The Best Day Trips From Palm Springs

Palm Springs is perfectly placed for a number of day trips into the surrounding desert and beyond
Palm Springs is perfectly placed for a number of day trips into the surrounding desert and beyond | © Olga DeLawrence / Unsplash
Coachella Valley’s coolest city is a relaxed oasis of mid-century architecture, luxurious resorts and a flourishing artistic community. It’s also perfectly placed for day tripping into the desert and beyond. From the San Jacinto Mountains to California’s gold-mining history, our local insiders have picked the best.

Idyllwild

Natural Feature
Idyllwild, California Views
© Leigh Green / Alamy Stock Photo

This fir-hugged township up in the San Jacinto Mountains is only 11mi (18km) as the crow flies from Palm Springs, but the hour-long winding route to get there makes its cedar-scented air and alpine attitude feel otherworldly. As befits a mountain village, it offers plenty of hiking, rock climbing and camping, but there’s also a local art scene that’s worth investigating. It’s best explored at Art in the Park – an open-air art fair that showcases the talents of local artists with a mountain backdrop. Recommended by local insider Jessica Weil

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Salvation Mountain

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature

Designed by the late Leonard Knight, this man-made religious monument, an hour and a half southeast of Palm Springs, is a neon patchwork of latex, loud colors and, above all, love. It took Knight 28 years to fully construct its colorful peaks, and it has attracted visitors from all over the world to marvel at its boisterous creative upcycling and uplifting message. It still stands today, a permanent reminder of the tenacity of one man who dedicated his life to celebrating love. Recommended by local insider Jessica Weil

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Desert Hills Premium Outlets

Shopping Mall

No, it’s not a mirage: there really is a gigantic luxury outlet sprawled on the side of the desert highway on your way into Palm Springs. A mecca for shopaholics and bargain hunters, Desert Hills is the place to go to score designer labels for a fraction of the price. There are more than 180 stores spaced out across the palm tree-filled site, but even so, you’d do well to arrive early to secure a parking space and first pick of the offerings. Recommended by local insider Lauren Malestic

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Eagle Mining Company

Historical Landmark

If you’ve ever had dreams of digging glittering nuggets out of the Californian soil, then this museum is quite literally a gold mine. The Eagle Mining company is committed to preserving California’s Gold Rush history through active learning, so strap on a hard hat, grab a (fake) pickaxe and head down a genuine mine shaft to try gold panning for yourself. Don’t worry if you’re not too successful – you can pick up an (almost) genuine golden nugget at the gift shop on your way out. Recommended by local insider Lauren Malestic

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The Pony Room at Rancho Valencia

Boutique Hotel
Set among 45 acres (18ha) of olive groves and lemon trees, this luxurious resort is where the Mediterranean meets the desert. On-site bar, the Pony Room is a vision in burnt terracotta looking out over the tangled, yellow-dotted vines. Its menu leans more towards the rustic with unique handcrafted cocktails like the sassy sangrita (tequila, cointreau noir and homemade sangria), but there are also more than 100 varieties of tequila on offer – perfect for keeping things loose when they take the party to the croquet lawn on Friday evenings. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers
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Julian

Natural Feature
Apples are a mainstay of the rural mountain community of Julian that has long been a popular getaway in San Diego County in Southern California, USA. Apple pie, apple butter, apple cider and just-picked apples themselves are found at roadside stands, loca
© Michele and Tom Grimm / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re on a quest to eat America’s best apple pie, then pack up the car and head to the little mountain town of Julian. First things first, pick your ingredients. Apple picking is a common pastime for Julian’s residents, and you can join them at Apple Starr Orchard as soon as the trees turn rosy. Next: pie. You’ll start arguments if you try to ask which bakery is the best between Julian Pie and Mom’s Pie, so head to both: have traditional apple at Julian and opt for the bumbleberry at Mom’s. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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Del Mar Race Track

Sports Center

For a different take on surf’n’turf, place your bets at Del Mar Race Track. The horse-racing ground is just seconds from the seafront, meaning you can soak up some beachy sun in the morning before placing your bets in the afternoon. There’s normally a relaxed, “turn up and have a beer” vibe, but come on Opening Day for packed stands and an electric atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else on the coast. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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Coronado Island

Architectural Landmark
Hotel del Coronado at the beach on Coronado Island, San Diego, California, United States of America, USA
© Peter Schickert / Alamy Stock Photo

The easiest way to get around this island city is by bicycle. Sitting just across the water from San Diego, Coronado has a wealth of historic buildings, breweries and literary heritage that are best explored on two wheels. Stop off at the red-turreted Hotel del Coronado – the inspiration for the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. Outside it lies a pretty stretch of beach with miniature sand dunes that spell Coronado from the air – although you’ll need to be in one of the many helicopters that fly overhead to read this for yourself. Recommended by local insider Lauren Rogers

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