Palm Springs, California, in Coachella Valley, lies southeast of Los Angeles and northeast of San Diego. With its 350+ days of sunshine each year, this once star-studded desert resort city is about as close to paradise as you can get.
The vibe is luxurious but relaxed, and the best things to do in Palm Springs, CA, include everything from shopping and taking a spa day to hiking through the canyons to find secluded palm oases.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that this area is more than just the retro-chic city of Palm Springs. The Greater Palm Springs area includes Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella.
Whether you love old Hollywood, golf courses, or exploring nature, there are lots of fun things to do in Palm Springs. Here are some of the best.
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Activities and Things to Do in Palm Springs with Kids
The thought of visiting this area (which was once a go-to vacation destination for greats like Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Hope, and other celebrity residents) with kids can be a little intimidating, but there are plenty of fun things to do in Palm Springs with kids.
Visit The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a 1,200-acre zoo and botanical garden in Palm Desert that’s home to animals from all over the world like warthogs, jaguars, giraffes, javelins, bobcats, golden eagles, cheetahs, and bighorn sheep.
The areas of the zoo that feature desert-dwelling animals are especially interesting — the zoo’s mission is to promote desert conservation through preservation, education, and appreciation.
This is one of the Palm Springs kids activities that families with young children enjoy. I used to love visiting The Living Desert as a kid.
Shields Date Garden
Palm Springs may be one of the few places where fresh dates are served in the regional favorite “date shake” style. Sipping on date shakes is one of my personal favorite things to do in Palm Springs and I LOVE grabbing one at Shields.
Coachella Valley is known as the Date Capital of the World, and Shields Date Garden makes one of the best date shakes in Palm Springs at their original 1960s shake counter. Dates have been grown and harvested on this site for nearly a century.
After fueling up at the café, which has a nice menu of fresh California cuisine and rustic outdoor seating, you can tour the date palm farm and even watch a history of dates in the little theater. Before you go, pick up souvenirs at the Shields shop, which sells date sugar, candies, fresh citrus, and other treats.
Palm Springs Air Museum
The Palm Springs Air Museum is home to the largest collection of flyable World War II planes in the world, and a visit is like a tour through history. The museum is staffed by passionate volunteers ready to answer kids’ questions about each of the different airplanes on display and the second world war.
There are also vintage cars and flight simulators, and depending on the day, you can book a ride in a C-47 Skytrain, P-51 Mustang, T-28B Trojan, or T-33 Star Jet (definitely one of the coolest things to do in Palm Springs with kids).
It’s conveniently located at the Palm Springs International Airport.
Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert
This museum for kids is filled with tons of hands-on activities that answer kids’ questions and inspire them to ask more. The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert is made up of three buildings set on six acres with more than 100 exhibits that are fun for visitors of all ages.
Inside, exhibits are grouped by themes like science, the desert, and how things work, and there are always traveling exhibits that touch on things like STEM subjects or dinosaurs. Outside, there is a tortoise habitat, a discovery garden, a music garden, and a trike track.
Take an Eco Tour
Companies like Desert Adventures provide immersive eco tours that are equal parts fun and educational.
Led by expert naturalist guides, these Jeep or hiking tours will take you to desert oases fed by underground springs, through steep-walled canyons, around fascinatingly twisted rock formations, and to sites where the Native American Cahuilla tribe harvested desert plants for food and medicine.
Top Greater Palm Springs Attractions and Points of Interest
These are just some of the Palm Springs attractions you might want to add to your itinerary.
Moorten Botanical Garden
Moorten Botanical Garden is a privately-owned arboretum that’s open to the public and home to 3,000 varieties of desert cacti and other desert plants that range from tiny to huge.
The plants are grouped by region and biome. You’ll see flora from Arizona, Baja, California, Colorado, the Mojave desert, the Sonoran desert, South Africa, arid South America, and Texas.
In addition to the outdoor collections, there are cacti and succulents in a greenhouse as well as interesting crystals and fossils on display.
Visiting the gardens is one of the most unique things to do in Palm Springs. If you fall in love with these prickly plants during your visit, there are cacti for sale in the nursery.
The Palm Springs Art Museum
This museum features the work of both the Cahuilla people native to Palm Springs and famous artists from recent history like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Dale Chihuly.
The full collection of the Palm Springs Art Museum includes 20,000 pieces representing the best in contemporary art, design, photography, and the art of the west in America.
This is one of the best things to see in Palms Spring on days when the weather might be too hot to wander outdoors. Admission is free every Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. and all day every second Sunday of the month.
The Annenberg Theater
This intimate 440-seat theater in the Palm Springs Art Museum hosts several productions representing the best in music, dance, theater, and performance art each year.
From Broadway to ballet to classical soloists and Motown, the Annenberg Theater has something for everyone — and beautiful acoustics, too.
The Agua Caliente Indian Canyons, once a community hub for the Cahuilla people, are a beautiful place to hike or stroll. The trading post near the entrance has trail maps and staff are happy to make trail recommendations depending on what you’d like to see.
