Palm Springs Travel Guide 2018

I loved Palm Springs! This surprised me a bit because I always thought of Palm Springs as a place for golfing and shopping and not much else. Wrong! Whether you need a weekend getaway or want to escape a colder climate for the entire winter, it’s a great choice. Traveling solo to Palm Springs could be overwhelming to some but this comprehensive travel guide will help you find the best places to eat, drink, shop, enjoy the outdoors, and find a place to stay in Palm Springs. Plus learn all the best attractions and things to do!

Celebrities from Hollywood bought homes in Palm Springs since the 1920’s. Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Liberace, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley made a home in Palm Springs. Book your trip to Palm Springs and find out why so many celebs chose to stay and play in Palm Springs.

This post contains compensated links. See my disclosure about affiliate links here

 

Palm Springs California Travel Guide - Best Things to Do in Palm Springs

 

 

Why Palm Springs?

You will love the choices in Palm Springs! There’s a great mix of activities from cultural experiences, hiking, art museums, shopping, spas, golfing, mid-century modern architecture, enjoy relaxing by the pool or soaking in a hot tub.

Palm Springs really is a great place to get away and rejuvenate.

You can golf and shop plus enjoy excellent hiking right from downtown, learn about the history and culture of the Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians at the cultural museum or on a guided hike at the Indian Canyons, dine at fabulous restaurants, take an incredible day trip to Joshua Tree National Park or go from the desert to the clouds via the revolving aerial tramway to Mount San Jacinto State Park, visit world class art museums, explore exceptional mid-century modern architecture, or relax at the pool all day.

 

Winter in Palm Springs includes palm tree views from the heated swimming pool

Winter in Palm Springs includes palm tree views from the heated swimming pool

 

Palm Springs turned into the ideal location to break up my road trip from Tucson Arizona to Carpinteria on the California coast in December 2015. I booked a whole month at an Airbnb condo downtown.

Get your FREE $40 travel credit towards your first Airbnb stay here!

When I was looking for a warm place to spend December 2017 before flying to Calgary Alberta, I chose Palm Springs again for my winter escape.

Non-stop flights

The southern California desert is the perfect getaway location for Canadians because there are non-stop flights to Palm Springs from:

  • Calgary (WestJet and Air Canada)
  • Edmonton
  • Toronto
  • Vancouver
  • Winnipeg

This makes it so easy to escape winter!

There are several US cities with non-stop flights to Palm Springs, including:

  • Chicago
  • Denver
  • Minneapolis
  • New York City
  • Portland Oregon
  • Salt Lake City
  • Seattle

From the moment you set foot in PSP airport you will know you made a good choice!

 

Things to do in Palm Springs

Golfing and shopping are two of the main activities for many visitors to Palm Springs. Other folks enjoy the art and cultural museums, relaxing by the pool, or hiking the trails. There is plenty to do and I felt comfortable going out by myself in Palm Springs.

Agua Caliente Cultural Museum

  • 219 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262
  • Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 10 – 5 pm (Closed: Monday and Tuesday)

To learn about the original inhabitants of Palm Springs, the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians, visit the excellent (and FREE) Agua Caliente Cultural Museum. The exhibits change every few months. This is a small museum in downtown Palm Springs so it’s easy to access and you can see the exhibit in about an hour.

The museum staff are friendly and helpful so ask questions and engage in conversation with them.

There is a gift shop at the museum where you can purchase souvenirs and Me Yah Whae magazine of the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians. You can access the magazine online and you will find links to other resources there including a link to the history and culture of the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians.

 

Palm Springs Art Museum – 3 locations

There are two locations in downtown Palm Springs and a third location in Palm Desert.

Check the main website for current exhibits and info for all three locations.

Architecture Design Center – 300 S Palm Canyon Drive

Explore architecture and design exhibits in a space that is not overwhelming in size. In December 2017 there was an excellent exhibit of Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi architectural drawings, models, design plans, and photos of completed structures.

  • FREE admission every Thursday from 4 pm to 8 pm
  • FREE admission second Sunday of every month
  • Regular admission fee is $5 (save your ticket to get $5 off at 101 Museum Drive location)
  • Free admission to active military and their families with I.D.
  • Free admission to individuals aged 18 and under

Palm Springs Art Museum – 101 Museum Drive

This is the largest of the 3 locations. Established in 1938, the permanent collection includes a large number of significant art works by contemporary artists.

Also at this location you will find The Annenberg Theater, a 430-seat performing arts center with exceptional acoustics.

