Art & Design Lover’s Guide to top things to do in Palm Springs

Palm-lined streets, art-filled spaces, and modern homes with doors and decor in bright hues are what drew me to Palm Springs but I loved the slow-paced life and food scene once we got there. Here is a look at what we got to do in Palm Springs during our 3 days in the Southern California desert: An art & design lover’s guide to a weekend in Palm Springs.

Best things to do in Palm Springs | Outside Suburbia

I have always loved the desert — something about the landscape is calming and therapeutic. The saguaros in Scottsdale and red-rock buttes of Sedona located in the heart of the Arizona desert have always had my heart. The art scene and the high desert landscape of Santa Fe is another favorite but I’m slowly but surely falling in love with the Palm Spring lifestyle. Read on to see if this town with its backdrop of the Colorado Desert, Coachella Valley, and the San Jacinto Mountain captures your heart too.

Palm Springs is located just a two-hour drive from Los Angles or San Diego and a short flight away from DFW Airport (yes, we have direct flights from Dallas that operate year-round!). It is easy to add it to your California road trip itinerary. The area offers gallery hopping, many fine restaurants and the surrounding Coachella Valley offers golfing hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.

“Forever Marilyn” statue in Palm Springs
“Forever Marilyn” statue in Down Town Palm Springs

In the heydays, this California town in the middle of the desert was known for its hot springs, spas, stylish hotels and the many golf courses that dot the desert landscape. Hollywood’s biggest stars and wealthy industrialists from the east coast flocked here. The likes of Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore and Elvis Presley. You can still find that glamour of old-school Hollywood combined with a laid-back vibe now.

These days the younger crowd comes here for Coachella, architecture fans come during spring and snowbirds stay in town during the winter months. We might have missed narrowly Modernism Week, a 11-day festival featuring many events, car shows, and tours of the iconic homes of Palm Springs. But we still got to see some of the Art and even see a few midcentury-modern homes, if only from the outside.

Art & Architecture in Palm Springs

Art enthusiasts can spend their weekend in Palm Springs checking out the region’s numerous fine art galleries, and the area’s ever-changing art scene. Top Things to see during an Art & Design Lover’s weekend in Palm Springs:

We stayed at The Rowan hotel and from the rooftop we could see down into the sandpit below and see 10 gigantic, 8-foot-tall sculptures of babies crawling below. There was even one on our balcony, attached to the side of the wall. These babies (which can be found in many places around the world) were created by Czech Republic artist David Černý and have been on loan to a local builder of the downtown revitalization project, for 20 months. They are right next to the “Forever Marilyn” statue, which is the social media darling of Palm Springs.

David Černý Babies on the Move Palm Springs
David Černý Babies on the Move

Founded in 1938, the Palm Springs Art Museum has been a great source of unique art and history in Downtown Palm Springs. It began as Palm Springs Desert Museum and relocated a number of times before it ended up in its forever home in 1958. In the beginning, the museum was not as modern and contemporary as you may find it today.

Today the museum features over 12,000 art pieces and is constantly growing. The main focuses of the museum now are modern and contemporary art, architecture, and design. There are also a number of exhibits and education programs that create a more interactive learning experience for visitors. For free admission, stop by on a Thursday during VillageFest.

Known as the heart of Palm Springs, Palm Canyon Drive offers an impressive number of art galleries. Whether you enjoy abstract expressionism or pop art designs, you will find something here everything. It’s also known for its many fine examples of midcentury-modern architecture. The shopping district along Palm Canyon Drive features vintage boutiques, interior design shops and many restaurants.

El Paseo is a major shopping destination in the area but it also boasts numerous art galleries showcasing everything from contemporary pieces to upscale fine art. Whether you decide to drive or walk through the shopping district, the sidewalks are filled with top-notch galleries, plus plenty of public art to enjoy along the way. Go on an art crawl to discover more about the art in Palm Springs.

The El Paseo Art Walk happens every month on the first Friday, November through May, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and gives local aficionados opportunities to enjoy art strolls, exhibit openings, and attend artist receptions.

Public art and murals in Palm Springs

You can definitely learn about the art, the history and culture of the surrounding areas during your visit. So keep an eye out for which exhibitions will be available during the time you plan to spend a weekend in Palm Springs.

Popular Palm Springs Attractions

With the arrival of several new desert-chic hotels and the reinvention of classic properties — Palm Springs continues to cement itself as a West Coast hot spot. The ever-growing Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, film festivals have given the popular golf destination with new energy. Most come here to capitalize on Palm Springs’ sunny skies and cool vibes but if you are wondering what to do in Palm Springs during your weekend getaway, check out some of these popular attractions.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The dream of building the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was born in 1935 by a young electrical engineer named Francis Crocker. He put up quite an argument to get the project approved, but the beginnings of World War II and The Korean War, among other things halted the construction. Crocker never let go of his dream and almost 30 years after the initial idea, in 1963, the Aerial Tramway was open for business and is one of the best things to do in Palm Springs.

