Palm Springs, California has grown in popularity during the last decade and not just for its numerous golf courses. Host to the Coachella and multiple other festivals, Palm Springs draws in crowds of people from all around the world. In the early 1900s, Palm Springs became world-famous as a getaway for Hollywood stars, royalty, and rich business moguls, who all went to enjoy the endless sunshine that this desert city offered. Today, beautiful Palm Springs, California is called home by many snowbirds escaping Canadian winters, but also retirees taking advantage of the numerous golf courses. Check out this one day in Palm Springs travel guide for all of the necessary tips and info to make your trip as memorable and enjoyable as possible!
What’s the best time to visit Palm Springs?
The best time to visit Palm Springs during the year is from October until May. In the summer, the valley experiences sweltering heat and dry weather, so make sure to drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen. If you visit during the summer and plan on hiking, make sure to also get an early start on your hikes before the heat sets in! However, while it is generally sunny 350 days a year, the desert can get quite cold during the winter. Driving up into the surrounding San Jacinto Mountain Range or through Joshua Tree National Park, you may even get snow!
The busiest season for Palm Springs is from March to May, during the festival season where flocks of people come to Coachella and Stagecoach. However, flights from most major cities in Canada and the US arrive at Palm Springs International Airport almost daily. Due to the number of flights from November-April, it is very easy to find deals.
For those that don’t mind the drive, you can also look into flying into LAX instead and renting a car to drive to Palm Springs. It is only a 2-hour drive (depending on LA traffic) and may be cheaper or easier for some people to find deals this way.
A few facts about Palm Springs:
The combined scenic mountain views with a mix of mid-20th century modern buildings give Palm Springs a distinct look that appeals to many with an appreciation for architecture and nature. The place has the largest concentration of midcentury modern architecture in the world. Modernism Week’s annual festival takes place each year in February and highlights the mid-century modern architecture, art, interior design, and culture in Palm Springs. It features more than 350 events open to the public, many of which are free to attend.
Greater Palm Springs lies within the Coachella Valley and actually is made up of nine cities in total. These cities are all linked by the way of Highway 111, which continues out towards the Salton Sea. The nine connected cities are: Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella.
Palm Springs’ core downtown area consists of the famous Palm Canyon Drive. It features a number of cafes, retro-themed shops, and boutique hotels that maintain the old motel style. However, since the nine cities are all interconnected and very accessible by car, it is easy to access this main shopping area no matter where you stay. The canyons that run along the south-west of the city offer visitors multiple hiking opportunities and trails.
Did you know that with over 50,000 pools, Greater Palm Springs can boast that it has more pools per capita than anywhere else in the country? Frank Sinatra’s former Twin Palms Estate in Palm Springs even boasts a famous piano-shaped swimming pool. In addition to pools, with over 100 renowned golf courses and 300+ sunny days each year, Greater Palm Springs certainly earns its reputation as a top destination for golf-lovers.
One Day in Palm Springs Itinerary
For first-time visitors in Palm Springs, there is no shortage of things to see and do! You could spend a week in Palm Springs and its vicinity and still not come close to seeing all this beautiful area has to offer. Even if you only have a day to visit, don’t be discouraged from trying to hit all of the key tourist spots first as many of them are still must-see spots. Here is an ideal itinerary for an action-packed day in Palm Springs California, from sunrise to sunset.
Start your day in a tram
A trip up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which is the world’s largest rotating tramcar, is just what you need to start your day. You will get to travel over two-and-one-half miles along the cliffs of the Chino Canyon to the pristine wilderness of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area. During this ten-minute journey, tram cars rotate slowly to offer spectacular vistas of the valley below. The Tram’s Mountain Station at 8,516 feet elevation offers two dine-in restaurants, great viewpoints, over 50 miles of hiking trails, and a natural history museum.
Alternative Option: If you don’t want to visit Joshua Tree or the Palm Springs Aerial Tram, then the Coachella Valley Vista Point offers great views of the entire Coachella Valley and is easy to access. Drive about five miles up Hwy 74 as it snakes its way out of Palm Desert and into the San Jacinto Mountains. On a nice clear day, you might see the north tip of the Salton Sea that lies to the southeast! There’s also a small visitor’s center for those wanting more information on the area.
Walk down Palm Canyon Drive
After this, make your way into old Palm Springs. Take a walk down Palm Canyon Drive and pop into some great shops to experience more Modernism-type art and retro vibes.
TIP: Find a cafe or ice cream shop and stop in for a “Date Shake”. These are vanilla milkshakes with dates from the multiple date farms located in the Coachella Valley. They may sound weird, but are delicious!
Explore the beautiful houses
From downtown Palm Springs, take a drive around some of the surrounding neighborhoods at the beautiful Midcentury Modern houses. People in Palm Springs take great pride in the upkeep and appearance of these houses. Keep an eye out for some of the beautiful houses that showcase colorful doors or retro cars as these often make great photo spots.
Around this area, you can also find the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway. It is the nickname given to the iconic 1960 Alexander Estate that Elvis and Priscilla Presley had stayed in 1966. It’s not open for walk-in’s but you can book ahead for a tour.
