moorten Botanical Garden
While you’re visiting Palm Canyon Drive take a peek into the privately-owned botanical garden that is home to thousands of varieties of cacti and other desert plants. Housed together, not only will you find plants from the desert landscape you’re visiting, but also from other states and around the globe. Types of plants from Texas, Arizona, South Africa, and even South America are combined for a beautiful display. If you find one you like you may even be able to take it home as some are for sale on-site.
Check out the quirky Robolights Sculpture Yard
If you’re someone who looks for the most quirky attractions wherever they go, a trip to Robolights is a must. Robolights is a unique but highly creative sculpture yard and light show on Granvia Valmonte in Palm Springs city center. Here you will find 2 acres of giant robots, aliens, and dinosaur sculptures painted in vibrant colors and lit with Christmas-style fairy lights.
It’s a strange concoction of robots, sci-fi, and holiday themes and definitely not an attraction you would expect to find here. Even so, it’s so bizarre and fascinating that you should definitely stop by while in town. You can go inside for a self-guided tour any day between 9 am and 5 pm, or you can view it from the outside at night when it is lit up.
Palm Springs FAQs
The best time to visit Palm Springs is from January to April when the weather is the most pleasant. Head to Palm Springs in April if you want to combine your trip with the famous Coachella Valley Festival.
Summer, which stretches from May to September, is usually too hot for most people. However, Palm Springs has a dry heat rather than a humid one, so visiting during this time is still possible. If you want to avoid the crowds, summer or the shoulder seasons would be your best bet.
As Palm Springs is a 2 to 3-hour drive from Los Angeles and San Diego, it is possible to take a day trip here. However, to see all the sights at a relaxed pace, it’s recommended to stay one or two nights in Palm Springs or nearby. Three days is ideal as you can then spend one day in the nearby Joshua Tree.