The Best Time To Visit Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

Palm Springs, the former Rat Pack playground now crawling with expansive luxury resorts, hip hotels, and home rentals, is a popular destination for golfers, spa seekers, music lovers, the LGBTQ crowd, nature geeks, new bohemians, and architecture buffs. Whether you plan a trip where the desert is the sole destination, tack it on to a larger California exploration, or take a quick weekend getaway from Los Angeles, The OC, or San Diego, the best time to visit Palm Springs is in late winter or spring although those willing to brave the desert’s punishing summer temperatures will be rewarded with cheaper lodgings and flights.

This guide to the region’s climate, festival season, and other signature events including tennis tournaments, pride celebrations, and film festivals should help you plan the ideal vacation in the greater Palm Springs area.

Palm Springs Weather

The vacation oasis experiences a fairly textbook desert climate, so plan for extremely scorching summers, temperate winters, drastic differences between day and night temperatures (sometimes upwards of 25 degrees), almost 300 days of sunshine, generally low humidity, and very little rainfall.

December is the coldest month, but that translates to an average high temperature of 69 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 44 degrees Fahrenheit. By January, the forecast usually calls for low 70s. In May and October, days in the 90s are still common, with some reaching triple digits. The heat drives most tourists away, especially in the height of summer, and if you can stomach (or even prefer) feeling hot, you’ll benefit from great deals and shorter lines. Remember to pack a few light layers as it can still get breezy and chilly when the sun goes down.

As with most deserts, there are occasional sandstorms. It can get very windy, hence the acres of electricity-generating windmills on the outskirts of town. April is typically the windiest month as seven or eight miles per hour gusts are normal. But when high-pressure systems move over the mountains from the coast, they can ratchet them up to 60 mph. It can move enough sand around to decrease visibility, degrade air quality, and close streets.

Palm Springs gets a majority of its annual rainfall between December and April. Although there isn’t that much need for warning as it doesn’t usually surpass six inches a year. But when rainstorms come, they have a tendency to drop fast and furious. It can lead to flash flooding and also shut down roads and hiking trails. 

Peak Season

The climate dictates visitation. Traditionally, the tourist season hits its peak February through April and numerous signature events are scheduled in those perfect weather months. It’s a big Spring Break destination, and winter is popular with Canadian snowbirds as well. But the visitor stream is steady from November to May, especially around winter holidays (Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in particular) and three-day weekends. During those coveted times, expect longer waits at restaurants, less timeshare availability, and higher rates at lodgings. It will also be more expensive to fly there and take longer to drive from Los Angeles or San Diego, especially on Fridays.

Coachella
Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB 

Festival Season

For more than a decade, the greater Palm Springs area has been home to two of the biggest, most exciting music festivals in the world. For three consecutive weekends in April, the Empire Polo Fields are taken over by Coachella, a three-day rock, hip-hop, and EDM festival attended by 250,000 people, and Stagecoach, which is basically Coachella’s country music counterpart. Ticket holders should lock down lodging ASAP as the entire desert fills to capacity. If you aren’t interested in the shows, best to avoid those weekends as festival madness is all-consuming. Even budget motels like Rodeway Inn triple their rates and easily find people to pay those prices. Brands take over pools, private rentals, boutiques, and public spaces for VIP parties and pop-ups, which can spell late-night noise and debauchery in otherwise sleepy neighborhoods. Restaurants are overrun and traffic is nasty.

Another hugely popular event on the Palm Springs social calendar is Modernism Week, a celebration of the region's unique architecture and the desert modern/midcentury modern schools of design with home and neighborhood tours, expert lectures, and more. It's held in February. A fall preview in October, despite being a smaller affair, still draws a significant crowd of out-of-towners and makes hotel reservations harder to score and more expensive. 

January

Visitors who spend months under umbrellas or shoveling snow might find the Palm Springs definition of winter, well, laughable as the average high is 71 degrees Fahrenheit and the low hovers around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Events to check out:

  • Featuring more than 200 movies from 60-plus countries, the Palm Springs International Film Festival kicks off with an awards gala celebrating the previous year. Given its timing at the beginning of the annual awards season, it’s always a star-studded affair.
  • The American Express PGA Golf tournament is followed by two nights of concerts from names like Stevie Nicks, Luke Bryan, and Sammy Hagar.
Modernism Week
Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB 

February

It’s the wettest month, receiving an average precipitation of 1.2 inches. However most days are in the mid-70s Fahrenheit, which is perfect weather for an architectural bike tour.

Events to check out:

  • Modernism Week, one of the biggest draws on the desert social calendar, is an annual celebration of midcentury architecture and design with home and garden tours, lectures, films, a vintage travel trailer exhibition, parties, classic cars, and more.
  • The Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival run in tandem and offer classes on how to cook with the area’s prize crop, fried foods, carnival rides, a musical pageant, and more.
  • Tour de Palm Springs features bike race routes for all fitness levels: one mile, 10 miles, 25 miles, 50 miles, and 100 miles. Participants can also walk one or three miles.

March

Calling all outdoor enthusiasts! Wildflowers are blooming, animals are rousing after their winter state of torpor/hibernation, and the days in the 80s F are well-suited for hiking in places like Joshua Tree National Park and Anza-Borrego State Park. It’s still cold enough at night (in the 50s F) for a campfire and s’mores.