There are rushing streams, sheer cliffs, eerie rock formations, huge fan palms, interesting canyon formations, hiking trails, and natural palm oases. Pack a picnic and make a day of it — don’t forget to bring plenty of water.
The Palm Springs Visitors Center
This is one of those Instagrammable things to see in Palm Springs that’s worth a visit — especially if you’re headed toward the nearby Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
The architecture of the visitors center (which was designed by Albert Frey and Robson Chambers, and first opened as a gas station in the mid-60s), is space-age retro perfection.
You can’t miss this low building with its striking flying wing overhang at the base of Mount San Jacinto.
Architecture aside, it’s a place where travelers can learn about the tourist attractions in Greater Palm Springs.
Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway
The Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway (sometimes called the House of Tomorrow) was originally owned by socialites Robert and Helene Alexander, who leased it to Elvis Presley and Priscilla Presley in 1966.
The couple honeymooned here in this mid-century Modernist home in 1967 after their wedding and stayed here when they needed time off from Los Angeles.
Visitors to Palm Springs who love architecture or the King can tour this home with an Elvis or Priscilla look-alike, and it hosts an annual tribute concert and celebration on Elvis’ birthday.
The Shops on El Paseo
If your perfect vacation includes plenty of shopping — mine definitely does — head over to El Paseo, which is the next best thing to Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive for luxury shopping.
There are beautiful boutiques featuring labels like Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Escada, and Bottega Veneta along with absolutely wonderful art galleries.
As you might guess, this is one of my personal top things to do in Palm Springs, CA.
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum
This Southern California landmark in Desert Hot Springs is one of the best Palm Springs attractions. Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a Hopi inspired Pueblo that was built by hand using mainly reclaimed materials by Cabot Yerxa over a period of many years.
The four-story, 5,000 square foot structure was always supposed to become a museum and now houses Native American art and artifacts, souvenirs of Cabot’s travels, displays focused on Native American Rights, and art created by Cabot himself.
The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum
Beginning in 2020, visiting the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum will be one of the newest things to do in Palm Springs, CA.
The new Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in downtown Palm Springs will celebrate the history, culture, and continued traditions of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.
Joshua Tree is a bit less than an hour away from Palm Springs by car and one of the reasons people visit the area from San Diego. The magical desert scenery and landscapes full of unusual plants and imposing boulders are incredible.
There are free trails outside of the national park (like Coyote Hole and Big Morongo Preserve), but if you venture in, you’ll find everything from short walks to challenging backwoods hikes that should only be attempted by serious hikers.
Free Things to Do in Palm Springs
While this area of California built its reputation on being a celebrity hideaway, there are still plenty of free things to do in Palm Springs.
Take a Walk or Ride a Bike
Thanks to miles of well-maintained routes and trails, this is a wonderful place to take a walk or ride a bike.
If you don’t have your own bike, there are plenty of bike rental companies in Palm Springs and lots of pretty things to see and photograph on your walk (like the house with the famous pink door that has its own hashtag, #thatpinkdoor).
The Palm Springs Visitor Center has maps that will steer you toward the most interesting historic neighborhoods and parts of downtown.
Check Out Villagefest
The name makes this community gathering in Palm Springs sound like an annual festival, but Villagefest actually takes place every Thursday on Palm Canyon Drive between Amado Road and Baristo Road.
That’s when the street is closed to cars, and hundreds of indy shops, local artists, crafters, and treat vendors set up shop streetside while musicians and performance artists entertain the locals and visitors. It’s fun to browse, eat, drink, and enjoy being part of the Palm Springs crowd.
Hike to the Tahquitz Canyon Falls
Tahquitz Canyon in the Coachella Valley was home to the Cahuilla tribe for more than 2,000 years. Today there are trails leading into the canyon that will take you to a spectacular 60-foot waterfall and if you have a keen eye, you might also see rock art and ancient irrigation systems.
Before you hike in, stop by the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center to check out their educational and cultural exhibits.
The Allan Pitchko Art Galleries
Browsing this combination museum-art gallery-antiques shop in Rancho Mirage is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Palm Springs.
The Allan Pitchko Art Galleries is a showroom that’s as large as it is elegant. The gallery space is warehouse-sized but divided into rooms — all of which are filled with 18th, 19th, and early 20th-century fine art and modern art, plus antique furniture, sculpture, estate jewelry, glass art, and collectible china.
The Palm Springs Museum Trail
You don’t have to drive out into the desert for a good, hard hike. This trail actually begins at the corner of the Palm Springs Art Museum’s north parking lot and ends with amazing views of Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley, the San Jacinto Mountains, and the San Gorgonio Mountains.
Pro tip: Just don’t park in the museum parking lot because you will get a ticket.
Roll Down Palm Canyon Drive
This iconic strip in the main downtown area is where you’ll find some notable Palm Springs attractions, museums, the Palm Canyon Theater, restaurants, and great shopping.
It’s also an Instagram-worthy spot thanks to the tall palm trees that line both sides of the street, framing the mountains in the background and the interesting mid-century modern commercial buildings.
