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Palm Springs Travel Guide & Itinerary

Palm Springs Travel Guide & Itinerary

Published on December 28th, 2022

Known as a desert escape for the rich and famous, there’s more to Palm Springs than cocktails by the pool, fancy country clubs, and overpriced restaurants. In this Palm Springs travel guide and itinerary, we’ll see how to explore the destination and its surrounding highlights properly.

I’ve wanted to visit this corner of California ever since I saw the video clip to the hit 80s song Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears. My wish finally came true during a five-week road trip in the American Southwest, when I spent several days in the region to visit the national park and the city. This travel guide and Palm Springs itinerary is based on my experience and extensive research.

Why Visit Palm Springs?

Water in Andreas Canyon Trailhead - indian canyons - palm springs
Desert Oasis

Snugged by mountain ranges on all sides and blessed with water sources, Palm Springs defies nature’s laws despite its desert location. But if it does get too hot, cool off in the San Jacinto Mountains.

Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park california
Joshua Tree

Easily explore one of California’s best national parks from Palm Springs. In less than one hour, drive to the national park’s west entrance and spend the day hiking the area’s network of short trails.

wind farm outside palm springs
Weekend Escape

Palm Springs is easily within striking distance from Los Angeles and San Diego. So leave the city behind, hit the road, and spend a long weekend in Palm Springs, mixing sightseeing and being seen.

What’s Included in this Palm Springs Itinerary?

Several sections make up this travel guide:

Additional California Travel Resources

Check out additional California and Southwest USA travel guides to combine your visit to Palm Springs with other regional highlights, including Joshua Tree National Park.

California Travel Guide

Palm Springs Itinerary Map

All places mentioned in this Palm Springs travel guide and itinerary are marked on this companion map. Simply click on the image to open it in Google Maps.

Palm Springs Itinerary Map

Palm Springs Travel Tips

This section deep dives into the essential ingredients for a successful visit to Palm Springs. 

Quick Finds

Where is Palm Springs?

Palm Springs is located off Interstate 10 in Riverside County. This region of southeast California lies in the Colorado Desert, in an area known as the Coachella Valley. Numerous mountain ranges, including the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains, shelter the resort desert city. Palm Springs is often used as a base for exploring Joshua Tree National Park, about a one-hour away by car.

Keys view - Joshua Tree National Park

How Far is Palm Springs from Los Angeles?

Palm Springs is ideally located about 100 miles (160 km) east of Los Angeles. Interstate 10 is the quickest way to get to Palm Springs from L.A. The city of San Diego is slightly further, just over a two-hour drive from Palm Springs. The Interstates are the quickest way for driving from San Diego to Palm Springs, but if you have time, take one of the scenic east-west backcountry roads and connect to State Route 86 on the shores of the Salton Sea for the final stretch.

When is the Best Time to Visit Palm Springs?

Palm Springs is a year-round destination, that is, if you can stand the heat. However, the best time to visit Palm Springs is during spring and fall, when both daytime and nighttime temperatures are comfortable. During winter, daytime temperatures in Palm Springs range from slightly cold to mild, but nights are very chilly. During summer, temperatures hover around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius), but evenings are pleasantly warm, and accommodation prices drop.

Downtown Palm Springs California
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Pro Tips

(1) The popular Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival takes place every April. Avoid this busy and expensive period unless you’re planning to attend (2) Be prepared for the desert’s climate, which often causes your lips and skin to dry.

How Many Days Do You Need in Palm Springs?

Most visitors, especially residents of nearby major urban centers, head to Palm Springs to spend the weekend. Two days in Palm Springs is ample time to see some of its top sites and have enough time by the pool. If you want to combine your visit with a trip to Joshua Tree, split your days between the city and the national park, or add a third day.

Downtown Palm Springs by Patrick Nouhailler
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Pro Tips

(1) See the next section of this travel guide for a detailed itinerary for spending up to two days in Palm Springs (2) Here’s an in-depth itinerary for Palm Springs and Joshua Tree on the same visit.

Where to Stay in Palm Springs?

Palm Springs was originally designed as a resort town for the wealthy upper class, and it’s still known as a destination where you come to splurge and be seen. Some of its legendary resorts include the Desert Riviera Hotel, Orbit In, the Willows, Kimpton Rowan, L’Horizon Resort & Spa, Amin Casa Palm Springs, and Sparrows Lodge. However, you’ll also find a wide range of 1950’s style motels where rooms center around a pool, luxury holiday villas, adult-only resorts, and even men-only gay clubs.

