Palm Springs is a desert city located in sunny, southern California. It’s known for its mid-century modern architecture, trendy art scene, and year-round warm weather. During winter, temperatures rarely ever drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). On top of this, the surrounding valley of Palm Springs offers an incredible desert landscape and miles of hiking trails.
With attractive weather, a long list of activities, and a touch of lavish flair, this desert city makes for a wonderful vacation spot, where you’ll never be short of things to do
If you’re planning a trip, here is our guide for the top things to do in Palm Springs!
Top Things to Do in Palm Springs
This enticing desert city offers many attractions that will keep you occupied during your stay. To start off your trip, here are the top things to do around Palm Springs.
Riding the Aerial Tramway is one of the top things to do in Palm Springs, California. Enjoy spectacular panoramic views as you rise 2.5 miles up to the top of Mount San Jacinto State Park. You’ll leave the warm desert floor and travel to the cool mountain air.
Once you’ve reached the top you can explore the miles of hiking trails. Or, if you’re visiting in winter, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Facilities found at the top of the mountain include two restaurants, observation decks, and a history museum. Make sure to watch the two documentary-style movies on the history of the tramway at the museum!
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a beautiful outdoor oasis filled with local and exotic animals. When you visit, you’ll see jaguars, Mexican wolves, giraffes, African wild dogs, and so much more!
What’s particularly great about this zoo is that the animals are given very spacious living conditions. You’ll feel more like you’re on a safari than visiting a zoo. There are lots of attractions and activities for you to enjoy. These include hiking trails, petting zoos, and animal encounters.
Animal chats are also scheduled throughout the day. Stop by and learn more about the zoo’s inhabitants from a fact-filled member of staff.
Before you visit, make sure to download The Living Desert’s free app. You’ll have access to an audio guide, interesting facts about the animals, and more!
- Palm Springs Art Museum
- Palm Canyon Theater
- Elena Bulatova Fine Art
Joshua Tree National Park is located about 50 minutes (38 miles) from Palm Springs. Visiting this famous site is one of the most popular things to do near Palm Springs.
It’s an unusual landscape characterized by twisted trees, unique rock formations, and stark desert landscapes. The amazing succulents, cacti, and other desert plants make a colorful contrast to the rocky backdrop.
Around every corner, you’ll see something new – including lots of desert critters. With miles of well-marked paths, this park is great for hiking and exploring. If you’re able to stay for the sunset, you’ll be in for an enchanting experience!
It’s also a great place to explore for multiple days. Staying near Joshua Tree National Park gives you the most time and options to get to know the unique nature and stunning valleys.
The Palm Springs Art Museum is an institution dedicated to art and natural science. Stop by and see over 11,000 objects, including European art and Native American art.
The museum showcases an eclectic range of ever-rotating exhibitions. The Modern and Contemporary Collection is the museum’s hallmark. This area contains roughly 3,000 sculptures and paintings, and over 2,000 art photographs.
The museum offers free admission every Thursday from 4:00 – 8:00 pm, and every second Sunday of the month. Children 18 years of age and younger always visit for free!
The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Native Americans. This nature preserve is characterized by towering palm trees, flowing creeks, and remarkable rock formations. There are several different hiking trails you can take – with options for all skill levels.
The Seven Sisters Falls Trail is an easy to moderate hike. It offers great views of the canyon. But be prepared to cross the creek several times over logs and rocks.
The Adreas Loop is a one-mile hike that’s perfect for all skill levels. The trail follows a creek bed and winds through lush palm trees.
This is one of the best Palm Springs activities for hiking, photography and picnicking!
The Palm Springs Air Museum documents the role American pilots and citizens played in WWII. It contains an exceptional collection of World War II planes and items related to aviation history.
When you visit, you’ll see one of the world’s largest collections of WWII warplanes. There is also plenty of aircraft-related artifacts and artwork. Many of the aircraft on display have even been used in movie sets for major motion pictures!
Other amenities include a theater, gift shop, research library, and flight simulator.
Unusual Things to Do in Palm Springs
Now that we’ve covered the top Palm Springs tourist attractions, let’s get into some unusual things to do during your visit. These activities will allow you to see a different, more authentic side of this desert city!
