In its early days as a capital of cool, Greater Palm Springs attracted screen legends, the Rat Pack and a steady stream of studio execs. Hence the nickname “Hollywood’s playground” (or backlot). And while that reputation still applies – as you’d expect of an oasis 100 miles from LA but feels a world away – travelers of all kinds now have compelling reasons to visit this California highlight.
Whether you’re looking for breathtaking outdoor adventures, rich cultural offerings, a thriving wellness scene or epic festivals and other pilgrimage-worthy events, Greater Palm Springs should be on your 2024 lineup. Of course, whatever kind of escape you choose, the backdrop alone is worth traveling for: a vast expanse marked by peaks, palms and even pines (at altitude) – plus night skies so starry they rival even the local celebrity hotspots.
Speaking of: Several Greater Palm Springs restaurants are newly Michelin-recommended, a first for the region – and an acknowledgment of the ever-ascendant culinary scene. So, in each of the mini-guides below, we’re pairing the suggested activities with beloved restaurants. The combined effect? A feast for all the senses.
Home to an amazing array of ecosystems – canyons that conceal palm-fringed streams, pine forests atop soaring peaks, and multiple desert dreamscapes in between – Greater Palm Springs is an outdoor adventure lover’s playground. To start getting the lay of the land, go for a literal overview: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway puts you into a vista-maximizing rotating car and carries you more than 2.5 miles in about 10 minutes, from the desert terrain at the base to the conifer forests that surround the mountain station (elevation 8,516 feet). Once you disembark, take advantage of the 50+ miles of trails in this part of Mt. San Jacinto State Park, where you’ll find yourself alternately shrouded by pines or gaping at wide-open vistas.
Once you’ve descended, countless other adventures await: the trail system of the Indian Canyons, for starters, where you can hike or horseback ride alongside primordial-looking palms – many of them towering and adorned with endless layers of fronds. You’ll also find lovely water features throughout these canyons, but to experience the most dramatic, head to Tahquitz Canyon, where a 60-foot cascade falls seasonally (February-April is the general but variable window). All of these canyons are sacred to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, whose ancestors have called the area home since time immemorial. Booking ranger-led interpretive hikes will enrich the experience, as will spending time among the exhibits at the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center.
To cover a bit more ground, book one of the famed local jeep tours, which take you everywhere from the Indian Canyons to nearby Joshua Tree National Park. (Exploring the San Andreas Fault by jeep is fun, too.) And if two-wheeled adventures are more your speed, you’ll find a whole network of trails and a range of bike share and rental options in a region that’s becoming ever-better for cyclists.
To celebrate the day’s adventures, consider a setting that’s closely tied to them, such as mountainside La Quinta Cliffhouse, where a bighorn sheep sighting isn’t out of the question, but missing the famed Happy Hour and sunset dinner is. If you’re looking to fortify for the day ahead, the extensive crepe menu at Farm Palm Springs is a delicious starting point – and for midday re-fueling, head to the Café at the century-old Shields Date Garden in Indio, where at least one date-forward item is a must, whether the Shields Signature Date Burger or the Shields Date Shake (or both).
Spa and Wellness
While Greater Palm Springs has long been known as a center of self-care, the scene is quickly going next-level. For starters, the new Spa at Séc-he represents the first time in years that visitors can actually soak in the waters for which Palm Springs is named: the Agua Caliente Hot Mineral Spring, a sacred site that had closed when its tribal owners and stewards decided to reimagine its full potential almost a decade ago. Now, in addition to the 73,000-square-foot new spa with 22 private spring-fed mineral baths (among many other offerings), the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza includes a tribal museum and outdoor Oasis Trail. This complex alone is easily a full-day’s immersion.
Meanwhile, in nearby Desert Hot Springs, the thermal soaking scene is heating up, too: The longtime icon and celebrity hideaway Two Bunch Palms has added new luxury lodgings – complete with their own hot spring-fed tubs – to an already impressive array of accommodations and soaking ops. But even relative newcomers to the Desert Hot Springs wellness scene such as The Good House and Azure Palm Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa Oasis are expanding their spa and spring-fed soaking offerings. Both also offer delicious, healthy specialties at their respective restaurants, where you can eat whether you’re an overnight guest or not. The former has a cozy, fireplace-warmed café where you shouldn’t miss the signature salads and fresh-pressed juices, while the latter has an alfresco communal dining table where specialties like shakshuka tide you over between sessions in the garden’s thermal pools.
