PALM SPRINGS CITY GUIDE
Palm Springs, CA is nothing if not unique. This desert city has had a long association with the rich and famous of Hollywood and continues to prove as a great escape from the hustle and bustle of more metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles.
Its neighboring areas are equally as unique and quirky and are definitely worth paying a visit if you’re in the desert area. If you can manage to tear yourself away from sunbathing by the pool for a day or two, you’ll find a world of eccentric art, spectacular hiking trails, and unique architecture in the deserts of Southern California. This round-up of things to do, what to see, and what to eat are centralized in Palm Springs. Looking for additional things to do in the surrounding Palm Springs area? Check out this post here.
There’s so much to see and do here, so it’ll definitely be tough to pack everything into a weekend trip. No matter what you decide to go with, all of the picks below, are great choices for your first (or second or tenth) visit to Palm Springs. This Palm Springs city guide will provide you with everything you need to know to plan your best vacation, with details on things to do to the best restaurants, shopping, and where to stay in the area.
So read up and take notes on how to best experience what Palm Springs, CA has to offer!
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BEST THINGS TO DO IN PALM SPRINGS, CA
DOWNTOWN PALM SPRINGS
It’s got everything you could ask for of a downtown area– from fine dining and casual eateries to upscale shopping and small boutique shops, it’s all available here! Allocate at least two hours to stroll around and explore the whole downtown area.
Aim to start in the heart of the area, Palm Canyon Drive, where you’ll find the majority of clothing shops, art galleries, restaurants, candy stores and much more. If you have more time, check out the Uptown area, also located on Palm Canyon Drive, where you’ll find some additional boutiques and eateries.
PALM SPRINGS VILLAGEFEST
If you’re in town on a Thursday evening, be sure to check out the Palm Springs VillageFest event. This is essentially Palm Springs’ lively weekly street fair, which boasts over 180 vendors and is visited by many locals and tourists alike. VillageFest is a super fun event filled with great food vendors, live entertainment, artisanal shopping booths, and handmade crafts.
It is located on Palm Canyon Drive, between Indian Canyon Drive and Belardo Road.
Note: Check their website for the most up-to-date info.
PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY
There is no better way to experience the picturesque desert terrain than with a bird’s eye view of Palm Springs’ natural scenery. This aerial tramway transports visitors up Chino Canyon in the world’s largest rotating tramcar. The 10-minute ride takes you over 2.5 miles along Chino Canyon in Mt. San Jacinto State Park, giving you great views of the mountains, vistas, and the wilderness below.
During your journey, the tram cars will rotate slowly, giving you surreal 360 views of the area. Once you reach the Mountain Station at an elevation of 8,516 feet, you can enjoy two restaurants, observation decks, a natural history museum, and over 50 miles of hiking trails. There are ‘ride and dine’ packages that allow you to enjoy a meal at the canyon’s summit.
PALM SPRINGS ART MUSEUM
Stop by downtown Palm Springs to visit the local art museum. There are great collections of work by western, contemporary, and glass artists as well as rotating exhibitions from internationally acclaimed artists. Besides enjoying the art, they also run art classes and workshops for kids and adults. It also offers a range of theatrical and musical performances in its Annenberg Theater.
Local Tip: The museum is free every Thursday from 4-8PM and every second Sunday. Why not pair it with your Thursday night at Palm Springs Village Fest?
PALM SPRINGS AIR MUSEUM
This top-rated, world-renowned museum gives visitors an up-close look at the legendary fighters and bombers of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. If you’re a history buff, make sure to stop by the Palm Springs Air Museum. It has one of the world’s largest collections of WWII planes, as well as aircrafts from the Korean and Vietnam wars.
No joke, these planes look super cool! There are three exhibit hangars, a gift shop, theater, and an education center.
PALM SPRINGS ARCHITECTURE TOUR
Palm Springs’ biggest selling point is its iconic mid-century modern architecture by various famous architects. Take a self-guided drive through the city to see the landmarks or take a guided architecture tour of Palm Springs.
