Palm Springs Travel Guide

USA  #11 in Best Places to Visit in California
Credit

Courtesy of Allard Schager/Getty Images

Best Things To Do in Palm Springs

This isn't a place where you should pack your schedule: Embrace Palm Springs' relaxed mentality by enjoying time by the pool and at the spa. But if you're interested, there's more to do than just sunbathing and unwinding with a treatment. For instance, the Palm Springs Art Museum boasts an impressive collection for its small size, and Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway offers a glimpse of the area's star-studded past. Meanwhile, the surrounding canyons and mountains provide ample opportunities for warm weather hikes and cold weather cross-country skiing.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated April 8, 2019

  • #1
    Things to do in Palm Springs
    View all Photos
    #1 in Palm Springs
    13.2 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    13.2 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Coachella Valley Preserve may seem like a barren desert, but keep your eyes peeled and you'll see that its 20,000-plus acres are more than just sand and brush. The preserve encompasses the smaller Thousand Palms Oasis preserve, which boasts more than 25 miles of hiking paths. Along the trails you'll spot rare wildlife, lush palm woodland oases and desert wetlands, which at different times of the year blossom with wildflowers.

    Before heading out, past visitors recommend stopping by the visitor center – located in a log cabin at the entrance of the park – to pick up a map of the trails. You can also download it here. Additionally, some suggested arriving early before temperatures become unbearable and the small parking lot fills up. And if you visit between October and March, consider joining one of the preserve's free guided hikes.

  • #2
    Joshua Tree National Park
    View all Photos
    #2 in Palm Springs
    36.7 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    36.7 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Joshua Tree National Park is an oasis in the center of the desert. From Hidden Valley (which features a nice, easy hike) to the Cholla Cactus Garden (home to many a photo op at sunset), Joshua Tree caters to a variety of active travelers. Meanwhile, with its perch in the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the Keys View lookout is another great place for a spectacular view of the Coachella Valley.

    Whether you're planning on hiking or just driving through, the park rangers recommend bringing plenty of water – this is the desert, after all. What's more, recent travelers suggested bringing food to enjoy at one of Hidden Valley's picnic tables.

  • #3
    Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
    View all Photos
    #3 in Palm Springs
    2.3 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    2.3 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The city of Palm Springs rests in the shadows of the San Jacinto Mountains. The towering, snow-topped peaks of Southern California's second-highest mountain range are beautiful to behold from the valley floor, but many visitors say that a mountaintop experience is incredible. To reach the summit, you'll take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Once you rise 8,516 feet to the top, you can hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski before heading back down the mountain via a return tram.

    To avoid waiting in long ticket lines, several travelers recommend purchasing your tram passes on the attraction's ticket page. If tickets are not available online for your arrival date, you will need to buy them on-site. Adults will be charged $25.95 for standard tram tickets; reduced rates for seniors and children ages 3 to 10 are also offered.

  • #4
    Palm Springs Art Museum
    View all Photos
    #4 in Palm Springs
    0.7 miles to city center
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    0.7 miles to city center
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Palm Springs Art Museum, which was founded in 1938, contains a stunning collection of works, including pieces by big names like Andy Warhol and Marc Chagall. You'll also find an ever-changing list of rotating exhibits, which have included studies of impressionism, contemporary sculpture, pop and graphic art, and architecture. The facility's permanent collection is not to be missed, either.

    According to former visitors, the Palm Springs Art Museum is a "cultural oasis" with "wonderful" exhibits. Many also appreciated its small size, adding that it's easy to see everything in an hour or two. Plus, the property offers free entry every Thursday between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

  • #5
    The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
    View all Photos
    #5 in Palm Springs
    13 miles to city center
    Parks and Gardens, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    13 miles to city center
    Parks and Gardens, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is part-zoo and part-botanical garden, all in the extraordinary setting of a desert. Along with animals like mountain lions, bighorn sheep and meerkats, there are a handful of gardens that showcase more than 1,400 species of plants, including multiple varieties of cacti, prickly pear and agave.

    Past visitors enjoyed seeing The Living Desert's animals but recommended arriving early, since the park offers little shade and temperatures often rise above 100 degrees. Many also suggested paying an extra $5 to feed the giraffes, and if you're traveling with little ones or don't want to walk between exhibits, consider purchasing a ticket for the property's hop-on, hop-off shuttle. Passes cost $6 for adults and $3 for children between 3 and 12.

