Palm Springs is a place where people go on vacation. It is in the Sonoran Desert and is surrounded by four mountain ranges.
The resort city is only a three-hour drive from San Diego and a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, which makes it a popular weekend getaway.
The city is known for its mid-century modern style, its many championship golf courses, its warm weather, and its fun and friendly atmosphere. It is part of the Coachella Valley, which is a popular place to visit in the winter.
Even if you don’t like golf or swimming, there are still a lot of places to visit, things to do, and things to see.
You can choose from many different things to do downtown, like shopping, eating, going to museums, or exploring the desert, mountains, and canyons nearby.
From about November to March, when it’s cold in most of the rest of North America, Palm Springs is full of tourists and “snowbirds” who come there to escape the cold.
During the annual Palm Springs Film Festival in January, the city is filled with famous people from Hollywood.
In February, Modernism Week brings architecture and design fans from all over the world to the city.
The Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, which happen in Indio about 30 minutes from downtown in April, also bring a lot of people to the city.
See our list of the best places to visit and things to do in Palm Springs for ideas on what to see and do.
- 18. International Banana Museum
- 17. Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
- 16. Visit the Palm Springs Air Museum
- 15. Take a Canyon Hike to a Waterfall
- 14. Play Golf
- 13. Visit the Palm Springs Art Museum
- 12. Explore the Coachella Valley Preserve
- 11. Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium
- 10. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
- 9. Check Out the VillageFest Weekly Street Party
- 8. Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
- 7. Discover the City’s History at the Palm Springs Historical Society
- 6. Visit the Windmills
- 5. Discover Sunnylands
- 4. Visit a Date Farm
- 3. Take a Jeep Tour of the Desert
- 2. Ride a Horse through a Canyon
- 1. Fly in a Vintage Biplane
18. International Banana Museum
One of the most popular grocery items gets its due thanks to California.
Visiting the International Banana Museum is one of the most fun things to do around Palm Springs.
At the risk of sounding corny, it’s definitely shouldn’t slip your mind.
At this museum, near to Palm Springs, you can see all kinds of amazing items influenced by bananas.
There are banana-based record players, socks, perfume, and more.
You’ll look around, and you’ll be floored by just how much yellow is around you.
While it’s fun to see things that look like bananas, it’s even more fun to taste things made of bananas.
The International Banana Museum gives you a world full of unique banana recipes, from banana soda to banana shakes and more.
If you’re planning a trip to Palm Springs, California, you definitely want to include a visit to the International Banana Museum.
17. Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a quick way to get into the mountains and away from the heat of the desert.
Mount San Jacinto is on the edge of Palm Springs and rises more than 10,000 feet above the desert floor. The scenic tramway makes it easy to get to the top of the mountain.
The tramway, which opened in 1963, has the biggest aerial tram cars that can turn in the world. The cars are suspended from cables, like a ski lift, and the cables are strung from metal towers set up on the mountainside.
From the top, you can get a great view of the desert, and on hot days, the cool air (which can be 30 to 40 degrees cooler than the air at the desert floor) can be a welcome relief. During the winter, snow covers the peak.
The tram will take you up Chino Canyon to an elevation of 8,500 feet in less than 10 minutes. At the top, which is called the Mountain Station, there are two restaurants, two observation decks, historical displays, and videos about how the tram was built.
From here, you can hike 50 miles through the pine forests of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, including a trail to the top of Mount San Jacinto (11 miles round trip). In the park, you can also camp.
It’s fun to go swimming in Palm Springs when the desert is hot, then drive to the tram, take it up the mountain, and play in the snow, all within an hour.
Palm Springs, California, One Tram Way
16. Visit the Palm Springs Air Museum
There are a lot of military planes at the Palm Springs Air Museum, and many of them still fly. There are planes from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Most of the docents who give tours are veterans who know a lot about the planes they talk about. This makes the place very interesting to visit.
There are static displays of the planes, and you can also go inside some of them, like the huge B-17 bomber.
Most of the collection is shown in air-conditioned hangars, so it’s a great place to go if you want to get out of the city’s hot summer weather.
The Palm Springs Air Museum is about 10 minutes from downtown Palm Springs. It is at the Palm Springs International Airport.
The air museum lets people take rides on some of their rare warbirds if they want to fly.
Palm Springs, California, 745 North Gene Autry Trail
15. Take a Canyon Hike to a Waterfall
The Indian Canyons are a popular protected nature sanctuary made up of three different canyon environments.
They are at the south end of Palm Springs. The area is part of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians reservation and is a great place to hike and see some beautiful desert scenery.
Palm Canyon is one of the most important places to start. This 15-mile-long canyon is filled with large palm trees and has a creek and waterfalls.
In fact, the canyon has the largest group of California fan palms anywhere in the world. There are many different hiking trails in the canyon that range in length and difficulty. A trading post in the Indian Canyons park sells souvenirs, Indian art, and other items with a tribal theme.
