Palm Springs – 25 Things to do on your next vacation

Things to do in Palm Springs

While some will spend their days simply lounging by the pool, there are plenty of other things to do in Palm Springs, California. In fact whatever the Palm Springs weather, we’ve got you covered!

Hailed as Hollywood’s playground, this upmarket oasis – once home to the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra – offers oodles of retro charm set against a beautiful mountain backdrop. Many come to kick back at the stylish villas and spas, but there are endless activities and attractions if you want them.

Admire the mid-century modern architecture, check out the excellent restaurants or take in the views aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Annually, the region hosts highlights like the Coachella Music Festival and Modernism Week, but no matter what time of year you visit you will always find plenty of things to do.

Need some inspiration for your next vacation? Our complete up-to-the-minute guide includes 25 of the best things to see and do including the best kid-friendly activities, unique attractions, romantic experiences and heaps of fun and adventurous pursuits.

*Please bear with us, we are working hard to be accurate but these are unusual times, so check your plans before heading out!

Rediscover that vacation feeling in California

Outdoor activities

1. Tour Joshua Tree National Park

Recently re-opened, Joshua Tree National Park is a unique and wonderful place to visit. With its rugged mountains, gold-mining ruins and desert plains dotted with namesake trees, the beauty shines all year round. The park is located east of Palm Springs at an ecological crossroads where the high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado. For an in-depth exploration of the park consider taking a guided Jeep or Hummer tour where you’ll learn about the park’s plants, animals, geology and Native American history. Or join a ranger-led night sky program – the clear desert skies make it a premier place for stargazing.

For a great experience, Big Wheel Tours has begun offering tours of the park again.

Things to do in Palm Springs

2. Horse-ride through the desert

Nearby, the 25,000-acre Pioneertown Mountain Preserve is also open for visitors, with trails for hiking and cycling. Horseback riding through the desert is a great way to stay physically distant from others, and many stables are open for business including Coyote Ridge Stables in the Morongo Basin. Currently, they are only taking one small group at a time on rides around a choice of trails including Lizard Rock, Coyote Creek and Quail Canyon. Rides are led by an experienced guide with safety hats included.

3. See the sights from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

No vacation would be complete without a go on the famous Aerial Tramway. The largest rotating tramway in the world, it was opened in 1963 as a way of getting from the floor of Coachella Valley to near the top of San Jacinto Peak. Board a rotating car and you’ll travel for two and a half miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. During the 10-minute journey the cars rotate slowly, offering picturesque vistas of the the pristine Mt. San Jacinto State Park. At the Mountain Station around 8,516 feet up, enjoy two restaurants, observation decks, a museum, gift shop and 50 miles of hiking trails.

Note, the tramway has temporarily closed but keep your eyes on its website for a reopening date coming soon.

Adventurous things to do in Palm Springs

4. Explore the Indian Canyons

Right in the heart of the area, the Indian Canyon Trails encompass more than 60 miles of hiking paths through the mountains. The ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the region’s trails range from easy enough for toddlers to more challenging trails for grown ups. Expect to see spectacular vistas, rock art, local wildlife and a beautiful 60-foot waterfall. There’s a small fee to enter the hiking trails which you pay at the ranger station at the Visitor Center. Don’t forget to your water as they won’t let you hike without it!

Unique things to do

5. Pose with the Cabazon Dinosaurs

Touted as the world’s biggest dinosaur museum, it would be impossible to miss this quirky roadside attraction. Having featured in Hollywood films, Cabazon Dinosaurs is one of the most iconic things to do in Palm Springs. For a small fee you can check out the park’s two enormous steel-and-concrete dinosaurs, ride the animatronic Brontosaurus, explore the walking trails and search through the sand at Dino Dig to win a prize. Have your photos taken with the pair or even climb inside and sit inside their months! The Wafflesaurus Truck serves delicious dinosaur-themed ice cream treats, plus there’s a museum and gift shop.

Unique things to do in Palm Springs

6. Take flight in a fighter jet

History buffs will find plenty of things to do – like checking out the vintage aircraft inside the hangars of the Palm Springs Air Museum. The venue exhibits and flies beautifully-maintained aircraft from the World War 2, Korea and Vietnam Wars eras. You’ll see an assortment of flyable and static planes across three warehouses, from the C-47 Skytrain used in the June 6 1944 D-Day invasion, to the T-33 Shooting Star Jet which you can take flight in for a cool $4,995. Entry to the museum is much cheaper with $5 nightly specials on Fridays and Saturdays.