Adara Palm Springs Hotel Palm Springs

I stayed at the Adara Palm Springs Hotel, one of those “classic” 1950s-style motels. The hotel features large, well-equipped rooms overlooking the inner courtyard and swimming pool. The downtown area is within a short distance, so the price is excellent, but you’ll need to take a cab or drive for nightlife.

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Pro Tip

Here’s a comprehensive list of Palm Springs accommodations that can be booked online.

Shopping

Beyond Palm Canyon Drive’s fancy boutiques, drive to nearby Cabazon for major shopping. The Cabazon Outlets and Desert Hills Premium Outlets are next to each other and offer plenty of ways to spend your dollars. Also, check out the Cabazon Dinosaurs about three miles before the outlets. This legendary roadside attraction was featured in the music clip for the 1980s hit song Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears. The clip also featured the adjacent Wheel Inn diner that has since been torn down. However, its roadside sign was still intact when I visited in 2021.

Cabazon Dinosaurs and wheel inn diner california

Nature Reserves

Apart from Joshua Tree National Park, there are several natural parks around Palm Springs, including Indian Canyons and Tahquitz Canyon. Since some of the parks lie on Native American reservations, they are privately operated and managed by the local community. As such, visitors are required to pay a fee when entering, sometimes a per-person fee rather than a per-car fee. Take note of that before deciding where to go.


Palm Springs Itinerary

In this section, we’ll explore an itinerary for spending up to two days in Palm Springs. If you want to include Joshua Tree, here’s a combined itinerary for Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park

Day 1: Downtown, Windmills, and Aerial Tramway

Absorb the city’s vibe on the morning of your first day in Palm springs. In the afternoon, check out a classic Hollywood filming location and cool off in the San Jacinto Mountains.

Downtown Palm Springs

Palm Canyon Drive is Palm Springs’ major downtown artery and the place to see and be seen. The wide boulevard is lined with towering palms and split into north/south by Tahquitz Canyon Way. Park your car in one of the sidestreets, grab breakfast or a delicious date smoothie, and go for an aimless stroll. 

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Downtown palm springs

If you are interested in sightseeing, head to the McCallum Adobe and the Cornelia White House to learn about Palm Springs’ history. Both museums are housed in late 19th-century original structures, while the latter was once part of the first hotel in Palm Springs. Walk a couple of blocks north and continue the downtown walking tour at the Palm Springs Art Museum (free on Thursday evening). The museum houses a highly acclaimed collection of classic and contemporary art. Don’t miss the oversized Marilyn Monroe statue at its entrance.  

marilyn monroe statue - palm springs

Windmill Farms

The narrow valley just north of Palm Springs is home to the largest concentration of windmills in the United States. Surely, you’ll recognize this spot from a Hollywood flick or a music video. You can join a guided tour of the area or go for a spin up and down the Interstate or along one of the side roads.

wind farm outside palm springs
palm springs wind farms

Palm Spring Aerial Tramway

Escape the afternoon heat by venturing to the San Jacinto Mountains. You can hike from the canyon floor to Mount San Jacinto, but a far easier and shorter option is taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This engineering marvel is the world’s largest rotating tram, traveling over 2.5 miles up the rugged Chino Canyon from the dry desert floor to the alpine wilderness of Mount San Jacinto State Park

The tramway’s signature feature ensures every guest is rewarded with stunning views of the desert getting smaller and smaller. While riding the aerial tramway is high on the list of the top things to do in Palm Springs, it comes with a very hefty price. Visitors must pay separately for parking and tramway tickets.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway view from bottom
Palm-Springs-Aerial-Tramway-view-from-top

Exit the tramway at the Mountain Station (8,516 feet) and join the network of over 50 miles of hiking trails. Unless you arrive early for serious hiking, complete the easy 1.5-mile Desert View Trail. This short trail leads to a series of breathtaking lookouts where you can pause to ponder nature’s extremes. Up here, it seems more like Yosemite National Park rather than Palm Springs.

Mount San Jacinto State Park - Palm Springs
Palm springs from Mount San Jacinto State Park
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Pro Tips

(1) It’s much cooler in the San Jacinto Mountains than on the desert floor at Palm Springs, so pack accordingly. (2) Take note of tramway departure times to avoid wasting time and arrive slightly early as space is limited. (3) Pre-purchase your ticket to avoid waiting in often long lines. Once you show your prepaid ticket, you’ll be assigned a specific departure time.

