What to do in Palm Springs

Visit Palm Springs, a Charming Oasis in the California Desert

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As you travel along the vast desert highways of California, you might be surprised to suddenly catch a glimpse of a true oasis, abundant with palm trees, swimming pools, and golf courses. You have arrived in one of the most unique cities in the state – Palm Springs, known for its natural attractions and much more.

During the post-war and Rat Pack era, many Hollywood celebrities chose this affluent oasis to build their villas. Here, you can see where Elvis spent his honeymoon, stay in Frank Sinatra’s vacation home, and visit the residences of other prominent American figures.

Palm Springs Architecture

things to do at palm springs

Palm Springs is a small city located at the base of San Jacinto Peak, a tall mountain that provides precious shade to the entire town, tempering the desert climate in the afternoon hours. The main characteristic of the city is the unique architecture that defines a large part of its buildings: we are talking about the Desert Modernism Style, a distinct blend of Spanish Colonial and Modernist influences (based on the principles of Frank Lloyd Wright).

The most commonly used material here is adobe, a mixture of clay, sand, and dried straw. Together with the abundance of palm trees, this type of material gives the homes in the area a truly distinctive appearance.

How to get there

Getting to Palm Springs is straightforward. From Los Angeles, you can simply take the I-10 East and follow Highway 111 South. If you’re coming from Las Vegas, you would take the I-15 and then the I-215 South.

Things to Do in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is a pleasant town to explore on foot (despite the heat, which can be unforgiving in the summer). Strolling along the palm-lined streets and admiring the small villas is already a delightful experience. However, there are many things to see in and around Palm Springs, and you might miss them if you aimlessly wander around.

In that case, head to the Palm Springs Visitors Center (2901 Palm Canyon Drive), which you’ll immediately notice due to its peculiar spaceship-like roof. The building, formerly a gas station, was designed in the 1960s by Albert Frey (we’ll tell you more about him later in the article) and was originally conceived as the departure station for the Tramway, which we’ll discuss shortly. So, grab a map and begin your tour, reaching the places indicated in this paragraph.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

palm spring aerial tramway

Climbing aboard a tramway might not be the first thing that comes to mind when visiting a desert city, right? Well, Palm Springs will change your perspective because the city’s most popular and beloved attraction is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tramway.

The cabins depart from the desert station located northwest of the city and ascend to the breathtaking Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Mountain Station, nestled in the alpine forest of Long Valley within the heart of Mount San Jacinto State Park. In just over 12 minutes, you will ascend to an elevation of 8,517 ft aboard a slowly rotating cable car that provides passengers with a 360-degree view without even having to move.

At the mountain summit, there are activities for every taste. Those who enjoy hiking can explore one of the available trails, perhaps even reaching the actual peak of San Jacinto State Park at 10.830 ft. For those looking to satisfy their appetites, there are two restaurants: Peaks and Lookout Lounge. As the name suggests, Lookout Lounge offers the opportunity to savor a drink with an excellent view.

Purchase tickets

Palm Canyon Drive


The center of Palm Springs stretches along Palm Canyon Drive, a pleasant street filled with shops, local businesses, and stores housed in Spanish Colonial-style buildings. Among them is Trina Turk, a famous boutique that sells vibrant retro clothing, embodying the chic California style.

Every Thursday evening (from June to September, 7 PM to 10 PM; from October to May, 6 PM to 10 PM), the street hosts the Villagefest, a lively event featuring various stalls and remarkable street performers. During my visit, there was even a stall run by a Jewish rabbi, where you could seek advice and perhaps receive some biblical guidance.

places to visit in palm springs

Palm Springs Art Museum

palm springs attractions

Not far from Palm Canyon Drive, at the foot of one of the mountains overlooking the town, you will find the main location of the small yet remarkable Palm Springs Art Museum. The museum houses highly appreciated galleries that often surprise visitors who don’t expect such a rich and interesting art museum in the desert. If you decide to visit, you will encounter a wide variety of Native American artifacts, paintings, modern sculptures, contemporary art installations, as well as a notable collection of design and architecture.

  • Museum hours: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM. On Thursdays, it is open from 12 PM to 8 PM.
  • Ticket prices: $16 (ages 18-62), $14 (ages 62 and over), free for visitors under 18. On Thursdays from 5 PM to 8 PM, admission is free, but reservations are required, which can be made here.