  • FREE admission every Thursday from 4 pm to 8 pm
  • FREE admission second Sunday of every month
  • Regular admission fee is $12
  • Seniors aged 62 and over $10
  • Students and teachers with I.D. $5
  • Free admission to active military and their families with I.D.
  • Free admission to individuals aged 18 and under

Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert – 72-567 Highway 111, Palm Desert

Housed in a LEED-certified building named The Galen. Also be sure to visit the Faye Sarkowsky outdoor sculpture garden featuring 10 sculptures in a beautiful landscaped garden setting.

  • FREE admission to everyone every day made possible by Helene Galen

Golfing

There are a few golf courses in Palm Springs and several others in nearby Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, La Quinta, and Rancho Mirage. Do remember to pack a sun hatand your golf accessories.

 

Classic 1960's model Ford Mustang at Classic Car Auctions in Palm Springs

Classic 1960’s model Ford Mustang at Classic Car Auctions in Palm Springs

 

Shopping in Palm Springs

Souvenir shopping

For souvenir shopping in Palm Springs make sure you check out the weekly  Villagefest Thursday market from 6 pm – 10 pm October through May, and 7 pm – 10 pm June to September. You will find dozens of vendors along Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs. Also many of the shops and galleries stay open late for Villagefest.

Vintage shops

  • Bazar – 125 E Tahquitz Canyon Way
  • The Frippery – 664 N Palm Canyon Dr
  • Iconic Atomic – 1103 N Palm Canyon Dr
  • Mitchells – 106 S Indian Canyon Dr
  • Revivals – 611 S Palm Canyon Dr
  • Sunny Dunes Antique Mall – 507 E Sunny Dunes Rd

Outlet shopping

  • Desert Hills Premium Outlet located at 48400 Seminole Drive, Desert Hills CA
  • Cabazon Outlets located at 48750 Seminole Drive, Desert Hills CA

High end shops

  • The Shops on El Paseo – 73061 El Paseo, Palm Desert

Classic car shopping

  • Classic Car Auctions – 244 N Indian Canyon Dr
  • One Eleven Vintage Cars – 355 E Sunny Dunes Rd

 

Hiking trails in Palm Springs

How many cities have hiking trails from downtown? Palm Springs does! You can visit the Palm Springs Art Museum and take the Museum Trail directly from the art museum parking lot downtown. Just remember to bring plenty of water. Hydration packs are a good option for desert hikes.

Grab a hiking trail map at the Visitor Center downtown, located in the Welwood Murray Memorial Library at 100 South Palm Canyon Drive. There is also a visitor center at 2901 North Palm Canyon Drive which is closer to the Uptown Design District.

My favorite hikes were the guided hikes at Palm Canyon and Tahquitz Canyon which has a beautiful waterfall. You can book your own ranger led interpretive hike and learn about the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians. There is no extra charge to join one of the ranger led hikes.

Information about hours, admission fees, and ranger led hikes is available on the Indian Canyons website.

 

Tahquitz Canyon - Agua Caliente Tahquitz Visitor Center located at 500 W Mesquite Ave in Palm Springs

Tahquitz Canyon – Agua Caliente Tahquitz Visitor Center

Popular hikes in Palm Springs

Solo hiking is pleasant in Palm Springs in the cooler months when temperatures are generally between 60 and 80 degrees F (15 to 27 Celsius).

Check the weather forecast before you head out for a hike. If you aren’t comfortable hiking on your own then register for one of the ranger led hikes or find a hiking meetup group.

Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a day-bag with the hiking 10 essentials. Always be prepared with proper hydration, snacks, and appropriate hiking clothing for the desert.

  • Indian Canyons

    – please note that the Indian Canyon hikes have an admission fee

    • Palm Canyon Victor trail – 3 mile loop with 250 ft gain in elevation
    • Murray Canyon – 6 miles with 500 ft gain
    • Andreas Canyon – 2 miles with a 50 ft gain in elevation makes this an easy hike along a creek with beautiful palm trees for the first part of the hike.
  • Tahquitz Canyon – admission fee applies. 2 mile loop hike with 300 ft gain. This hike has a beautiful waterfall, a nice surprise in the desert.
  • North Lykken trail – 5 miles with 1,000 ft gain
  • South Lykken trail – 5 miles with 1,000 ft gain
  • Art Museum trail – 2 miles with a 900 ft gain. Beautiful views of Palm Springs.

