In the heart of Southern California lies Palm Springs, a desert oasis that beckons with its blend of natural beauty, history, and modern luxury. Famed for its palm-lined streets, soothing hot springs, warm weather and a backdrop of the rugged San Jacinto Mountains, this city offers an escape combining relaxation and adventure.
In addition to its natural beauty, Palm Springs is full of stylish and quirky things to do. From the world’s first rotating tram car to drag queen brunches and outstanding street art there are so many great things to do in Palm Springs California that I think you’ll love.
I will start this article with what I consider to be the five best things I did whilst in Palm Springs. I’ll then take you through some of the other options available to help you plan the best possible Palm Springs vacation.
21 Best Things to Do in Palm Springs California
Table of Contents
- 21 Best Things to Do in Palm Springs California
- 1. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
- 2. Relax at The Spa at Sec-he
- 3. Visit Indian Canyons
- 4. Visit Palm Springs Art Museum
- 5. See the Catci at Moorten Botanical Gardens
- 6. Enjoy the Street Art
- 7. Visit the Palm Springs Visitor’s Centre
- 8. Go Shopping
- 9. Get Your Photo Taken at the Marilyn Monroe Statue
- 10. Walk the Palm Springs Hollywood Fame
- 11. Visit the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
- 12. Go to a Drag Brunch
- 13. Relax at the World’s Largest Weed Lounge
- 14. Enjoy an excellent Mexican Meal at El Mirasol
- 15. Grab a Pink Coffee at Cafe La Jeta
- 16. Tahquitz Canyon
- 17. Visit Joshua Tree National Park
- 18. Coachella Valley Preserve
- 19. Palm Springs Air Museum
- 20. Agua Caliente Cultural Museum
- 21. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
- Key Seasonal Events in Palm Springs
- Coachella Music Festival
- Modernism Week
Let’s start with my personal top 5 best places to visit in Palm Springs California.
1. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
First opened in September 1963, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car. This means visitors receive 360 degree views over the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs.
The tram travels over two and half miles along the cliffs of the Chino Canyon and lands at Mt San Jacinto State Park at an elevation of over 8,500 feet. This means it is generally between 30 and 40 degrees cooler at the top than on the desert floor.
Start your journey on Tramway Road in Palm Springs North. The tram journey takes 10 minutes and the trams run every hour between 10am and 8pm. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with some amazing views. You’ll also find:
- Over 50 miles of hiking trails through Mt San Jacinto State Park
- A small natural history museum
- Two theaters showing State Park and tram construction videos
- Gift Shop
- Two restaurants
- Cocktail Lounge
I enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Peaks Restaurant. This is the more upmarket option of the two restaurants at the top. Peaks serve both lunch and dinner. I recommend going to dinner as I was able to enjoy fantastic food whilst watching the sunset over Palm Springs.
As always, it is a good idea to book your ticket for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ahead of time. When you book your ticket, you will also choose a time.
2. Relax at The Spa at Sec-he
Sec-he is located in the heart of downtown Palm Springs. It is an ancient hot mineral spring that emerged from the ground over 12,000 years ago. This is how Palm Springs came to be known as Palm Springs. The spring is cared for and protected by the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians.
A major renovation of the structures around the spring was completed in 2023 and the site is now known as the Spa at Sec-he. I have visited many spas in my time and this is one of the best. There is 73,000 square feet of space, all dedicated to relaxation and rejuvenation. Not only does the Spa at Sec-he feature the opportunity to take the ancient springs, but it also has some of the most cutting-edge spa equipment I have seen.
A Taking of the Waters Day Pass gives visitors access to all spa amenities including a private Taking of the Waters bath experience. There are 22 private mineral baths at the Spa at Sec-he sourced form the spring at 105 degrees.https://www.tiktok.com/@boutiqueadventurer/video/7303875536303000865
The facilities are stunning. Choose from the main pool with its waterfall feature or the zero-edge mineral pool. There are day beds and cabanas by the pools designed to be the perfect place for relaxing.