Event to check out:

Swing by the BNP Paribas Open for two weeks of top-notch pro tennis. It’s an ATP Tour Masters 1000 men’s event and a WTA Premier Mandatory event for women players. 

  • Pack your taste buds for Palm Desert Food & Wine, a festival where gourmands and oenophiles have been sipping and snacking for 10 years. 
  • Plant moms and dads will enjoy the Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival, which has grown over the last 13 years to include wildflower viewing, art shows, and a beer garden.
  • Score spectacular souvenirs at Fashion Week El Paseo, the West Coast’s largest consumer fashion show.
wildflowers
Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

April

April is the busiest time, and the price and scarcity of services reflects that fact. But festival season here sure is bucket list worthy. 

Events to check out:

  • Over the last 20 years, Coachella has grown into the premier (and expensive) music festival in the States (see above). On top of multiple stages of music, there are art installations, a Ferris wheel, dance parties, and camping.
  • If country music is more your jam, slide on your cowboy boots and fringed accessories and head to Stagecoach the weekend after Coachella. 

May

Summer comes early in the desert as rain is super scarce and thermometers routinely read in the high 90s. 

Event to check out: The Joshua Tree Music Festival features more than tunes. The family-friendly gathering also offers yoga, art auctions, a positive vibration station, and a healing oasis populated by witches, shamans, and therapists. 

June

Golfing, tennis matches, hiking, and biking aren’t entirely out of the question. But be sure to get an early start or pick a tee time/book a court in the late evening when it's only in the 70s and 80s instead of the 100s. Luckily June has the longest days of the year (14.4 hours of sunlight on average). Be sure to stay hydrated.

Events to check out:

  • More than 100 restaurants prepare something special for Restaurant Week. For 10 days in May and June, diners can try two-course lunches and three- and five-course dinners at reduced rates.
  • The Palm Springs Film Society holds its second festival of the year, ShortFest, which of course screens short films. 
Indian Wells Golf Resort
Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB 

July

As it’s the hottest month of the year—the daytime average is 108 degrees Fahrenheit and it only cools down to 80 at night—there isn’t much in the way of big events. It’s prime time to hit the many pools in the area or seek refuge in the A/C.

Events to check out:

  • Gather around the campfire at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club on the first Thursday of every month to be regaled with tales of local legends and unexplained happenings from master storyteller and Desert Oracle editor Ken Layne. 
  • Peruse the contemporary collection at the Palm Springs Art Museum for free every Thursday night.

August

The heat is still insufferable (triple digits) for most, but you can console yourself by ordering extra umbrella drinks at the pool with the money you saved by taking the trip in the low season.

Event to check out: Looking for a perfect summer soiree? Splash House, a combination of massive pool parties by day and after-hours dance club by night, takes place across three weekends at three resorts (The Saguaro, The Riviera, and The Renaissance) and the Air Museum. 

September

Fall here feels like summer in many other parts of the country thanks to afternoons in the 90s and 100s. Evenings in the 70s make for pleasant alfresco dining. The clear skies are great for stargazing.

Event to check out: Joshua Tree National Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park and the annual Night Sky Festival is a good time to take advantage of the attributes that earned it Silver Tier status. It features constellation tours, youth crafts, astronomy lectures, nature walks, and at least 20 telescopes at the observatory.

desert stars
Courtesy of Lance Gerber/nuvueinteractive.com

October

Public gatherings and social events ramp up as triple-digit days are behind them and evening temperatures dip into the 60s.

Events to check out:

  • Residents trick out their rides according to the chosen theme for the Palm Desert Golf Cart Parade. It has rolled down El Paseo since the early 1960s.
  • More than 100 creatives throughout the Morongo Basin invite you into their workspaces to talk shop, admire art, and add to your personal collection during the HWY 62 Open Studio Art Tours
  • The Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championships is held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the second-largest tennis stadium in the world. 
  • Dance until dawn at the infamous White Party, which is technically several parties throughout a weekend you will not forget.
Pride parade
Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs Pride

November 

Temperatures finally chill out. Winter is a great time for birdwatching, especially at the Salton Sea, an important stop for migrating species on the Pacific Flyway.

Events to check out:

December

Even the coldest month of the year means 69 degrees Fahrenheit when the sun is shining and 44 degrees Fahrenheit when it isn’t.  But if planning to take the aerial tram to the top of Mt. San Jacinto State Park, you might need snow gear. Even summer temperatures at 8,516 feet above sea level are at least 15 degrees cooler than downtown.

Events to check out:

  • Kick off happy holidays at the Festival Of Lights Parade on Palm Canyon Drive on the first Saturday in December.
  • Indio International Tamale Festival is the world’s largest event celebrating the humble, but delicious tamale. Trust us, you’ll want to show up hungry.
  • Visitors can peek inside and tour a group of small and often historic or architecturally significant small boutiques around town one night a year during the Walk Of The Inns. Think of it as an open house for hotels. 
  • The grand finale of the North American IRONMAN circuit requires a 1.2–mile swim in La Quinta’s Lake Cahuilla, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run.
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