If you only come to Palm Springs to laze in the pool with a mai tai… well, you’re doing it right.
But the city and its surroundings offer much more than that thanks to 350 days of sunshine a year which provide an incredible backdrop for golf, tennis and all kinds of sports.
The city’s famous association with mid-century modern style makes it a top destination for design aficionados to visit architectural marvels, and street fairs offer the chance to buy vintage art and memories.
I come here every year for all of this and more. Between dips in the pool, I plan my trips around hiking through otherworldly landscapes, shopping in designer boutiques and taking my family to the zoo.
Whether you like retro design, outdoor activities or family activities, you will find so many things to do in the desert. Here are my favorites.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway top of my list of must do things in Palm Springs. Billed as the world’s largest revolving tram, it’s guaranteed to make your palms sweat on its two-and-a-half-mile ascent along Chino Canyon to the wilderness of Mount San Jacinto State Park.
Pay attention to your wardrobe even if it’s hot down in the valley. At an elevation of 8,516 feet it can be much colder than down below, down to 40 degrees. In fact, would you believe I once experienced a truly magical snowfall on Christmas Eve here at the top?
At the top of the mountain you will find restaurants, observation decks, a natural history museum, gift shop and over 80 km of hiking trails.
Palm Springs Art Museum
In addition to all that sunshine, soak up the culture at Palm Springs Art Museum. The largest cultural institution in the Coachella Valley (and the only major art museum between LA and Phoenix) features a huge permanent collection spread over 150,000 square feet.
The collection includes works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries emphasizing contemporary Californian art by Marina Abramović, Louise Bourgeois, John Chamberlain, Antony Gormley, Duane Hanson, Mona Hatoum, Anish Kapoor, Anselm Keifer, Sarah Sze and Stanley Whitney.
The 433-seat Annenberg Theater within the museum hosts concerts and events such as Broadway shows, cabarets, jazz, classical, opera, dance, and speakers from the entertainment industry.
Palm Springs Village Fair
If you’re in town on a Thursday night, head straight to downtown Palm Springs for VillageFest on Palm Canyon Drive for this great market. The street closes to vehicles and comes alive with pedestrians for a traffic-free art walk with vendor stalls offering a mix of art, food and other purchasable temptations set up on both sides of the street, from Indian Canyon Drive to the east and Belardo Route to the west.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, a non-profit zoo and desert botanical gardens in nearby Palm Desert, is a favorite spot for families with kids who need an outing for all ages. The park focuses on desert climates, so it’s not like the average zoo and is home to over 500 animals representing over 150 species.
The zoo includes a new four-acre rhino savannah with 12 African species, as well as a giraffe viewing platform where you can feed the giraffes for a fee. There are also hiking and nature trails, a petting zoo, a discovery center, an Australian-themed area and much more to explore.
The former Annenberg Estate located at Rancho Mirage is a 200-acre site that is currently managed by the non-profit Annenberg Foundation Trust in Sunnyland. Visit the sunnylands Center, an airy glass building with rotating art exhibits, cafe, gift shop and multimedia offerings, and explore its gardens; free entry.
For an additional fee, the historic grounds are open for tours (outdoors only for now), and the campus also hosts a range of classes and peaceful outdoor experiences. Note that some group activities such as yoga and tai chi are still suspended due to COVID-19.
Palm Springs Vintage Market
Bring a taste of vintage Palm Springs design by visiting this monthly seasonal market held at the Camelot Theater. On the first Sunday of each month, from October to May, the Palm Springs Vintage Market is a mecca for locals and vintage-loving visitors. Pay $5 to walk in and find your fill of household items, including glassware, lamps, furniture, and other “Mad Men”-era finds to cheat your home (or vacation rental in). Palm Springs that your trip inspires you to buy).
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a visual stunner and a must-visit approximately 40 miles from Palm Springs, known for its rugged rock formations, dramatic desert landscapes, and famous crooked trees for which the park is named. Park up, hike, then head to Pioneertown for a stop at Pappy & Harriet’s for cold beers and live music.
You can even enjoy the park as a quick stop like I did recently. We paid the park entrance fee, parked on the side of the road, and spent a pleasant hour or two bouldering around the 1.7 mile Skull Rock Nature Trail Loop.
Indian Wells Tennis Garden
The desert region around Palm Springs is one of the best tennis destinations in the world. Located just 15 miles southeast of Palm Springs, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is the second largest tennis stadium in the world, with more than 16,000 seats. Serious fans will want to come for the annual Indian Wells Masters tournament in March (and expect high hotel prices). The establishment also has a tennis club open to the public all year round – an unmissable opportunity for a fan of the sport.
When the weather is mild, there are few greater pleasures than the hiking trails in and around Palm Springs. You’ll find dozens of trails here, from wide open spaces dotted with succulents to shaded oases flowing with trickling streams. Indian Canyons is a favorite for its over 60 miles of hiking and walking trails. The otherworldly desert landscape starts out vast and austere, before revealing a lush oasis of towering palms and trickling streams.
Other great hikes can be found at Tahquitz Canyon, a moderately easy 1.8-mile loop trail framed by towering rock formations that leads to a 60-foot seasonal waterfall. Visited recently to do some cardio before heading back to the Ace Hotel for drinks – a perfectly balanced day in the desert. The central observation deck also offers great views. Remember to pack plenty of water on any hike.
Check out Insider’s complete guide to visiting Palm Springs.