The Coachella Valley has a lot more to offer than desert, though there's plenty of that, too. From pine forests to one of the country's largest concentrations of mid-century modern architecture, Palm Springs has sights to please everyone – though you'll need a car if you're planning to enjoy them all in one day. If you're ready to see all the desert has to offer, then grab your car keys and come along for the ride.
The windmill farms along the freeway in Palm Springs — Photo courtesy of Sam Howzit
Start your scenic drive by heading west on the I-10 freeway. Your destination? One of Southern California's most unique destinations: Joshua Tree National Park. Along the way, your drive will be lined with the towering windmills that stand along the freeway. Behind the windmills to the west, you'll also pass Mount San Jacinto and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
As you turn off I-10 and onto Highway 62, you'll notice you're suddenly immersed in the wild beauty of the desert. Surrounded by dunes, rocks and cacti, continue along Highway 62 and enjoy the desert scenery until you reach the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree National Park — Photo courtesy of Bryan Ungard
Winding your way up the entrance road to the park, you'll probably start to spot your first Joshua trees – that would be those twisted, spiny trees that almost look like stick figures with their arms stretched to the sky. You won't find these misshapen trees anywhere else in the world, but you won't be able to miss them here.
As notable as the park's Joshua trees are the larger-than-life boulders that create an alien backdrop of red, brown and orange as far as you can see. As you drive through the park, be sure to stop by Keys View for expansive views of the Coachella Valley. Another must-see that's worth getting out of the car for is Skull Rock, a skull-shaped boulder where you can actually crawl into the eye sockets for a memento of your scenic drive.
Skull Rock at Joshua Tree National Park — Photo courtesy of Clinton Steeds
From here, you can turn around to make your way back to the desert the same way you came, or you can continue to the eastern entrance that will lead you back to I-10 just past Indio. While this route is longer, it also offers the chance to see how the Joshua trees and boulders of the Mojave Desert blend into the flat, creosote bush-covered expanses of the Colorado Desert.
If you take the shorter route, exit onto Indian Canyon once you make your way back to Palm Springs for a look at some of the desert's best mid-century modern architecture. Throughout downtown Palm Springs, you'll see historic buildings by the likes of Wexler, Frey and Lautner. Hop on South Palm Canyon to see the iconic Bob Hope House as you wind your way toward Palm Desert.
The view of Coachella Valley from Vista Point — Photo courtesy of Ken Lund
Once you hit Palm Desert, make a right onto Monterey Ave. to climb up the mountains that stand behind the desert. Monterey Ave. turns into Highway 74, also known as the Palms to Pines Highway, and it offers a striking contrast from the views of Joshua Tree National Park. As you make your way up the windy highway, you'll see the desert melt into a sea of green as you enter San Bernardino National Forest.
Depending on how much time you have, you may want to take the highway all the way into the quaint mountain town of Idyllwild for a rustic dinner; otherwise, be sure to stop at Vista Point on your way back down for a bird's-eye view of the Coachella Valley. If you can plan your stop for right around sunset, you'll hit that magical time when the pink and orange skies give way to nightfall in the desert.