Despite being in the middle of the desert, Palm Springs has a surprising array of activities and entertainment offerings. You can bike through canyons, explore the desert in a 4WD, ride a rotating tramcar up a mountain, and much more at this California tourist destination.
What makes Palm Springs even more popular is its accessibility. It’s an easy 2 to 3-hour drive from Los Angeles and San Diego for those already in California. Or, if you’re coming from out of state, you can fly into Palm Springs airport from over 30 airports across the US and Canada.
A weekend in Palm Springs makes for a fun, easy, and memorable trip, particularly if you’re looking to escape the winter in a colder location. Read on to discover the ultimate itinerary for spending an epic weekend in this desert city.
How many days do you need in Palm Springs? Is a weekend enough?
A weekend in Palm Springs is certainly long enough and, in fact, is one of the most popular trip lengths. On a weekend trip to Palm Springs, you can see all the top sights, such as Indian Canyons, Mt San Jacinto State Park, and the Aerial Tramway. However, if you stay for three days, you’ll also be able to fit in a trip to the nearby Joshua Tree.
One Day in Palm Springs
On the first day of your Palm Springs itinerary, visit the attractions closest to town in the morning, such as the famous Aerial Tramway and Palm Springs Art Museum. Then spend the afternoon exploring the nearby Indian Canyons.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
One of the most popular things to do in Palm Springs is to take a scenic tram ride in the unique rotating tramcar that travels up San Jacinto Peak. Once you arrive in Palm Springs, head straight here to avoid the midday crowds.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway holds the title of the largest rotating tram car worldwide. During the 10-minute ride, you’ll travel 2.5 miles through the wilderness and up to the mountain as the tramcar slowly rotates to give 360-degree views of the region.
You’ll find the tramway at the end of Tramway Road (the turn-off at Palm Springs Visitors Center). The tramcar takes you up to Mountain Station, 8,516 feet above sea level. Here, check out the observation decks, follow one of the short hiking trails, then enjoy a tasty brunch at one of the restaurants.
Palm Springs Art Musem
After you’ve made it back down, head back into town and travel south down Palm Canyon Drive until you arrive at the Palm Springs Art Museum. This 1938 building is one of the most important venues in Palm Springs, serving as an artistic, cultural center that showcases local talent.
The museum has both permanent collections and several temporary exhibitions. You’ll find a wide range of artwork here, from Native American to contemporary, to architecture to design. There is also an excellent outdoor sculpture museum and a small hiking trail behind the museum. The center also puts on performing arts, music, and dance events, so while here, it’s worth checking if any exciting shows are running during your stay.
Tahquitz Canyon & Falls
You don’t have to go far from the museum to find the next attraction; the natural wonder of Tahquitz Canyon. This canyon on the outskirts of town is home to a seasonal 60-foot waterfall, intriguing rock art, ancient irrigation systems, and many native wildlife and plants.
To reach the waterfall, you’ll need to follow a short 1.8-mile trail there and back. Although it’s suitable for most people, there is a 350 feet elevation gain. In addition, some parts are rocky and slippery, so ensure you wear proper hiking shoes. Or, if you prefer, you can join one of the Ranger Led Interpretive Hikes. Check the current timetable at the Visitor’s Center.
Before heading off for your afternoon excursion, fill your belly in one of the fab eateries in town. You’ll find everything from Homestyle American fare to Mexican to Italian.
After refueling, take a short 4-mile drive south to another famous Palm Springs travel destination, Indian Canyons. This scenic area consists of three canyons, numerous palm groves, tons of unusual rock formations, and the perennial Andreas Creek.
There are three popular ways to explore the canyons; on foot, by mountain bike, or via 4WD. If you like to keep fit, you’ll enjoy exploring the area by hiking or biking. However, if you want to conserve your energy or see more in a short time, combine walking with driving on an Indian Canyons 4WD Hiking Tour.
You’ll travel around in a jeep on this tour as your guide points out rock formations, fan palms, and some of the 150 plant species here. You’ll also learn about the historical culture of the Cahuilla Indians and will take a short hike up Andreas Canyon.
Two Days in Palm Springs
Spend day two of your Palm Springs getaway hiking in Mecca Hills, Santa Rosa, and San Jacinto. Finish the day with an epic sunset, followed by an evening relaxing at a hot springs spa.
Painted Canyon Road in Mecca Hills
Grab breakfast in town before driving east to Mecca Hills, approximately one hour from Downtown Palm Springs. The most visited attraction here is the Painted Canyon Road, which is 9.4-miles of colorful canyon walls due to the San Andreas Fault.