Forever Marilyn and Palm Springs Babies

palm springs things to do

Near Downtown Park, in front of the museum, you will come across a giant statue depicting Marilyn Monroe (Forever Marilyn, located in Museum Way) and an eerie installation by Czech artist David Černý called “Tower Babies,” later renamed “Palm Springs Babies.” PLEASE NOTE: The artwork has been temporarily moved to Tijuana until January 2024. As of the current time (June 2023), it is uncertain whether it will be returned to Palm Springs after its exhibition in Mexico.

Frey House II

In the museum’s architecture collection, you will also find works by Albert Frey (1903-1988), a renowned Swiss architect who lived and perfected a particular style called “Desert Modernism” in Palm Springs. Some of his notable works include the City Hall and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station. One of Albert Frey’s houses, known as Frey House II, is located very close to the main museum building and can be visited through a tour as part of the museum’s heritage. The house is truly fascinating, with walls entirely made of glass nestled into undulating roofs, emerging from the canyon rocks and creating a unique spectacle.

Palm Springs Air Museum

palm springs air museum

Aviation enthusiasts will find plenty to satisfy their interests at the Palm Springs Air Museum, located at 745 North Gene Autry Trail, right next to the city’s airport. Established in 1996, the museum consists of five hangars housing an extensive collection of military aircraft from various conflicts in recent American history (from World War II to the War on Terror).

One of the most impressive aircraft on display is the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk “Black Devil,” a stealth fighter (meaning it is invisible to radar) housed in the James R. Houston Pavilion. You can get a preview of the entire fleet here. In addition to touring the museum, during the summer months, you can also book a flight experience on a P-51 Mustang or a PT-17 Stearman.

  • Museum hours: Open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM.
  • Ticket prices: $22; $20 for teenagers aged 13-17; children under 12 enter for free.

Indian Canyons

indian canyons palm springs
Visit Indian Canyons: Palm Springs Palm Trails

Located just a short 10-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs, the Indian Canyons is one of the most frequented natural areas in the region. It is the original settlement of the Cahuilla Indians, who manage a vast portion of the desert where three canyons filled with palm trees can be explored through a network of approximately 62 miles of hiking trails. We have discussed this in more detail in our article dedicated to the Indian Canyons.

The homes of the stars in Palm Springs

As mentioned before, the town is filled with villas and residences of prominent figures. Here are a few of them:

  • Alexander Estate: Named after the renowned architect Bob Alexander, it gained fame when Elvis Presley spent his honeymoon here with Priscilla Beaulieu after their Las Vegas wedding. This modernist architectural masterpiece is known as the “House of Tomorrow” and is located at 1350 Ladera Cir. Except for special events, it is not open for public tours.
  • Twin Palms Frank Sinatra Estate: This residence was specifically built for “The Voice” and features a unique piano-shaped swimming pool. It is not easy to get a good view of it unless the gate is open, but it is possible to rent the house for a minimum of 3 nights. The address is 1145 E Vía Colusa.
  • Kaufmann Desert House: Located at 470 W Vista Chino, this captivating house was designed by Austrian architect Richard Neutra for Edgar J. Kaufmann, who also commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater (and collaborated with Neutra as well). Unfortunately, it is not open to the public.


Robolights is a true gem of Palm Springs, but unfortunately, its existence is in jeopardy, and our hope is that you can visit it one way or another. Start walking along Granvia Valmonte and reach the address 1077 at the corner of Arquilla Road. Here you’ll find the residence of the eccentric artist Kenny Irwin, and I assure you that you won’t have trouble figuring out exactly where it is.

Begin discreetly exploring beyond the low fence that separates Irwin’s enormous garden from the sidewalk. Along Arquilla Road and Valmonte, amidst the palm trees, you’ll witness an impressive crowd of brightly colored robot-like Transformers, metal pseudo-dinosaurs, strange angelic (or diabolical?) figures with skulls and clown heads, statues of Disney cartoon characters, Santa Clauses, snowmen, mannequins, car shells, aliens, monsters, zombies, abandoned carousels, horse skeletons, stagecoaches, fairy castles, and much more. You won’t believe your eyes, and like me, you’ll struggle to find words to describe what you see. You’ll wonder what kind of madness lies within and to whom this collection belongs. Kenny Irwin began accumulating this “stuff” in 1986, and over time, he has created his own personal kitsch museum. It can be visited through a scheduled tour or, if you’re lucky enough to find him around the house, simply by asking him for a tour of the garden.

