Palm Springs, California sits about 100 miles from Los Angeles in the Coachella Valley. This resort town is a home-away-from-home for Hollywood stars, athletes, politicians, and other elite travelers.
With so much to do and see, it can be hard to narrow down your itinerary, but this list of 15 things to do in Palm Springs will help you plan your desert getaway.
15 Best Things to Do in Palm Springs in 2023
Palm Springs is a glamorous desert oasis just outside the reach of Hollywood. Once a secret hideaway where celebrities would escape to relax, this city is now a fun vacation destination for travelers of all sorts.
Palm Springs and the surrounding desert valley is teeming with natural beauty, culture, entertainment, food, and more.
Whether you’re looking for a rugged wilderness adventure, a luxurious spa vacation, or a long weekend of lavish partying, a trip to Palm Springs can scratch that itch.
1. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes visitors on a stunning ten-minute tour through Mt. San Jacinto State Park, up the cliffs of Chino Canyon, to the Mountain Station.
There, at over 8,500 feet elevation, you can take in the views of the desert valley below from the observation deck. There are two restaurants to enjoy, a museum, and two documentary movie theaters.
This destination is a great way to beat the desert heat, as the temperatures at this elevation are as much as 40 degrees cooler than in the city of Palm Springs.
Nature lovers can enjoy the comfortable climate on guided nature tours, over 50 miles of hiking trails, and even primitive camping inside the State Park. Budget-conscious travelers can buy a ride-and-dinner combo ticket that includes dinner at the Pines Café after 4:00 p.m.
The menu is limited and subject to change, and the meal includes only an appetizer and entrée, but it’s a great deal for less than $10 more per person.
2. Palm Springs Walk of Stars
This quirky find, established in 1992, is like the local equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The City of Palm Springs honors famous residents and frequent visitors to the resort city with permanent stars on the sidewalk.
Famous Palm Springs Walk of Stars inductees include Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, Ronald Reagan, and more.
There’s no cost to visit the Walk of Stars, and it’s open 24/7. It spans several streets in Downtown Palm Springs, including Palm Canyon Drive, Museum Drive, and Tahquitz Canyon Way.
3. Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a conservation zoo located in Palm Desert, just a few minutes from Palm Springs. The zoo has been dedicated to research, breeding, and habitat protection in the local ecosystem and around the world since 1970.
This destination is perfect for a half-day trip, with experts recommending two to three hours to enjoy all that there is to offer fully.
At the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, you can feed a giraffe, pet a goat, meet wild and unusual animals, and go for a hike on scenic nature trails. When it gets too hot, pop into the Discovery Center to learn about the natural forces that shaped the Coachella valley.
4. Moorten Botanical Garden
The Moorten Botanical Garden is a local arboretum that’s been a fixture among plant lovers in Palm Springs since 1938. It’s privately owned by the Moortens, who are specialists in desert plants and minerals.
Their home, charmingly named Cactus Castle, sits on the estate as well. At the Moorten Botanical Garden, you can experience over 3,000 unique plant species as you stroll the property’s nature trails.
Rare plants are on exhibit in the world’s first Cactarium — a garden dedicated to cacti that visitors won’t find on display anywhere else in the world.
Admission is only $5, so this is a perfect daytime excursion for travelers on a budget. It’s a delightfully cozy destination in the middle of Palm Springs, just right for a quiet afternoon stroll or a leisurely morning exploration.
5. Desert Ensemble Theatre
The Desert Ensemble Theatre Company is a non-profit, all-ages theatre company dedicated to nurturing artists through high school internships, scholarships, and other all-ages programming to the people of Palm Springs.
Past performances have included “Reunited and it Feels So Good,” “The Beebo Brinker Chronicles,” and “Artificial Morality.”
If you’re looking for a Palm Springs experience that you won’t find on a typical tourist’s itinerary, an evening at the Desert Ensemble Theatre is the way to go. Plus, you’ll be supporting a wonderful community cause.
6. Palm Springs Art Museum
The Palm Springs Art Museum is actually three museums in one. The main location on Museum Drive, open Thursday through Sunday, has a wide range of temporary and permanent fine art exhibitions on display, including contemporary African art, glasswork, and modern Mexican art.
The Architecture and Design Center at Edwards Harris Pavilion on Palm Canyon Drive, also open Thursday through Sunday, cleverly demonstrates the midcentury-modern architecture and design that the city is famous for.
The Vault Store, a unique gift shop inside a remodeled bank, sells architecture-themed toys, games, and books, plus jewelry and art from local artists. Finally, the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden, located on Highway 111, is open seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset.
This stunning sculpture garden is free to visit and features a wide range of desert plants and 14 unique outdoor sculptures. Visitors can take a detailed self-guided tour around the garden at their own pace, enjoying the weather and culture at the same time.
7. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park features nearly 800,000 acres of desert wilderness that outdoorsy visitors can enjoy for a day or even a week if they’re particularly adventurous.
There are 300 miles of wilderness hiking trails, ranging in difficulty from beginner to experienced. We recommend camping overnight for stunning views of the Milky Way. There are three entrances to the park — one on Interstate 10 and two on Highway 62.
