Best Sightseeing in Palm Springs

Top Sights to See While Visiting Palm Springs

Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a bit of bad weather when you've planned to sightsee your way around town, but luckily, you won't come across that problem in Palm Springs. Year-round sunshine means you're always free to soak up the desert's top sights, but where does one start? We have a few ideas.

When it comes to sightseeing, you'll find it hard to beat the sweeping, 360-views of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The rotating cable cars offer unobstructed views of the Coachella Valley and surrounding areas, and once you reach the top, you'll be able to enjoy the nature walks and hiking trails of San Jacinto State Park.

Or you can take a closer look at the desert's natural beauty at nearby sites like Joshua Tree National Park and the Indian Canyons. Joshua Tree is a stunning sight to see with its alien-like boulders and twisted Joshua trees, while the Indian Canyons offer a look at the mountains the native Cahuilla people once made their home. 

Palm Springs' museums and zoos also host a wealth of sights worth a visit. At the Palm Springs Air Museum, for example, you'll set your gaze on the world's largest collection of flyable WWII planes, while the Palm Springs Art Museum offers a look at both historic Native American artifacts and fine contemporary art. Over at The Living Desert, you'll be able to see dozens of desert dwellers from around the world, including giraffes, cheetahs and zebras, to name a few.

Check out the full list of the desert's 10 best sightseeing attractions below.


As the deadliest war in history, WWII forever changed the course of American and international history. Today, visitors can view the largest collection of flyable WWII planes in the world at the Palm Springs Air Museum. Whether or not you're a hardcore military history buff, you won't want to pass up the opportunity to talk with the museum's passionate volunteers. Most of the museum's volunteers served during WWII and are eager to talk about the planes, the war and American history with museum guests. Docents will happily share the stories behind each plane, such as which fighter plane was flown by Ben Affleck's character in "Pearl Harbor." In addition to its impressive plane collection from planes, the museum also has vintage cars, flight simulators, documentary screenings and an onsite caf�.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The Palm Springs Air Museum is home to an amazing sight to behold: the world's largest collection of flyable WWII planes.

Marissa's expert tip: You can see the museum's historic planes take to the sky on holidays like Memorial Day.

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The Palm Springs Art Museum has seen many transformations since its inception in 1938. Originally focused on the desert environment and the native Cahuilla people, the museum is now dedicated to both the region's indigenous culture and contemporary art, having hosted exhibits by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Dale Chihuly. Palm Springs' modern flair is encapsulated in PSAM's building, which is a Modernist structure designed by E. Stewart Williams. More than 24,000 objects and artifacts call PSAM home, including fine art, photography archives and fossils. The museum's onsite performance venue, the Annenberg Theater, hosts various musicals, plays, concerts and other performances throughout the year. In 2012, the museum opened a second location in neighboring Palm Desert. The second location features modern architecture and four exhibit galleries.

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Who needs mass produced homes and traditional building materials? When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used natural materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day. While the structure's architecture is a unique sight to behold, there's more to see here than Cabot's Hopi-style pueblo. Inside, the house has been turned into a museum with rooms filled with Indian artifacts, artwork and memorabilia. One artifact you shouldn't miss is Waokiye, a 43-foot sculpture of a Native American head. Waokiye is one of 74 heads in the "Trail of the Whispering Giants" collection and the only on left in California.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Cabot's Pueblo Museum is a one-of-a-kind homestead and historic monument in Desert Hot Springs.

Marissa's expert tip: Around the corner from the museum, you can visit Miracle Hill. This is where Cabot first found both hot and cold water aquifers running underground.

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Ever wonder what a roadrunner and coyote really look like? At The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, you can meet the real life inspiration for these desert-dwelling "Looney Tunes" characters. This Palm Desert zoo focuses on educating visitors about animals from deserts in North America and Africa, including giraffes, warthogs, jaguars and bighorn sheep, to name a few. The Living Desert also has a number of gardens showcasing the various cacti and other plants native to the desert. Hikers, be sure to bring your gear. The Living Desert has 1,080 acres of undisturbed desert land and a number of nature trails through the preserve are open seasonally to the public.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The Living Desert offers sights of native desert dwellers from around the world.

Marissa's expert tip: Arrive early in the day, if possible. Not only will temperatures be cooler and the wildlife more active, but you can also watch animals undergo annual exams and surgery at the Marilyn and Bill Tennity Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center.

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Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument provides the picturesque background for the Coachella Valley. The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains line the desert, and in the winter months, these peaks are snowcapped for the ultimate photo opportunity. These mountains are more than just something to look at, though. Trails abound along the desert to let you explore the monument firsthand. Some trailheads, like those atop the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, require a fee to access, but most are free to explore. You can try a short trail like the 2.4-mile Randall Henderson Trail at the visitor's center or try a more strenuous hike like the Bear Creek Oasis Trail at the top of the La Quinta cove.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument is filled with hiking trails that offer an up-close look at the desert's natural beauty.