Day 2: Indian Canyons, Museums, and Dates

Our Palm Springs itinerary continues for a second day that mixes exploring the area’s desert oases and a few interesting museums. We’ll start the day by hiking in palm-covered canyons and wrap up with delicious treats from a date farm.

Indian Canyons

If you aren’t visiting Joshua Tree National Park or didn’t have the time to hike to one of its oases, don’t miss the opportunity to hit the trails at Indian Canyons. The park sits on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation and features hiking trails to three canyons. The hike to Palm Canyon is the most appealing, but Andreas Canyon is an attractive alternative in which you can also extend the fun by hiking to Murray Canyon. Since Indian Canyons are not part of the National Park System, the park’s admission prices are on the steep side and opening hours are on the short end.

Andreas Canyon Trail - indian canyons
Water in Andreas Canyon Trailhead - indian canyons - palm springs
Andreas Canyon - Indians Canyons - Palm Springs
Tahquitz Canyon Waterfall Hike

If you’re looking for an easier morning start, consider swapping Indian Canyons for Tahquitz Canyon. Check out the modest visitor center museum and embark on the easy 1.8-mile Tahquitz Canyon Loop Trail. This hike reaches its climax at the seasonal 60-foot Tahquitz Waterfall.

Alternative Morning Options

If it’s unusually hot this morning or you don’t feel like hiking, here are a few solid options outside Palm Springs. Head 90 minutes south of Palm Springs to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge to spot cormorants, terns, and pelicans. Closer to the city at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, visit the historic house museum built in Hopi style and check out the Native American artifacts. To travel back in time to the Wild West, head to Pioneertown and explore this working movie set. Then, continue to Landers and its bizarre wooden dome known as the Integratron. At the Giant Rock, see the massive desert boulder believed to be at the center of UFO activity. Lastly, drive on Amboy Road through the middle of nowhere to an old section of Route 66 to truly go off the grid.

Moorten Botanical Garden

Established in 1938, the Moorten Botanical Garden contains over 3,000 varieties of desert plants. It’s worth a quick visit and even a slower go on an extra hot day. The private garden features a walking path that meanders along the impressive thorny collection.

Walking trail in Moorten Botanical Garden - Palm Springs
Cactuses in Moorten Botanical Garden - Palm Springs

Palm Springs Air Museum

If you’re traveling with children or have an affinity for military aviation, head to the Palm Springs Air Museum for a couple of hours. The museum is located next to the Palm Springs Airport and features mostly classic aircraft to go along with the likes of Top Gun’s F-14 and F-117. 

Palm Springs Air Museum

Shields Date Farm

End the day, or go for a tranquil lunch at the Shields Date Garden in Indio. Go for a stroll around the beautifully-kept garden and its bible-themed stops. Enjoy water fountains, citrus trees, and date trees along the walk. Before heading out, don’t forget to grab a date smoothie

Shields Date Garden California
Gift shop at Shields Date Farm - Palm Springs

What’s Next?

This Palm Springs itinerary has hopefully shown there’s more to this desert oasis other than fancy hotels and overpriced breakfasts. You can easily spend a long weekend in Palm Springs and hardly have time to go for an afternoon dip in the pool. If you want to extend your adventure beyond Palm Springs, explore additional California and Southwest USA travel guides. 

California Travel Guide

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Palm Springs?

Palm Springs is located off Interstate 10 in Riverside County. This region of southeast California lies in the Colorado Desert, in an area known as the Coachella Valley.

How Far is Palm Springs from Los Angeles?

Palm Springs is located about 100 miles (160 km) east of Los Angeles. Interstate 10 is the quickest way to get to Palm Springs from L.A.

When is the Best Time to Visit Palm Springs?

Palm Springs is a year-round destination, that is, if you can stand the heat. However, the best time to visit Palm Springs is during spring and fall, when both daytime and nighttime temperatures are comfortable.

How Many Days Do You Need in Palm Springs?

Two days in Palm Springs is enough time to see most of its top sites and have enough time by the pool. If you want to combine your visit with a trip to Joshua Tree, split your days between the city and the national park, or add a third day.

What to Do in Palm Springs?

Day 1: Downtown Palm Springs, windmill farms, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Day 2: Explore Joshua Tree National Park’s northwest section
Day 3: Hike in Indian Canyons, Moorten Botanical Garden, air museum, Shields Date Farm

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