The nearest entrance to the city of Palm Springs is the West Entrance, about a one-hour drive from the city into the wilderness. It may seem like a long journey, but it’s more than worth it for the sheer number of things there are to do there.
8. Palm Canyon Drive
For a budget-friendly excursion, take a leisurely walk along Palm Canyon Drive, the heart of Palm Springs. It’s the perfect way to spend a day window shopping, drinking, dining, and enjoying all the many businesses catering to Palm Springs residents and visitors.
Enjoy Thai food, burgers, tacos, and mac and cheese at one of the many restaurants lining the street. Go shopping at Revenge Boutique, Sensuality, or Kimbals.
Or, you can enjoy a drink at Revel Public House, and even catch a yoga class if you’re feeling limber. You’ll even find a dispensary, a smoke shop, and the Gay Desert Guide, the place to find LGBTQIA+ events in town.
9. San Bernardino National Forest
The San Bernardino National Forest encompasses over 800,000 acres of pristine natural wonder, including seven federally designated wilderness areas.
Nature lovers can learn about the surrounding ecosystems and the many unique features of the forest at the Big Bear Discovery Center. This is one of the few kid-friendly destinations in and around Palm Springs, which is primarily an adult destination.
There’s even a 3,400-acre children’s forest dedicated to helping children understand their power and responsibility in protecting our fragile forests from fires and other destructive human forces.
If you’re traveling with family, or just prefer a more outdoorsy vacation, the San Bernardino National Forest is an ideal place to get away for a day (or more).
There’s a wide range of activities for adventurers of all skill levels, including hiking, camping, horseback riding, and even two interpretive scenic drives for visitors who would rather stay cool inside the car.
The Sunnylands estate, home to international ambassadors Walter and Lenore Annenberg, was once a private winter getaway to world leaders, presidents, celebrities, and other wealthy visitors.
The estate’s 200 acres are dominated by one of Palm Springs many golf courses, but until recently, only a select few invitees were permitted on the grounds.
In 2012, the Annenbergs opened the Sunnylands Center to the public, including 12 acres of botanic gardens and a beautiful visitor center decorated with artwork by Lenore herself.
Visitors can stroll the grounds at their leisure, or take a self-guided walk with a pre-recorded audio track. Notable sights include the 30-foot red cedar totem pole and the migratory bird sanctuary.
Guests can also purchase tickets to one of four unique tour experiences. The Historic House Tour explores the sprawling 25,000-square-foot home.
90-minute birding tours and 45-minute shuttle tours are also available, as well as a guided walking tour of the gardens. Tickets to all but the walking tour must be purchased well in advance, so be sure to plan ahead for this visit.
11. Palm Springs Air Museum
The Palm Springs Air Museum is a non-profit history museum that tells the story of how integral air technology has been to the success of several great wars, including WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terror.
The museum features static aircraft displays and flyable aircraft alike, with knowledgeable veterans guiding visitors along the way. The gift shop includes souvenirs and memorabilia honoring the history of flight.
Luggage-conscious visitors can browse the gift shop in person and order what they want online when they get home, so they don’t have to worry about keeping it safe on the trip back.
For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, book a Warbird Ride, where experienced pilots take brave tourists up in a historic plane.
Options include a C-47 Skytrain cargo plane, a T-6 Texan propeller plane, and a P-51D Mustang fighter plane. The price of this excursion varies based on what plane you choose, and you should book as early in the day as possible to beat the desert heat.
12. Trio Palm Springs
Trio Palm Springs is an iconic restaurant that became an instant favorite when it opened in 2009. The menu features a wide range of delicious food from local, national, and international cuisines, including Italian, Southern American, and Latin American favorites.
They host Happy Hour every day from 3 to 6 p.m., which is a great time to chat with locals and other tourists. At Trio Palm Springs, you can enjoy gourmet food in a cozy, welcoming environment.
Owner Tony Marchese loves to bring guests together with his enormous hospitality and satisfying, delicious food. The restaurant is a key part of the local community, giving back to charities like the Desert AIDS Project and Palm Springs schools.
13. Indian Canyons Nature Preserve
This destination, home to three major canyons, is perfect for nature lovers. Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon make up the nature preserve, full of hiking trails suitable for all ability levels.
Visitors can experience waterfalls, creeks, and local wildlife while exploring the canyons. The gift shop is a trading post featuring authentic tribal souvenirs that honor the indigenous peoples who called the valley home long before modern settlers found this desert oasis.
The Indian Canyons Nature Preserve is an exciting day trip for birders, nature lovers, and ancient history buffs.
14. Escape Room Palm Springs
No tourist destination would be complete without an exciting escape room adventure. While you can find escape rooms just about anywhere, Escape Room Palm Springs has won several awards for its unique and exciting group events.
It’s located downtown, near the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, so you won’t have to go far out of town to get there. It’s also another rare family-friendly Palm Springs activity.
With six different escape room challenges to choose from, families of all skill levels with children of all ages can enjoy a themed hour of fun, team-building challenges. Of course, it’s great for adults looking for a different kind of party from the usual Palm Springs glitz and glam.