7. See the homes of Hollywood stars

With its close proximity to LA’s movie studios, the area has long been a hotspot for celebrities. Since the 1920s, Hollywood’s ‘two-hour rule’ meant actors under contract must be no more than two hours away from the studio – which put the area on the map as the perfect getaway! Many stars had hideaway homes in the area including the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby and Cary Grant.

Celebrity Tours runs a variety of guided tours around the most famous neighborhoods and homes with prices starting at $25 for kids and $54 for adults.

8. Stay at Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms Estate

Take your vacation to the next level by actually staying at Frank Sinatra’s former home. Designed by the prolific architect Emerson Williams, the house boasts both mid-century style luxury and historical significance. Perfect for families or small groups, it features stylish retro decor, a piano-shaped swimming pool and Sinatra’s original recording studio. Twin Palms is located in the famous Movie Colony neighborhood near the downtown area and just around the corner from the former homes of Al Jolson, Jack Benny and Cary Grant.

For more information or to book this home contact Top Villas today.

Palms Springs villas

Things to do in Palm Springs with kids

9. Pick your own fresh fruit

Looking for things to do for families? The mountainous community of Oak Glen is a great place for a day trip. Nestled in the apple-growing foothills, Riley’s Farm is a working apple orchard featuring pick-your-own fruit and themed educational displays. While you’re there check out Oak Glen Preserve, home to the beautiful Southern California Montane Botanic Garden where you can wander along scenic trails.

10. Take the kids to Disneyland

Whether you’re traveling by bus or car it’s easy to get from Palm Springs to Disneyland. The cheapest way (and the easiest for families) is to drive via the interstate CA-91 W which costs around $10 in gas and takes around an hour and a half. Designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney, the park is a firm family favorite packed with fun attractions across its original Disneyland Park and the adjacent Disney California Adventure Park.

Palm Springs to Disneyland is 100 miles

11. Look at prickly plants

For a fun spin on a garden tour, take the kids to the Moorten Botanical Garden where you can see more than 3,000 desert plants from around the world. Dating back to the 1930s, this family owned garden is packed with prickly varieties of cacti and other desert plants. It’s located at 1701 South Palm Canyon Drive.

12. Have fun at Boomers

For things to do in Palm Springs with kids, it doesn’t get much better than Boomers. This fun-for-all-the-family park features two mini golf courses, high performance go karts, baseball batting cages, a rock wall, bumper boats and an arcade with more than 100 state-of-the-art video games. It is located at East Palm Canyon Drive and prices start at $9.99 for single attractions.

Things to do at night

13. Sip cocktails at the Tonga Hut

Located in the heart of Downtown, this neo-retro Tiki Bar serves an array of inventive cocktails as well as tasty Polynesian cuisine. Items like meat-skewer pu-pu platters are served on carved wood dishes with sides like purple yam mash (a touristy version of the Hawaiian staple poi). Be sure to ask to see the Tonga Room, it’s a special ‘secret’ Hawaiian-themed room available for private group gatherings.

14. Try your luck at the casino

If you’re after things to do in Palm Springs at night, many of the desert’s casinos have opened back up, including Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, Agua Caliente, Rancho Mirage, Spotlight 29 and Morongo Casino Resort and Spa. The Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians (one of America’s most famous tribes) has also reopen its casino in Coachella Valley.

15. Party at Coachella Music Festival

North America’s most famous festival will make its eagerly anticipated return in April 2021. One of the most famous things to do in Palm Springs, it features legendary headline sets from some the world’s top musicians. The lineup for 2021 is yet to be confirmed but the festival’s website says that all 2020 passes will be honored. As of now, Coachella ‘weekend one’ will take place April 9 – 11, 2021 and ‘weekend two’ will be April 16 – 18, 2021.

For accommodation nearby, check out our wide range of villas.

Palm Springs Coachella Festival

Shopping & dining

16. Grab a date shake

Stop by and treat yourself to a decadent and fun date shake – the perfect antidote to the desert heat. This warm region is home to many date farms, making the fruit a staple ingredient on the local food scene. Hadley Fruit Orchards is said to serve some of the best date shakes in the world making it a must-visit on your next vacation. Order an original shake made with Deglet Noor dates, or if you’re feeling adventurous try some banana, nutmeg or cinnamon in your shake.

17. Go designer shopping at the Premium Outlets

Calling all shopping fans! You’ll find an array of local stores and boutiques in the popular shopping district of downtown Palm Springs and at El Paseo in Palm Desert. There’s also a good variety of shops at Westfield Palm Desert and the River in Rancho Mirage. For the best selection of designer goods try Desert Hills Premium Outlets, an upscale shopping center featuring designer outlet stores, plus casual dining.