Another canyon area worth seeing in Indian Canyons Park is Andreas Canyon, which is known for being a good place to see birds.
In the same area is Murray Canyon, which has a hiking trail that is less used and gives you a better chance of seeing deer and other animals. In the park, there are many hiking trails, and many of them take you into more than one canyon.
Tahquitz Canyon is a protected canyon area that is also on tribal land. It is close to the Indian Canyons space, but not in it.
This canyon has many hiking trails and a waterfall that is 60 feet high. There is a visitor’s centre with displays of artefacts and information about hiking. There is also a small theatre where a documentary about the canyon is shown.
14. Play Golf
There are more than 100 championship-level golf courses in Palm Springs and nearby cities like La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, and Palm Desert.
Many of the best courses in the city are public and open to anyone (waiting lists are long during popular periods).
The city is a popular place to go golfing because the weather is great for it (there are an average of more than 300 sunny days a year), especially in the winter. Extreme summer temperatures mean that the only time to play is early in the morning.
In addition to the well-kept and difficult courses, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and desert backdrops.
As you play, the desert landscape changes, and you can always see the area’s different mountain ranges in the distance.
Popular public golf courses in the area include PGA West (home to the American Express Desert Classic, which used to be called the Bob Hope Classic), the Indian Wells Golf Resort (home to the Renaissance Indian Wells, the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, and the Indian Wells Resort Hotel), Marriott’s Shadow Ridge, and the Indian Canyons Golf Resort.
13. Visit the Palm Springs Art Museum
There is a mix of fine art, natural history, and performing arts at the Palm Springs Art Museum. Since the late 1930s, the museum has been around.
It used to focus almost entirely on desert subjects and artists, but over time, it has become a well-organized collection of modern and contemporary art, including Native American art.
The museum has a large collection of Native American crafts and artefacts, as well as works of fine art.
There is also a collection of animals and fossils from natural science. This makes the museum a great place for kids and families to visit.
There are also two sculpture gardens outside the building. The museum’s permanent collections focus on American Western art and artists and include paintings, photographs, glass, pottery, and architecture and design.
There are also temporary exhibitions and shows that move around and change.
The large Annenberg Theater at the museum has a wide range of music, dance, and theatre productions and performances going on all year long.
Palm Springs, California, 101 Museum Drive
12. Explore the Coachella Valley Preserve
This large, protected outdoor space has more than 13,000 acres of natural desert and mountain landscapes.
It’s a collaboration between the federal government, the states, and private landowners that helps manage and protect the natural environment.
The Coachella Valley Preserve is east of Palm Springs and is home to many kinds of wildlife. It is made up of three separate protected areas.
The Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve area near Palm Desert is the best one to visit. There are 30 miles of hiking trails and several places to stop and rest.
Volunteer docents who lead guided hikes are a great way to see the preserve and get a good sense of the whole area.
11. Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium
The Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium are on the south end of Palm Canyon Drive, just past downtown Palm Springs.
The unique nature space has an amazing display of cacti and desert plants, from full-grown trees to plants that are just starting to grow roots.
The gardens are at their best in the spring, when the desert starts to bloom and the trees start to get green again.
Moorten is open all year, but from fall to spring, when the weather is cooler, you can take a free guided tour of the building.
In addition to being a botanical garden, the gardens are also a commercial nursery. This means that you can buy some of the plants to take home.
Palm Springs, California, 1701 S. Palm Canyon Drive
10. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
What started out as an idea 50 years ago to save some undeveloped desert land as the area around it turned into a resort has grown into a world-class zoo.
In nearby Palm Desert, at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, you can see desert plants and animals and learn about the ecosystems of deserts all over the world.
The small zoo also has animals from North America and Africa, such as camels, coyotes, wolves, foxes, badgers, mountain lions, raptors, zebras, giraffes, hyenas, leopards, gazelle, and many more species.
Most of the time, the best time to go is in the morning, when the animals are still moving around and it’s not too hot yet.
Check the zoo’s daily schedule to find out about guided nature walks, wildlife shows, and when animals are fed.
One of the best parts is getting to feed the giraffes every day. From a tower, visitors can feed a group of giraffes.
During the summer, it’s done in the morning. During the other months, it’s done all day. You can also help feed, groom, or train the zoo’s camels by working with their keepers.
Address: 47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert, California
9. Check Out the VillageFest Weekly Street Party
Every Thursday night of the year, VillageFest turns downtown Palm Springs into a huge street party with more than 180 vendors set up along the main street.
There are booths on both sides of a quarter-mile stretch of Palm Canyon Drive that is closed to traffic.
This is a fun way to spend an evening. You can buy arts and crafts, jewellery, and other interesting items, and you can also try tasty snacks from local restaurants and artists.
Buskers, musicians, and other street artists will keep you entertained while you shop.
The night market starts early in the evening, around 6 or 7 pm, depending on the time of year, and goes on until 10 pm.
8. Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
Palm Springs has the most intact mid-century modern buildings of any city in the world. Modernism Week is held every February in the city to honour the design movement.
Design and architecture fans come from all over the world, and there are many events, including open houses, film screenings, and home tours of architecturally significant structures.
The Architecture and Design Center at the Palm Springs Art Museum is a unique and free place to visit if you are interested in architecture or design.
The building is a protected historic site. It is a 1960s mid-century modern bank building that looks like many other buildings in Palm Springs that are still standing from that time.
The Architecture and Design Center is where the Palm Springs Art Museum keeps its architecture collections. It also has temporary exhibitions and a rotating display of pieces from the permanent collection.
The art museum also runs the Frey House II, a famous modernist home in the mountains that Albert Frey built for his own family. The home can be seen on tours led by docents.
Address: 300 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, California
7. Discover the City’s History at the Palm Springs Historical Society
In the middle of downtown, right on Palm Canyon Drive, the city’s historical society runs a small but complete museum. It is in two 19th-century buildings that have been kept in good shape. It has a free museum and other exhibits.
The society is also known for its many great walking (and biking) tours of the city, which have different themes and can be done with different groups of people.
You can take a walking tour of the city to learn about its architecture, its Native American history, its many ties to the Rat Pack, or its many famous people who live there.
Palm Springs, California, 221 South Palm Canyon Drive
6. Visit the Windmills
The San Gorgonio Pass is one of the windiest places on Earth. This is why there are so many windmills there (well actually wind turbines).
The pass is on both sides of I-10 as it enters the Coachella Valley. It has strong winds that blow all the time, which is important for making electricity.
Wind turbines cover a lot of land in the desert and on the hillsides. They work quietly to make electricity for the area.
You can take a tour or get off the I-10 at the Indian Canyon exit to see the wind turbines.
Palm Springs Windmill Tours is the only official tour that lets you go “behind the fence” and see these huge machines up close.
Palm Springs, California, 62950 20th Street
5. Discover Sunnylands
Walter Annenberg, who made a lot of money in business and started TV Guide, and his wife lived in this amazing mid-century modern mansion.
The huge estate has been used as a West Coast Camp David by several presidents, including President Obama.
It has hosted a lot of presidents and summit meetings. You can visit the estate and see its beautiful gardens and art collection.
Sunnylands is in Rancho Mirage, which is about 25 minutes from Palm Springs’s downtown area.
The park-like grounds are free to visit. You can buy tickets for tours of the house and art collection led by docents.
Rancho Mirage, California, 37977 Bob Hope Drive is the address.
4. Visit a Date Farm
Palm Springs and all of the Coachella Valley have a long history of farming. One of the most important crops is dates, and more than 90% of the dates grown in the U.S. come from this area.
This Middle Eastern fruit was first planted in the desert at the beginning of the 20th century. It is one of the few crops that can be grown year-round in the area’s harsh weather.
The Shields Date Garden is in Indio, which is about 30 minutes from Palm Springs’s downtown.
The almost 20-acre date farm has a cafe, a guided tour of the date groves, and even a theatre with a cheesy 1940s movie about date farming.
They also serve date shakes, which are like a date milkshake and are something that everyone who goes to Palm Springs should try.
Indio, California, 80225 US Hwy. 111
3. Take a Jeep Tour of the Desert
What better way to see and learn about the desert than from the open back of a Jeep?
Most Jeep tours last between 2 and 3 hours (a six-hour Joshua Tree adventure is available). The off-road tours go into the desert and to the San Andreas Fault, which is close by.
Some of the Jeep tours start in downtown Palm Springs, while others begin at a ranch in Indio, about 30 minutes east of Palm Springs.
The naturalist-led tours come with snacks like water bottles and granola bars.
The San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour from Palm Desert is a fun choice. On this three-hour tour, you can learn about the Cahuilla people and the area’s geology.
You can also see an oasis in the desert.
2. Ride a Horse through a Canyon
On horseback is another fun way to see the desert around Palm Springs. Since 1927, Smoke Tree Stables has been giving trail rides into the nearby canyons.
These are easy, guided trail rides that are good for people of all ages and skill levels (including first-timers).
You can go on a one-hour group trail ride that starts at the stables and goes through the desert along the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains.
A two-hour group ride through Indian Canyons is another choice. Along streams and through palm tree groves, the ride goes from Andreas Canyon to Murray Canyon and back.
1. Fly in a Vintage Biplane
Palm Springs Biplanes is a company that offers rides in a 1940 Stearman biplane. It is based at the Palm Springs airport.
Planes with three seats mean that people sit next to each other (behind the pilot). You can see everything from the open-top biplanes, and you wear a cool vintage aviator cap and goggles.
The basic 15-minute flight costs only $249 for two people and is much more exciting and memorable than a fancy dinner, which costs about the same amount.
In 30 minutes, you can fly over the Coachella Valley and the Santa Rosa Mountains. In an hour, you can see the whole area.
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