Pull off a sophisticated bank heist, descend into the lair of a vampire, escape from an abandoned locker room and a deranged serial killer, or catch Jack the Ripper.
Or, you can find a secret lifeboat and get off the Titanic, or save Merlin’s Magic School from a strange and mysterious curse. Whichever challenge you choose, you’re in for an adventure you’ll be talking about for years.
15. Village Fest
Every Thursday night, downtown Palm Springs turns into a colorful street fair for locals and tourists alike to explore. Nearly 200 unique vendors set up stalls, tents, and kiosks to highlight their unique wares.
Artists and artisans have handcrafted pieces for sale, and fashionistas can find one-of-a-kind jewelry and other wearable art among Village Fest’s many vendors. There are multiple farmer’s markets, bistros, and other unique eateries to choose from as well.
Grab a snack, a drink, or some dinner, then go strolling through Village Fest to the sounds of local musicians and performers. An evening at Village Fest is a budget-friendly way to get a taste of what Palm Springs is all about.
Things to Consider
Palm Springs is a dazzling resort town that’s surprisingly cozy and loaded with mid-century modern charm. There are a variety of different ways to enjoy the city, but there are some unique quirks about Palm Springs that you should be aware of before you visit.
Consider the Climate
Palm Springs is right in the heart of the desert, so no matter what time of year you go, prepare to be hot. Winter is the busiest time of year in Palm Springs, because it’s got the mildest temperatures.
But even then, the afternoon sun is blazing hot. Pack sunscreen and bring plenty of water whenever you leave your hotel. It’s easy to get dehydrated in the dry desert heat.
In the summer months, it’s outlandishly hot in Palm Springs, but it’s also less crowded so you can see more sights in less time. One way to beat the heat is to spend a day on the trails at the Mountain Station after the 10-minute Aerial Tramway tour.
At over 8,000 feet above sea level, the temperature is much cooler than in the desert valley, so it’s perfect for outdoor summer fun.
Leave the Kids at Home
Palm Springs is not generally a family-friendly vacation destination. Most of the entertainment is geared toward adults, and many hotels and restaurants are adults-only.
Even when kids are allowed, you’re unlikely to find a kids menu at most Palm Springs restaurants. However, the natural and historical sights in and around Palm Springs are perfect for an outdoor family adventure.
There are plenty of parks, wildernesses, museums, and other cultural activities to do with older kids if you’re passing through on a family road trip.
Watch Your Budget
Palm Springs is typically considered a luxury resort town, so it’s easy to spend a lot of money here. Between the restaurants, drinks, shopping, and fancy hotels, a Palm Springs vacation can be very expensive, but there are ways to avoid spending extravagantly.
If you want to save money and avoid the crushing crowds, go during “shoulder season” — the threshold time between peak and off-peak seasons — when prices are lower and tourists are fewer.
October and November are the best months before the peak season, while May and June are the best months after.
Frequently Asked Questions
Of course, that’s not all there is to know about this exciting desert paradise. Palm Springs is as eclectic and varied as the people who come to see it. Here are some more questions people often ask when planning a trip to Palm Springs:
What is Palm Springs famous for?
Palm Springs, California, has long been known as a popular oasis in the middle of the desert for Hollywood celebrities, athletes, and musicians. Today, the resort city is famous for many things, including its golf courses, restaurants, museums, natural hot springs, architecture, luxury hotels, and spas, to name a few.
Does Palm Springs have a beach?
No, there are no beaches in the city of Palm Springs. This resort oasis is in the middle of the desert, so if your vacation plans include a day (or more) splashing in the waves, you’ll need to plan a day trip to one of the nearest seaside towns or choose a different destination altogether.
How long should I spend in Palm Springs?
Palm Springs is a fairly small city, but as you can see from our list of the best things to do in Palm Springs, it’s jam-packed with sights to see and activities to enjoy. Some high-energy travelers may be able to get all they need from a trip to Palm Springs in as little as 48 hours, but it takes three or four days to enjoy all that the city has to offer.
How far is Palm Springs from the ocean?
Palm Springs is a day trip from the nearest ocean towns, including Oceanside, Dana Point, Carlsbad, and Newport Beach. Each destination is roughly two hours from Palm Springs if you avoid peak traffic times. Other beaches roughly the same distance away include Del Mar, La Jolla, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, and San Clemente.
What is the best time of year to visit Palm Springs?
The best time to visit Palm Springs is in winter when the desert heat is at its mildest. January through March are perfect but stay away from the city in April. Several music and art festivals occur in and around Palm Springs in April, so hotels will be more expensive, and restaurants will be harder to get into.
So, What Are the Best Things to Do in Palm Springs?
No two Palm Springs vacations are exactly alike, because a perfect Palm Springs getaway is as unique as the travelers who take it. To plan your perfect Palm Springs vacation, consider what your travel style is.
If you’re looking for cultural inspiration, delicious dining and drinks, luxury relaxation, natural wonder, or dazzling parties, you’ll find it in Palm Springs, California.