Greater Palm Springs
The Rat Pack is back, baby, or at least its hangout is. In the 1950s and '60s, Palm Springs, some 100 miles east of LA, was the swinging getaway of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and other Hollywood stars. Once the Rat Pack packed it in, Palm Springs surrendered to golfing retirees. However, in the mid-1990s, new generations discovered the city’s retro-chic vibe and elegant mid-century modern structures built by famous architects. Today, retirees and snowbirds mix comfortably with hipsters, hikers and a sizeable LGBTQI+ community on getaways from LA and from across the globe.
Palm Springs is the principal city of the Coachella Valley, a string of desert towns ranging from ho-hum Cathedral City to glamtastic Palm Desert and Coachella, the latter home of the star-studded music festival, all linked by Hwy 111. North of Palm Springs, scruffy Desert Hot Springs draws visitors with chic boutique hotels built on top of soothing springs.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Greater Palm Springs.
Palm Springs has long been famous a celebrity playground, but few destinations in the valley better exemplify that pedigree than Sunnylands, the retreat of publishing giant, diplomat, and philanthropist Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore. The not-so-little pink roofed house is part of a sprawling 200 acre estate that includes lush guest quarters, cottages, entertaining spaces, and even a golf course. Like many of the mid-century rich and famous, the Annenbergs chose greater Palm Springs for their modernist winter home in Rancho Mirage. Nicknamed the "Camp David of the West", the Annenbergs entertained eight US presidents, royalty, heads of state, and Hollywood celebrities, including the Shah of Iran, the Queen of England, Bing Crosby, Truman Capote, and Barack Obama. Frank Sinatra married Barbara Marx at Sunnylands; the Reagans spent ever New Years here for nearly two decades. The estate's art-filled main home, a 1966 mid-century-modern masterpiece by A Quincy Jones, is accessible only by 90-minute guided tour; book online far in advance. No reservations are required for the exhibits and documentary on view at the architecturally stunning visitor center or to stroll the magnificent, sustainably designed gardens, inspired by impressionist paintings. The gardeners didn't have to go far to find their references, either. While the Annenbergs were alive (Walter passed in 2002, Leonore in 2009), they kept their extensive collection of works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, and Monet here. Those paintings were largely donated the Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, in the early aughts. Tickets for the Historic House Tour ($48, no children under 10) and Birding on the Estate ($38) are released at 9am on the 15th of the preceding month and sell out quickly. Tickets for the 45-minute Open-Air Experience, a shuttle tour of the grounds and golf course that runs from September to April ($21), are sold first-come, first-served at the visitor center (credit cards only). Neither the Birding nor the Open-Air tour give access to the house.
MuseumPalm Springs Art Museum
Art fans should not miss this museum and its changing exhibitions drawn from a stellar collection of international modern and contemporary painting, sculpture, photography and glass art. The permanent collection includes works by Henry Moore, Ed Ruscha, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Bourgeois, Mark Bradford, Pablo Picasso, and many other heavy hitters. Other highlights are a wide-ranging glass art and pre-Colombian figurine collections. Free entry from 5pm to 7pm Thursdays.
Cable CarPalm Springs Aerial Tramway
This rotating cable car climbs nearly 6000ft vertically and covers five different vegetation zones, from the Sonoran desert floor to pine-scented Mt San Jacinto State Park, in 10 minutes during its 2.5-mile journey. From the mountain station (8561ft), which is 30°F to 40°F (up to 22°C) cooler than the desert floor, you can enjoy stupendous views, dine in two restaurants (ask about ride 'n' dine passes), explore more than 50 miles of trails or visit the natural-history museum.
ZooLiving Desert Zoo & Gardens
This amazing animal park showcases desert plants and animals alongside exhibits on regional geology and Native American culture. Highlights include a walk-through wildlife hospital and an African-themed village with a fair-trade market and storytelling grove. Camel rides, giraffe feeding, a spin on the endangered species carousel, and a hop-on, hop-off shuttle cost extra. It’s educational, fun and worth the 15-mile drive down-valley. Allow for a visit of two to three hours.
Public ArtSalvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain is a mighty strange sight indeed: a 100ft-high hill of hand-mixed adobe and straw slathered in paint and decorated with flowers, waterfalls, birds and religious messages. This work of Leonard Knight (1931–2014), a passionately religious man from Vermont, was 28 years in the making. It has become one of the great works of American folk art and has even been recognized as a national treasure in the US Senate.
LandmarkWorld's Biggest Dinosaurs
Driving along the I-10, about 20 miles west of Palm Springs, you may do a double take when glimpsing 'Dinny the Dinosaur' and 'Mr Rex' on the north side of the freeway. Claude K Bell, a sculptor for Knott's Berry Farm, spent more than two decades crafting these concrete behemoths in the 1970s and '80s. Today you can pan for dino fossils, climb inside Rex's mouth, marvel at more than 50 dinosaur models and stock up on dino souvenirs in the gift shop.
Notable BuildingElvis Honeymoon Hideaway
Elvis and Priscilla Presley had stayed at the iconic 1960 Alexander Estate in 1966 and liked it so much that Elvis carried his new bride over the threshold to begin their honeymoon on May 1, 1967. Nicknamed the 'House of Tomorrow,' it consists of three floors of four concentric circles accented with glass and stone throughout. Book ahead for a chance to walk in the footsteps of the king (and even sit on his honeymoon bed!).
MuseumPalm Springs Air Museum
Adjacent to the airport, this museum has an exceptional collection of WWII aircraft and flight memorabilia, a movie theater and occasional flight demonstrations. You can even climb inside functioning Boeing B17 Flying Fortress, a bomber extensively used against German industrial and military sites during WWII.
GardensMoorten Botanical Gardens
Chester ‘Cactus Slim’ Moorten, one of the original Keystone Cops, and his wife Patricia channeled their passion for plants into this compact garden founded in 1938. Today, a stroll through this enchanting symphony of cacti, succulents and other desert flora is balm for eyes and soul.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Greater Palm Springs.