Marissa's expert tip: Try the popular Bump and Grind trail in Palm Desert for a cardio workout with expansive views of the east end of the valley.

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Sparkling springs set amid 20,000 acres of lush greenery provide a haven for a myriad desert creatures, just five miles outside of Palm Springs. In the center is a 1000-acre, idyllic palm oasis that served as the backdrop for Cecil De Mille's epic film, King of Kings. Self-guided nature trails, horse trails, and picnic facilities are available. You can also opt for a guided tour along McCallum Trail, one of the flattest and easiest trails in the preserve. Experienced hikers may want to try their hand at the Herman's Hike Loop, Pushwalla Trail or Hidden Palms Trail, some of the more difficult trails at the Coachella Valley Preserve.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The Coachella Valley Preserve offers a look at the natural desert with its trail network along the desert floor and San Andreas Fault.

Marissa's expert tip: Opt for a guided hike along McCallum Trail with one of the preserve's naturalists for a deeper understanding of the desert's ecology.

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Discover the outdoors from the open bed of a red jeep on a Desert Adventures tour. The tour company specializes in eco tours of the Coachella Valley, including tours of Joshua Tree National Park, the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons, Mecca Hills and the San Andreas Fault Line. Many of the guides have been with the company for years and know the desert's wildlife, environment and history better than most locals. The fault line tours are always a popular choice for visitors, offering a rare glimpse into the heart of the San Andreas Fault. Desert Adventures has exclusive access to parts of the fault line through Metate Ranch, a 840-acre site that includes a recreated Cahuilla village and mining camp.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Desert Adventures offers fun and convenient tours through many of the desert's top natural wonders.

Marissa's expert tip: For a little variety, opt for one of Desert Adventure's night tours. As the sun sets, you'll be treated to a tour of a natural palm oasis and the fault's slotted canyons. After dark, your tour guide will lead you through a stargazing session at Metate Ranch's recreated mining town.

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There's no better way to view the Coachella Valley than from above. Don't settle for the view from your airplane window, though. For the best views of the desert, take a cable car into the mountains at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. A 12.5 minute ride in the world's largest rotating aerial tramway will offer 360-degree views of the greater Palm Springs area as you climb two-and-a-half miles to Mountain Station in Mount San Jacinto State Park. Once you get to the top of the tram, enjoy a nature walk, a backcountry hike or a meal overlooking the Coachella Valley at Peaks Restaurant. In the winter, swap your hiking gear and pack your scarves and mittens to play in the snow.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway offers 360-degree views of the entire Coachella Valley and surrounding areas.

Marissa's expert tip: Plan your trip to the tramway in the afternoon, if possible. You'll escape to cooler temperatures during the hottest time of the day and catch the best evening views of the desert from the top of the tram.

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Once a community center for the native Cahuilla people, the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons are a recreational oasis for hikers, horseback riders and nature lovers. Protected by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the area's hiking trails include Andreas Canyon, Murray Canyon and the popular Palm Canyon. Stop by the Trading Post near the entrance for a trail recommendation, a hiking map and water, if you forgot to bring it. For a relaxing experience in the canyons, pack a picnic and make a day of exploring Palm Springs in its natural state. Streams, natural palm oases and canyon formations are just a few of the natural wonders awaiting canyon visitors.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The Indian Canyons offer a look at the desert's natural mountains, canyons and streams.

Marissa's expert tip: Opt for a guided hike. While visitors are welcome to explore the trails on their own, a guided hike with a park ranger offers trailblazers a much richer experience. Not only will your guide be able to teach you about the plants and wildlife found in the canyons, but rangers also share the folk tales and lore of the native Cahuilla people who once inhabited the land.

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Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, but it feels like a world away. Filled with hiking trails, scenic vistas and larger-than-life rock formations, Joshua Tree is the perfect destination for those looking to get back to nature. The alien-like boulders and twisted joshua trees make for popular photo ops, whether you decide to hike the trails or drive through the park. The preserve is actually the result of two great deserts, the low Colorado and the high Mojave, which come together at Joshua Tree to create a 794,000-acre geological and floral wonderland. A Visitor's Center, art gallery, and cafe-deli welcome you at the park's entrance.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Joshua Tree National Park is filled with stunning sights of larger-than-life rock formations and twisted Joshua trees.

Marissa's expert tip: Bring plenty of food and water. Desert temperatures can lead to dehydration.

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Meet Marissa Willman

Marissa Willman moved to the Coachella Valley in 2001 and loves discovering the best that the desert has to offer. As a Palm Springs local, Marissa enjoys sharing her knowledge of this desert...  More About Marissa