The simple allure of Southern California presents itself as an unassailable fact the minute you step out of the Palm Springs Airport: big desert sky, steep mountain peaks, and the intoxication of the fresh desert air.
Forget Disneyland or the beautiful beaches. This is where SoCal really lives.
The greater-Palm Springs area (the town proper and the other hamlets that make up the vast Coachella Valley) never feels overcrowded. The wide, palm-tree-lined boulevards make driving easy—you’ll want to rent a convertible to take advantage of views of the vast desert and towering San Jacinto Mountains. The weather’s nearly always beautiful; you can swim, hike, and dine al fresco year-round.
In addition to the hot springs and palm trees for which the town is famous, there are terrific outdoor activities as well.
Palm Springs started as a stop on the wagon trail that extended into the Los Angeles Basin. The Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians lived in the region. The majority died from a small pox epidemic in the late 1800s, but the tribe has rebounded and owns a large percent of the land under Palm Springs.
Later, in the 1900s, the region attracted people seeking the healing benefit of the hot springs and desert climate. It became popular in the 1940s as the playground for Hollywood movie stars. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, even Elvis Presley would race around town in sporty convertibles, swill martinis, and frolic in the cool, blue pools.
Not surprisingly the desert oasis stands as a beacon for modern stars, but you don’t need a six-figure salary to enjoy the region’s spectacular scenery, lively club scene (more often than not, pool side), and mouthwatering restaurants with specialties highlighted by foody critics for Zagats and The New York Times.
It’s the ideal place for a romantic get away, a solo-trip, or a family vacation. There’s plenty to do, whether you are into sun bathing poolside, playing golf, or hiking, star gazing or visiting museums.
Here are some of our favorite activities, as well as a few must-attend events that help unveil Palm Spring’s varied personality:
Take the Aerial Tramway
This is one of the most breathtaking rides you can take this side of base jumping. People of all ages and physical abilities can ride in the big tram car a sweeping 2.5 miles up from the valley floor to more than 8,000 feet. On top there’s a restaurant (it is smorgasbord, but the food is good, so buy a ticket that includes the meal) and some 50 miles of beautiful hiking trails.
Climbers will love the huge granite boulders that offer some decent bouldering. It’s about 30 degrees cooler at the top of the Tramway, but if it’s too cold you can always just head to the observation deck and restaurant.
Tip: Go up an hour or two before sunset.
Hike around, then watch the sunset while you’re eating dinner. The view of the lights in the valley is pure magic, and you can walk a few hundred yards from the visitor center for pristine stargazing. The ride down at night is spectacular.
Hike the Indian Canyons
There are trails that are only a few minutes from downtown Palm Springs that take you up to beautiful waterfalls and palm oasis. Most are on Agua Calliente’s tribal land, so you’ll pay a small entrance fee—but the well-maintained trails and lack of crowds is worth the price. Taquitz Canyon at the Agua Caliente Visitor Center is a great place to get started. The trail has a gentle grade that’s suitable for young and old, and there’s plenty of history and scenery on the way up to the crashing waterfall—a surprise even when you know its there!
The Living Desert Zoo
This giant park in central Palm Springs has big, open displays (animals living in their natural habitat), as well as a first-rate butterfly house. You can ride camels and feed giraffes for a small additional fee. There are wolves, zebras, and eagles. While there are many animals from the local desert, there are also plenty of exotic species. It is a great place for kids to run around and get exercise, as well as for parents with strollers and grandparents. Don’t miss the cactus garden with its beautiful assortment of native plants.
Where to Stay
There are tons of housing/hotel options in Palm Springs. The Colony Palms Hotel offers everything we love about the area. It’s an intimate property. The rooms (most private cabanas) are surrounded by beautiful gardens. The vibe is hip but relaxed…it is the ultimate romantic getaway, but a great place for families who want a quiet spot to escape to after a day of seeing the sights.
Once you walk into the secluded garden, you won’t want to leave….the pool is surrounded with tall palms and big couches for lounging. There are Middle-Eastern-style tents where you can escape the sun and seek privacy.
The spa is first class—you’ll want to treat yourself to a massage and facial after a day of hiking the Indian Canyon trails or rock climbing at Joshua Tree. And as the sun sets, you can order a cocktail from the Purple Palm pool-side restaurant—then peruse the scrumptious menu.