During your 3 days in Palm Springs, if you are trying to fit in the best sightseeing this area has to offer, get your tickets and enjoy the panoramic views from the top of a mountain in Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tramcar. Be sure to reserve your tickets online in advance. We didn’t plan ahead and they were out of tickets by the time we got there.

Photo by Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Air Museum

The Air museum displays aircraft from World War II and both the Vietnam and Korean wars. The museum is separated into four different hangars and has nearly 60 flyable planes in total. There are WWII exhibits and activities to help educate guests on the stories behind the people who served in the war and the role of aircraft during this pivotal time in American history. Guests can also book a ride on one of their five Warbirds. 

Try your luck in a Casino

Agua Caliente Casino is considered one of the best attractions in Palm Springs, honestly we didn’t visit any casinos during our weekend in Palm Springs. The resort offers visitors slot machines, video poker, and over 10 different kinds of table games. If you don’t want to just gamble, you can enjoy a night of dancing at the Cascade Lounge. Agua Caliente is also home to a number of restaurants and coffee shops.

Other things to do in Palm Springs

Walk through the world’s only Cactorium at Moorten’s Botanical Garden

Just about a mile away from Downtown Palm Springs, is the world’s only Cactorium at the desert botanical garden. It features many different plants and lots of cacti from different regions. You can also see some other desert gems along the tour such as crystals, rocks, and so much more. Reminded me of our visit to Ganna’s Lotusland and her collection of cacti.

Moorten’s offers guided tours. If a guided tour at Moorten’s interests you, make sure to schedule them ahead of time!

Moorten's Botanical Garden and Cactorium in Palm Springs
Moorten’s Botanical Garden and Cactorium in Palm Springs

Visit The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

If you have time during your weekend getaway in Palm Springs, (we didn’t, hopefully we get to visit next time!) you won’t want to miss a day at this unique zoo! It is home to over 500 animals representing over 150 species. You can feed the giraffes, book a tour, and go on hikes or enjoy picnics.

Guests can bring in their own snacks or packed lunches to enjoy at the number of picnic tables available at the zoo. Allow for about 2-3 hours to see the entire park at the Living Desert Zoo & Garden.

Attend Villagefest

If you plan your Palm Springs weekend getaway a little early, you may be able to attend VillageFest. This fun street fair takes place in Downtown Palm Springs every Thursday evening. You are sure to find some awesome souvenirs at VillageFest — everything from antiques, modernism and vintage art, and more.

Check out the Cabazon Dinosaurs

If you plan to go do some shopping at the Cabazon Outlets, you can’t miss the Cabazon Dinosaurs which stand tall in front of a dino museum. Cabazon Outlets has designer outlet stores like Prada, Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and more. They have been repainting the dinosaurs differently. They were pink when we visited during February(for Valentine’s, perhaps). You can have a different experience on each trip to Palm Springs.

It is always a fun stop while driving on your way to or when leaving from your weekend in Palm Springs. You can pose for a photo in front of these famous roadside attractions. You might recognize these dinos from PeeWee’s Big Adventure or other shows. Make sure to check out the near by, Wafflesaurus Truck for some sweet treats.

Go Golfing

Greater Palm Springs is one of the top destinations for golfing in the country. If you have golfers in your group, they will want to check out the many greens, after all there are100 golf courses in the Palm Springs area. So add golf to your Palm Springs weekend itinerary. Make sure to be prepared for the heat — bring sunscreen as it is always sunny, and make sure to stay hydrated.

Hike among the fan palms in Indian Canyons

Hiking the Palm Canyon was one of my favorite Palm Spring activities. The Indian Canyons is beautiful and some parts of the trail have shade, where you can hike among giant California Fan Palms.

Palm Springs Tours: Red Jeep Tours by Desert Adventures has been giving visitors guided tours in Palm Springs and other beautiful surrounding areas. The tour you would be taking is the guided walking tour of the Palm Springs Indian Canyons.

Drive to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is very popular and perfect for a day trip during your weekend in Palm Springs. Joshua Tree is nearly 800,000 acres and is home to the Yucca brevifolia, also known as a Joshua Tree. Our trip was fast and furious, but we still managed to stop at a few spots to hike and admire these unique trees.

Joshua Tree is awesome for hiking and camping, we spoke to a few people who were camping the night and they mentioned how beautiful the skies were at night. The park is great for snapping some cool desert pictures.

Joshua Tree National Park is about 38 miles and an hour’s drive away from Palm Springs.

Where we ate during our Palm Springs Weekend

A few Palm Springs restaurants we tried during our weekend:

  • Norma’s at Palm Springs (designed by Jonathan Adler)
  • Gigi at Sonder V
  • Eight4Nine Restaurant and Lounge
  • Thai Smile
  • Sherman’s Deli & Bakery

Try the famous and super sweet DATE SHAKEs while visiting Palm Springs.

