Full travel guide to Greater Palm Springs

The fashionable getaway for the likes of Elvis and Frank Sinatra in the 1950s and ’60s, a new generation has begun appreciating Greater Palm Springs’ architecture, hot springs and retro chic vibes…

Team Wanderlust
02 August 2023
Promoted by
Audley California

Only two hours from Los Angeles, this oasis of nine small cities in the desert in Southern California offers everything from hot springs and spas to fine dining, movie history, and fascinating art and architecture. In short, there’s something for everyone. Unsure where to start? The experts at Audley are here to help…

At a glance

To reach Greater Palm Springs, most people head here by car; it is traffic depending usually a couple of hours’ drive from Los Angeles or San Diego, although there’s also a local airport at Palm Springs. Located around 210km inland from LA’s Pacific coast, the nine cities of Greater Palm Springs are scattered around an area of the arid, yet starkly beautiful, Sonoran desert known as the Coachella Valley, and ringed by four mountain ranges. The SunLine bus service has several routes running between the towns, and Uber is reliable, but a car is your best choice for getting out into the surroundings.

If you only do three things…

Admire lofty views in Mount San Jacinto State Park (Shutterstock)

Hike Mount San Jacinto State Park

This striking, elevated park sits within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, and consists of 14,000 acres of granite peaks, sub-alpine forests, and mountain meadows. Sitting at around 1,800m, one of the most exciting ways to reach it is via the rotating Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. From here, you’ll find several marked trails, including to the highest peak, San Jacinto, at 3,302m.

Spy its mid-century modern architecture

This significant architecture movement helped put Greater Palm Springs, particularly Palm Springs, on the map. Its low-slung buildings with clean lines, muted curves and open plan living spaces chimed perfectly with the California sunshine. Take a tour to spot examples from revered architects of the era, including Albert Frey and Donald Wexler, who designed homes for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis, and public buildings including City Hall.

A typical example of Palm Springs’ mid-century architecture and the former home of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell (Visit California)

Hot springs are a great way to relax in Palm Springs (Shutterstock)

Bathe in the steaming pools of Desert Hot Springs

The Cahuilla tribe who first lived here here were known as the Agua Caliente, as they had not only discovered the steaming mineral waters beneath the desert, but also their healing properties and benefits. Today you’ll find a host of welcoming spas and pools where you can soak away muscle aches and simply relax; try Azure Palm Hot Springs which features a 30m-long lap pool and outdoor tubs.

Gastronomic experiences in Greater Palm Springs

Date shakes are popular in Greater Palm Springs (Shutterstock)

Go for brunch

A leisurely brunch is practically compulsory when you’re in California; bag an outside table and watch the world go by. You might have to queue to get into Farm, in Palm Springs, but it’s well worth the wait; the French-inspired menu includes sweet and savoury crepes and croque monsieur.

Visit a craft brewery

There’s nothing like an ice cold beer in the middle of the desert; thankfully, Greater Palm Springs has several artisanal breweries to choose from. The oldest is Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewery in Rancho Mirage, but don’t miss the Coachella Valley Brewing Co sample its Kölschella or La Quinta Brewing Co.

Try a date shake

Athough they’re not native, date palms thrive in Greater Palm Springs and are big business. One of the best ways to enjoy this chewy fruit is in a shake; thick, creamy and honey-sweet, you’ll find arguably the best example at Shields Date Garden in Indio, established in 1924.

Where to stay in Greater Palm Springs

La Quinta Resort and Club

A heritage, hacienda-style hotel dating back to 1926, it sits at the foot of the Santa Rosa mountains with expansive grounds which encapsulate not one, but five manicured championship golf courses. Bed down in a cosy casita, book an indulgent spa treatment, or simply lounge poolside, cocktail in hand.

Palm Mountain Resort and Spa

At this stylish hotel in downtown Palm Springs, you’re in the heart of the action, with restaurants and bars, boutiques and galleries, all within walking distance. The lap-sized pool is overlooked by the San Jacinto mountains, there are 142 comfortable rooms and suites, and it’s home to a well-appointed day spa.

Colony Palms

A handsome throwback to Palm Springs’ silver screen pomp, this 1930s Spanish Colonial-style retreat was once a favourite with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. Its palm-lined pool, with the San Jacinto Mountains for a saw-toothed backdrop, is Colony Palms’ centrepiece and the ideal place to kick back and feel like a true Hollywood star.

How to spend two days in Greater Palm Springs

Day One

Morning

Start the day by getting high over 2,595m high, that is as you’re swept up the side of the sawtooth vertical cliffs of Chino Canyon to Mount San Jacinto State Park by the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Head off on a hiking trail like the Long Valley Discovery Loop or simply enjoy the views across the Coachella Valley.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway oars up to Mount San Jacinto State Park (Visit California)

Explore the beguiling landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park (Shutterstock)

Afternoon

Explore Joshua Tree National Park on a 4×4 tour; there’s no better way to get close to its distinctive, fuzzy-looking trees and weird and wonderful rock formations.

Evening

Treat yourself to dinner at Workshop Kitchen & Bar for peak season produce, classic 1920’s architecture and mountain views. Then cast your eyes heavenwards; the area’s clear skies are perfect for stargazing. Sign up to a star party with the Astronomical Society of the Desert.

Palm Springs’ starry skies are a treat for the eyes (Shutterstock)

Day Two

Morning

Take in some culture in Palm Springs start at the Art Museum, home to a permanent collection and regularly-rotating exhibitions, showcasing the likes of Native American art, contemporary installations, photography and furniture. Then let a local show you the best of the iconic architecture of the city as you explore mid-century modern homes and public buildings.

The Palm Springs Art Museum regularly changes its compelling exhibitions (Visit California)

Walk among huge palms in Andreas Canyon (Visit California)

Afternoon

Palm and Andreas Canyons offer some of Greater Palm Springs’ most diverse scenery with its crimson-red cliffs, palm oases, Indian rock art and 150 species of plant alive with the flutter of hummingbirds. You can choose how you explore these landscapes, whether it’s via the many walking trails that criss-cross the canyons or saddling up for a horseback trek through the canyons of the desert; Smoke Tree Stables offer experiences for every level.

Evening

Soak away any saddlesore aches and pains at one of the area’s hot springs before dinner; try the recently opened Spa at Sec-Che in Palm Springs, where you can book a private tub or swim in the mineral pools. End the evening with a bit of glamour at the 1950s-style Pink Cabana at the Sands hotel.

About the experts

Bewildered by choice? You’re in safe hands with tour operator Audley, who have vast experience in California, and offer many different itineraries in the state. Their recommendations include invaluable advice such as planning your trip for out of season January to May or September to December as it will be less hot, and less busy.

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