Looking for a unique way to do some Palm Springs sightseeing? Why not hop on the back of a bike and cruise through the desert on wheels!
Palm Springs is a very bike-friendly city. There are practically no hills, making this activity easy for all skill levels to enjoy. Further, Palm Springs has designated bike paths that weave through the downtown area and past celebrity homes. The paths are well marketed and easy to follow.
If you’re looking for a fun way to get in some exercise during your trip, make sure to add this activity to your Palm Springs to-do list!
8. Visit the Largest (and Saltiest) Lake in California
The Salton Sea is located approximately one hour (60 miles) from Palm Springs. This lake stands out for two reasons. One, it’s the largest lake in California, and two, it’s a saltwater lake!
The Salton Sea State Recreation Area is the best area of the lake to visit. It offers camping and BBQ facilities as well as picnic tables. It’s a great place in the desert to enjoy a social gathering. Plus you’ll have a pretty epic backdrop.
Swimming isn’t always recommended due to unpredictable water conditions. However, it’s a great spot for kayaking and canoeing.
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a historic Hopi-style pueblo that contains artifacts and artworks from Native American cultures. This unique house structure was built in the Pueblo Revival style. This is an architectural form that draws inspiration from the Spanish missions in New Mexico.
The main building is four-stories high and contains 35 rooms, 150 windows, 65 doors, and 30 different roof levels! The site was mainly built from scrap wood and sheet metal scavenged from the surrounding area.
Today, guests can visit this house museum and see what desert pioneering life was like in the early 20th century.
Safety in Palm Springs
Overall you should have nothing to worry about when you visit Palm Springs. As with any other big city, crime does occur. However, if you keep to the city’s touristy area and practice the rules of common sense you should be just fine.
Palm Springs has a very dry, desert climate. During the peak of summer, temperatures hover around 108 degrees F (42 degrees C). If you plan on exploring Palm Springs hiking trails, make sure you’re prepared.
Always carry water, sunscreen, and snacks with you. Have some form of navigation, whether that be a map or your cell phone with GPS. It’s also a good idea to let a friend know where you’re going before you leave. Read our tips for traveling safely before you fly and always get travel insurance. Check out our roundup of the best travel insurance.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you - pick up this awesome security belt with its hidden pocket before you travel, it's perfect for hiding money, a passport photocopy.
Things to Do in Palm Springs at Night
Looking for entertainment options after the sun goes down? Here are the absolute best things to do in Palm Springs at night!
10. Explore the Exciting Epicenter of Palm Springs
Palm Canyon Drive is Palm Springs’ walkways downtown district. This is where you’ll find all the best shops, galleries, museums, and restaurants in the city. It stays busy almost all hours of the day and always has something fun going on.
It’s great for nighttime entertainment. Whether you fancy an upscale eatery, a local watering hole, or anything in between!
VillageFest is a street fair held every Thursday night on Palm Canyon Drive. Local vendors set up shop and the street is closed off to make this a traffic-free event. This event is a great way to experience the city’s local arts, food, and entertainment!
11. Have a Magical Night at a Splendid Palm Springs Resort
Are you looking for activities in Palm Springs that allow you to fully embrace the lavish desert lifestyle? If so, look no further than the Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa Rancho Mirage.
This resort will put you into total vacation mode, and you don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to take advantage of their offerings.
If you feel like splurging, book a service from their spa. Feeling lucky? The casino room offers table games and slot machines. Last but not least, the entertainment the resort hosts is world-class. Past acts have included Chris Isaak, Snoop dog, and Jerry Seinfield!
With the venue’s intimate setting, there’s not a bad seat in the house. The ticket prices are also very reasonable. The concession stand that offers snacks and drinks is the cherry on top!
Where to Stay in Palm Springs
Looking for a specific place to stay in Palm Springs? These are our highest recommendations!
Best Airbnb in Palm Springs – A Room in a Top Location
This Palm Springs Airbnb offers guests a private room and a private bathroom in a shared apartment. The property is conveniently located within walking distance to downtown and public transportation options.