There’s another way to soak up wellness that Greater Palm Springs has become famous for, too: sound bathing. You’ll find maestros of Tibetan bowls, gongs and other serenity-inducing instruments everywhere from the Joshua Tree-adjacent Integratron Dome to Old Town La Quinta’s Gather Yoga and Wellness. The latter, of course, is also home to plenty of yoga offerings, as are many beloved spots throughout the region, whether you want an alfresco session (see: Power Yoga’s Rooftop lineup in Palm Springs), a hot studio session (check out Bikram Yoga El Paseo in Palm Desert) or anything in between. El Paseo is also home to the Gardens, where you’ll find some of the most beloved fish dishes in the area at Pacifica Seafood. Healthy options range from salmon crudo to grilled branzino.
Arts and Culture
You could make an entire trip out of midcentury house-hopping here (and some enthusiasts do), but there are some architectural icons of that era that no design fan should miss: for one, Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, the former home of diplomats Walter and Lee Annenberg, and now a tour-able estate. Others are in Palm Springs and include the Kaufmann House, where Slim Aarons’s legendary Poolside Gossip photo was shot; Elvis’s Honeymoon Hideaway, also known as the House of Tomorrow; and Frey House II, where the starchitect himself lived before this home became part of the Palm Springs Art Museum.
Once you’ve toured Frey’s masterwork in seeming simplicity, explore another onsite icon he contributed to: Aluminaire House. Designed by Frey and A. Lawrence Kocher and first shown in New York in 1931, the all-metal gem is being reconstructed on the grounds of the Palm Springs Art Museum, with a projected opening date of February 2024. But don’t miss what’s inside the museum’s galleries, whether the signature modern and contemporary collection or special exhibits such as the So Picasso retrospective (through April 2024).
Greater Palm Springs is becoming known for public art, too, with the Arts GPS app serving as an excellent guide. Don’t miss the murals or large-scale installations in Coachella, Indio’s Oculus Sol or Palm Desert’s sculpture exhibition that runs along the median of El Paseo. Pair these creative pursuits with the artistry of Workshop Kitchen+Bar, where “even a simple yuzu tart is prettied up with farm-fresh raspberries and wood sorrel,” according to the Michelin Guide the restaurant now finds itself in. Another arty Michelin favorite: Bar Cecil, “boasting walls splashed with an impressive private collection of modern art (including pieces by Calder and Warhol)” and splurges such as Ossetra caviar with blini. And if it’s a totally immersive artistic dining experience you crave, consider the themed dining adventures of PS Underground.
Home to some of the world’s most iconic festivals, tournaments and cultural events, Greater Palm Springs offers a full calendar’s worth of reasons to visit, with the first few months of the year particularly packed. January brings the celeb-heavy Palm Springs International Film Festival, where in 2024 Martin Scorsese will accept the Vanguard Award for Killers of the Flower Moon.
February sees the arrival of the Modernism Week pilgrimage, when upwards of 120,000 midcentury fans attend more than 350 local events. Some of the most famous include the Modernism Show, home tours, films, lectures and nightly parties.
March sees nonstop action, starting with the famed BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells; continuing with Fashion Week El Paseo, a heady mix of shows, pop-up shops, celebrity meet-and-greets and more; and culminating deliciously with the Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival, when celebrity chefs will descend on El Paseo just as the fashion folks leave.
April arguably needs no introduction on the festival circuit, but as a quick reminder: This is when both the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival comes to Indio followed immediately by the Stagecoach Country Music Festival Indio. But whenever you come to Greater Palm Springs for an event, there will be good stories to share over drinks, whether at Cheeky’s or Tommy Bahama Miramonte Indian Wells – or its second location, Grapefruit Basil.