Visit Thousand Palms Oasis
Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve has 20,000+ acres of desert wilderness and trails. In the center, you’ll find an idyllic palm oasis with giant California fan palms that served as the backdrop of Cecil De Mille’s King of Kings.
You can roam or take a guided tour. Stop by the Visitor Center for a trail map, to learn more about the history of the Preserve, and to see displays of fascinating artifacts and rocks found in the area.
Romantic Things to Do in Palm Springs
With its star-studded past and natural beauty, this part of California is romantic by default, but these are some of the most romantic things to do in Palm Springs.
Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride
Seeing the Coachella Valley from the open sky with someone special at your side is a breathtaking experience.
Several companies offer hot air balloon tours that drift gently over the picturesque landscapes of Palm Springs and include extras just for couples, like champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, and a photographer ready for mid-air proposals.
Ride the Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which opened in 1963, remains the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world.
The 10-minute tram ride is definitely the easiest way to get to the top of San Jacinto Peak and one of the best things to do in Palm Springs at any time of day, but at night riding the tram is nothing short of magical.
The last tram doesn’t go down until 9:45 p.m., so you can pack a dinner basket for two, dine at the top, and gaze out at the glittering lights of Palm Springs as you descend the steep rock face. I have discount Palm Springs Aerial Tramway tickets that are a great deal.
Take in a Show
The 1,127-seat McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert hosts world-class soloists and performance groups year-round, from Broadway shows to classical concerts. The theater has hosted some of the greatest entertainers in the world, and there’s always something wonderful on the calendar, making it a perfect date night venue.
Go for a Horseback Ride
Taking in the natural beauty of Palm Springs doesn’t have to mean hiking.
There’s nothing quite as romantic as trotting through the Agua Caliente desert canyons with your favorite traveling companion.
Take a Sunset Tour
When the sun begins to sink, the desert comes alive, and there are guides who will take you to sites like the San Andreas Fault or remote palm oases just for the sunset views.
Far out from the spots human beings call home, the Palm Springs desert seems more colorful, and the night sky blazes with stars.
Drive to Coachella Valley Vista Point
If you stay on winding Highway 74 until you’re about five miles outside of Palm Springs, you’ll eventually come to an overlook where you can park and enjoy absolutely gorgeous views of Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta.
The landscape is striking in the daytime, but at night, it’s transformed. Stop and watch the sunset, then stay for the view of the twinkling lights in the city below.
Best Spas in Palm Springs
Palm Springs is one of the most relaxing destinations in California, so it’s no surprise that there are so many fabulous spas here. These are some of the best spas in Palm Springs and some happen to be in some of my favorite Palm Springs hotels.
The Azure Spa in the retro-chic Riviera hotel (which was once a favorite of celebrities like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra) has 18 treatment rooms plus a therapeutic watsu pool where you can enjoy luxurious body scrubs, relaxing hydrotherapy soaks, invigorating massages, and a whole menu of detoxifying experiences.
The Estrella Spa sits on the beautifully manicured grounds of the Avalon Hotel and has all kinds of natural treatments for every part of the body and for your mind.
There are scrubs followed by relaxing Vichy showers, reflexology massages, fabulous facials, and all sorts of treatments featuring natural CBD.
L’Horizon Resort and Spa
The spa at L’Horizon Resort and Spa is absolutely serene. There is a menu of massages, facials, body treatments, and beauty treatments that are timed just so for ultimate relaxation.
There is also Vinyasa and Hatha yoga, personal training, and Le Shop, which carries Naturopathica skincare and body products.
Two Bunch Palms Spa
The historic Two Bunch Palms Spa Resort, which is just 20 minutes away from downtown, may be the best spa in Palm Springs thanks to the natural hot- and cold-water aquifers that run under the city and fill the spa’s pools and soaking tubs.
Famous guests have been enjoying the benefits of the rich mineral-infused waters since the spa first opened in the 40s, and today, a new generation is enjoying “taking the waters” (and many other luxurious treatments) here.
Agua Serena Spa
This spa just south of the city pampers guests in indoor and outdoor spaces. Specialty concierges at the Agua Serena Spa inside Hyatt Regency Indian Wells (where I have fantastic Virtuoso benefits for overnight guests) can help you create a treatment plan designed to meet your exact needs.
Your concierge might suggest an agave-nectar skin hydration treatment or a classic Swedish massage. There are gender-specific aesthetic services, too.
If there are things you want out of your treatment or others you’d prefer your therapist to avoid, your concierge will make a note of that before your treatments begin.
The Well Spa
The Well Spa at the Miramonte Resort takes its name from the on-site wishing well. When you arrive, you’re given a coin to toss into the well while you make a wish. Next, you’ll be asked to choose a stone with a word of intention inscribed on it and that word will become your mantra.
In addition to traditional experiences, this spa in Palm Springs has some unique treatments — like the honey massage and a couple’s painting party that involves colorful therapeutic muds.
What are your favorite things to do in Palm Springs?