The Spa at Sec-he is also home to a mix of classic and cutting edge therapies in its 15 treatment rooms including:
- Quartz gemstone treatment tables
- Chromatic light, infrared heating, and grounding pads on the massage treatment tables
- Facials are administered on wave tables
- a grounding room with zero gravity loungers
- an acoustic wellness lounge for audio therapy
- menthol dry sauna
- eucalyptus steam room
- two halotherapy salt caves
- cryo-therapy chamber
- IV Nutrient Therapies
I loved my private mineral bath and the grounding room. Visiting the Spa at Sec-he was one of the best things I did in Palm Springs.
3. Visit Indian Canyons
The Indian Canyons comprise Andreas Canyon, Murray Canyon and Palm Canyon. They sit at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains and cover around 60 miles of hiking trails. Despite Palm Springs desert climate, the canyons contain streams and lush palms. And all of this just a few miles from downtown Palm Springs.
I visited Andreas Canyon and Palm Canyon. Andreas Canyon is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is home to more than 150 species of plants and absolutely beautiful. The Andreas Canyon Loop is considered easy and covers 1.2 miles. The Maynard Mine Trail is considered strenuous and runs for 6 miles round trip.
Palm Canyon is home to the world’s largest naturally occurring oasis of Washingtonia Filifera Palm Trees, and they are quite a sight. The Canyon runs for 15 miles and can be used for hiking, horseback riding or picnics. The Palm Canyon Trail covers all 15 miles and is considered to be quite an easy walk.
Indian Canyons has admissions fees which can be paid at the trail head at the Indian Canyons Toll Gate, 38520 S. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs. Check the website for ranger-led walks. Visitors are not permitted to stay in Indian Canyons overnight.
4. Visit Palm Springs Art Museum
Founded in 1938, this museum is one of the top tourist attractions in Palm Springs. The Palm Springs Art Museum’s main location is in the heart of downtown Palm Springs near the Marilyn Monroe statue. It houses a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions and of course the building itself is a stunning example of mid-century architecture.
This innovative museum is home to 28 galleries, two sculpture gardens, four classrooms, resource centers, five storage vaults, an 85-seat lecture hall, a 433-seat theater, a gift shop and a restaurant. The Frey House II is part of the museum and is located just behind it.
The Palm Springs Art Museum is constantly running events so check the website before you visit.
5. See the Catci at Moorten Botanical Gardens
You really don’t want to leave the desert without experiencing at least one cactus garden. Moorten Botanical Garden is a private arboretum in South Palm Springs. It was established in 1938 and contains a huge variety of desert plants from all over the world.
There are more than 3,000 plant varieties in the gardens. It is extremely photogenic and well worth a visit.
6. Enjoy the Street Art
Art is everywhere in Palm Springs. Palm Canyon Drive contains loads of concrete benches that have been painted in various styles. Utility boxes have been converted into works of art. Here are a few more key pieces of public art in Palm Springs:
Rainmaker Fountain, created in 2000 by David Morris, is located at 500 N Palm Canyon Drive
Isabelle by Julian Voss-Andreae is made of polished stainless steel that appears almost see-through at 100 W Tahquitz Canyon Way
There is only one of the “Babies” sculptures left in Palm Springs and it is located near the Palm Springs Art Museum. David Cerny’s “Tower Babies” came to Palm Springs in 2018 on a temporary loan.
The blocks around the Palm Springs Art Museum regularly feature short-term public art exhibitions. And don’t miss the classic statues of Lucille Ball and Sonny Bono downtown.
7. Visit the Palm Springs Visitor’s Centre
This iconic building by Albert Frey is instantly recognizable due to its distinct soaring roof. The Palm Springs Visitor’s Center contains everything you would expect a visitor’s center to contain. The architectural significance of the building is the key point of difference for this visitor’s center. And some public art around the center makes for nice photo backdrops.
