The Best Things to do in Palm Springs, California

The 15 Best Things to do in Palm Springs

The city of Palm Springs is located in Coachella Valley, surrounded by the San Jacinto Mountains to the west and the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south. It’s known for its iconic mid-century architecture and vibrant cultural scene, as well as its beautiful hiking trails, natural hot springs, and deep canyons nearby.

Palm Springs is a lush oasis in the middle of a greater desert region, a natural phenomenon that, over the years, has built a cult following in and of itself. Scattered among antique warehouses and luxury resorts, you’ll also find New Age sound bath domes, historic buildings dating back to the art deco era, and remnants of Old Hollywood.

Palm Springs may be the most “Southern California” town in Southern California, with its irreverent public art installations, the incredible natural wonders just outside, and the internationally renowned music and film festivals that take place right around the corner. 

Palm Springs is a place that embodies opposites. It’s a great place to go if you want to experience natural beauty alongside manmade perfection and the stillness of the desert juxtaposed with the vibrancy of the local culture. 

With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Palm Springs for you. Stick to these fun and unique Palm Springs bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this unique and vivid desert oasis!

15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Palm Springs

1. Cruise Down Palm Canyon Drive

Best Things to do in Palm Springs: Palm Canyon Drive

The main drag of Palm Springs is Palm Canyon Drive, the heart of the city, lined with swaying palm trees, iconic sights, and trendy boutiques. It’s the perfect place in Palm Springs to shop, wine, and dine.

Chances are, the first thing you’ll see on Palm Canyon Drive is the Palm Springs Visitor Center, with its recognizable spaceship-style roof. Stop by, snap a picture, and continue on.

Of course, you’ll need to check out the beautiful Plaza Theatre, a remnant of the Hollywood Golden Age. While the theater is not currently in use, you might snap a few classic Americana photos here before heading over to the shopping center next door.

If you’re looking for some gifts, we’d recommend checking out Just Fabulous, an independent boutique stocked with cheeky items that embody the vivid, irreverent, yet still chic attitude that Palm Springs is known for.

Then, finish up at one of the main drag’s many bars, clubs, or pubs. Have some fun at a place like Bootlegger Tiki to really get a taste of the Palm Springs attitude.

2. Look around the Moorten Botanical Garden

Unique Things to do in Palm Springs: Moorten Botanical Garden

Moorten Botanical Garden is one of the coolest Palm Springs attractions. This is not your typical botanical garden. You’ll see the desert like you’ve never seen it before, teeming with prickly life.

The garden has been in operation since 1938 and was initially created by husband-wife duo Chester and Patricia Moorten. Their passion for succulents and cacti has resulted in an entire acre full of thousands of flora.

Cool Things to do in Palm Springs: Moorten Botanical Garden

Not to be limited to the California desert, Moorten Botanical Garden covers many other arid biomes, like South African-Succulent Karoo, Mexico-Gran Desierto de Altar, and the Mojave. You might be surprised to see everything that can grow in a desert.

If you’ve got a green thumb, take a look at the nursery and bring a plant home to commemorate your visit and keep a piece of the desert with you!

3. Get the Luxury Spa Experience at the Palm Springs Yacht Club

Best Things to do in Palm Springs: Palm Springs Yacht Club

Despite its name, the Palm Springs Yacht Club is not exactly a yacht club. Instead, it captures the essence of luxury that classic yacht clubs represent and brings that to its spa experience.

The spa features a range of amenities and services, including steam rooms, saunas, hot tubs, and a heated saltwater pool. The spa offers a variety of personalized treatments, including scrubs, nail services, massages, and facials.

On your arrival, you’ll be treated to a thimble of cucumber-infused vodka to prepare you for a day of rest, relaxation, and, yes, a bit of fun. Despite the indulgent atmosphere and amazing amenities, this spa feels low-key in the best way.

We have to mention the decor, which is updated nautical that recalls a high-end yacht club, featuring accents of rich wood paneling, plush furniture, and vintage maritime artwork.

The service and attention to detail is impeccable, completely enclosing you in the best luxury spa experience in Palm Springs.