Mid-century Modern Architecture

Palm Springs is the place to see mid-century modern architecture. You can attend Modernism Week in February each year. Be sure to get tickets to the events early – some are already SOLD OUT!

 

Walk of the Inns Palm Springs

Thursday December 13, 2018

FREE event – grab your map of the Walk of the Inns participating lodgings

Another fun event is the Walk of the Inns fundraiser which takes place annually in early December. You get a map of the participating inns and boutique hotels and walk around visiting the inns while enjoying libations and tasty treats at certain locations. Plus the event raises funds for Toys for Tots and Well in the Desert.

 


 

In 2019 Modernism Week takes place from February 14 – 24, 2019 – Search hotel deals here!

 

Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium

Open year round with shorter hours during summer. Tours available from late fall to early spring, free with price of admission. Special event hosting available, garden weddings are popular at Moorten Botanical.

Admission fee is $5 for adults/seniors; $2 for children 15 and under; FREE for children 5 and under

Hours

Fall/Winter/Spring
10 – 4 daily Thursday to Tuesday

Summer from first day of summer to first day of fall
June 21 to September 21
9 – 1 Thursday to Tuesday

 

Sunnylands

 

Cactus and water feature at Sunnylands garden near Palm Springs

Tour the gardens of Sunnylands in Palm Springs

 

Previously the winter home of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, the 200-acre estate is preserved via The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands to provide a place for world leaders to meet and discuss important issues. Sunnylands opened to the public in 2012 with visits to the center and gardens along with small guided tours of the estate at Sunnylands.

 

“The greatest happiness comes from being vitally interested in something that excites all your energies.”

– Walter Annenberg

Get information and buy tickets to tour the historic estate at Sunnylands – tickets go on sale August 15 for September 2018 tours.

Visits to the Sunnlands Center and Garden reopen Wednesday, September 12 2018 (closed during hot summer months). Thursdays through Sundays from 8:30 to 4:00 pm. FREE and no reservation is required for individuals or small groups. For groups of 20 or more do contact the center to register in advance.

 

Prince Philip, Lee Annenberg, Queen Elizabeth, and Walter Annenberg, 1983 - photo credit: The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands

Prince Philip, Lee Annenberg, Queen Elizabeth, and Walter Annenberg, 1983 – photo credit: The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands

 

Getting around in Palm Springs

Surprisingly, you can get by without a car if you are staying in downtown Palm Springs. In December 2017, I stayed 3 weeks and rented a car only to visit Joshua Tree National Park.

Walking – You will find that walking around downtown Palm Springs is an an enjoyable way to get around.

Uber or Taxi – affordable options for getting around Palm Springs without a car. Taxi fare from the airport to downtown Palm Springs is around $15 – $20. NOTE: Uber is not allowed to pick up passengers at the airport (dropping off at airport is allowed) so you need to walk out to the street to catch Uber from the airport.

Buzz is a FREE bus service in Palm Springs. Check the schedule and route map on the Buzz website. You can also download the Buzz app from the website. Buzz is a handy way to get around Palm Springs without a car.

Finding a FREE parking spot in downtown Palm Springs is usually not a problem. A new parking garage opened in 2017 near The Palm Springs Art Museum. Access from North Museum Drive (in front of the museum) or from North Palm Canyon Drive at Amado Road. NOTE: 4 hr limit for parking at this location.

There is also a large parking garage with FREE parking located at 275 S Indian Canyon Drive.

Best day trips from Palm Springs

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is an easy day trip from Palm Springs and it’s my favorite one. You can enjoy scenic drives with soothing vistas or get up close to intriguing landscapes while hiking the trails at Joshua Tree. Read detailed info in my post on day trip to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs here.

 

Joshua trees along the Barker Dam Trail - Joshua Tree National Park - Palm Springs Day Trip

Joshua trees along the Barker Dam Trail at Joshua Tree National Park

Mount San Jacinto State Park Aerial Tramway

The world’s largest rotating tramcar carries passengers 2.5 miles along Chino Canyon to Mount San Jacinto State Park. Visitors can enjoy 50 miles of hiking trails, 2 restaurants, observation deck, natural history museum, and gift shop. Read about my visit to Mount San Jacinto State Park here.

Remember to bring appropriate clothing for weather conditions as temperatures are typically 30 degrees F cooler than in the desert.

 

Cable car of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway at Mt San Jacinto - Palm Springs California

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway with rotating floor

 

Aerial Tramway tickets cost $25,95 for adults, children $16.95, seniors (age 65+) $23.95

Address: 1 Tram Way, Palm Springs 92262 – about a 15-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs.

