Things to do in Palm Springs, CA

Get Your Bearings in Palm Springs

By Marissa Willman
Palm Springs Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

The desert has something for everyone, whether you're an art aficionado or family of four trying to keep the kids entertained. Uptown Palm Springs is home to a number of art galleries and vintage shops, while the Backstreet Art District in South Palm Springs offers a chance for you to see artists at work in their studios. If you're bringing the kids, family-friendly attractions like the Children's Discovery Museum will keep everyone entertained. Dozens of outdoor tours and hiking trails offer a chance to experience the desert's natural wonders - including slot canyons, waterfalls and oases - up close and personal.

Caution:

Some attractions are closed seasonally, like Knott's Soak City which is only open in summer, and some outdoor tours, which go on hiatus when summer temperatures soar into triple digits.

Hot Tips:

Whether you're coming to the desert during the warm winter months or in the hot summer, if you're headed outside, be sure to pack sunscreen, a hat and plenty of water.

Where to Stay

If you're a fan of Old Hollywood or a lover of all things modern, you'll want to stick near downtown Palm Springs where dozens of boutique hotels boast mid-century architecture and famous guests like Marilyn Monroe. You'll also be within walking distance of Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs' downtown strip and the airport. In neighboring cities like Palm Desert, La Quinta and Rancho Mirage, you'll find larger resorts with onsite spas, salons and even lakes, but you'll definitely need a car to get around. There are also plenty of pet-friendly Palm Springs hotels if you're bringing furry travel companions.

Caution:

Many of downtown Palm Springs' boutique hotels are adults-only. Be sure to call ahead to confirm a kid-friendly accommodation if you're bringing the family.

What to Eat

The two main restaurant districts are El Paseo in Palm Desert and downtown Palm Springs. Both areas feature restaurants with award-winning chefs, and the restaurants in these districts tend to both buck and set the trends. Visitors can enjoy a taste of the Coachella Valley as a number of farm-to-table restaurants are now in the Palm Springs area, and chefs are using seasonal, local ingredients to create inventive menus.

Caution:

Restaurants on El Paseo and in downtown Palm Springs get crowded in the early evenings. Make a reservation or be prepared for a wait.

Be Sure to Sample:

California fusion cuisines by the numerous award-winning chefs in the desert...and don't forget the date shakes.

Places to Party

Bars, live music venues and clubs abound in Palm Springs, offering a fitting late night option no matter what your style. In the spring, mega music festivals like Coachella Fest and Stagecoach come to the desert, and the winter season is filled with live music ranging from blues and soul to heavy metal and reggae. Year-round, the dance floors at clubs like Zelda's and Toucans are filled with locals and tourists looking to dance the night away. Palm Desert and downtown Palm Springs are your best bets for finding local watering holes.

Take It or Leave It:

The desert has a reputation for turning in soon after the sun sets, and for good reason. Don't expect to see many venues open until the wee hours.

Where to Shop

There are plenty of shopping destinations in the desert, but Palm Desert is the place to go if you're looking to indulge in a shopping spree. The desert's answer to Rodeo Drive, El Paseo is home to designer boutiques and upscale brands like Saks Fifth Avenue. Nearby, Westfield Palm Desert offers a traditional shopping mall experience, and Highway 111 is lined with eclectic shops and thrift stores galore. On the weekends, Palm Desert's College of the Desert campus transforms into a street fair, and on Wednesdays, the city's Chamber of Commerce parking lot hosts a weekly farmers' market.

Best Local Souvenir:

Box of dates, local artwork or modern, resort-style threads from a local designer.

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Things to do in Palm Springs


Palm Springs is known for...

Five of Palm Springs's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Hollywood's Hideaway:

During Hollywood’s golden age, actors were contractually bound to stay within 100 miles of the studio for last-minute shoots. As a result of this “two-hour rule,” stars including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin traded the hustle and bustle of Hollywood for palm trees and poolside cocktails in Palm Springs, exactly 100 miles from Hollywood. Today, A-list stars continue to flock to the desert for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and the Stagecoach Country Music Festival. Experience a taste of Hollywood in the desert by touring the Walk of the Stars in downtown Palm Springs.

2. Modernism:

Clean lines, floor-to-ceiling glass windows and simple designs defined architecture in Palm Springs from the 1920s through the 1960s and mid-century modernism continues to dominate as Palm Springs’ design aesthetic of choice. Modern gems by architects such as Donald Wexler and Albert Frey are celebrated every February during Palm Springs Modernism Week, which offers architectural tours, film screenings, lectures and classic car shows. Can’t make it for the February festival? Design a self-guided desert modernism tour and check out classics such as Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway, the Tramway Gas Station and the Movie Colony neighborhood.

3. Golf:

Year-round sunshine and warm weather means there’s never a bad time to tee off in the desert. With more than 100 pristine golf courses, Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley are a golfer's paradise. Some of the desert’s most notable golf courses can be found at Mission Hills Country Club, Desert Willow Golf Resort and PGA West. The pros love golfing in the desert, too, and are on the local greens during annual golf tournaments including the Humana Challenge, the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational.

4. Resorts:

Palm Springs’ mix of boutique hotels and five-star resorts offers something for everyone, making the desert a welcoming retreat for couples, families, celebrities and winter warm-weather seekers. Desert resort amenities include golf courses, luxurious spas, desert-inspired gardens and enticing pools with plenty of cabanas and poolside service. Take a walking tour of Palm Springs’ boutique hotels in December during the Walk of the Inns, when dozens of exclusive properties open their doors to curious visitors.

5. Natural Beauty:

From fault lines and deserts to waterfalls and natural oases, Palm Springs offers natural beauty in many forms. Experience the desert for yourself by taking advantage of the dozens of hiking trails available. Popular hikes include the Indian Canyon trails, the Bump and Grind trail and the Coachella Valley Preserve, a 17,000-acre site with trails that wind through the San Andreas Fault. Rather not walk? Tour companies such as Desert Adventures and Elite Land Tours offer off-road adventures into the San Andreas Fault, Indian Canyons and Joshua Tree National Park.