You’ll have access to a fully equipped kitchen, free Wi-Fi, free parking, a common area, and much more!View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Palm Springs – 7 Springs Inn & Suites
This Palm Springs hotel will make your vacation very comfortable. The property is within walking distance to all downtown Palm Springs attractions.
Each room features a microwave, coffee maker, mini-refrigerator, flat-screen TV, and complimentary toiletries. There is also an outdoor courtyard with barbecue facilities and a swimming pool – perfect for those hot desert days!View on Booking.com
Romantic Things to Do in Palm Springs
Trying to decide what to do in Palm Springs on a couples retreat? Here are two great options.
13. See the Desert Flora at the Botanical Gardens
Moorten Botanical Garden is a family-owned botanical garden filled with cacti, succulents, and other desert plants. Although it’s only one acre in size, this space is packed with more than 3,000 eye-catching specimens.
Explore the outdoor garden and greenhouse area. Admire the wonderful desert environment and discover desert plants from around the world. Keep an eye out for the two resident tortoises and doves!
The admission fee to visit this attraction is just USD $5.00, it’s a total bargain!
Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway is the former residence of Elvis Presley and Priscilla. The couple honeymooned here after their wedding in May of 1967. Exactly nine months later, their first child Lisa Marie Presley was born.
This mid-century modern house is filled with plenty of Elvis paraphernalia. Almost everything in the home is original – including the bed that Elvis and Priscilla slept in on their wedding night!
Visitors can explore the house with a guide. Two tours are offered daily. This is definitely one of the most surprisingly unique places to visit in Palm Springs!
Always Be Insured
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favorite travel insurance provider.
Best Free Things to Do in Palm Springs
Looking for activities that won’t break the bank? Here are some attractions in Palm Springs that are free!
15. See an Eclectic Art Instillation
Robolights is a large kitschy and quirky outdoor sculpture park filled with giant robots. These towering structures depict strange sci-fi Christmas scenes.
Ever since 1986, Palm Springs resident Kenny Irwin Jr. has been constructing this holiday spectacle.
This attraction is so popular, it’s turned from being a simple exhibit into being a year-round viewing event! During the holiday season, millions of lights are added, giving Robolights a truly magical appeal. See nuclear elves, Santa’s battlewagon, and robot reindeer.
It’s free to view the artwork, although donations are accepted.
16. Walk Amongst the Stars
The Palm Springs Walk of Stars is a walk of fame similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame found in Los Angeles. Various celebrities who have lived in Palm Springs are honored with these stars. They adorn the sidewalk pavement in downtown Palm Springs and are a beautiful touch to this lively area.
Take a sidewalk stroll and see if you can spot some of your favorite celebrities. You’ll find plenty of big names from old Hollywood. Among these are Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, James Earl Jones, and Debbie Reynolds!
17. Visit One of the City’s Edgy Art Galleries
Palm Springs is known for its modern and inventive art scene. Visit Elena Bulatova Fine Art in downtown and discover what this side of the city is all about. The art gallery is filled with cutting-edge, contemporary paintings, sculptures, prints, and displays.
There are several rooms, as well as an outdoor patio that guests are invited to explore. Each contains highly visual, large-scale installations. You’ll see countless creative and imaginative crafted items on display at this local gem!
Palm Springs Packing List
1. Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
2. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
3. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
4. Camera or Cell Phone Camera Accessories: One thing’s for sure – Palm Springs is a picturesque destination! Get perfect shots from your phone using clip-on-lenses with wide-angle, close-up and optical zoom. With the ability to turn travel pictures from basic to professional, this universal lens sits neatly over any phone camera and comes with a durable, travel-friendly case!
5. International Adapter: Palm Springs outlets accommodate typical US two-pronged plugs, but for electronics that have three prongs or if your plugs are of a different variety, you’ll need an adapter. Save yourself the hassle of trying to track down an adapter at your destination and paying twice as much than planning ahead by buying one online.
Books to Read in Palm Springs
These are some of the greatest American novels of all time. Be sure to grab a few them of them while backpacking in America.
