The city of Palm Springs in southern California has been a haven for Hollywood celebrities for more than a half-century – but it’s not just the proximity to Los Angeles that drew them. The area is known for year-round nice weather and beautiful scenery, and the town itself has developed over the decades into an art-centric and relaxing getaway destination.
Palm Springs has its own international airport that makes for easy connections throughout most of North America, and if you can’t find any good travel deals to Palm Springs (or you need international airfare instead), then consider looking for cheap flights into LA/Ontario Airport, since it’s only 70 miles away.
Once you’re in Palm Springs, the downtown area is incredibly easy to get around without having a car. In fact, walking around downtown is one of the pleasures of a visit to the city. You might want a rental car to take day trips away from town, although there is a city bus service that can get you to nearby resorts as well as around Palm Springs. Biking excursions are also popular, and you can rent a bike right in the city itself.
Here are some of the top things to do in and around Palm Springs.
Explore the Outdoors
Since Palm Springs is known for its glorious weather, it’s foolish not to get outside and enjoy it. Certainly, there are a few months when it might be too hot for some people, but in the winter when snow is falling in many parts of the United States it’s an excellent time to soak up the sun in Palm Springs.
It would be crazy to visit Palm Springs without getting out to the nearby Joshua Tree National Park for a day. It’s less than an hour from Palm Springs, and it’s a stunning place for a hike or even some rock climbing. If you’re curious about local geography, you can also take a peek at the San Andreas Fault not far from Palm Springs. Other nearby attractions include several canyons that are sacred Native sites – Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon.
Want to get a closer look at some of the flora and fauna that call this part of the world home? The Living Desert is a wildlife and botanical park covering a whopping 1200 acres and showcasing all kinds of native desert species. It’s fun for the whole family, but you certainly don’t need to be a kid to have your inner child enjoy it.
Get an aerial view of the whole area with a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. At the start of your trip, it’s a great way to get an overview of all your outdoorsy options. At the end of your trip, it’s a fun way to see all the places you’ve already been from an entirely new angle.
And of course Palm Springs and the surrounding area is tailor-made for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, camping, and picnicking – not to mention the many top-rated golf courses in the vicinity – so there’s no excuse for not getting outside for awhile. You can always recuperate with a spa treatment (including a mineral water treatment from the springs in the city’s name), let off some more steam at the Spa Resort Casino, and go dancing at one of the city’s night clubs before you hit the hay.
Get Cultured & Educated
As mentioned, Palm Springs grew quickly in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s when Hollywood stars and starlets flocked to the desert to get away from it all. Despite a steady flow of people and money ever since, that era remains the signature look for the city – which is why, to this day, it’s famous for its “mid-century modern” architecture. Take a guided walking tour (or a Segway tour, if you’re interested) to have its significance explained to you.
Architecture not quite your thing? Then consider one of the city’s many art walks. On varying nights of the week, there are open gallery and studio evenings to showcase new exhibits or just to make galleries more enticing to visitors. It’s an enjoyable way to spend an evening, as well as potentially pick up a unique souvenir to bring home. Don’t miss the weekly VillageFest street fair, either, each Thursday night.
Art lovers can also tour the Palm Springs Art Museum, open since the early 1930s and featuring Native American and Mesoamerican art as well as contemporary pieces by notable artists.
At the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum you can learn all about the Native cultures that once called the area home. The museum hosts special events on a regular basis and in addition to a nice permanent collection they also have special exhibits routinely.
For a different kind of culture and history, you could take a tour of the Palm Springs Air Museum and its collection of World War II airplanes, or book yourself a seat at the Palm Springs Fabulous Follies, a music and dance revue covering the 1940s through the 1960s.
Indulge Your Inner Paparazzi
Palm Springs was once the favorite retreat of celebrities from Hollywood, but just because they have more options these days doesn’t mean you can’t go celeb-spotting in the city anymore. Aside from the year-round celebrity attractions in Palm Springs – including the city’s own “Walk of Stars” downtown and tours to the estates of former residents like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley – Palm Springs is home to a whopping seven film festivals each year.
The Palm Springs International Film Festival starts things out at the beginning of January and is one of the biggest film festivals in the country. It attracts celebrities from not just Hollywood but from all over the world. Finding a cheap hotel in Palm Springs might be close to impossible if you haven’t booked well in advance, but if you manage to find a room you can even buy tickets to the black-tie events and rub shoulders with the rich and famous.
Another major film festival in the city is the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, nicknamed the Palm Springs Shortfest. It’s the biggest short film festival in the country, and this is another festival where the average citizen can book tickets to special events and parties to meet the people involved with the films themselves. Dates vary, but it’s typically in the summer.
Other film festivals in Palm Springs include the Festival of Native Film & Culture, Arthur Lyons’ Film Noir Festival, and Cinema Diverse Gay and Lesbian Films – but even if you’re visiting when a festival isn’t going on, don’t let your guard down. Celebrities are still regularly seen in Palm Springs, either vacationing in the area or for other special events, so be on the lookout.
Embrace an “Alternative” Lifestyle
Now, the headline of this section isn’t designed to imply that in order to visit Palm Springs you need to be anyone other than you currently are – it’s merely an indication that Palm Springs is an open and inviting place that accepts everyone for whoever they are.
In particular, Palm Springs is noted as a very gay-friendly travel destination. As is noted above, there’s a film festival in Palm Springs every year called the Cinema Diverse Gay and Lesbian Films, but the city is gay-friendly year-round. There’s a long list of hotels and resorts in Palm Springs that may not necessarily be exclusive to the gay community but are very popular with gay and lesbian travelers.
Another group that tends to visit Palm Springs in high numbers is the naturist community – sometimes better known as the nudist community. There are several clothing-optional resorts in Palm Springs, some (but not all) of which are men-only. Of course, the year-round warm weather in Palm Springs makes the idea of being at a clothing-optional resort more palatable even for those who might normally not book that kind of resort!