This isn’t a place where you should pack your schedule: Embrace Palm Springs’ relaxed mentality by enjoying time by the pool, at the spa and on the links. Pools and golf courses cover the desert landscape, but if you’re interested, there’s much more to do than just sunbathing and swinging golf clubs. For instance, the Palm Springs Art Museum boasts an impressive collection for its small size, and Elvis’ Honeymoon Hideaway offers a glimpse of the area’s star-studded past. Meanwhile, the surrounding canyons and mountains provide ample opportunities for warm weather hikes and cold weather cross-country skiing.
Coachella Valley Preserve
The Coachella Valley Preserve may seem like barren desert landscape, but keep your eyes peeled and you’ll see that the 17,000-acre area is more than just sand and brush. The preserve encompasses the smaller Thousand Palms Oasis preserve, which boasts a whopping 25 miles of hiking paths. Along the trails you’ll spot rare wildlife (including the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard) and lush palm woodland oases and desert wetlands, which at different times of the year blossoms with wildflowers. Before heading out, past visitors recommend stopping by the visitor center — located in a log cabin at the entrance of the park — to pick up a map of the trails.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is an oasis in the center of the desert. From Hidden Valley (which features a nice, easy hike) to the Cholla Cactus Garden (home to many a photo op at sunset), Joshua Tree caters to a variety of active travelers. Meanwhile, with its perch in the Little San Bernadino Mountains, the Keyes View lookout is another great place for a spectacular view of the Coachella Valley. Whether you’re planning on hiking or just driving through, the park rangers recommend bringing plenty of water — this is the desert after all.
Palm Springs Art Museum
The Palm Springs Art Museum, which was founded in 1938, contains a stunning collection of works, including pieces by big names like Andy Warhol and Marc Chagall. You’ll also find an ever-changing list of rotating exhibits, which have included studies of impressionism, contemporary sculpture, pop and graphic art, and architecture. The facility’s permanent collection is not to be missed, either.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The city of Palm Springs rests in the shadows of the San Jacinto Mountains. The towering, snow-topped peaks of Southern California’s second-highest mountain range are beautiful to behold from the valley floor, but many visitors say that a mountaintop experience is incredible. To reach the summit, you’ll take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Once you rise 8,516 feet to the top, you can hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski before heading back down the mountain via a return tram.
Escena Golf Club
Experts and casual players alike say the 18-hole, par 72 course at Escena is the place to golf in Palm Springs. Not only are the grounds gorgeous — framed by the San Jacinto Mountains and the wide desert sky — Escena is also a good course for all levels of golfers thanks to its clear sightlines and fairly challenging Jack Nicklaus design. Escena Golf Club’s location near both the airport and the city is also a point in its favor.
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
The Living Desert is half-zoo and half-botanical garden, all in the extraordinary setting of a desert. Along with animals like mountain lions, bighorn sheep and meerkats, there are a handful of gardens that showcase cacti and other desert flora and fauna. Some visitors do mention that the animals are sometimes hard to spot, but that just goes to show that the Living Desert’s design is working. The designers aimed to create space that would mimic the animals’ natural environments, so there are places for them to hide.
Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway
The Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway was first the Las Palmas Estate, home to 1960s socialites Robert and Helene Alexander. In the mid-1960s, the Alexanders leased the home to none other than “the King” and his new bride Priscilla. The couple honeymooned at the estate, and nine months later their first child, Lisa, was born. Today, visitors can tour the home with two look-alike “tribute artists” or guides, “Aloha King Tony” and “Darling Presley.”
Palm Springs Air Museum
The Palm Springs Air Museum boasts an extensive collection of aircraft from World War II, including planes that range from the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat to the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. The planes are positioned throughout the museum, not unlike the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Agua Caliente Indian Canyons
Some visitors refer to the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons as Palm Springs’ best-kept secret. These canyons, which consist of the Palm Canyon, Murray Canyon, Tahquitz Canyon and Andreas Canyon, are located on the reservation lands of the Agua Caliente American Indians. The canyons are praised for their desert beauty — as seen in their jutting rocks and prickly cacti — as well as their hiking opportunities.