But that’s not all: especially during the Christmas season, Robolights is, or would be, an incredible light spectacle. However, it is not easy to see because the neighborhood protested so much that Irwin had to promise to move his collection to a location far from the residential area, in the desert. As of now (June 2023), we don’t know how long Robolights will remain a corner of madness in the heart of Palm Springs, but we will try to keep you updated on the new destination of Irwin’s luminous robots.

Moorten Botanical Gardens

moorten botanical gardens
Moorten Botanical Gardens are located just outside Downtown and serve as a small oasis of tranquility within the oasis itself. If you’d like to spend an hour in peaceful surroundings while observing the strangest and most fascinating varieties of cacti, trees, and desert plants, head to 1701 Palm Canyon Drive. The botanical garden, which its owner Chester Moorten has referred to as a “cactarium,” houses over 3,000 specimens of desert vegetation, arranged along several nature trails designed to recreate different habitats.

  • Opening hours: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 9 AM to 1 PM
  • Prices: Adults $5, Children (ages 5-15) $2

Tahquitz Falls


If you find yourself in Palm Springs during the spring months, you may consider spending an hour of your time to visit Tahquitz Falls. It is an 59-feet waterfall nestled within the Tahquitz Canyon, which is part of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation of the Cahuilla Indians. While the trail is open year-round, the falls are active only during that specific time period in this beautiful desert oasis.

The hike is of moderate difficulty, covering a round trip of 1,8 miles with an elevation gain of approximately 328 feet, which can be completed in a little over an hour. However, please note that there is an admission fee required (adults $15, children aged 7-12 $7) upon arrival at the trailhead.

Opening hours:

  • From October 1 to July 4: Open daily from 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM (last entry at 3:30 PM)
  • From July 5 to September 30: Open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, same operating hours.

Angel Cove Monument and Shiprock Monument

Are you fans of rock formations? You will definitely find something to your liking in nearby Joshua Tree. However, if you happen to pass by here, consider stopping to observe the Shiprock Monument (a rock that vaguely resembles a ship) and the Angel Cove Monument. The latter is not easy to see: read the roadside plaque to learn the story of this formation and try to spot the profile of the angel within the heart of the mountains.

Palm Springs Windmill Tours

places to visit palm springs

A particularly fascinating experience I had in the Palm Springs area is driving along a road surrounded by an endless expanse of wind turbines in the desert. If you’re traveling on the I-10 from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, you will undoubtedly see them too and won’t be able to resist the temptation to take some photos. If you’re coming from Palm Springs, you will start seeing the gigantic wind turbines from this point. They will accompany you for almost 5,6 miles.

Does this kind of landscape captivate you? Instead of just glimpsing it while driving from one point to another, you can visit Palm Springs Windmill Tours (62950 20th Ave, Palm Springs), purchase a ticket, and explore the wind farm with your own car or through a guided tour. You can find the prices here.

VW Spider Sculpture


If you enjoy bizarre roadside desert attractions, before venturing into the windmill forest, in the town of Garnet, make your way to the VW Spider Sculpture, a creepy spider with the body of a Volkswagen Beetle. Here’s the address to enter in your GPS.

Things to Do Near Palm Springs

Palm Springs is indeed an excellent base for day trips and excursions to the surrounding areas. The most famous destination is, of course, Joshua Tree National Park, but don’t overlook the other attractions mentioned in this section of the article.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a desert park filled with rocks of unusual shapes and characterized by the prominent presence of Joshua Trees, which are typical of arid tropical climates. Describing this exceptional national park in California in just a few lines is nearly impossible, so I refer you to our article dedicated to Joshua Tree, where you will find various recommendations on how to visit it and all the relevant information regarding driving access, hiking trails, and the different areas within the park.

  • Distance from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree NP Visitor Center: 34 miles



In the vicinity of Palm Springs, there’s plenty to offer for fans of the Wild West. Given its relative proximity to Hollywood, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find a genuine film set built in 1940, where dozens of Western movies were filmed. Pioneertown is perfect for those who want to take a step back in time, strolling along the dusty Main Street of a reconstructed ghost town in the California desert. Don’t miss our article on Pioneertown for further information.

  • Distance from Palm Springs: 30 miles

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

things to do near Palm springs
The palm trees at Coachella Valley Preserve

We have mentioned several times that Palm Springs is an oasis in the desert… well, just a few miles away from this oasis, there is another one that can be considered even more authentic, at least in the way we commonly understand an oasis. After driving several miles through the driest desert along Thousand Palms Canyon Road, suddenly you will find yourself in the shade of the palms in the Coachella Valley Preserve, specifically in the oasis of the adjacent Thousand Palms Preserve. Walking along the boardwalks of the trails in this protected area is not only relaxing but also incredibly breathtaking. Admission is free, but pay attention to the opening hours indicated on the official website because, especially in summer, the oasis may be closed to visitors from Monday to Friday!