A few places on my list for our next trip to Palm springs

  • Breakfast at Cheeky’s
  • Melvyn’s for cocktails. Melvyn’s & The Casablanca Lounge (at Ingleside Inn), was a favorite of Frank Sinatra and other stars. 
  • Rooster and the Pig
  • Chi Chi at Avalon Hotel (designed by Kelly Wearstler), a new restaurant centered on California wellness
Dinner at Eight4Nine

A few places to take Instagram photos in Palm Springs

  • Facades of the houses in Indian Canyons and Vista Las Palmas
  • Windmills on the north end of the town
  • Moorten’s Botanical Garden and Cactorium
  • At the colorful Parker Palm Springs hotel, designed by Jonathan Adler
  • The many “retro” hotel signs in Palm Springs like the Hotel California
Palm Spring Pink Door House

You can go on tours to see the midcentury-modern homes or see them from outside on a DIY driving tour. We managed to see a few. This pink door house on 1100 EAST SIERRA WAY was my favorite.

Another fun one is a house that has a couple of party lions by the door at 1076 EAST SIERRA WAY. The homeowners have been known to decorate the lions for special occasions, like putting watermelons, lips, hearts or pool toys around them.

10 Other iconic Palm Springs Doors & Homes you might want to admire or take a photo:

  • 1307 FUEGO CIRCLE – Blue Circles
  • 2282 S ALHAMBRA DR – Bright Blue Door
  • 2290 S ALHAMBRA DR – Mint Green Door
  • 2295 S ALHAMBRA DR – Bright Orange Door & Breeze blocks
  • 2344 SOUTH YOSEMITE DR – Yellow Door
  • 2222 S CALIENTE DR – Sky Blue door and 12 Blue Circles
  • 2701 WEST KINGS RD – Tiffany Blue Door
  • 2649 WEST KINGS RD – Yellow Door
  • 1500 MURRAY CANYON DR – Bright Orange Door
  • 990 MURRAY CANYON DR- Breeze block wall & Yellow Door

If you go to snap a photo of these iconic homes in Palm Springs, be mindful that these are actual homes. Don’t trespass.

Where to stay on your Weekend in Palm Springs

For our weekend in Palm Springs, we stayed at Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs, an IHG Hotel. This new hotel is located in Downtown Palm Springs, in the city center. The lobby was cozy for enjoying morning coffee and evening cocktails. They had a cocktail hour every evening. And we were within walking distance of serval shops, restaurants and the “Forever Marilyn” statue. Plus, they had bikes that you can borrow for the day to explore the area.

The Lobby at the Kimpton Rowan

Saguaro Palm Springs, colorful Palm Springs hotel is one of the most popular hotels and great option for a weekend getaway (especially for a girls weekend in Palm Springs). This colorful hotel makes its appearance in many Palm Spring Instagram photos. The rooms are just as colorful and stylish as the exterior. It is steps away from all the top Palm Springs things to do in the area.

La Quinta Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria luxury property located in Coachella valley is another great option for your Palm Springs weekend getaway, where you can choose between your own casita, private haciendas, and villa-style accommodation. It has lovely a backdrop of the Santa Rosa Mountains and the 5 golf courses on the property. There are 41 pools on the property so it’s easy to lounge around and enjoy the sun. It’s been an original desert hideaway since the 1920s!

You might also like the JW Mariott Desert Springs or Renaissance Esmeralda.

This super chic boutique property is my favorite, where you will be surrounded by fruit trees and herb gardens. It’s my kinda luxury – Relaxed Luxury, luxury without formality, beauty without pretension, elegance with comfort! While we didn’t stay there we had brunch at Norma’s in Parker Palm Springs.

Wondering when is the best time to visit Palm springs?

When planning a weekend in Palm Springs or any Palm Springs trip, visitors should absolutely factor in the weather as those unfamiliar with the desert climate can be surprised at how much the seasons actually do vary depending on the time of year.

The most optimal months to plan a Palm Springs weekend getaway are November through April. During this time the weather tends to stay in the 70s and 80s, which is actually a wonderful temperature for your sunny retreat.

You can’t miss these windmills while driving to Palm Springs

See a Visual Story here.

How to get there

Palm Springs is located close to some of California’s most popular cities, whether you are here just for a day trip, a long weekend, or spending the winter months in sunny Palm Springs, you will not run out of things to do in the desert!

Whether you are there for Coachella, Modernism week, or for a Girls weekend getaway in the Southern California desert: Hope this Art & Design lover’s guide to a weekend in Palm Springs was helpful.

PALM SPRINGS DRIVING DISTANCE:

Los Angeles: 107 miles, ~2 hours

San Diego: 139 miles, ~1 hour 40 minutes

Anaheim: 90 miles, ~ 2 hours

What to do in Palm springs

I hope this inspires you to plan your trip to Palm Springs and gives you some ideas on what to do while you are in this California desert town.

For other ideas, things to do, restaurants, and hotels in Palm Springs, see the Visit Palm Springs website.

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