Like this post?! How about...
12 Cool Boutique Hotels in Palm Springs, California

4. Take a Hike in Tahquitz Canyon

Must do things in Palm Springs: Tahquitz Canyon

Tahquitz Canyon is a beautiful and historic outdoor destination just outside of Palm Springs. It’s one of the coolest things to do in Palm Springs if you’re in the mood for hiking, primarily due to the stunning waterfall that awaits at the end of the trail.

Yes, a waterfall in a desert. It’s truly stunning, and it makes sense why this area has been important to the cultural and spiritual life of the Cahuilla people, who continue to maintain the area as a sacred site. The canyon is named for Tahquitz, a powerful shaman spirit in Cahuilla mythology who is said to reside in the area.

Today, you can explore Tahquitz Canyon on well-maintained hiking trails that will lead you through stunning rock formations. The 2-mile trail is a bit strenuous, featuring steep and rocky sections, and is exposed to direct sunlight, so come prepared!

Make sure to stop by the visitor center to get the whole history of the area. You can even join a guided tour led by a member of the Cahuilla community.

Tahquitz Canyon is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and culturally significant Palm Springs attractions.

5. Tour the Famous Sunnylands House

Palm Springs Things to do: Sunnylands House

Better known as Sunnylands Center & Gardens, this 200-acre estate and mid-century-style home attracts thousands of visitors every year. The estate has hosted guests like Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and even foreign dignitaries.

The original owners, Walter and Leonore Annenberg, have chosen to preserve the estate for public use, and it has been the site of many important political discussions. Walking through the home feels like walking through history.

The center itself is a 17,000-square-foot facility that features exhibitions, multimedia installations, and other interactive experiences that capture the history, art, and culture of the estate and surrounding regions.

Of course, the gardens are beautiful, featuring wildflower fields, terraces, upper and lower gardens, and a labyrinthine lawn. You can explore Sunnylands Center & Gardens independently or with a guided audio tour.

Admission to the center and the gardens is free. If you want to see the home, look into booking tickets at least one month in advance, as slots tend to sell out quickly.

6. Go Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

Unique Things to do in Palm Springs: Joshua Tree National Park

Less than an hour’s drive outside of Palm Springs, you’ll find Joshua Tree National Park, home to over 8,000 established climbing routes and innumerable hiking trails that will take you over canyons, distinctive cliff formations, desert caves, and oases. If you’re looking for outdoor Palm Springs activities, Joshua Tree is a must!

Rock climbing in Joshua Tree is a can’t-miss experience whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro. Trails are assessed for difficulty, and you’ll find that the most popular spots are around Hidden Valley, Ryan Campground, and Indian Cove.

Cool Things to do in Palm Springs: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is known for its granite boulder formations, which offer interesting climbing challenges for people of all skill levels. If you want a challenge, you’ll find high-quality crack climbing here, including many long and sustained cracks that will challenge your skills and endurance.

The climbing season runs from fall through spring, when Joshua tree is cooler – we wouldn’t recommend trying these during the height of summer. In winter, even the desert gets pretty cold, so come prepared!

Like this post?! How about...
12 Spectacular Airbnbs in Palm Springs, California

7. Explore the Palm Springs Art Museum

Must do things in Palm Springs: Palm Springs Art Museum

The Palm Springs Art Museum is yet another one of the can’t-miss Palm Springs attractions. With its cool modernist architecture, this museum is worth checking out for looks alone, but there’s more – the museum collection comprises over 12,000 objects in a variety of styles from a range of eras.

Conveniently located right on Palm Canyon Drive, you can pop in for a visit before exploring the rest of downtown. Originally founded in 1938 as the Palm Springs Desert Museum, it was renamed in 2005 to the Palm Springs Art Museum and is now the leading artistic and cultural center in the greater desert.

The museum specializes in quirky modern art from a diverse range of artists. You’ll find showcases of Native American art and artifacts alongside inspired temporary exhibitions that often showcase room-scale multimedia installations.

It’s not just galleries, either. Events like concerts and performances are often held in the museum’s 433-seat theater, or you might attend a masterclass in the 85-seat lecture hall before strolling out to the sculpture gardens.

8. Visit Palm Canyon

Palm Springs Things to do: Palm Canyon

One of the best things to do in Palm Springs if you’re looking to stretch your legs, this scenic oasis is located within the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians Reservation, and is part of the Indian Canyons area of Greater Palm Springs. It’s known for its towering palm trees, over 3,000 of them, and many scenic hiking trails.

