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Palm Springs | © Joyce cory / Flickr
Palm Springs | © Joyce cory / Flickr

12 Reasons You Need to Visit Palm Springs

Picture of Juliet Bennett Rylah
Updated: 22 July 2017

Palm Springs was once the proverbial playground of movie stars, but now it’s a fun and laid-back destination for anyone who wants to enjoy a posh desert getaway. With a focus on art and design, Palm Springs is the perfect blend of nature and sophistication, with just the right amount of kitsch.

Mid-century modern style

Mid-century modern design enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to the success of AMC’s Mad Men, but those who frequent Palm Springs have long appreciated the sleek style. The city is full of mid-century homes and commercial buildings designed by notable architects, including Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler, and John Lautner. Visitors can take guided tours or pick up a tour map at the Palm Springs Visitor Center and explore on their own and then shop for period furniture and home décor around town. Those who crave the full experience can visit during Modernism Week, an annual celebration of this specific era’s aesthetic.

The House of Tomorrow | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

The pool parties

When your summers can easily be in the 100s (low 30s to low 40s Celsius), there’s nothing better than diving into a cool pool. Hotels including Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs, and The Saguaro offer day passes to use their facilities, with free access for hotel guests. DJs and a vivacious atmosphere cater to a youthful crowd. For a more relaxing environment, try the Desert Hot Springs Spa Hotel, where a day pass is $8 on the weekends and includes admission to multiple pools, a sauna, and showers. Or you can hit up the Palm Springs Swim Center, where it’s just $5 for non-residents and $3 for children ages four to 12.

The food

Palm Springs has a great culinary scene, with lots of diverse options from creative chefs. Find Greek dishes at Koutouki, schnitzel at Austrian restaurant Johannes, or visit a classic American steakhouse with Mr. Lyons. For innovative and upscale modern cuisine, try Workshop Kitchen + Bar or SO.PA at L’Horizon Resort & Spa. If you want to try it all without breaking the bank, visit during Greater Palm Springs Restaurant Week, where dozens of restaurants offer multi-course meals for a steal.

SO.PA at L’Horizon Resort & Spa | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

The Aerial Tramway

One of Palm Springs’ unique attractions is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which whisks guests up into the mountains, ascending about 5,800 feet (1767.8 meters) in 10 minutes or so. The car, suspended by cables, rotates as it climbs, offering mountain views. At the top, guests will find it’s about 30 to 40 degrees cooler. There’s a fine-dining restaurant, a cafeteria, a bar as well as a gift shop. Those wishing to enjoy the chilly weather—which can be a true respite in the middle of a Palm Springs summer—can check out the area’s hiking trails before gliding back down to the bottom. A round trip is $25.95 for adults and $16.95 for children ages three to 10.

Palm Springs Aerial Tram Way, 1 Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA, USA, +1 888 515 8726

The Living Desert

The Living Desert is a nonprofit zoo and garden with an emphasis on desert conservation. Here, giraffes freely roam with ostriches in scenic habitats, and lizards race throughout the grounds. Observe creatures such as fennec foxes, snakes, hedgehogs, cheetahs, camels, and other amazing wildlife. A petting zoo offers a chance to pet some very cute goats, and various educational opportunities go on throughout the day. Self-guided and shuttle tours are available. Restaurants and a gift shop are also on the property.

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, 47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert, CA, USA, +1 760 346 5694

The Living Desert | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

Robolights

Robolights is an incredible display built by artist Kenny Irwin, Jr. in his front yard, located in the Movie Colony East neighborhood. With strings of Christmas lights and surreal sculptures, he’s managed to turn some four acres of his property into a strange wonderland. It’s especially vibrant during Christmas time when Irwin turns the lights on. During the holidays, Irwin generally offers open hours during which the public can stop by, and during the less seasonal months, prospective guests may make an appointment or check it out from the road. Donations are encouraged to help Irwin keep Robolights looking awesome.

Robolights, 1077 Granvia Valmonte, Palm Springs, CA, USA

The cocktails

Fans of tiki will feel right at home in Palm Springs, where mid-century style and Polynesian cocktails seem to go hand in hand. Tonga Hut is the oldest of them all, and it also serves food. Toucan’s Tiki Lounge is a gay nightclub with a tiki milieu. Bootlegger Tiki sits behind Ernest Coffee Co. and offers an extensive menu of unique tiki concoctions in an intimate, red-lit space.

For a broader menu, Truss & Twine offers some of the most balanced cocktails in downtown Palm Springs. It might not sound like it, but the Game Changer (gin, lime, cucumber, sugar, onion brine, sea salt, and celery) is effortlessly refreshing—the perfect summer answer to a Bloody Mary. Craft cocktails are also available at Seymour’s, the small, yet charming speakeasy at Mr. Lyons. 

The history 

Palm Springs owes much of its glamour to the film industry in the early days of Hollywood. The story goes that film stars who used to sign exclusive contracts with various studios were required to always be within two and a half hours from Los Angeles. Palm Springs was within those parameters, and therefore, it became something of a desert oasis for movie stars looking to get away from it all. Various tours offer a glimpse at the homes of the rich and famous, from the former abode of Frank Sinatra to a residence currently owned by Leonardo DiCaprio. Additionally, movie history can be found in storied locations such as The Ingleside Inn and its accompanying Rat Pack favorite restaurant, Melvyn’s.

For something completely different, but no less historically significant, check out the Palm Springs Air Museum. The museum boasts 59 planes dating back to WWII and beyond, as well as numerous other artifacts spread out over their large facility.

Palm Springs Air Museum, 745 N Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs, CA, USA, +1 760 778 6262

Unique hotels

Though more traditional hotels are an option, Palm Springs has some of the coolest boutique hotels in the state. The Saguaro is a relatively affordable spot with bright colors everywhere and raging pool parties. Korakia is a Moroccan-inspired hotel with just 29 rooms; guests can partake in outdoor massages, sip some Moroccan tea, and wander the serene candlelit grounds by night. The Willows is a historic home that has been restored and turned into a gorgeous hotel with just eight rooms. There’s also Sparrows Lodge, a charming, rustic-chic property for adults only.

The Saguaro | © Juliet Bennett Rylah

Hiking

Visitors will find some truly breathtaking hikes in Palm Springs, especially in the winter when the average daytime temperatures are in the mid-60s (18°C). The Palm Springs Indian Canyons is one of the most popular areas to hike due to the beauty of the terrain. The lush Palm Canyon is full of native plants, and you can stop by the Trading Post for sundries and to see Native American artifacts. Tahquitz Canyon is beautiful too, and it features a 60-foot (18.3-meter) waterfall.

Art

Palm Springs is an ideal getaway for those who wish to bask in creativity. A must-stop is the Palm Springs Art Museum, where guests can see a diverse collection of works including modern European and Californian art, as well as pieces dating back to the 19th century. Live performances take place at the Annenberg Theater, and they may include dance, music, theater, and lectures.

Visitors may also check out the area’s many galleries, found in the Backstreet Art District and the Uptown Design District. On Thursdays, check out VillageFest, an outdoor market for arts and crafts.

Unwind

Many vacationers to Palm Springs come to enjoy the desert air and unwind. Palm Springs Yacht Club, located in Parker Palm Springs, offers luxury with a playful sense of humor. It is, after all, in the desert—definitely not on a yacht. The day spa at The Spring is open to hotel guests, as well as the public. Those who book a treatment may hang out at the resort’s three pools for two hours, either before or following their appointment. Two Bunch Palms is a resort built around hot mineral springs and boasts an extensive spa menu that emphasizes wellness for both the mind and body.