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Saguaro Palm Springs
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The 12 best things to do in Palm Springs

If you're looking for sunshine and leisure, the best things to do in Palm Springs will hit the spot

Michael Juliano
Written by
Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Michael Juliano

Considering that it sprouted into a resort destination in the early 20th century—with much of Hollywood vacationing here for a quick escape from L.A.—the best things to do in Palm Springs tend to prioritize leisure. The city beckons visitors with arid landscapes, golf courses, handsome mid-century vacation homes, and an excellent restaurant scene.

And while many will spend their weekend simply lounging by hotel pools (an essential Palm Springs activity), there are plenty of other attractions in Palm Springs to keep you entertained. Seasonally, the city becomes the epicenter of cool during Coachella, while annual spectacles like the design-focused Modernism Week and Robolights (a quirky holiday light display) keeps things interesting. The desert city buzzes year-round, but it’s especially popular between December and April when that infamous dry heat dips (no matter what, plan to pack plenty of water and sunscreen, and be sure to arrange accommodations with a pool).

But no matter when you visit Palm Springs, activities can include fun home tours, botanical gardens, and one-of-a-kind mountaintop tram rides—follow our guide to make the most of it.

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Best things to do in Palm Springs

Trek a couple of minutes onto Tramway Road as you roll into Palm Springs and you’ll come across this classic canyon-hugging gondola ride. Board a rotating car inside an angular 1963 station, and after 10 minutes—and a double-digit temperature drop—you’ll find yourself facing the entirety of the Coachella Valley below. Linger with a stop at the mountaintop restaurant, café or lounge, or hike deeper into the San Jacinto Mountains.

True to its name, this zoo looks just like a living slice of the Sonoran Desert. Located a couple of miles outside of Palm Springs, the largely outdoor locale is broadly split into North American and African environments. Explore the grounds to find an assortment of wild cats and hoofed mammals, as well as giraffe feedings ($8).


This mid-size museum houses a collection of contemporary paintings, sculpture, and art glass from the likes of Henry Moore, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and fellow West Coast artists like Sam Francis, Mark di Suvero, and Edward Ruscha. Exhibitions often focus on the cultures and themes of the desert: Modernism, Native Americans, and the American West. The museum also operates a satellite location in Palm Desert (it’s free) as well as an architecture and design center in downtown Palm Springs ($5).

Flowing water in the middle of the desert? Indeed, this two-mile loop leads to a 50-foot waterfall tucked into Tahquitz Canyon. The falls are located within the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians reservation, so you’ll need to pay a $12.50 admission fee. On the plus side, the fee keeps the trail impeccably maintained, unlike many of L.A.’s graffiti-filled waterfalls. Ranger-led hikes are also available.


This air museum showcases primarily World War II as well as Korea- and Vietnam-era combat aircraft. You’ll find more than 40 flyable and static planes across three warehouses, from the B-17 flying fortress to the F-4 fighter jet, as well as a couple of aircraft on the tarmac, like the C-47 and PBY Catalina Flying Boat. The museum also offers a limited number of high-priced flights aboard the C-47 Skytrain and P-51 Mustang.

Even if you don’t need any information from the official Palm Springs welcome center, this distinctive spot is worth a stop to admire its treasured architecture; the Space Age structure opened in 1965 as a gas station, but when the Albert Frey and Robson Chambers’s retro design was slated for the wrecking ball in the ’90s, it was saved and turned into a visitors' center. If you do need some guidance, you can book a tour of Palm Springs right here


Though only an acre in size, this botanical garden is packed with prickly varieties of cacti and other desert plants. The family-owned garden dates back to the 1930s and harbors more than 3,000 specimens of desert plants from around the world that are grouped by region. There's also a nursery if you want to take some plants back home with you—a rather lively souvenir, if you ask us.

Sunnylands, the former winter retreat for the wealthy Annenberg family and a popular summit space for decades of presidents, resides on a 200-acre plot of irrigated desert in Rancho Mirage. Though much of that space is occupied by a nine-hole golf course, 12 acres have been dedicated to public gardens and a visitor center with a rotating selection of artwork from the Annenberg collection. Tours of the mansion are available but regularly sell out months in advance.


You can barely walk a block along Palm Canyon Drive without stumbling upon an eye-catching gallery, antique or furniture showroom. Palm Springs and mid-century modernism go hand in hand, and you’ll find plenty of galleries (notably a showroom from retro-inspired artist SHAG) and furniture stores dedicated to the jet-setting aesthetic.

Tennis Club neighborhood
Photograph: Courtesy Honeymoon Hideaway

10. Tennis Club neighborhood

Palm Springs is brimming with handsome mid-century modern homes. Keep in mind that most of these are private abodes, so you can’t exactly knock on the front door. But cruise around some notable neighborhoods, from Tennis Club to Araby Cove, and you’ll spot plenty of architectural gems along the way. Highlights include the Del Marcos Hotel, Elvis’s Honeymoon Hideaway and the Edris House.


Craggy peaks, climbable boulders and those beloved yuccas are barely an hour car ride away. Joshua Tree National Park is a popular destination for overnight campers, but you can explore plenty in a single afternoon, too, from an easygoing hike around Hidden Valley to vistas from 5,000 feet up at Keys View. If you’re coming from Palm Springs, you’ll want to enter from the northwest entrance in Joshua Tree; if you’re staying farther east into the Coachella Valley, you can use the south entrance but it’ll put you—for better or worse—in a more desolate area that’s farther from the park’s main attractions.

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