The valley station, mountain station, and tram cars are handicap accessible.

Get more info from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway website

 

Salton Sea

Surreal is the word to describe Salton Sea.

Located 60 miles from Palm Springs and situated on the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake. This inland saline lake in the Sonoran Desert of Southeastern California did not exist until the early 1900’s when the Colorado River burst through man-made irrigation controls near Yuma Arizona. For more than a year the river flowed into the Salton Basin.

In 1907 a series of protective levees stopped the flow of water. By that time the Salton Sea measured 40 miles (64 km) by 13 miles (21 km) and covered around 400 square miles (644 sq km). The Salton Sea varies in size depending on the rains.

San Diego’s regional water agency stopped sending water to the Salton Sea in January 2018. The Salton Sea could evaporate entirely.

On June 6, 2018 voters approved $200 million to preserve the Salton Sea.

 

Salton Sea with mountain view - Southern California

Salton Sea in Southern California – great day trip from Palm Springs

 

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

 

Burrowing Owl at Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

Burrowing Owl at Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

 

Salvation Mountain and Slab City

Local resident Leonard Knight created Salvation Mountain. After Leonard died in 2014, a group of volunteers has been maintaining the site. Leonard made the mountain with Adobe mixed with straw and covered it with paint to protect it from erosion.

If you take a day trip to the Salton Sea you may as well visit Salvation Mountain and Slab City while you are in the neighborhood.

Salvation Mountain addressBeal Rd, Niland, CA 92257

Slab City is about 2.5 miles from Salvation Mountain. This community of squatters as well as Snow Birds from Canada and colder regions of the USA live off the grid. There is no running water, no electricity, no trash pickup, no toilets nor sewer service.

There is also no fee for parking at Slab City or “The Slabs” as it is commonly known.

Formerly a military operation know as Camp Dunlap, the army removed all the building back in the mid-fifties, leaving the concrete slabs in place. By the mid-sixties people settled in Slab City, sort of an unofficial RV Park. Anyone could set up camp at Slab City.

 

Colorful mailbox at Salvation Mountain near the Salton Sea

Salvation Mountain and Slab City make for an interesting day trip from Palm Springs

Downtown Palm Springs food and drink guide

There are so many great restaurants and bars in Palm Springs. These are some of the places I visited and can recommend. All of these restaurants are located in downtown Palm Springs and I could walk to them all from my condo. You can actually stay in downtown Palm Springs without needing a car.

 

Breakfast or Brunch in Palm Springs

  • L’Altelier Cafe is the perfect place for breakfast, coffee, and pastries. Owners Charlotte and Raphael Farsy visited Palm Springs from Paris France for their honeymoon. They fell in love with Palm Springs and decided to make it their new home. Read their story and check out L’Altelier Cafe menu.
  • Sherman’s Deli & Bakery is a family run New York style restaurant open 7 am to 9 pm daily. Sherman’s was featured on the Food Network’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. Look at Sherman’s menu here.

 

Lunch in Palm Springs

  • FARM is a Provencal style restaurant with traditional French dishes served in downtown Palm Springs. Inspired by her travels to southern France, owner Liz Ostoich wanted to share the experience through food. Inspire your taste buds via FARM’s menu.
  • Bill’s Pizza – I liked this place except for the somewhat grumpy manager who refused to let me use a credit card (even though I used a credit card on my first visit there) Bring cash or debit card in case grumpy manager is your server. Have a look at the pizza menu.
  • LULU California Bistro – one of my favorite places for dining solo in Palm Springs – see description below under “Dinner Options”

 

Happy Hour places in Palm Springs

  • Tropicale – gorgeous patio and great happy hour from 4 to 7 pm daily, enjoy jazz indoors a few nights a week. The staff at Tropicale always greeted me and treated me like I was family. Have a look at Tropicale’s weekly specials.
  • Las Casuelas Terraza – live music makes this a fun place to hang out and enjoy a few margaritas and some Mexican food. Find out why Las Casuels Terraza is Palm Spring’s favorite Mexican Restaurant.
  • LULU California Bistro – 12 hour happy hour every day :)

 