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
Sometimes a Great Notion – A tale of a hardheaded Oregonian logging family that goes on strike, leading the town to drama and tragedy. Written by PNW legend, Ken Kesey.
Walden – The transcendental masterpiece by Henry David Thoreau that helped modern Americans rediscover nature and her beauty.
To Have and To Have Not – A family man gets involved with the drug smuggling business in the Key West and ends up in a strange affair. Written by the great Ernest Hemingway.
Things to Do with Kids in Palm Springs
Looking for a few family-friendly activities to enjoy during your trip? If you’re traveling with kids, these palm spring attractions are sure to be a hit!
18. See Two Towering Dinosaurs at a Unique Roadside Attraction
The Cabazon Dinosaurs are located just a 20-minute drive from Palm Springs. See a 150-foot-long Brontosaurus and a 65-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex. They are named Dinny the Dinosaur and Mr. Rex.
These large structures once served as the entrance to a Palm Springs diner. However, today, the Brontosaurus and T. Rex sculptures guard the entrance to a small dino-themed museum and gift shop. Step inside and see a dinosaur exhibit that features over 50 lifelike dinosaurs. Visit Dinny’s gift shop and pick up some dinosaur-themed souvenirs.
For kids, visiting this roadside attraction will be one of the most fun things to do in Palm Springs. You’ll get some great photos out of it too!
Other Things to Do in Palm Springs
If you’re looking for even more inspiration on what to see in the city, add these attractions to your Palm Springs to-do list!
It’s well-known that Palm Springs is the playground for the rich and famous. This has given the city the nickname “Little Hollywood”. Countless celebrities own or have owned, vacation homes in this beautiful desert destination.
See the former houses of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe. Admire the glamorous properties and check out some of the city’s most awe-inspiring architecture. Make sure to keep an eye out for the current celebrities’ that live here!
The address of many lavish celebrity mansions can be found online. Or, you can book a tour and let someone else do the driving and navigating for you!
If you’re looking for outdoor Palm Springs attractions, Tahquitz Canyon is a must-see. There is a scenic two-mile trail loop that leads to a beautiful cascading waterfall – Tahquitz Falls. The hike is fairly easy, and suitable for most skill levels.
One thing to note: very little shade is offered on this hike. Make sure to wear a hat and bring sunscreen.
Winter and early spring is the best time to view the falls. This is when the winter snowfall will begin to run off and supply the falls with ample water! There is a USD $13.00 admission fee to enter the canyon.
21. Do Some Outdoor Shopping in Palm Desert
If you want to do a little local shopping while you’re in town, head to the El Paseo Shopping District. This nine-block outdoor area is lined with palm trees and filled with more than 200 attractions. These include upmarket stores, restaurants, art galleries, and more!
There’s something for everyone. Fun events are also regularly scheduled, especially during the holidays.
Palm Desert is about a 20 minute (14 miles) drive from Palm Springs.
22. Cruise Over to the Coachella Valley
The Coachella Valley Preserve is located 16 miles outside of Palm Springs. Besides hosting one of the world’s top music festivals, you’ll find many options for desert recreation.
Indio Hills Palms is a protected area in the valley that contains over 1,000 Palm Trees. This is one of the few areas in the desert that contains a watering hole. This natural spring supports these towering trees. You’ll feel like you’re in a tropical jungle when you visit!
If you’re traveling with kids, check out Freedom Park. The large, modern playground and sports fields are perfect for letting your little ones burn off some energy!
Day Trips From Palm Springs
If you have some extra time on your hands, day trips are a great way to explore more of the surrounding area. Here are two options for nearby excursions!
San Diego is just over two hours from Palm Springs. This buzzing beach city offers countless attractions that people of all interests and age groups will enjoy.
Outdoor enthusiasts will delight in the miles of sandy coastline. San Diego’s beaches are quite famous and are among the most picturesque in California.
Balboa Park is possibly the city’s most popular attraction. It offers plenty of scenic urban space. It also houses the world-famous San Diego Zoo!
If you’re a history fan, make sure to visit Old Town San Diego. This neighborhood is considered the “Birthplace of California”. It’s loaded with historic sites and has a very strong Mexican influence.
