How to Spend Three Days in Greater Palm Springs

Off-roading along the San Andreas Fault is a must for adventurous travellers visiting Palm Springs
Off-roading along the San Andreas Fault is a must for adventurous travellers visiting Palm Springs | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Once the playground of Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Liberace, Greater Palm Springs remains a draw for the LA crowd. But there’s a whole lot more to it than high-end high jinks.

Greater Palm Springs is a surprising destination. Yes, it still offers a very cool and relaxed vibe in some rather stunning hotels and restaurants. But it’s also home to an extraordinary range of things to see and do, from great museums to adrenaline-filled adventures and geographical marvels.

Where to stay in Palm Springs

When you start planning your 72 hours in eclectic Palm Springs, you’ll soon realise you’ve made a terrible mistake. You really need much, much more time to do this place justice. The only solution is to get up early and go go go – and don’t come back to your hotel until midnight at the earliest. The hotels, however, are glorious, and very capable of entertaining you for days on end.

Parker Palm Springs

A four-poster white bed, red armchair and a table with glasses in a chic and stylish hotel room at Parker Palm Springs
Parker Palm Springs | © Parker, Palm Springs
There are a host of unique spots to lay your hat, but the Parker Palm Springs is certainly one of the finest. Surrounded by palm trees, you’ll swiftly forget you’re technically on a main road (and therefore very close to the action of downtown). The driveway bursts with colourful flowers – putting arrivals in immediate high spirits. From there expect a retro-modern feel and a general flamboyance: hammocks, manicured grounds, tennis courts and saline pools will make getting out of here and on the road tricky.

Day 1

Savour fine food at a rooftop restaurant

Restaurant, North American
Seating and a palm tree at the High Bar in Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs, with a view over the hills at sunset
The High Bar in Kimpton Rowan | © Laure Joliet
Once you’ve checked in, had a swim, and dressed yourself in Palm-Springs-appropriate attire, head out in search of fine food worthy of your first night in paradise. It won’t be a difficult search as the restaurant scene here is thriving. For modern North American food in stylish surroundings try 4 Saints. It’s housed on the Kimpton Rowan Hotel rooftop with stunning mountain views – so immediately you’re onto a winner. The steak and its accompanying sauce is immense. Or, for a delightfully decorated throwback to the racquet clubs that flourished here in the ’50s and ’60s, head to the Pink Cabana for Mediterranean food with Moroccan flavours and refreshing cocktails.

Explore the Coachella Valley

Natural Feature, Park
Heron perching on rock at Salton Sea against flock of birds flying
Salton Sea | © Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Palm Springs is just one of nine cities in the Greater Palm Springs region that stretches across the Coachella Valley, and there are unique sights across the whole area to explore. Salton Sea, about an hour from Palm Springs, is a hugely popular saline lake (with a 115mi/185km circumference), and for good reason. You’ll need a whole day to explore its fascinating shore. Stop by the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, home to thousands of waterfowl and other birds, including the threatened Yuma clapper rail.

Hike to active volcanoes

Natural Feature
Mud volcanoes and mud pots still dot the area southeast of Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley , California
Southeast of Salton Sea | © W. Michael Wiggins / Alamy Stock Photo
There are some great trails to hike around Salton Sea so walking shoes and binoculars are a must. Onwards around the lake you’ll discover that Southern California is home to active volcanoes – explore the extraordinary Salton Buttes, five lava domes in a compelling landscape full of seismic activity, where you’ll find mud pots filled with bubbling acid.

Seek salvation at a man-made mountain

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
Painted car at Salvation Mountain, Leonard Knight's large scale piece of religious folk art, Niland, California, USA
Painted car at Salvation Mountain | © Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
After a mud bath (no, don’t) keep driving and you’ll reach the Salvation Mountain outdoor art installation, which is considered a national treasure. Here you’ll see a painted man-made mountain crowned with the message “God is love”. After enjoying the inspirational artwork, get back on the road and head towards Bombay Beach, which is further along the shore of Salton Sea. It was once a popular getaway for golf and waterskiing in the mid 20th century; today you can only glimpse the ghost of a bygone era.

Day 2

Meet the Cabazon Dinosaurs

Architectural Landmark
A giant Brontosaurus and T-rex figures around palm trees outside Cabazon Dinosaurs in Palm Springs
Dinny the Dinosaur | © Maurice Savage / Alamy Stock Photo

Greater Palm Springs is packed with quirky places to visit and it’s worth setting your next day aside to enjoy the best of them. First there’s the Cabazon Dinosaurs – made famous by various film appearances – that are impossible to drive past without stopping to take photos. Don’t just take a few snaps though, join the dinosaur walk and meet the full range, enjoy a dig and do some fossil panning.

Step back in time at the Museum of Ancient Wonders

Museum
A large skeleton of an animal head at MOAW, the Museum of Ancient Wonders
The Museum of Ancient Wonders | Courtesy of MOAW
If you enjoy the very, very old, you’ll also want to set aside time for the Museum of Ancient Wonders in Cathedral City, half an hour from the big beasts. Fossils from billions of years ago, Ancient Greek treasures and Tutankhamun artefacts are among the most impressive draws here.

Learn about Native American artefacts at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Museum
For a more local and historic flavour, head north to Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs (there’s a great golf course – Desert Dunes Golf Club – on the way, if you want to stop for nine holes). The extraordinary house was built entirely by hand using reclaimed and found objects. Inside you’ll find an impressive collection of Native American artwork and artefacts.

Stop by the weird and wonderful sights of Joshua Tree

Museum
Assemblage sculpture by the late Noah Purifoy in Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Joshua Tree, California
Noah Purifoy's Outdoor Desert Art Museum | © Jordana Meilleur / Alamy Stock Photo
On your way back to the hotel, stop off in Joshua Tree to enjoy two particularly unusual sights. First is the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum, where you’ll find an incredible selection of open-air art installations utilising recycled junk such as car parts, old TVs and toilets. Then there’s the World Famous Crochet Museum, where one woman’s passion for crochet has filled a lime green photo processing booth with colourful creations. It is as weird – and wonderful – as it sounds.

Day 3

Ponder prickly desert inhabitants and 1930s Americana

Botanical Garden
Palm Springs, California, USA. General Store Museum from the early 1900's.
Ruddy's General Store Museum | © Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
On day three make your first stop at the Moorten Botanical Garden. This arboretum, which first opened in 1938, is packed with every desert plant imaginable. You’ll also find crystals, rocks, fossils and gold-mining relics – look out for the owner’s family home on site, fondly known as Cactus Castle. After picking up a cacti or two at the nursery, step into a time machine at nearby Ruddy’s General Store Museum. Assembled by collector Jim Ruddy, this treasure vault exhibits almost a century’s-worth of Americana – tinned food, pipes, dyes and signage – in a wood-clad building.

Feel the desert wind in your hair along the San Andreas Fault

Natural Feature
Buggy in the Dumont dunes
Buggy in the dunes | © Alyaksandr Stzhalkouski / Alamy Stock Photo
For lunch try Rooster and the Pig, where Vietnamese food and craft cocktails pair beautifully and then, with a full stomach, go in search of a high octane afternoon adventure. Among the best nearby is off-roading along the San Andreas Fault. The landscapes of the most active fault line in the US are stark and dramatic; take an open-top Jeep tour with Red Jeep Desert Adventure if you want an expert along for the ride, or let loose and hire a dune buggy, put your foot down and head out into earthquake territory.

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

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