Dinner options in Palm Springs

  • Rooster and the Pig – my favorite dinner was at Rooster and the Pig. Vietnamese American food and craft cocktails await you. Most importantly – NO reservations – so show up early if you are hungry. Open 5 – 9-ish Wed through Mon. Closed Tuesdays. Cashless – bring credit card or debit card.
  • LULU California Bistro – always busy but you don’t have to wait for a table if you are okay with sitting at the bar. Service was always excellent, tasty libations, and the food is very good. Late night dining on Friday and Saturday from 11 pm – 12  am. Happy hour is 12 hours every day! Visit LULU
  • Thai Smile – wonderful friendly staff, I loved the seafood curry! Thai Smile is named after the owner Yim Priddy Prayongyam (Yim means smile in Thai) Enjoy Thai Smile take-out or dine in
  • Fisherman’s Market & Grill – voted #1 Best Seafood Restaurant 17 years in a row! One of my favorite restaurants in Palm Springs – Fisherman’s Market website

 

Dessert options in Palm Springs

  • Sherman’s Deli & Bakery – my go to place for pastries – check out the full details and menu here
  • Palm Springs Fudge & Chocolates – delicious chocolates for your afternoon fix or dessert after a fine meal. Plus they have a selection of candies and sugar-free sweets
  • See’s Candies – get a free sample at the shop then create your own custom mix of chocolates or choose from the selections of chocolates, nuts, lollipops, and sugar-free candies

 

Healthy Snacks or Smoothies

  • Raw Remedy Organic Juice and Raw Food Bar
  • Fruit Wonders
  • Fresh Juice Bar

 

Sky painted with brilliant sunset colors with palm trees in silhouette downtown Palm Springs

Stunning sunsets await you in Palm Springs!

Where to stay in Palm Springs

Check now for the latest deals on hotels in Palm Springs!

 

Budget hotels in downtown Palm Springs

 

Mid-range hotels in Palm Springs

  • ARRIVE – Hip hotel located in the Uptown Design District. Enjoy the modern design of this boutique hotel. Catering to young, hip, and connected clientele, you can order room service, valet, or housekeeping via your smart phone. Find ARRIVE room rates and deals here
  • Avalon Hotel and Bungalows conveniently located downtown a block away from S Palm Canyon Drive. This was one of my favorites on the Walk of the Inns event – check out Avalon Hotel deals
  • The Colony Palms Hotel is a long time favorite. Enjoy this luxury boutique hotel located one block from the design district – shopping, dining, or just chillin’ and people watching are steps away. Click here for the latest hotel and spa packages
  • Kimpton Rowan has a modern vibe with a spectacular rooftop pool and bar – book Kimpton Rowan now
  • The Willows Historic Inn provides an elegant and luxurious escape in one of the oldest historic sites in Palm Springs – if walls could talk! Only 8 guest rooms – will you be one of the lucky few?

 

Luxury hotels in Palm Springs area

 

Long-term stays and RV parks in Palm Springs

Spending the entire winter in Palm Springs is an option for some people, such as retirees or digital nomads.

Accommodation options for long-term stays include AirBnB, VRBO, RV park, condo or house rentals booked through an agency or you can find them on Craigslist or even Facebook groups. In addition some hotels offer monthly rates.

Airbnb.com is how I found both of my Palm Springs rentals. Many of the listings on Airbnb offer a discount for monthly rentals. Never used Airbnb? Click here to get $40 travel credit on your first stay! Note that many listings on Airbnb offer discounts for weekly or monthly rentals.

Happy Traveler RV Park is located at 211 W Mesquite Ave. Monthly rates for peak and off-peak season. If you stay 5 months or longer the peak rates do not apply.

 

Annual events in Palm Springs area

Here are the main attractions going on in Palm Springs on an annual basis. Check the websites for more info and to find out costs or ticketing info for these events.

 

For more information about events and activities around Palm Springs check out Greater Palm Springs tourism website.

ENJOY Palm Springs!

 

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 4 of living a nomadic life, roadtripping around the USA and Canada and writing about her experiences. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

4 Replies

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  1. Nancie says:

    WOW, Susan! What a great guide. I have to say I always thought of Palm Springs as a place for the rich. I can see that not the case. I love the photo of the cacti at Sunnylands. Looks like you’re on another planet.

    • Thank you Nancie! Yes, I thought the same about Palm Springs but it’s much more than a rich folks playground. And it’a a great place to escape the cold Canadian winter ;) I’ve enjoyed two Decembers in Palm Springs so far, hope to get back this year or next. Sunnylands gardens are beautifully maintained. There’s a patio at the cafe so you get to enjoy lunch and the cacti garden at the same time.
      Cheers,
      Susan

  2. Mark says:

    Glad to see you give the PS Art Museum some love. It’s a great place with wonderful shows and events… most people don’t know it’s there! Well done.

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