Check out the Air Museum
Finally, to finish off your one day in Palm Springs, you will need to spend a couple of hours of your afternoon at the Palm Springs Air Museum. Adjacent to the Palm Springs Airport, the Palm Springs Air Museum has an exceptional collection of WWII aircraft and flight memorabilia. Inside is a movie theatre and they even offer occasional flight demonstrations.
You can climb inside a functioning Boeing B17 Flying Fortress, a bomber extensively used against Germans during WWII. For any aviation-enthusiasts especially, a stop here is a must!
Have a fabulous dinner
After your busy day, it’s time to treat yourself to a great dinner. Two popular spots in Palm Springs are Las Casuelas Nuevas and the Schnitzelhaus.
If you feel like having Mexican food while in Palm Springs, the best place to visit is the charming, Las Casuelas Nuevas. This restaurant has been a true local favorite for the 40+ years that they have been serving Mexican in the Coachella Valley. The restaurant is in an older building with a beautiful atmosphere and a wonderful patio. The food is all priced quite reasonably, making it great for groups. They often even have live music in the evenings!
Or if you are in the mood for German you 100% need to visit Schnitzelhaus, located off of Country Club Drive! This is as authentically German as you can get in the Coachella Valley. It is not a large restaurant but is traditionally-decorated so you feel as if you are truly getting the full Bavarian experience. Even though the food is expensive, it is definitely worth it for the portions and quality!
After that, head back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep! There are a number of great day trip options if you are looking to stay in Palm Springs longer.
Where to stay in Palm Springs, California?
If you’re looking for a true mid-century experience, then staying in one of the retro motels is highly recommended! There are numerous hotels/motels around the main part of the city and close to the main Palm Canyon Drive area. Many have an elaborate list of famous visitors, ranging from the 1930s and through the golden age of Elvis. Most hotels have been modernized and updated but have luckily still kept their original look that has changed little since the mid-1950s.
Del Marcos Hotel
225 West Baristo Road, Palm Springs, CA 92262
The Del Marcos Hotel is only a 10-minute drive from the airport (PSP) and is an adult-only hotel, so this a great option to consider if you are wanting a weekend away without kids. Complimentary Palm Springs Art Museum Passes and Discounted Tram Tickets are available, as is a continental breakfast and parking with no resort fees.
Westin Desert Willow Villas
75 Willow Ridge, Palm Desert, CA 92260
If you are looking at staying in another area, then the Westin Desert Willow Villas, located in Palm Desert, is a place to consider. This villa resort offers many amenities for those looking for more of a resort experience. The rooms are up to 1400 square feet and full kitchens, balconies/patios, washers/dryers, and large separate living spaces. A great option for having more space available but without the greater expense of renting a house.
45-400 Larkspur Lane, Palm Desert, CA 92260
If you really want to relax and enjoy yourself, Hotel Paseo is the place. Not only do you get free parking and access to free bikes, but this place also has an outdoor pool, hot tub, and even evening entertainment. The rooms are very well equipped, and you will also get free toiletries in them. Furthermore, Hotel Paseo also serves an excellent American breakfast, plus you are in the Palm Springs’ center. Prepare to enjoy!
Motel 6 Palm Springs
660 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92264
There aren’t many hostel options available in Palm Springs as it is generally not a backpacker spot. That being said, there are still a number of cheaper motels and more affordable options available that won’t break the bank. Check out Motel 6 Palm Springs if you are looking for accommodation on the cheaper side that is still in a great location!
Day trips from Palm Springs
Joshua Tree National Park
Just to the north of Palm Springs, you can find one of the United States’ most incredible National Parks, the Joshua Tree National Park. It is essential for any visitor to take the time for a beautiful drive through the Joshua Trees, distinct rock formations, and unique landscapes that the park offers. This otherworldly desert-scape makes you feel so far outside the city, but it only takes about an hour to drive to one of the main entrance gates. The varied landscape you’ll experience on the drive shows the contrast between the Colorado and Mojave Deserts that both make up the park.
For fans of old western movies, a day trip from Palm Springs to Pioneertown in the Yucca Valley would be a great option! In 1946, Pioneertown was founded by a group of Hollywood actors and investors that dreamed of creating an Old West set that doubled as a town. Today, you can still visit Pioneertown and admire the 1880s-style facades. More than 50 films and television shows were filmed here throughout the years!
Salton Sea is also an interesting option for a day trip. A result of an engineering accident is surrounded by a few towns that have been almost completely deserted, but there is a museum here which you can visit. In any case, a very interesting destination.
Extra tips for visiting Palm Springs
Remember that due to the size of the Coachella Valley, having a car is pretty necessary for fitting everything in during your visit! You can definitely use Uber, but this may rack up large bills if you use it for greater distances across the cities.
There’s so much to do in Palm Springs. Whether you are spending a day, week, or month in the desert, you will not be at loss for new places to explore. The desert really has its charm! Whether you’re looking for a week in the sun, want to go shopping, love nature, or are a big architecture fan, Palm Springs has something for everyone!
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