8. Go Shopping
Palm Springs is a fantastic place to shop. There are loads of unique and quirky stores. At the north end of Palm Springs check out The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five. This is a collection of luxurious shops (fashion and home) in an iconic E. Stewart Williams building.
Shag is the place to go for kitsch Palm Springs design souvenirs and artworks.
My favorite store in Palm Springs was Trina Turk. They had some of the most fabulous bathing suits and cover ups I have ever seen. I went home with two new pairs of swimsuits and a new cover up.
9. Get Your Photo Taken at the Marilyn Monroe Statue
Forever Marilyn is a 26 feet tall statue of Marilyn Monroe designed by Seward Johnson. Marilyn is rendered in the classic post from The Seven Year Itch movie, where a gust of air blows up her white dress. This stainless steel and aluminum is now probably Palm Springs’ most iconic landmark. No trip to Palm Springs is complete without a picture under or next to Forever Marilyn.
The statue is located downtown near the Palm Springs Art Museum. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time for the most attractive photographs but do remember it is a popular photo spot.
10. Walk the Palm Springs Hollywood Fame
As you explore the heart of Palm Springs, make sure to take a walking tour along the Palm Springs Walk of Stars along Palm Canyon Drive. This celebrated sidewalk honors not only Hollywood’s finest but also notable local leaders, humanitarians, and civic icons who have made significant contributions to the growth and reputation of Palm Springs. Celebrities with stars include Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley.
11. Visit the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center
The Palm Springs Art Museum I mentioned earlier in this article has several locations, once of which is the Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion. The center resides in a restored mid-century modern building. It runs various educational and community programs and rotating exhibitions highlighting design elements from the 20th century to the present.
The museum store offers a unique experience as it is situated in the original bank vault of the former Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan Association.
12. Go to a Drag Brunch
If you’re looking for something different to do in Palm Springs, why not head to a Drag Brunch? Apparently, Drag Brunches are now quite popular but I went to my first one in Palm Springs at The Saguaro Hotel.
Two set menus were on offer, as were a la carte options. We enjoyed granola parfait, nachos and breakfast sandwiches. And, of course, bottomless mimosas were available.
But we weren’t there for the food. We were treated to several numbers by our drag queens and they were quite amazing. I could have sworn Celine Dion was in the room! The performers are not shy so if you don’t want any attention, it is best to sit away from an easily accessible seat.
And it is standard practice to “tip” the performers with small (or large) bills, so make sure you bring some cash. And there are photo opportunities with the drag queens at the end of the performance.
13. Relax at the World’s Largest Weed Lounge
Four Twenty Bank Dispensary and Lounge is the largest and only cannabis concert lounge and dispensary in the world. It is in the heart of downtown Palm Springs and popular with locals.
The lounge has a custom air filtration system to keep things as fresh as possible and also sells CBD and THC infused drinks (no alcohol). Pop in for a relaxing smoke or attend one of their live music events.
14. Enjoy an excellent Mexican Meal at El Mirasol
My best meal in Palm Springs was at the fantastic Mexican restaurant El Miarsol. This family owned business opened its first branch in Palm Springs in 1985. I ate at its second branch, which is inside its boutique hotel, Los Arboles. This is classic Mexican made with the freshest ingredients and was fantastic.
15. Grab a Pink Coffee at Cafe La Jeta
The Flannery Exchange is a cute mixed-use workspace on Palm Canyon Drive that is home to the super cute Cafe La Jeta and its gorgeous pink coffee cups. Their gorgeous outdoor patio is a popular spot for locals and the good coffee and breakfast offerings keep them regulars.
16. Tahquitz Canyon
Like the Indian Canyons I mentioned earlier in this article, Tahquitz Canyon is part of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. It is best known for its rock art and the 60 foot tall Tahquitz Waterfall. The canyon offers a 2 mile loop walk that leads visitors to this beautiful waterfall. You’ll also see plenty of native wildlife and plants along the way.
The Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center is located at the entrance to the canyon. Find out more by watching the Legend of Tahquitz video and don’t miss the observation deck.
The canyon is open daily from 8am to 5pm. Overnight stays are not allowed.
NB: The trail to the falls and back will have you gain 350 feet in elevation. It is steep, has many rock steps and has little shade. There are no restroom facilities or water fountains. It is considered to be a strenuous trek.
17. Visit Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a remarkable desert destination located approximately one hour from Palm Springs. This national park uniquely combines the Mojave and Lower Colorado deserts. Here are some of the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park as a day trip:
- hike one mile round trip to Arch Rock
- see Skull Rock
- visit the petroglyphs
- the famous Joshua Trees are located in the Northern part of the park, which is the Mojave Desert
Start your visit at one of the park visitor centers. Here, you can gather maps and gain insights into the park’s trails and attractions. Pay your entry fee at the North entrance.
The main park road is accessible to all vehicles and guides you through various viewpoints. Remember, a 4WD vehicle with high clearance is advisable for off-the-beaten-path exploration.
18. Coachella Valley Preserve
The Coachella Valley Preserve is a protected area spanning approximately 17,000 acres 10 miles east of Palm Springs. It’s a haven for the unique Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, a species not found anywhere else in the world. The preserve features the Thousand Palm Oasis, nourished by water seeping from the San Andreas Fault.
Here are some of the hiking trails in the Coachella Valley Preserve:
- Moon Country Trail: Experience diverse terrain and potentially spot some local wildlife.
- Hidden Palms Trail: Discover another serene oasis amidst the arid desert.
- McCallum Trail: A relatively easy hike leading to McCallum Pond, an ideal spot for a peaceful break.
19. Palm Springs Air Museum
This aviation museum in Palm Springs focuses on World War Two. The Palm Springs Air Museum is a living history museum that opened in 1996. Today, the museum has five hangars and is home to over 70 vintage static and flying aircraft. The museum also has a gift shop, library, theater and cafe.
20. Agua Caliente Cultural Museum
Located in the heart of downtown Palm Springs, this 10,000 square foot gallery is the best place to gain an understanding of the history and culture of the Agua Caliente people. The Agua Caliente Cultural Museum has five exhibition areas that tell the story of the Agua Caliente. The museum also holds regular events and there is a store.
21. The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
This not-for-profit zoo and desert botanical garden is home to over 500 animals. The Living Desert Zoo and Garden has been rated one of the 10 best zoos in the United States by Conde Nast Traveller and receives over 500,000 visitors each year. It is a 30 minute drive from downtown Palm Springs near Palm Desert.
The zoo is a great place for encounter experiences. Encounter a rhino, feed a giraffe or see Australia’s most treasure animals in an interactive exhibit. There are hiking trails, a discovery center, a petting kraal and even an endangered species carousel.
Key Seasonal Events in Palm Springs
Palm Springs hosts a variety of events throughout the year that celebrate art, music, and architecture. These signature events attract visitors from all over for their unique offerings and vibrant atmosphere. Here are the two for which it is best known.
Coachella Music Festival
The Coachella Music Festival is an annual music and arts event held in the Coachella Valley. Known for its eclectic mix of music genres, Coachella offers an unforgettable experience with performances by top-tier artists from around the globe.
- Where: Empire Polo Club, Indio, CA
- When: Typically spans over two weekends in April
Modernism Week celebrates and fosters an appreciation of midcentury architecture and design and contemporary thinking in these fields. When you attend the event, you can access exclusive tours of iconic homes, film screenings, and insightful lectures.
- Where: Various locations in Palm Springs, CA
- When: Usually held in February
If you’re looking at where to stay in Palm Springs don’t miss my article on the 17 best boutique hotels in Palm Springs.
My visit to Palm Springs was sponsored by Palm Springs Small Hotels but as always, my opinions are all my own. This article also contains affiliate links. That means if you click through on some of the links in the article and end up making a purchase I may receive a small commission.