RENT A BIKE AND EXPLORE
As mentioned above, Palm Springs is known for its colorful neighborhoods full of bright architecture, so what better way to see it all than with a bike tour? If driving around is not your thing, I highly recommend renting bikes from a local bike rental company and spending a few hours cruising around the city checking out the historic houses. Don’t know where to go? Check out Trip Savvy’s self-guided tour.
AGUA CALIENTE CASINO
Looking for some Las Vegas-like activities? Look no further than the Palm Springs area! From slot machines and table games to live entertainment and shows, each casino property promises entertainment beyond gambling. If you’re looking for buffets or fine dining (such as steakhouses), casinos can be a good option. Agua Caliente is located in downtown Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City. Other great casino options exist, such as Morongo Casino Resort & Spa and Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.
Local Tip: Some casinos have midweek specials and even Sunday specials. One of the casinos I visited offered free play credit just for dining in their steakhouse. Check out the casino websites for promotions before picking the one to visit and see if you can take advantage of some deals!
RUDDY’S GENERAL STORE MUSEUM
Blast from the past alert! Jim Ruddy’s General Store Museum takes you back in time to the good ol’ 1930’s. The museum showcases pristine products from the ’30s in their original boxes and tins. Among the 6,000-plus items to be found here include groceries, tobacco, hardware, clothing, medicines, biscuits, beauty aids and soaps.
Note: It’s only $1 to get in! Also note the museum is open from September to May, which coincides with the cooler months of the year in Palm Springs.
BACKSTREET ART DISTRICT
Stroll through a dozen artist-owned galleries and studios at the Arts District and be sure to check out the art walks, held the first Wednesday of every month from 6-9p.m. They have an amazing assortment of original art for all tastes and budgets – paintings, ceramics, photography, mixed media, jewelry, lithography and more.
ANTIQUE GALLERIES OF PALM SPRINGS
Around Palm Springs’ bustling arts district, you’ll find Antique Galleries of Palm Springs. If you’re into vintage/antique pieces or whimsical art and furniture pieces, this is the place for you. There is a vast collection of art and vintage stuff here, including appliances, film projectors, retro signs and furniture, pinball machines, fine china.
The venue is divided into separate spaces, each curated by different artists and antique sellers from the area. This is unquestionably one of the city’s most unique retail venues– you never know what you’ll find.
MOORTEN BOTANICAL GARDEN
Moorten’s is a botanical garden that’s like no other. This is a desert garden, “cactarium”, and nursery all in one, comprising of thousands of beautiful succulents and desert plants. For a small entry fee, you can enjoy a part of your day strolling through this desert botanical garden and its scenic nature trails, which houses roughly 3000 cacti from the USA, Latin America, and Africa. The garden also houses several desert tortoises so come catch a glimpse up close!
COVERED WAGON ADVENTURE AND BBQ
Where else can you take a wagon tour pulled by mules into the desert outback of California? Nowhere but here in the desert! This is such a unique desert tour, mixing both western charm as well as showcasing the natural flora and fauna of the Colorado Sonoran Desert. On this tour, you’ll take a nature walk with your naturalist guide.
Upon completion, there will be a live old-time western performance, easy barn dance (optional), corn-hole and horseshoes, and a chuck-wagon style BBQ. Finally, enjoy the sunset, campfire, and the bright stars in the sky!
CRUISE THE CERTIFIED FARMERS MARKET
Start your morning with a stroll among fruits, vegetables, and baked goods! Discover the freshest and best locally grown produce every Saturday from 8:00am to 12:30pm adjacent to the Camelot Theatres on 401 S. Pavilion Way in the summer and 2300 E. Baristo Road Oct – June.
CELEBRITY HOME GRAND TOUR
Historically, Palm Springs has been known as one of California’s most exclusive destinations. Naturally so, many celebrities have taken residence here, including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Leonardo DiCaprio. What better way to learn about this pop culture history than on a grand tour of Palm Springs celebrity homes?
Palm Springs homes are very accessible, so the bus can actually drive right up to the front door (unlike celebrity tours in LA). The tour doesn’t follow the exact route each time, so there’s some variety in the homes you may see, and the guide even takes requests. Book the Palm Springs Celebrity 2.5-Hour Grand Tour here.
The kitschy art installation known as Robolights is the work of Kenny Irwin Jr. who created the Christmas-themed light show 30 years ago at his home. Since then, it has grown into a prominent year-round tourist attraction, now located at an outdoor sculpture park in Palm Spring’s Movie Colony East neighborhood. Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind attraction featuring towering robots and millions of lights, all constructed from discarded electronics.
SAN GORGONIO PASS WINDFARM
Ever seen the stretch of land covered in thousands of windmills? Yep, that’s The San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, located in one of the windiest parts of California. Why are they here, you might wonder? Well, the turbines produce enough electricity to power all of the Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley and you’ll see them as you drive around the region.
With a 2-hour farm tour, visitors can get an up-close look at how these windmills work as well as learn about the history of the renewable energy industry.
FAN PALM OASIS
You can’t think of California without also thinking about palm trees. They are literally everywhere in the Palm Springs area. But the best place to see the Desert Fan Palm, the largest native palm in the United States, is at Palm Canyon–the world’s largest Fan Palm oasis. In this 15-mile long section of Indian Canyons, you will find an abundance of Fan Palms. This place is gorgeous and it’s such a sight to see. (I mean, you’re in the desert, so you’d expect to see nothing but dust and dirt, right? Wrong!)
Among the sea of green trees surrounding you, you can picnic near the stream, take a hike on the trails, and learn more about the sacredness of this area to the Cahuilla Indians. The canyons are fantastic for exploring on foot or on a horseback. Before or after your visit, head to the Trading Post in Palm Canyon for maps, food, drinks, and Indian crafts.
COACHELLA VALLEY PRESERVE
Located in Thousand Palms east of Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley Preserve is a protected area filled with great hiking trails. Formed by a system of sand dunes, this 20,000-acre sanctuary is home to several species of rare wildlife and a number of palm oases. Even during peak hotness from June to September, the beautiful palm trees offer a canopy of shade. In addition to hiking trails, there are also horseback riding trails. Guided hikes are available from October to March.
WHAT TO EAT IN PALM SPRINGS, CA
The experience at Farm is like being transported to the South of France. As soon as you enter, you will be wowed by their garden patio seating, the beautiful gardens, and impeccable floral landscaping. The next wow factor: their incredibly authentic menu comprising of the freshest local ingredients. We got the baked brie with date jam and it was to die for. The omelets and french toast with fruits were also great choices.
Grand Central is a local favorite and is a great option for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They serve up fresh California cuisine and have a pretty awesome drink selection as well. I’m all about brunching on vacation, and I’d say this is probably one of the best breakfast/brunch options in Palm Springs (try their signature Savory French Toast).
If you love NY style pizza like I do, you will love Bill’s Pizza. Why? Their crust is sourdough based, made from scratch in-house. This makes for the perfect crust, and I’m pretty picky about my pizza crusts. They have many specialty pizzas on the menu and also allow the option to build your own pizza with its extensive list of ingredients. What makes this spot even greater– the lively atmosphere with its indoor and outdoor seating.
LAPPERT’S GOURMET ICE CREAM
Treat yourself to ice cream after your lunch or dinner. There are plenty of ice cream options in Palm Springs, but Lappert’s is the best of the best (and it comes straight from Hawaii)! Their iconic Hawaiian flavors include Kauai Pie, Hawaiian Sea Salt Caramel, Caramel Coconut Macadamia Nut, Kona Coffee, Banana Cream Pie, Rum Raisin, and Date Casablanca.
There are 48 flavors to choose from daily, as well as island and local treats including Hawaiian shave ice, banana split, chocolate-covered bananas, and one of the best date shakes in the area.
Located above NYPD Pizzeria on North Palm Canyon Drive is Tonga Hut, your local tiki bar. Tonga Hut’s ambiance is so festive with its colorful and vibrant decorations displayed at every turn. The menu boasts a wide variety of creative concoctions, so be sure to try a few on your visit. Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong.
They also have awesome food, including authentic pupu platters served on real wooden carved platters. I also hear the owners are great!
WHERE TO STAY IN PALM SPRINGS, CA
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