Palm Springs, less than two hours from Los Angeles, California is known for its colorful, stylish hotels, golf courses, and hot springs. Palm Springs, once a major desert destination for the stars, has many fine examples of midcentury-modern architecture. Palm Canyon Drive, the main street, features vintage boutiques, interior design shops, and restaurants where you can dine al fresco and watch everyone stroll by on a warm evening.
While considered a fabulous destination for the LGBT crowd, there is something to do in Palm Springs for everyone. The surrounding Coachella Valley offers hiking and biking trails and you can take the tram up the mountain for a gorgeous view.
One of the most popular things to do in Palm Springs, the aerial tram provides a natural "high," speeding visitors to the top of Mount San Jacinto in just a few minutes.
Once you're up there, you can go hiking, have a meal, and spend most of the day. It's a great escape from the summer heat but may be snow-covered in winter, even when it's hot enough to put down the convertible top in downtown.
Sunset and night are particularly pretty, with the city lights glowing below you. It can be less crowded too. If you want to have a sunset meal at The Peaks Restaurant, make a reservation.
Check Out the San Andreas Fault
If you take the San Andreas Fault Adventure tour with Desert Adventures, you can do something very few people have done—stand right in the middle of the San Andreas Fault.
You'll also visit a real desert oasis (created by the fault) and experience the twisted and jagged landscape of an active earthquake fault system as your guide describes the geology of the area.
Hang Out and Relax
The Palm Springs tourism bureau says that "nothing" is the thing most often cited by visitors as one of the top items on their list of things to do in Palm Springs.
In truth, nothing probably means "not much" and might include sunbathing, having a frosty drink by the pool, hanging out with friends, or a casual round of golf. Many of the local resorts are set up to encourage you to do as little as possible.
Take a Windmill Tour
As you drive over the pass to Palm Springs, you can't miss the giant wind-powered, electricity-generating turbines that line I-10. Curiosity about these massive windmills lead to offering two-hour tours to visitors.
The interesting and informative tour will help you discover what they're all about, how they work and why they're there. It's fun for the technically inclined, but equally interesting if you don't know a watt from a volt.
The tour takes you behind the fences onto private grounds where no other tour will go. At tour headquarters, you will be given an overview of renewable wind energy and a history of the windmills. The bus tour of the farms ends with a free date shake at the Windmill Market and Cafe.
Have Fun on Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Canyon Drive is Palm Springs' main street. It's a good place for a stroll, a little shopping or a bite to eat.
Palm Springs has been Hollywood's playground off and on for many years, and it has its own Walk of Stars to honor residents who worked in the entertainment industry. You'll find familiar names like Gene Autry, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra—but you may also find their plastic surgeon or the guy who ran the camera honored as well.
If you're in Palm Springs on a Thursday evening, don't miss Villagefest. It feels like everyone in town is out, checking out the food vendors, artwork, handmade crafts, and street performers. The festival is a good time to stroll downtown, people watch or enjoy a night out on the town without breaking your pocketbook. Look for shops with a BOLT sign—that means they're open late Thursday.
Tour Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway
Elvis Presley leased a Palm Springs house for a year in 1966–67 and spent his honeymoon with Priscilla there. And now, you can tour the home.
The tour is both architecturally and historically fascinating. All of the cabinets, tile and even some of the furniture are original or restored, so you get a feel of being in the “King’s” footsteps. You can take photographs inside and out, and you can sit on some of the furniture. To make things more fun, many tour guides dress up as Elvis or Priscilla (or you may get a guide who specializes in history but not in dressing up).
A visit can be fun for people who are Elvis Presley fans, but it's also interesting if you like mid-century architecture.
Visit the Palm Springs Air Museum
The Palm Springs Air Museum is one of the world’s largest collections of flyable WWII aircraft. And it's not a fussy, hands-off museum: You can touch the planes, take pictures and even go inside them.
Many of the expert volunteers served in WWII, Korea or Vietnam and they can give you a history lesson, show you how the planes worked or explain what they went through during the war. Other exhibits include a Pearl Harbor diorama, Weapons Display, and Women at War Display. They also have displays from local artists.
Look for special events such as rides in vintage warplanes and helicopters.
Take a Hike in the Indian Canyons
Even though it can get hot in the middle of a summer day, hiking is still a popular thing to do in Palm Springs. Some favorites are:
Hiking the Canyons: Tahquitz Canyon is one of the most beautiful and culturally important areas of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation. Tahquitz Canyon has a 1.8-mile steep hike to a seasonal 60-foot waterfall, rock art, ancient irrigation systems, native wildlife, and plants. At the entrance to the canyon, the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center has cultural exhibits and shows the video, The Legend of Tahquitz Canyon.
The Indian Canyons include Palm Canyon where you can walk down into the palms, stop, and have a picnic, Andreas Canyon where you can hike along the creek, and Murray Canyon, a palm-studded canyon where you might just see a Big Horned Sheep.
Soak at a Hot Springs Spa
In nearby Desert Hot Springs, you'll find several hot springs spas. The healing waters are fed to resorts where you can soak in natural, spring-fed swimming pools, go for spa treatments, and just relax.
- Aqua Soleil Hotel and Mineral Water Spa is possibly the largest property in Desert Hot Springs.
- Lido Palms Resort & Spa has indoor and outdoor mineral pools, a sauna and a full-service spa.
- Nurturing Nest Mineral Hot Springs Retreat and Spa is a small, 7-room retreat that offers hot springs and spa treatments.
Peruse the Art
The Palm Springs Art Museum has an excellent array of contemporary and modern art, architecture and design, photography, art glass, and Native American and Western art. Their outdoor sculpture garden is peaceful.
The museum's Thursday Nights feature a series of events and activities, as well as free museum admission from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Tour the Architecture
Palm Springs is known for its Mid-Century Modern Architecture. You can take a self-guided tour of the city's stunning collection of mid-century homes and buildings, that will take you back to a glamorous, yet simple time.
If you were a movie star in the middle of the twentieth century and wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of Hollywood for the weekend, Palm Springs was the place to go. So as you tour, you'll see homes like the Liberace House and the place where Elvis honeymooned with Priscilla.
Modernism Week is an annual mid-century extravaganza in Palm Springs happening in February. The week always includes a few tours that get you inside some of Palm Springs' modernist icons.
See the Final Resting Place of Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra's Grave is located at the Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City in Plot: B-8, #151. Frank Sinatra died in 1998 at age 82. It is said that he was with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of Camel cigarettes tucked into his suit. His headstone reads: "The Best is Yet to Come."
See the Funky Artwork
A fun place to check out in Palm Springs is the outdoor gallery of Artist Kenny Irwin Jr. This artist's studio is fun and funky. Not only can you enjoy his work from the street, but he also offers tours of his property, where you can get up close to see his creations and discover more of this mastermind’s work. He works in multiple mediums ranging from found art sculpture, drawings, ceramics, and resin sculpture.
There is Casino Gambling in the area. You'll find several Indian-owned casinos in the Palm Spring area, including one that's right in the middle of town. Some of them host big-name performers. The Agua Caliente, in Palm Springs, is a busy casino open 24/7 with a music venue, buffet restaurant, deli, and steakhouse.
Play a Round of Golf
Palm Springs has more than 100 golf courses. Public courses in the Coachella Valley include must-play golf courses including the Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Club, the Eagle Falls Golf Course at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, and Marriott's Shadow Ridge. Visit Palm Springs lists four additional play-worthy courses.