You’ll find that the palms, some of which tower over 60 feet tall, cluster around a stream that flows through the canyon, creating a lush oasis that contrasts with the starkness of the high desert.

You can explore Palm Canyon on hiking trails that range from easy nature walks to more challenging hikes with elevation gains that will bring you up close to the soaring walls of the canyon. At over 15 miles long, there’s plenty to see. The area is filled with native wildlife, including bighorn sheep, rare birds, and mule deer.

You’ll find that the stream is a great place to picnic, read a book, or meditate. You can even go horseback riding here. Make sure to check out the Trading Post, where you can peruse Indian art, jewelry, pottery, and more – all part of the rich history of the canyon.

9. Meditate with a Sound Bath

A sound bath is a therapeutic practice that involves listening to reverberating sounds produced by various instruments designed to induce deep relaxation and meditation. Palm Springs is the perfect place to look for a sound bath because there are several options nearby!

The largest sound bath is Integratron, about 40 minutes north of Palm Springs. This large, dome-shaped structure is tailor-made for sound baths. You’ll lie down in the dome while sounds echo around you, calming down your body and balancing your mind.

Another option is the Crystal Fantasy in downtown Palm Springs. This small but cozy space is filled with crystals, creating a very different effect as the sounds of crystal singing bowls, gongs, and chimes gently wash over you.

If you’d prefer an outdoor experience, look into the meditation and sound bath experience at Two Bunch Palms, which takes place in a clearing where you’ll be surrounded by palm trees and desert mountains under a new (or full) moon and sky full of stars. You’ll be guided through a meditation while reverberating sounds help you center your mind.

A sound bath is a rejuvenating experience for the mind, body, and spirit and is definitely a Palm Springs bucket list activity.

Like this post?! How about...
California Road Trip: Top 15 Scenic Stops Along the Way

10. Eat a Gourmet Dinner in a Modernist Masterpiece

Palm Springs is chock full of fantastic places to eat that can suit any mood, from poolside brunch spots to ‘80s Havana-inspired lounges. But there’s no place quite like Workshop Kitchen + Bar!

Housed in the historic El Paseo building, dating back to 1926, the restaurant has had previous lives as a theater, the city council building, and a design showroom. That storied history is echoed in the show-stopping elegance of its new design. Walking in, you’ll notice immediately that the restaurant feels spacious and airy, almost like a cathedral, but one cloaked in concrete and made of angles.

Settle into your concrete booth or at the communal dining table, and enjoy a meal made from ingredients sourced from across southern California – seafood from Newport, poultry from Hemet, and herbs and flowers grown in the kitchen’s garden. Menu items are smoked, fermented, and pickled in-house.

You really can’t go wrong with any item on the Workshop’s seasonally rotating menus – all the more reason to stop in every time you’re in town.

11. Go Antiquing in Palm Springs

Cool Things to do in Palm Springs: Antiquing

Palm Springs is legendary for its antique stores, and it truly does not disappoint. If you love searching for unique finds, going antiquing is one of the most unique things to do in Palm Springs. You’ll find a pocket of antique stores right on the same block down by Sunny Dunes, a quick hop away from downtown Palm Springs.

First and foremost, you have Antique Galleries of Palm Springs. This 2-story, 12,000-square-foot space carries everything from apparel to ceramics to mid-century footstools. It’s the place to go if you’re looking for that perfect vintage couch or an art deco lamp.

Of course, there’s stiff competition in the form of Sunny Dunes Antique Mall, a consortium of independent vendors sharing warehouse space. With all that variety, you can spend a serious amount of time looking through the stacks for hidden gems.

If you’re looking for a more curated collection, check out Bon Vivant, which specializes in mid-century furnishings and funky dishware. While you’re in the neighborhood, why not stop by Little Shop of Treasures too? It’s a smaller boutique filled with unique and quirky finds.

12. Take a Trip to the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

Best Things to do in Palm Springs: Palms Oasis Preserve

The Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is an 880-acre nature reserve dedicated to protecting this unique habitat and the flora and fauna of the desert. It’s one of the most magical Palm Springs attractions, perfect for taking a hike, since you’ll be able to see, literally, thousands of palms.

