Like many car-centric California cities, Palm Springs and its Coachella Valley surroundings are most conveniently explored with your own four wheels.
But other modes of transport are available – and not completely headache-inducing, especially if you’re sticking around Palm Springs’ compact and walkable downtown hub.
From public transport to bicycling, getting around on foot and accessible travel options, here’s how to make navigating this Southern California desert region work for you and your travel companions.
You can get to greater Palm Springs – which includes the city of Palm Springs and surrounding cities like Palm Desert, Indian Wells and Desert Hot Springs – via its two main thoroughfares: Interstate 10 and Hwy 111. However, that also means without any alternative routes in or out of the area, traffic piles up during major holidays and ephemeral events such as a wildflower super bloom or the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Although navigating downtown Palm Springs itself can be done without your own set of motorized wheels, traveling by car is the most efficient. And a car is nearly essential to explore other parts of the region – including Joshua Tree National Park – with ease and flexibility.
The north-to-south flowing Palm Canyon Drive will orient you to Palm Springs’ uptown and downtown parts, where most retail, restaurants and hotels are situated. Most neighborhoods in Palm Springs are residential, with exceptions like the Midtown and the Historic Tennis Club neighborhoods (home to more than 20 boutique hotels and inns like Korakia Pensione and adults-only Del Marcos Hotel).
Rent a car at the Palm Springs International Airport from major rental car companies. Rentals in neighboring cities are sparse, and some locations have closed temporarily as of 2021.
Parking is typically free for up to four hours in downtown Palm Springs’ nine parking garages, located no more than a few blocks from Palm Canyon Drive. Major attractions like the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Air Museum have dedicated parking lots, and most smaller and boutique hotels have free parking. Some hotels like Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs offer a house car to take you around town.
Electric vehicle charging stations are located across the Coachella Valley, including at the Palm Springs International Airport, BMW Performance Center in Thermal and at various hotels and resorts, including JW Marriott in Palm Desert.
Tip for driving in Palm Springs: hold tight to the steering wheel if you’re driving around in a small vehicle. On particularly windy days it’s not uncommon for cars to easily drift into the next lane. And in that case, watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians, too.
Ride-hailing and taxis
Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are available from the airport and throughout town. Several taxi companies operate in the region, though they require a call if you’re out late, and especially if you’re outside of downtown Palm Springs. A few cab companies, like Yellow Cab Co. of the Desert, have their own app.
Downtown Palm Springs is pedestrian friendly (think lots of sidewalks, crosswalk signals and such), and the best area to walk is along Palm Canyon Drive. Though when the temperatures regularly hit triple digits during summer and fall, a leisurely stroll takes its toll – even among the fittest.
And although the palm trees that dot the sidewalks are pretty, they don’t offer much shade. If you’re out and about, bring lots of water and wear sun protection.
Many Palm Springs hotels and resorts like the Parker Palm Springs and Arrive Palm Springs offer complimentary beach cruiser rentals for guests. Early morning and evening rides will be most comfortable weather-wise. In town, Sunrise Way runs north to south and features a protected path exclusively for bikes and pedestrians. Otherwise, dedicated bike lanes and shared roadways run throughout the city.
Make any bike repairs and top off tire pressure at three public bike repair stations at the Palm Springs Visitor Center, Demuth Park and Palm Springs Public Library. Bicycle, e-bike and mountain bike rentals are located around downtown.
Pedaling from Palm Springs to neighboring cities is increasingly possible as the Coachella Valley Link (CVLink) project aims to create a 40-mile path through Coachella Valley. Pedestrians and light electric vehicles are also welcome. It was envisioned in 2007, with construction beginning in 2017.
As of 2021, a 2.3-mile stretch from the Vista Chino in Palm Springs to Cathedral City is open for use. Construction continues through 2021 to link the cities Indio and La Quinta, and finish the Palm Desert portion. When completed, CV Link should run through eight area cities and two federally recognized tribal lands; it would exclude Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells.
SunLine is the region’s bus service and main mode of public transport in Palm Springs. The bus system comprises nine routes and one commuter route (operating weekdays between Coachella Valley and San Bernardino). Routes 1, 2 and 4 will get you around Palm Springs. Part of SunLine’s fleet runs on zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell and electric technology. The bus service intends to transition to a full zero-emission fleet by 2035, an ambitious 10 years ahead of a state-mandated deadline.
Fares run 50 cents to $1 for a single ride and up to $3 for a day pass. Prepare to pay the exact fare or lose out on change. For convenience, use the Token Transit app to purchase all fare and pass options. Transfers are available onboard.
Accessible transit in Palm Springs
SunLine’s SunDial service is reservation-based, origin to destination shared-ride transportation for people with physical, cognitive, visual and emotional disabilities. Visitors to Palm Springs requiring this service should plan ahead. First obtain a temporary rider pass (good for 21 days) by contacting SunLine (760-343-4231) in advance. Then call to reserve a pick-up a few days ahead of your travel date.
A rider’s personal care attendant may ride for free if SunLine is notified ahead of time, and up to three passengers may travel per party, as space is available. Service animals are allowed onboard, as are very good non-service animals.
All that said, an accessible van rental may be more convenient. Major car rental companies may have an appropriate vehicle if you reserve weeks ahead (oftentimes, they will have to source the vehicle from other locations). Wheelers Accessible Van Rentals will deliver your reserved van directly to the Palm Springs airport.