Hip and free-spirited, Palm Springs is a quirky oasis in the desert of California. Here’s a look at some of the awesome things to do in Palm Springs – for all types of traveler.
On our recent trip to California, we made quirky Palm Springs our first stop. We were eager to explore the desert and bask in the Californian sunshine. Traveling from the cold sub-zero temperatures of Norway, we were warmly welcomed by the balmy, desert air of Palm Springs. Needless to say, even Baby Kaleya loved the transition. Right upon arrival, we threw off our winter coats and slipped on our hat and shades to explore the quirky desert town.
Palm Springs was an easy two-hour drive from Los Angeles, at just 115 miles away. The view along the way was picture perfect. Mountains flanked both sides of the freeway and palm trees swayed in the distance. We weaved our way through the Coachella Valley and found the city perched at the western edge. It’s alongside a string of desert towns like Cathedral City and Palm Desert.
Table of Contents
1. Explore Downtown Palm Springs
Arriving in Palm Springs, we were surprised to find that it was actually a small and cute town. The city center covers no more than a few blocks. Unlike many other cities in the US, Palm Springs is great to explore on foot. Most of the interesting sights are crammed along Palm Canyon Drive, the main artery of the city.
This is where you’ll find all the quirky boutiques, unique museums, art galleries, laid back coffeehouses, and chic restaurants. We particularly loved having breakfast al fresco style in The Corridor, an eclectic collection of shops and eateries amidst lots of green spaces. For the best dining options, we recommend Trio. A modern, casual restaurant it serves up solid American food with rich vibrant flavors. Read the Tripadvisor reviews here.
Every Thursday evening, Downtown Palm Springs also transforms into VillageFest. An open-air street fair displaying the work of artisans and entertainers. On offer are also fresh fruit and veggies, flowers, jewelry, snacks and sweets. I highly recommend timing your trip to coincide with the VillageFest, so you can catch the vibrant side of Palm Springs. Read Tripadvisor reviews of VillageFest here.
2. Hike the Tahquitz Canyon
But Palm Springs offers more than just urban life: what we like most about it is how close it is to nature. The city is in fact sheltered by the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains on the south, and the San Jacinto Mountains to the west.
Downtown Palm Springs is backdropped by the towering 10,831 foot Mt. San Jacinto. There’s also the lush, inspirational canyons (Indian Canyons, Chino Canyon, and Tahquitz Canyon). The entire area was the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians but have now been converted into protected areas. Dozens of hiking trails crisscross this area. Snaking between the rugged canyons all the way up to the snow-capped mountain peaks. It was quite a contrast to the warm desert lowlands.
We spent a morning hiking in the Tahquitz Canyon, with the start of the trail just a five-minute drive from Downtown Palm Springs. Perfect for families, the Tahquitz Canyon Trail is a relatively easy and leisurely two-mile loop trail which leads to Tahquitz Falls and back. If you’re an avid hiker, be sure to explore Joshua Tree (1 hour away from Palm Springs,) one of the best national parks in USA.
3. Visit the Living Desert
When we travel, we like to learn about the origins of the place and the stories that it has to tell. And now that we have Baby Kaleya in tow, we want to explore places that are outdoorsy, educational and fun for her. So we headed to the Living Desert, an outdoor gardens/zoo just 30 minutes away in Palm Desert.
The Living Desert is a non-profit organization established in 1970 to conserve the local desert ecosystem. Since then, The Living Desert has been engaged in the important work of preserving, conserving and interpreting the desert and all its varied plant and animal life.
We found the interpretive trails and exhibits to be quite educational. Although Kaleya was the one who had the most fun watching cheetahs and lions, feeding giraffes and even petting goats. It was quite special seeing the deserts preserved in its nature state, with plants and animals living in their original habitat.
4. Live like a Star in the Movie Colony
Back in the 1950s and 60s, Palm Springs used to be Hollywood’s playground. It pulled in celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Sinatra. Many of them built homes here, adding a touch of glamour to this otherwise earthy desert town.
These days, you can actually rent one of these celebrity homes located in the Movie Colony, a residential area just a few blocks from Downtown Palm Springs. We were very lucky enough to stay at Sand Acre, a Spanish villa that dates back to around 1933, situated on a coveted one-acre in-town lot. Rumored to have been frequented by Marilyn Monroe, this was where she and Joe DiMaggio often spent time together while in Palm Springs.
The beautiful 5-bedroom estate has a vast, green lawn, private swimming pool and outdoor jacuzzi. Not to mention stunning views of the rugged San Jacinto Mountains. The interior has an old-world Spanish charm, with exposed beams perched on the rafter ceiling, arches framing the doorways and mosaic tiles lining the spiral stairway. Of the five rooms, our favorite was definitely the room located in the tower on the second floor. It is rumoured to be where Marilyn Monroe stayed.
Another celebrity home that we had the good fortune of staying at was the Merv Griffin Estate. It is formerly owned by the famous TV host Merv Griffin. When we first arrived, we couldn’t quite believe how big the place was. The equestrian property sprawls across 39 acres of land and features several buildings. These include the main house, four guest casitas, two guest houses, 15 stable barn and staff quarters. There’s even a 2.5-acre pond, infinity edge pool, spa, ball court, an equestrian racetrack and multiple paddocks. It was so big that we invited my family to join us and the house still felt ridiculously big for the eight of us.
We’ll be back!
All in all, quirky Palm Springs really sprang a surprise for us. Even though our stay was only three days, it was enough to make us fall in love with it. We’re already planning our next trip back – and hopefully this time we’ll get to spend more time exploring this desert oasis.
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Disclaimer: Special thanks to Visit Palm Springs and Beau Monde Villas for making our stay possible!