For snowbirds and fans of Americana, Palm Springs seamlessly marries old-school fun with sophisticated modern culture. Visitors can bask in a retro vibe with mid-century modern architecture and sultry piano bars that recall the grand old days when Elvis, Liberace and Sinatra made the town their desert haven. Or they can enjoy cutting-edge cuisine, groundbreaking museums and sophisticated entertainment. Beyond the iconography and pop culture landmarks, the mountain and desert landscapes surrounding Palm Springs deliver a wealth of opportunities to indulge (year-round), in terrific golf, hiking, biking, tennis, swimming and sun worshipping.
Occupying 94 square miles within the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs lies 55 miles east of San Bernardino, 107 miles east of Los Angeles and 123 miles northeast of San Diego. Interstate 10 provides easy access to and from Palm Springs and Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, the weather is Palm Spring’s major calling card, with abundant sunshine (350 days a year), low humidity, warm temperatures and scant precipitation; the average annual rainfall in Palm Springs California area is a grand total of two inches. The city is surrounded by popular attractions that draw both tourists and locals.
While lounging by a kidney-shaped pool with a cocktail in hand may sound appealing, consider this: Palm Springs is one of the United States’ top outdoor adventure destinations (especially during the winter months), with extensive hiking trails, fascinating fauna, multihued canyons, serrated mountains and exceptional golf. All told, there are 25 Palm Springs-area golf courses. Prefer trails to fairways? A number of outfitters offer tours for rock climbing (beginner to advanced), mountain biking, off-roading and racing cars. For wildlife encounters, the sprawling Living Desert Zoo and Gardens features botanical gardens, hiking trails and over 450 wild animals from the desert environments of North America and Africa. The 6-mile Palm Canyon Trail to the Stone Pools in Indian Canyons is a not-to-be-missed hike that traverses rugged countryside before ending up at a beautiful series of stone pools.
Joshua Tree National Park
Located about 50 miles west of Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park entrances visitors with its namesake plant life and surreal rock formations. Several trails in the 790,636-acre park lead travelers past gargantuan boulders that look like they were sculpted by a surrealist artist from another planet. Throughout the park, the legendary Joshua Tree — named by pioneers for its resemblance to the namesake Old Testament leader pointing to the promised land — dots the landscape, adding to the otherworldliness of the scene. Work up a sweat on a trail or find enlightenment in a lotus position in the shadow of a jagged rock outcropping. The hustle and bustle of Palm Springs will seem a million miles away.
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is dedicated to Cabot Yerxa, Palm Springs’ first mayor and the man who put the area on the map. Yerxa’s 35-room pueblo was built between 1939 and his death in 1965, using recycled materials that Yerxa foraged from the desert. With gorgeous desert views, the home is now a museum that can be toured. Chock-full of memorabilia, well-curated artifacts and documents provide a rich insight into his life as a homesteader and his brushes with the notorious Hollywood glitterati.
Where Celebrities Went to Party
While in town, keep an eye out for houses that trace their roots to Hollywood’s Golden Age, when A-list stars flocked to the desert town to get away from the pressures of the studios and paparazzi. Silver Screen icons from Frank Sinatra to Kirk Douglas collaborated with world-famous architects to create modernist masterpieces that have graced the pages of architectural magazines. Elvis Presley fans make pilgrimages to the Hilltop House, where the rock ’n’ roll legend and his wife Priscilla lived for the first year of their marriage (1966-1967). Beyond all the Elvis memorabilia, the home is a paradigm for local mid-century modern architecture.
Art Under the Sun
Since the 1950s, Palm Springs has been a showcase for established and emerging artists. A number of eclectic galleries and studios in town exhibit the work of local and national artists. A great place to get acquainted with the area’s sensibilities is the Palm Springs Art Museum, whose spacious rooms showcase compelling works of art from sculpture to painting to mixed medium. Permanent collections range from Mesoamerican art to contemporary pieces.
No trip to Palm Springs would be complete without a jaunt down Palm Canyon Drive, lined with high-end clothing stores, upscale boutiques and superb eateries to please every palette. Considered the desert’s answer to Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, this iconic strip entices shopaholics with fine clothing, accessories and art. Next door in Palm Desert, the renowned El Paseo Shopping District features more than 300 world-class shops, locally owned boutiques, art galleries, jewelers, top-name retailers such as St. John and Gucci, and gourmet restaurants set against a scenic backdrop. Foodies will find outstanding local eateries, ranging from traditional Mexican food at Las Casuelas Terraza to tiki fare at the Tonga Hut.
Festivals and Events
The Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival in nearby Indio in February celebrates the region’s passion for dates, with all manner of outdoor attractions and events, ranging from petting llamas and goats, to camel and ostrich races, a demolition derby, monster trucks, a carnival, a nightly musical pageant and a rodeo. In March, Indian Wells plays host to one of the tennis world’s greatest events: the BNP Paribas Open. Also in March, Palm Springs Life festival, in the El Paseo shopping district, features a star-studded roster of the nation’s most acclaimed chefs, who conjure innovative dishes from the agricultural bounty of the Coachella Valley. You’ll also find wine and craft beer tastings, food tasting booths and events held at more than 40 gourmet restaurants.
Agua Caliente Legacy
The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians first settled in the Palm Springs area over 5,000 years ago. At the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, exhibits that feature huts, pictographs, irrigation ditches and bedrock mortars provide a rich insight into the Cahuilla people’s culture, heritage and engineering feats. The Agua Caliente tribe maintains land ownership of half of Palm Springs and is extremely active in preserving its Native American heritage within sacred canyons woven with interpretive trails. One of the most beautiful spots, Tahquitz Canyon features the beautiful 50-foot Tahquitz Canyon Falls surrounded by a diversity of native flora and fauna. The Agua Caliente Tahquitz Visitor Center is home to a series of exhibits that display artifacts as well as an observation deck.
Anza-Borrego State Park
In the southeast corner of California, around 100 miles south of Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park, extending for 25 miles east to west and 50 miles north to south. A wild, remote, and primitive landscape, Anza-Borrego combines mesmerizing scenery, ancient history, fascinating geology and a rare stillness. Hiking, biking and rock climbing enthusiasts are lured to the park’s Badlands, slot canyons, palm oases, cactus-studded hills and rugged mountains. The rich deposits of fossil-bearing sediment within the Borrego Badlands form a staggering repository and fascinating time line of human history; fossilized remains, including plants, invertebrate shells and myriad bones and teeth found within the park date back six million years. One of the best vantage points to view the Badlands’ surreal scene is Font’s Point.
Palm Springs Warbirds
Visitors with an interest in aviation or military history should stop by the Palm Springs Air Museum, which boasts one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of World War II fighter planes on display. If you’re willing to fork out the cash, you can take a ride in a vintage, prop-driven aircraft.
Save the Date
Seeking a sweet food experience with a distinctly desert twist? Check out Shields Date Garden in Indio, about 25 miles southeast of Palm Springs on Interstate 10. Here, you’ll discover an oasis of dates, which grow in clusters under the fronds of palm trees. Enjoy a date milkshake, a variety of delectable dishes in the garden café, or educate yourself by viewing a 15-minute documentary, Romance and Sex Life of the Date. Be sure to also take a stroll through the 17-acre garden in the back to see how dates are cultivated.
For More Information
Palm Springs Visitors Center