  • Distance from Palm Springs: 15 miles

Cabazon Dinosaurs

fun things to do in palm springs

Speaking of kitsch… if you’re traveling with children or if you’re still a kid at heart, make a quick visit to the prehistoric giants at Cabazon Dinosaurs (50770 Seminole Dr, Cabazon), a themed park featuring enormous cement dinosaurs towering among the palm trees in the desert. This attraction is famous for being featured in some scenes of Tim Burton’s film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” from 1985. The gift shop is located… inside a brontosaurus.

  • Distance from Palm Springs: 15 miles

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

As you have read and will continue to read in the article, Palm Springs has inspired many artists who have showcased their talent in the evocative backdrop of the desert. One of these artists is the adventurer, artist, and collector Cabot Yerxa. After traveling around the world, he returned to the Coachella Valley in 1913 and acquired 160 acres in Desert Hot Springs. In 1941, he began building his new home, drawing inspiration from the pueblos of the Hopi people and using traditional materials such as adobe.

This incredible pueblo-style house is not only a residence but also a museum that houses Yerxa’s extensive collection. It showcases not only Native American artifacts and objects but also numerous wonders acquired during his travels. The Cabot’s Pueblo Museum (67616 E. Desert View Avenue, Desert Hot Springs) can be visited during the following hours:

– Tuesday to Saturday: 9 AM to 12 PM from June to the end of September
– Tuesday to Saturday: 9 AM to 4 PM and Sunday: 12 PM to 4 PM for the rest of the year.

Ticket prices range from $11 for discounted admission (children aged 6-12 and seniors 62+) to $13 for other visitors.

  • Distance from Palm Springs: 14 miles

Living Desert Zoo & Gardens

things to see in palm springs

In Palm Desert, south of Palm Springs, you’ll find the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, a botanical garden and zoo that allows visitors to immerse themselves in various habitats, including the Vizcaino Desert of Baja California and the deserts of Madagascar. There are numerous activities to enjoy, including private safari tours, up-close encounters with various animal species (such as giraffes, rhinoceroses, and other animals native to Africa, Asia, and North America), nature trails, and much more. If you plan to visit the Living Desert, allocate at least 2-3 hours, keeping in mind that during the summer, due to high temperatures, the zoo is only open in the morning. The address is 47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, and the opening hours are as follows:

  • From June 1st to September 30th: 7 am to 1:30 pm
  • From October 1st to May 31st: 8 am to 5 pm

Ticket prices for the zoo range from approximately $25 for children aged 3-17 to around $35 for adults.

Desert Christ Park

Desert Christ Park

How would you define this strange hidden attraction tucked away in a corner of the village of Yucca Valley? Created by artist Eddie Garver, Desert Christ Park is a kind of free Christological-themed park in the middle of the desert, almost like a “statue nativity scene” that tells some episodes from the Gospel. If you’re particularly devoted… to kitsch, you can also make a stop to visit it. The address is 56200 Sunnyslope Dr, Yucca Valley.

  • Distance from Palm Springs: 27 miles

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum

noah purifoy desert museum

Visual artist Noah Purifoy (1917-2004), an African-American artist, spent the last years of his life creating an outdoor museum somewhere in the desert near Joshua Tree. He showcased his unique creations: sculptures and installations built with recycled materials. This visionary museum can be visited free of charge. It is located at 62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree.

  • Distance from Palm Springs: 39 miles

Desert X

Desert X is not so much a static tourist attraction as a recurring event of contemporary art where artworks are installed in various locations throughout the Coachella Valley desert. On this website, you can find the program for the current year’s edition, including details of the artworks and the geographic coordinates to reach them. Below is a summary of Desert X 2023.

Painted Canyon and Ladder Canyon

palm springs day trips

If you’re experienced hikers, take note because this hike is considered one of the best of its kind in California and will give you great satisfaction. Painted Canyon and the adjacent Ladder Canyon are located within the Mecca Hills Wilderness, a remote area near the town of Mecca. You’ll need to reach the trailhead by driving approximately 4,35 mi on a sandy road. Ideally, a 4×4 vehicle would be recommended, but if the road is in good condition, you can also attempt it with a lower car.Once you leave the trailhead behind, you can walk within the towering and colorful walls of Painted Canyon until a homemade arrow made of rocks indicates the turn towards Ladder Canyon. As the name suggests, this part of the hike involves using ladders to climb up the canyon until you reach the top of the ridge. This may be a bit challenging for those not accustomed to ladders, but the passages are not particularly difficult, and with some practice, it will become much easier to ascend. Climbing through Ladder Canyon will take you to the top of the ridge, where you’ll enjoy exceptional views of the entire wilderness and the distant mountains (Mount San Jacinto).

The hike continues until the trail descends and rejoins Painted Canyon, which you will then traverse in the opposite direction back to the trailhead where you left your car. In total, it takes about 3 hours to complete the 5-mile trail. The uphill section has an elevation gain of 550 feet, but the rest of the hike takes place on the sandy and flat bottom of the canyon.

  • Distance from Palm Springs: 47 miles

Salton Sea

salton sea

The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California and has a very interesting history. In the 1960s, it was a popular tourist destination for those seeking refuge from the desert heat. However, in the following decade, it dramatically declined due to climatic changes that raised the water level and caused damage to tourist facilities. Additionally, the salinity of the lake has drastically increased in recent years due to a lack of drainage, making it unattractive for swimmers. Moreover, the waters are polluted by discharges from surrounding businesses.So why mention it as something to visit near Palm Springs? Well, there are always people who can be fascinated by a decaying place, and there are also curious attractions in the area. One of them is the famous Salvation Mountain. Read our upcoming dedicated article on the Salton Sea History (and attractions) to determine if it’s worth a visit.

  • Distance from Palm Springs: approximately 62 miles

General Patton Memorial Museum


History enthusiasts and military aficionados may consider a visit to the General Patton Memorial Museum (62510 Chiriaco Rd, Chiriaco Summit), especially if they are in the area to visit Joshua Tree National Park or the Salton Sea. General Patton was a key figure in the U.S. Army during World War II. In addition to learning about his story and that of his heroic soldiers, visitors can explore the museum’s extensive collection, which includes documents, memorabilia, books, testimonies, as well as weapons, tanks, military vehicles, cannons, and other vehicles from that era.

Prices range from $7 for children (aged 7-12) to $15 for adults. The museum is open every day from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, except for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

  • Distance from Palm Springs: approximately 53 miles

Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

palm to pines scenic byway

Could a scenic road be missing in the Palm Springs area? Of course not! The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway is the perfect opportunity for those who can’t give up their daily on-the-road experience during a trip. As the name suggests, the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway starts with the palm trees on the outskirts of Palm Springs and quickly leads you through the pine forests of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.The itinerary begins at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center, where you can pick up maps and informational material before embarking on your journey. In the first part, you will immediately encounter some winding roads that take you to higher elevations, offering panoramic views of the desert landscapes of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. Among these, I recommend stopping at the Coachella Valley Point and the Cahuilla Tewanet Vista Point.

In the second part of the route, with the desert now behind you, you can stop by Lake Hemet, nestled in the pine forests, and the charming mountain town of Idyllwild, before reaching Banning, the final stop of the journey. From there, you can return to Palm Springs in about 25 minutes.

The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway (from the Visitor Center to Banning) is approximately 67 miles long and takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes without making long stops.

Places to Eat in Palm Springs

Among the historic restaurants from the Rat Pack era, Melvyn’s may be an interesting option. Frank Sinatra was one of the first customers of this restaurant that also has a dance floor. If you spend Sunday afternoons there, you might enjoy some interesting jazz concerts.

On Palm Canyon Drive, you can find  Sherman’s Deli & Bakery, a more casual venue and a great place for a sandwich. Actually, the sandwiches here are huge and perhaps this is the main reason why this place is so popular.

How Many Days in Palm Springs?

Palm Springs is not a huge city, and in fact, it can be comfortably explored in a day. However, the presence of natural and artistic attractions in the surrounding areas might tempt you to extend your stay by an extra day (and it would be a good idea!).

Places to Stay in Palm Springs

where to stay in Palm Springs
Tips on what to see in Palm Springs

Hotels in Palm Springs can be quite expensive, but if you visit during the summer, you will find that prices decrease significantly due to the hot weather. To experience the 1950s vibes of the Rat Pack era, you can choose between the Del Marcos Hotel (which does not accommodate families with young children) and the Horizon Resort.

Here’s a resource to see all hotels in Palm Springs, consult prices and book a hotel.

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.

lorenzo puliti
lorenzo puliti

I am fascinated by the wonders of the world I never tire of going in search of them.

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