A Cultural Journey Through Greater Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Art Museum is just one of many cultural and aesthetic wonders in the area
The Palm Springs Art Museum is just one of many cultural and aesthetic wonders in the area | © Lance Gerber

Palm Springs has long been shrouded in Hollywood myth and glamor. But look closer and you’ll find a whole world of cultural delights waiting to be explored.

While the palm-lined boulevards and retro hotels of Palm Springs will certainly hit all your nostalgia buttons, there’s so much more to explore beyond the glistening pools. Hop on an e-scooter to embark on a cultural adventure through the hills, deserts and downtown neighborhoods that make up the diverse Palm Springs landscape.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

It would be remiss to visit Palm Springs without spending time exploring the Coachella Valley. Start at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, a Hopi-style house in the beautiful city of Desert Hot Springs. The house (and now museum) was built by Cabot Yerxa, an avid traveler who set about building his unique home in 1941 using materials scavenged from the surrounding desert (think telephone poles and wooden carriages). Today, the museum is filled with Native American art and celebrates Cabot’s respect for the desert he called home.

Frey House II

Once back within the city limits of Palm Springs (an easy 45-minute ride through a Wild West backdrop) make your next stop a tour of Frey House II. Once a private residence, it was built by renowned architect Albert Frey in 1964, his second home in the area and the ultimate ode to desert modernism. Perched on top of the Tahquitz Canyon, Frey House II blends seamlessly into the landscape. Case in point: storage, shelving and record players built into the walls, along with a large boulder acting as a natural divide between the open-plan living spaces. The pièce de résistance is an oval stone pool offering a vantage point over the valley and other landmarks built by Frey.

A beacon of desert modernism, Frey House II was built by renowned architect Albert Frey in 1964 | © Dan Chavkin

Ruddy’s General Store

As you descend into the center of downtown, take another small hop back in time at Ruddy’s General Store. This compact museum has been transformed into a time capsule of the 1930s – the heyday of the city – down to the smallest details. More than 6,000 authentic dried and canned goods from the era fill the shelves, harking back to a less hurried and highly glamorous time here. Step into Ruddy’s and you can almost imagine John Wayne, Errol Flynn and Bing Crosby picking up their Sarsaparilla sodas before a day of lounging at the El Mirador Hotel pool.

Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture & Design Center

Just a short scoot down South Palm Canyon Drive is this art and design center – a hub for cultural aestheticism. Enjoy the welcome air conditioning as you wander around the permanent collection of 12,000 objects that has been carefully curated to celebrate all things modern art. Despite its contemporary outlook, the museum also acknowledges the indigenous nations of the region along with their ancestral homelands through educational programs. Don’t forget to visit the gift shop on the way out. Local artists showcase their work in an original bank vault – a nod to the site’s former life as the Santa Fe Federal Savings & Loan building.

Modern art lovers can’t miss a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture & Design Center | © Marco Carocari

Museum of Ancient Wonders

Look around as you pull into the strip mall on East Palm Canyon Drive. Nestled discreetly between the discount stores and pizzerias is the Museum of Ancient Wonders – a true cornucopia of historical artefacts. The darkened exhibition rooms feel like they are shrouded in ancient magic, and perhaps they are. Explore global history under one roof; one minute you might be admiring dinosaur fossils and the next checking out tribal masks from across Africa. Designed to make history and culture as accessible as possible, the Museum of Ancient Wonders is a worthy Palm Springs attraction.

Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert

Finish off a day of cultural adventure at the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert. As the sister site to the Museum of Architecture and Design, it’s no surprise this modernist building holds its own when it comes to exhibitions. But once you’ve finished exploring the many rooms of modern art, step outside into the Faye Sarkowsky Sculpture Garden to experience design as you’ve never seen it before. Concealed within 4 acres (1.6ha) of landscaped gardens and dry rockeries are 14 large-scale sculptures. Each has been impressively crafted by artists, such as Donald Judd, Betty Gold and Yehiel Shemi, to exist peacefully among the looming palms.

Palm Springs Art Museum hosts an impressive range of excellent exhibitions | © Guillaume Goureau

Backstreet Art District

Head 20 minutes southeast of downtown – taking in traditional ranches and country clubs along the way – until you reach the Backstreet Art District. What started as a collective of artists and galleries has organically turned into a renowned cultural neighborhood and haven for lovers of art and design. Soak up the mix of media, from local up-and-coming artists to well-known creatives. Whatever you do, don’t miss the District Art Walk, a tour of the entire district held on the first Wednesday of the month on which you can watch the artists at work.

Find out more and start planning your trip now by visitingvisitcalifornia.com/road-trips/

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