You can only drive along this scenic road with a 4WD, so park up and embark on a morning hike through the high-walled canyons. One of the highlights of this road is Ladder Canyon. Here, ladders have been placed along canyon walls, enabling hikers to climb up to the dry waterfalls for an additional adventure.
Hiking the entire road will take around 4 hours, so feel free to shorten your walk and save your energy for your afternoon adventure.
Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains
From Mecca Hills, embark on the 50-minute drive to the afternoon attraction, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. Stop off for lunch in Palm Desert on the way, so you can refuel before heading into the mountains.
Although you could easily spend a whole day hiking in these mountain ranges, I recommend choosing just one trail for this afternoon. A top choice is the 5.1-mile (8.2-km) Horsethief Creek trail, located close to the Cahuilla Tewanet Vista Point. The intermediate course takes around 2 hours out and back and leads to the serene creek crossing, a true oasis in the desert.
Coachella Valley Vista Point
Before leaving the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain ranges, stop at the well-known Coachella Valley Vista Point on Hwy 74. This observation point gives some of the best vistas in the region and is absolutely magical at sunset.
Although it’s a popular sunset spot, it’s easy to find some privacy here as there are many rocky parts you can walk out onto. Enjoy the changing hues in the sky illuminating the wilderness, and then head back to Downtown Palm Springs for dinner.
Desert Hot Springs Spa
After dinner, drive to Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel in North Palm Springs for a relaxing evening soaking in the naturally warm water. The region of Palm Springs is full of mineral springs flowing beneath the surface, and many are pumped into hotel spas like this one.
Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel offers a day pass for travelers to experience the healing properties of the mineral springs in their eight natural hot water pools. However, note that it closes at 8 pm, so if you’re short on time, come here before going for dinner. What’s more, there is often live music on weekend evenings, creating a fun yet chilled ambiance.
Three Days in Palm Springs
If you visit Palm Springs for three days, use the final day to take an adventure in the San Andreas Fault before checking out the famous Joshua Tree National Park. I would recommend ending your trip to Joshua Tree for a full day or even 2 though if you can!
Earthquake Canyon Bicycle Adventure in Palm Desert
The San Andreas Fault line extends roughly 1,200 kilometers through California, including the Palm Desert region. It features numerous geological formations, which you can see firsthand on the Earthquake Canyon Express Downhill Bicycle Adventure.
On this 4-hour tour, you’ll cycle through the San Andreas Fault, passing California grape country and Coachella valley. The ride follows a quiet backcountry road, which is all downhill, so it is suitable for all levels of riders.
You’ll ride downhill for a total of 20-miles (32 km) from Palm Desert to Mecca, descending 1200 feet. Here, you’ll finish the tour with a visit to the Oasis Date Gardens for one of their famous date shakes. Afterward, stop off in Coachella for lunch before your final afternoon in Palm Springs.
Joshua Tree National Park
The southern entrance of Joshua Tree is just a 30-minute drive from Coachella but over an hour to the main attractions. There is so much to see and do here but stick to the top few highlights as time is limited.
First, take a short stroll through the 10-acre Cholla Cactus Garden, the prickliest part of the park! Then, drive to the trailhead of the iconic sandstone formation, Skull Rock. Here, follow the easy 1.7-mile loop trail to reach the rock, which takes no longer than an hour both ways. Next, drive to Hidden Valley and follow the short 1-mile Hidden Valley Nature Trail.
Finally, conclude your trip by witnessing a magnificent sunset at Keys View. You can drive right up to this viewpoint, which takes around 15 minutes from Hidden Valley. You can see all the way out to Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley from this vista point. You’re presented with the perfect opportunity to reflect on your unforgettable weekend as you watch the sun going down.
Where to Stay in Palm Springs
Downtown Palm Springs is one of the best places to stay in Palm Springs, particularly for those visiting for the first time. The city center is an excellent base as you are close to many restaurants, bars, clubs, and stores. In addition, many fab attractions are close by, such as Palm Springs Art Museum, Tahquitz Canyon, and the Aerial Tramway. Here are three of the top hotels in Downtown Palm Springs.
- Kimpton Rowan is a trendy hotel with an outdoor pool, sun terrace, and a restaurant with patio dining. You can choose between mountain or city views in your suite and upgrade to a balcony if you wish.
- Holiday House boasts an outdoor pool with hot tub, a restaurant and bar with outdoor dining areas, and gorgeous landscaped gardens. The blue interior design creates a cooling ambiance amidst the dry heat, and all rooms have comfy beds with stylish bedding.
- Avance Hotel is an adults-only accommodation with fab facilities, such as an outdoor pool, barbecue, hot tub, and complimentary bike rentals. The rooms have pool views, large comfy beds, lounge areas, and small patios.