  • #6
    Indian Canyons
    View all Photos
    #6 in Palm Springs
    5.5 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    5.5 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Located 6 miles south of central Palm Springs, these canyons, which consist of Palm Canyon, Murray Canyon and Andreas Canyon, sit on the reservation lands of the Agua Caliente, a local Native American tribe. All three canyons offer hiking trails with breathtaking desert scenery, but other activities are also available. At Palm Canyon, you can go horseback riding or purchase authentic Native American artwork or pottery. Andreas and Murray canyons, meanwhile, are best for animal-spotting; if you're lucky, you may even see endangered species like the Peninsular desert bighorn sheep and the Least Bell's Vireo bird while exploring Murray Canyon. The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, Tahquitz Canyon and three resorts – Indian Canyons Golf Resort, the Spa Resort Casino and Aqua Caliente Casino Resort Spa – are also situated on or near the reservation.

    According to recent travelers, the Indian Canyons are "peaceful" and "stunningly beautiful." Some, however, cautioned that temps often soar above 100 degrees, so bring lots of water and sunscreen. Many also recommend wearing comfortable closed-toe shoes and skipping the Murray Canyon Trail if you don't want to get your feet wet.

  • #7
    Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway
    View all Photos
    #7 in Palm Springs
    1.3 miles to city center
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    1.3 miles to city center
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway was first the Las Palmas estate, home to 1960s socialites Robert and Helene Alexander. In the mid-1960s, the Alexanders leased the home to none other than the King and his new bride Priscilla. The couple honeymooned at the estate, and nine months later their first and only child, Lisa, was born. Today, visitors can tour the home with an Elvis or Priscilla look-alike "tribute artist" or guide. Special events like an annual tribute concert are also hosted on-site.

    Elvis Presley fans and architecture buffs alike enjoy touring this iconic home. Many past visitors, in fact, raved about the friendly and knowledgeable guides, though some wished there was more to see. Others said the entrance fee was a bit high.

  • #8
    Palm Springs Air Museum
    View all Photos
    #8 in Palm Springs
    2 miles to city center
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    2 miles to city center
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Palm Springs Air Museum boasts an extensive collection of aircraft from World War II, including planes that range from the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress to the Grumman F7F Tigercat to the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. The planes are positioned throughout the museum, not unlike the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

    Several previous visitors said this attraction was "one of the best museums in Palm Springs" and served as a "great place to beat the heat," adding that its kids area, where children can sit in airplane cockpits, is a must if you're visiting with little ones. What's more, many appreciated the property's informative and friendly volunteers.

  • #9
    Tahquitz Canyon
    View all Photos
    #9 in Palm Springs
    2 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    2 miles to city center
    Hiking, Natural Wonders, Recreation
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    For stunning scenery and a look at Native American history and culture, check out the Agua Caliente tribe's Tahquitz Canyon. Situated less than 2 miles southwest of downtown Palm Springs, this area of the tribe's reservation boasts a 60-foot waterfall (accessible via the Tahquitz Canyon Trail), rock art and a variety of flora and fauna. You'll also find the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center, where you can watch a movie about the canyon, peruse various artifacts, buy souvenirs and take in your surroundings from an observation deck. Additional facilities, including three resorts, the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum and the Indian Canyons, can be found on or near the reservation as well.

    Outdoor enthusiasts will love hiking the Tahquitz Canyon Trail, which past visitors said was relatively easy to traverse, despite its lack of shade and occasional changes in elevation. What's more, temps can climb into the 100s at times, so pack plenty of water. One previous traveler recommended carrying at least one liter of water per person.

Explore More of Palm Springs

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.

Recommended

CDC Coronavirus Travel Updates: What to Know About Current Travel Restrictions

Cruises suspend sailings; hotels, airlines tweak cancellation policies; see the latest CDC travel advisories.

What Will Happen to My Elite Status and Points Because of the Coronavirus?

Limited travel due to the coronavirus prompts airline and hotel rewards programs to make policy changes.

14 Top Jigsaw Puzzles, Games and Books to Keep Travelers Entertained

Even though you're stuck at home, you can still indulge your wanderlust with these activities.

15 Top Cookbooks to Buy

Travel to far-flung destinations and enjoy international food without leaving home.

The 12 Best Language-Learning Apps, Programs and Online Courses

Now is the perfect time to learn a new skill.

The 13 Best Sedona Tours

Get lost in the magic of Sedona's red rocks on these top adventures.

What is an Ecolodge? 21 Top Eco Resorts and Eco Hotels Around the World

Luxury meets environmental welfare at these top-notch ecolodges.

The 12 Best Puerto Rico Tours

Experience island living at its best on one of these guided trips.

I Went On a Cruise During the Coronavirus Pandemic. This Is What Happened.

Coronavirus concerns, itinerary changes and uncertainty lead to an unusual vacation.

5 Travel-Themed Activities to Do at Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Use these suggestions to fill the travel void amid the pandemic.