Lastly, the lively Gaslamp Quarter is the city’s modern district. This is where you’ll find many popular bars, restaurants, clubs, and shopping outlets.
The Mojave National Preserve is two hours from Palm Springs. This area is characterized by rugged mountains, scenic canyons, and dramatic dunes. If offers some of the most beautiful open expanses of desert found anywhere in the US.
The Kelso Dunes are one of the areas most unique attractions. These giant mounds are made up of pristine sand. Hike around the dunes and enjoy the beautiful colors of the desert wilderness.
The best time to visit is late afternoon or at dusk to avoid the extreme heat of the Mojave Desert. You’ll also get to witness a breathtaking desert sunset!
3 Day Itinerary in Palm Springs
Now that we’ve covered the best things to do in Palm Springs, here is a suggested itinerary that details the best way to discover the city!
Day 1: Explore the Heart and Art of Palm Springs
Start your first day in Palm Springs in the heart of the city – Downtown. This is a very pedestrian-friendly area of the city. You’ll be able to easily walk from one downtown attraction to the next.
Stroll along Palm Canyon Drive and grab breakfast from one of the many cafes found in the area. Do some local shopping and pop into an art gallery or two. To view a funky range of eclectic items, visit Elena Bulatova Fine Art on North Palm Canyon Drive.
Next, walk south on N. Palm Canyon Road for three minutes to The Palm Springs Walk of Stars. See if you can spot your favorite celebrities! Afterward, walk or drive a quarter of a mile to The Palm Springs Art Museum. See European art and Native American art pieces, including sculptures, paintings, and photographs.
Lastly, end your night at the Palm Canyon Theater. You can drive there in five minutes, or walk there in 15 minutes. Cap off your first day by enjoying a theatrical local play!
Day 2: Take in the Epic Desert Scenery
Start your second day in Palm Springs at the Joshua Tree National Park. The Park is located about 50 minutes (38 miles) from Palm Springs. You’re going to want to spend at least a few hours exploring this wonderful desert wilderness. Hike one of the paths and see the twisted Joshua Trees and desert plants up close.
When you’re done, drive 45 minutes (40 miles) to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. Discover the scenic environments of the animals that call the zoo home. Make sure to visit the Winged Wonders Pavilion. You’ll experience the enchanting sight of hundreds of butterflies fluttering all around you!
When you’re finished at the zoo, drive 35 minutes (22 miles) to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Rest your legs as you’re transported 2.5 miles up to the top of Mount San Jacinto State Park. Spend the rest of the daylight hours exploring a hiking trail. Or, unwind at one of the restaurants found at the top.
Day 3: Experience an Eclectic Range of Palm Springs Attractions
Start day three of your Palm Springs trip at the Coachella Valley Preserve. This desert oasis is located just 16 miles outside of Palm Springs. Spend a few hours enjoying the scenic surroundings of the city. See the lush Indio Hills Palms and explore a nearby hiking trail!
Next, drive 20 minutes (13 miles) to the El Paseo Shopping District. This nine-block outdoor shopping area is filled with local stores, restaurants, and art galleries. It’s prime for people watching and a great place to grab lunch.
Afterward, drive 20 minutes (12 miles) to Moorten Botanical Garden. See hundreds of cactus up close at this small, family-owned garden.
Lastly, make sure to check out Cabot’s Pueblo Museum. This house museum is located 25 minutes (15 miles) from the botanic garden. It’s a fascinating site, where you can discover the early history of Palm Springs!
Palm Springs is a great place to visit any time of the year. Fall, winter, and spring make outdoor adventures very enjoyable. While, during summer, you’ll find plenty of attractions that’ll allow you to beat the heat!
The city is filled with cultural museums, captivating art galleries, and plenty of local gems. You’ll fall in love with the gorgeous desert scenery, and hip, modern vibe.
We hope you enjoyed our list of things to do in Palm Springs, and that you’re able to put it to use during your stay!
Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.
Need More Inspiration?
- Backpacking USA Travel Guide
- Plan a Road Trip through California
- Where to Stay in San Diego
- 17 Awesome Things to Do in Ventura, California
Like this post? PIN ME!!!