Where to go shopping in Palm Springs

18. Dine with a view

If you’re looking for a restaurant with great outdoor dining, head to The Steakhouse inside the Agua Caliente Casino. It offers the option of dining on the scenic outdoor terrace which has beautiful mountain and downtown views. The award-winning restaurant has an extensive wine list and is hailed as one of the city’s favorite food destinations.

19. Check out the vintage shops

This area and mid-century modernism go hand in hand, and you’ll find plenty of retro-inspired shops dedicated to the genre. Wander along Palm Canyon Drive and you’ll stumble upon vintage clothes shops, jewellery shops, antique malls, art galleries, charity and thrift stores. Also worth a visit is the Vintage Market, held on the first first Sunday of each month and featuring vintage housewares, clothing, art collectibles, vinyl records and much more.

Sports & relaxation

20. Tee off on a top golf course

With more than 100 renowned golf courses and more than 300 days of sunshine each year, it’s no wonder that playing golf is one of the most popular things to do. The courses offer play at all levels, whether you’re looking for a casual round or demanding greens. Designs by legendary architects like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman are a a major draw, as is the beautiful mountain scenery.

You’ll also find a wide choice of places to stay for golf vacations in Palm Springs.

Golf courses in Palm Springs

21. Relax at a wellness spa

It could be said that Palm Springs started the California wellness movement. Besides the region’s legendary mineral hot spring waters, there are hundreds of miles of breathtaking trails for incredible hikes in the canyons and mountains. When it’s time to relax, head to one of the region’s many spas to recharge. From intensive cleansing programs to body and soul reboots, you’ll find a spa for every type of wellness.

Other things to do in Palm Springs

22. Feed giraffes at the Living Desert Zoo

With social distancing in place, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is open to visitors. Rated as one of the best zoos in the US, this family attraction is one of the top things to do. True to its name, the zoo looks just like the desert and is split into North American and African zones. Explore the grounds and you’ll spot mountain lions, zebras, cheetahs and dozens of other animals. There’s also a wildlife hospital, nature trails, an interactive visitors center, along with giraffe feedings and camel rides.

Things to in Palm Springs with kids

23. Cycle around Civic Center Park

Spend a relaxing afternoon at Palm Desert’s Civic Center Park which has a picturesque pond, athletics fields and paved walkways. A safe haven for physical distancing, it’s the perfect place for a relaxing stroll or a leisurely bike ride. For bike hire, Big Wheel Tours offers a variety of options in their bike rental fleet.

24. Admire the Palm Springs Visitors Center

Even if you don’t need any information from the Visitors Center, it’s worth stopping by just to admire its architecture. Originally built in 1965 as a gas station, its signature design elements such as its soaring kite-shaped roof, are a tribute to the futurist vision of the era’s top designers. Though it’s now viewed as a retro-perfect example of period architecture, the former gas station was slated for demolition in the 1990s. Luckily it was saved from the wrecking ball and today you can pop in and pick up a guide to the region’s mid-century modern homes.

There are so many activities and attractions in Palm Springs including the Visitor's Center

25. Get up close to a giant windmill

When you arrive into Palm Springs, you will probably see the giant windmill farm en route. To find out more about it you can take a self-guided tour with Palm Springs Windmill Tours. The tour takes you on a journey of 10 marked stops and is accompanied by a fascinating video and audio progam. Safe, fun and educational, it covers topics like how the windmills work, why there are so many in the desert, and how much electricity they produce. Take up close pictures of a real generating wind turbine, before finishing with a tour through a solar farm and a stop at the old gas plant.

How to book a stay

If you’d prefer stay in a private vacation rental over a busy hotel, then check out our collection of Palm Springs villas. Perfect for families or groups of friends, our vacation rentals were designed by top architects and have played host to some of Hollywood’s most beloved stars. Many villas are located in in their own private grounds, and all homes feature a swimming pool, along with easy access to the local amenities and attractions.

Our vacation rentals are located in the most sought after destinations including Central with its trendy restaurants, chic boutiques and even its own Walk of Stars – some homes here lie in the famous Movie Colony neighborhood with views of the San Jacinto Mountains. We also offer a selection of villas in Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree National Park.

Book your stay with us and you’ll be allocated a dedicated guest experience manager who can take care of everything from booking car hire, to arranging golfing tee times, in-villa spa treatments and tailor-made experiences. Once you arrive, your locally-based manager will welcome you to your villa and assist you throughout your stay.

You can check out all of our Palm Springs villas here.