The preserve was established in 1992 in order to protect the endangered desert fan palm. The oasis itself is fed by an underground aquifer, which provides essential water for the birds, reptiles, and mammals in the area.

When you visit, you’ll be able to hike on one of the many designated trails through the preserve, most of which are moderate to easy to walk and catch a glimpse of the water and the wildlife as you go.

Walk around for a bit, and you’re sure to find an ideal spot for an afternoon picnic, so make sure to pack some snacks and a blanket to keep you comfortable while you watch the desert go about its day. The Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is a must-see if you’re interested in the unique and beautiful natural history of the Palm Springs area.

Like this post?! How about...
The 25 Best Things to do in California

13. Tour the San Andreas Fault in a Jeep

Unique Things to do in Palm Springs: San Andreas Fault

One of California’s most famous geological features is the San Andreas Fault. This massive tectonic boundary runs through the state and is the source of many of the earthquakes that rock SoCal.

Seeing the fault with your own eyes is yet another Palm Springs bucket list activity. There are a few companies offering guided trips in sturdy Jeeps that can take you over the rocky terrain and into the fault zone.

Cool Things to do in Palm Springs: San Andreas Fault

One such company is Red Jeep Tours, which pairs every group with a naturalist and guide to explain the history of the San Andreas Fault and the unique plants, animals, and geological features it houses.

While you’re there, you’ll be able to trawl through the steep canyon walls yourself, exploring the geological labyrinth created by plate tectonics, flowing water, and desert winds.

Exploring the San Andreas Fault is one of the most unforgettable things to do in Palm Springs, and it’s an adventure that will really take you off the beaten path.

Experience San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour

14. Go Horseback Riding through Desert Canyons

Unique Things to do in Palm Springs: Horseback Riding through Desert Canyons

Over 150 miles of riding trails dot the Greater Palm Springs area, many of them passing through the most beautiful canyons and lush oases in the area. There’s nothing quite like cresting a hill on horseback and catching the sunset over the mountains.

Plenty of stables make Palm Springs their home for this very reason. You can check out Smoke Tree Stables, which offers guided tours that you can book to suit your schedule.

You might go out for just an hour or spend an entire day traversing the desert on horseback. If you want to go with a group, the Murray Canyon Haul Ride leaves for the Indian Canyons three times every day. Meanwhile, if you want privacy for a special occasion, book a private guided ride and explore to your heart’s content.

Going horseback riding in the desert is a top Palm Springs bucket list experience, and it’s one you can do alone, with a partner, with a big group, or with your family and make beautiful memories along the way.

15. Sightsee in Greater Palm Springs

Palm Springs Bucket List: Greater Palm Springs

You might not know that Greater Palm Springs actually comprises nine cities, four mountain ranges, and countless resorts and oases. Palm Springs proper is a classic destination, but why not branch out and explore nearby Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, or Coachella Valley?

There are attractions just outside of Palm Springs city limits that you can easily day trip, like the unforgettable Salvation Mountain, a manmade mountain and folk art masterpiece that you honestly have to see to believe.

You’ll find beautiful, massive murals in towns further out, like the Rebirth mural in Indio and the Hungry Dog of the Desert mural in Coachella. Checking out one of these local masterpieces is also a good excuse to explore different sides of Palm Springs.

And you can’t forget the ubiquitous wind farms dotting the desert landscape. Just north of Palm Springs, you’ll see over 1,200 wind turbines stretching out over miles and miles. If you’re looking for unique things to do in Palm Springs, why not pull over and look at one close-up?

Like this post?! How about...
The 12 Best Hotels Near Joshua Tree National Park

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Palm Springs. What’s your favorite thing to do in Palm Springs?

Planning a trip to California? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!


About the Author:

  • Valerie Wheatley

    Val grew up in Portland, Oregon but moved to Oahu on a whim back in 2013. She sold her house and all of her belongings and bought a one-way ticket. Since then she’s taken two around-the-world trips and has visited 60-ish countries while living out of a duffel bag.

    Val started documenting the Wandering Wheatleys travels back in 2013 as a way to update friends and family about her whereabouts and to relay humorous daily interactions. The only readers were her mom and her mother-in-law but that didn’t stop her!

    These days you’ll find Val dreaming up future trips, creating new travel content, managing a team of amazing travel enthusiasts, and chasing around her two adorable but naughty kids.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *