Unsurprisingly, Palm Springs is best known for its many opportunities to kick back and relax. The expectations of the guests should be low. In the early 20th century, this stunning area blossomed into a popular resort, drawing in A-list actors and actresses from Los Angeles who wanted to get away from the city’s hectic lifestyle. Just what did they unearth? Dinosaurs, golf courses, vacation cottages, and dry plains.
Obviously, no live dinosaurs are present here, but prehistoric monsters do rove the area, and I use the term “rove” quite loosely. Although the Coachella music festival takes place in neighboring Indio, Palm Springs’ top attractions encompass a wide range of interests.
If you follow our recommendations, however, a trip to Palm Springs at any time of year may be filled with enjoyable house tours, botanical gardens, and one-of-a-kind mountaintop tram excursions.
- Aerial Tramway of Palm Springs
Just a few minutes walk from the center of Palm Springs, on Tramway Road, is the iconic canyon-hugging gondola ride. Take a ride in a revolving vehicle inside a cubist station from 1963, and after 10 minutes (and a dip of 10 degrees) you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the whole Coachella Valley below you. Take your time in the San Jacinto Mountains by stopping at the summit restaurant, café, or lounge, or by going on a longer trek.
- The Museum of Art in Palm Springs
Among the modern works on display at this moderately sized museum are those by Henry Moore, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, , and other West Coast artists including Mark di Suvero, Sam Francis, and Edward Ruscha. Modernism, Native American culture, and the American West are often included in exhibitions dedicated to desert life and history. The museum has a free outpost in Palm Desert and a paid branch in downtown Palm Springs dedicated to architecture and design.
- Dinosaurs of the Cabazon Formation
A 24-hour restaurant previously stood under 100-ton Brontosaurus and T. Rex statues, which greeted passing drivers on the road to Palm Springs. Today, they stand to watch over the entrance of a museum dedicated to dinosaurs with a Creationist twist. Visit the gift store located in the stomach of Dinny the Brontosaurus and take a picture with Mr. Rex.
- Air Museum of Palm Springs
The Korean War and the Vietnam War are well represented at this flying museum. More than forty aircraft, including a B-17 flying fortress and an F-4 fighter jet, as well as a C-47 and a PBY Catalina Flying Boat, are spread among three warehouses and the runway. The museum also provides a few, pricey opportunities to take a ride in a C-47 Skytrain or P-51 Mustang.
- The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
This zoo does appear like a miniature version of the Sonoran Desert, thus its name. A few miles from Palm Springs, the outdoor setting is roughly divided into two distinct zones: one more reminiscent of the North American continent, and the other more reminiscent of Africa. To see a variety of wildcats and hoofed creatures, explore the grounds. Additionally, feeding the giraffes is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
- Joshua Tree
It takes less than an hour to drive to the craggy peaks, climbable rocks, and cherished yuccas. Even while overnight campers flock to Joshua Tree National Park, day visitors may see a lot of the park, from the Hidden Valley Trail to Keys View, in only a few hours. If you’re driving from Palm Springs, the best entry to Joshua Tree is on the park’s northwest side; if you’re coming from the Coachella Valley to the east, the south entrance will get you into the park, but it’ll place you in a more remote, deserted location away from the park’s major features.
- Moorten Botanical Garden
Although it’s just an acre in size, this botanical garden is chock full of thorny cacti and other desert plants. The garden was established in the 1930s and is still held by the same family, who has amassed over 3,000 regionally organized desert species from all over the globe. If you want to bring some greenery back as a keepsake, there’s a nursery for that as well, which we think is a great idea.
- Tahquitz Canyon
What, a spring amid the desert? A 50-foot waterfall is located at the end of this two-mile loop in Tahquitz Canyon. Due to the falls’ location on the tribal land of the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians, a charge is required to enter the area. Unlike many of Los Angeles’s graffiti-covered waterfalls, the charge ensures that the route is kept in pristine condition. Hikes with a ranger are also an option.
- Sunnylands Museum and Gardens
Located on 200 irrigated acres of desert in Rancho Mirage, Sunnylands was formerly the winter resort of the rich Annenberg family and has served as a favorite summit venue for decades of presidents. Although the nine-hole golf course takes up most of the site, 12 acres have been set aside for public gardens and a visitor center with works from the Annenberg collection that change seasonally. The mansion’s tours are popular, and they often sell out months in advance.
- Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Canyon Drive is lined with interesting art galleries, antique shops, and furniture stores at every turn. There are several museums (including a shop by retro-inspired artist SHAG) and furniture stores in Palm Springs that are devoted to the mid-century modern style.
- Center for Tourism in Palm Springs
The Palm Springs official welcome center is worth a visit even if you don’t need any of the information it provides; the Space Age building was opened in 1965 as a gas station but was spared from demolition in the 1990s because of the efforts of architects Albert Frey and Robson Chambers. If you find that you do need some assistance getting about Palm Springs, you may do so by reserving a tour via our site.
- The area around the Tennis Club
Beautiful examples of mid-century architecture may be seen all across Palm Springs. Keep in mind that the vast majority of them are people’s homes, so you probably shouldn’t go knocking on doors. But if you take a drive around some of the most famous areas of the city, such Tennis Club or Araby Cove, you’ll see lots of impressive buildings. The Del Marcos Hotel and the Edris House are two of the highlights.