If you’ve searched guides to Palm Springs on Pinterest you probably noted a few common themes among them - door tours, colorful mod hotels, golf and the suggestion to do nothing but sit by the pool. If you know me and my family, you know that we don’t sit still very well (we are definitely busy bodies) and that my high school varsity golf skills haven’t been practiced since the class of 2012. So I was a little confused and afraid we would be bored after 3 days in Palm Springs.
PLOT TWIST - we found so much to do we want to go back to get it all in. If you love seeing things you’ve never seen before, enjoy hiking and quirky eateries, then this is the guide for you. If you want a more “traditional” Palm Springs guide, check out these from A Beautiful Mess and Studio DIY - I pulled from both for some suggestions for our trip (and they have awesome restaurants and vintage shopping destinations if that’s more your vibe).
Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours - This was our most expensive adventure but it was amazing. This tour takes you to a real live desert oasis (which, I kid you not - I thought was fictional until I saw it). This oasis is thick with native palm trees and flora in the middle of the desert. This tour also takes you deep into the San Andreas Fault. Yep, the volatile fault that every Hollywood movie tries to save California from floating off in the ocean - I’m looking at you, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. You get to go on a hike through the fault and it's honestly incredible. I mean, you’re in a crack in the earth and touching two different tectonic plates at the same time - SO COOL (nerd alert).
Salvation Mountain & the Salton Sea - About an hour south of Palm Springs is salvation mountain. It is this giant work of art made of hay, clay and paint from a christian artist named Leonard Knight. He spent the last 14 years of his life building this mountain to promote his undying love for God. Salvation Mountain is quite the instagrammer destination but if you take the time, you’ll notice that there isn’t a place that you can look without seeing proclamations of God’s love for us. Take your time here, it’s easy to miss stuff. It is free to see and experience this mountain but bring a donation with you, it goes towards maintenance and mission.
To get to Salvation Mountain, you have to pass the Salton Sea. It looks post-apocalyptic… and I think it is. Just stop into one of the parks and experience it for 2 min. It’s… odd… fish bone beaches and water so salty it cannot sustain life. You don’t need to take long here, just do it so you can say that you did. Then research the history of the Salton Sea. It would make a good docu-series. I’d watch it.
Joshua Tree National Park - This is a MUST for me. I’ve always heard such great things about Joshua Tree National Park and experiencing it was almost other-worldly. The park is comprised of two very different deserts, the Colorado desert which is dotted with cacti, and the Mojave desert which is higher, cooler and where you find the National Park’s name-sake, the Joshua Tree. There are a ton of scenic hiking trails if that’s your thing. I personally want to go back to camp; the stars are supposedly next-level since you’re in the middle of the desert and I want to see for myself.
Moorten Botanical Garden - This botanical garden is in Palm Springs proper and is $5 per person. If you’re a crazy plant lady, like me, this stop is perfect. There are 3,000 species of cacti at the garden. If you’re a photographer, you will probably spend hours here. Nonetheless it is well worth the $5. Plus they sell the most gorgeous cacti and succulents here too. They also have tortoises… if that’s your thing.
San Jacinto State Park and Tram - Tickets are about $25 and that is worth the tram experience alone. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car. Yes, rotating… yes, it will make your stomach churn… yes, it’s kinda scary… yes, I would do it again. On the tram you climb over 8,000ft in elevation, it’s wild (and that’s coming from this Rocky Mountain lover). Once you’re at the top you can dine, chill at the observation decks or my suggestion - hike around some of their 50 miles of trails. There are plenty to choose from with jaw dropping views. The hikes range from easy to extreme. Then you go back down the mountain on the tram. Its approximately 7 times scarier than the way up.
Heirloom Craft Kitchen in Indio - Incredible breakfast and lunch foods. It’s a fast-casual style but super high quality food.
Cheeky‘s in Palm Springs - This brunch spot comes highly, highly rated and recommended. While it is a little pricey, it is very worth it. The bacon flight is popular here (yup, a flight of different bacons).
Joshua Tree Saloon, just outside of the park’s north entrance - The saloon is very much a dive bar but they have every kind of meal you want and despite the wild variety, everything we ordered was completely perfect.
In-n-out - just because I’m not a west coast dweller and I had to get it in. It’s a delicious novelty and I have no regrets. Animal style fries for life.
Date shakes from Lapperts - This trip to Palm Springs was very educational for me, I learned a couple things 1) dates grow on palm trees (I know, crazy, right?) and 2) date shakes are a thing. They’re super duper rich, so plan on sharing with everyone in your party but WOW are they good. Treat yo’self to a date shake while strolling around “downtown” Palm Springs. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Our family trip to Palm Springs exceeded all my expectations of the leisurely desert. There is so much to do that even my family couldn’t get to it all. I need to go back to do all the door tours and brunch tours. I hope this helps if you’re a busy body and planning a trip, grab those hiking shoes, sunscreen and a bottle for water and get to all of the things the Palm Desert has to offer.