We spent 4-days in Palm Springs. Here is everything we did and the things we wish we had time for.
In this guide (jump to section):
- Palm Springs, CA Quick Stats
- Our 4-day itinerary in Palm Springs, CA
- Is visiting Palm Springs, CA worth it?
- Things we wish we had time for
Palm Springs, CA Quick Stats
|Location||Palm Springs, CA|
|Popular Things to Do||Aerial Tramway, Art Museum, Living desert zoo & gardens, Tahquitz Canyon, Moorten Botanical Garden, Cabazon Dinosaurs.|
|Official Website||City of Palm Springs|
|Popular Day Trips||Joshua Tree National Park (~1 hour), Salton Sea (~1 hour), Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (Metal Sculptures) (~1.5 hours), Big Bear Lake (~1.5 hours)|
4-Day Itinerary for Palm Springs, CA
We arrived at the Palm Springs Airport late enough in the day that we only had time for dinner and a quick walk around town. The adventure would begin the next morning.
Day 1: Joshua Tree National Park & the Salton Sea
Visiting Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is best known for its rugged rock formations, desert landscapes and of course, the famous Joshua Trees. The Joshua Tree is a type of Yucca plant that will only grow between 2,000 to 6,000 feet. They are mostly found in the Mojave Desert, but occasionally crop up in the Sonoran Desert and the San Bernardino Mountains.
Official Website: Joshua Tree National Park
Cost: $30 per vehicle for a 7-day pass, or $80 for an annual America the Beautiful Pass (Prices subject to change.)
Average Time: 4 hours to All Day
Highlights: Hiking, camping, wildlife, photography, birding, biking, rock climbing, backpacking, horseback riding, and more.
Our thoughts: We only visited the park for a few hours. We went on a short hike, snapped some pictures, enjoyed multiple Joshua Trees and took a spin through the Cholla Cactus Garden. We’d like to return for another visit one day.
The Salton Sea is located around an hour south of Palm Springs. It is one of the world’s largest inland seas and was created in 1905 after the Colorado River was mistakenly diverted during the creation of a new irrigation canal.
Today, due to the lack of replacement water, the lake’s salinity has drastically increased leading to severe contamination and death of local wildlife.
Official Website: CA.gov
Cost: $7 per private passenger vehicle (Prices subject to change)
Average Time: Varies. Less <1 hour to all day
Activities: Visitor center, fishing, picnic area, birding, lake views.
Our thoughts: We can’t recommend the Salton Sea. We personally wouldn’t fish in the lake nor swim in it. In fact, we’ll avoid the area if we go back to Palm Springs.
Learn more about our experience at the Salton Sea.
Day 2: Disc Golf, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Bowling & Buffet Lunch at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino
We decided to start the day off with a quick round of disc golf on our way to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. There are several disc golf courses you can play in the Palm Springs. You can check them out here. We opted for the Hovley as it was on the way out of town.
Playing a round of Disc Golf at the Hovley Disc Golf Course
A 9-hole disc golf course located in Palm Desert, CA. The course traverses the perimeter of a soccer complex.
Location: City of Palm Desert Hovley Soccer Park
Cost: Free (discs not provided)
Average Time: <1 Hour
Course Type: Permanent – open year-round. Play restricted during soccer games and exclusive DG Club events. You can learn more about the course here.
Our experience: We were looking for a disc golf course on our way to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The Hovley course was in the perfect location. We had the course to ourselves (except for a few soccer players), and enjoyed the sunshine for a quick game.
Exploring the metal sculptures at Anza -Borrego Desert State Park
Located around 85 miles from Palm Springs, you’ll find a secret gem waiting for you within the Anza-Borrego State Desert Park; 130 magnificently detailed metal sculptures arising from the desert floor.
Average Time: 1 – 2 hours
Our thoughts: We thought it was worth the drive to see the sculptures. Some of them were a little challenging to find and it was incredibly hot the day we visited, but we’re glad we went.
Learn more about our experience at the Anza-Borrego sculptures.
Buffet lunch & Bowling at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino
After our round of disc golf and searching for sculptures in the desert, we were getting pretty hungry on our drive back to Palm Springs. We decided to stop at the Fantasy Springs Resort for a delicious buffet lunch (they even have a chocolate dessert fountain) and a few games of bowling.
The Fantasy Springs Resort Casino is located in Indio, CA, about 30 minutes from Palm Springs. They feature an array of entertainment options, including their famous Fresh Grill Buffet with chocolate fountain, bowling, golf course, special events and of course gaming options.
Official Website: Fantasy Springs Resort Casino
Our thoughts: We enjoyed our food at the buffet and had fun at the bowling alley. The picture you see is seconds before one of the many strikes that day.
Day 3: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and summiting Mount San Jacinto
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Aerial Tramway is an activity all by itself (even if you decide not to hike).
Take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The tram leaves the Valley Station and rises through the sheer San Jacinto mountains. Enjoy sweeping views along the 10-minute journey up to the Mountain Station. At the summit, visitors can enjoy a gift shop, dining options and multiple outdoor activities.
Cost: $$ Plus, parking fee.
Average Time: Total visit, 1.5 – 3 hours. Tram ride approximately 10 minutes each way.
Highlights: Gift shop, souvenir photos, scenic views, dining, access to 50 miles of hiking trails, history, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snow camping and more.
San Jacinto Peak is one of the most topographically prominent peaks in the United States. It clocks in at 10,834 feet and is visible from a variety of vantages across Coachella Valley and even the Salton Sea. It’s a great bucket list mountain to complete.
Cost: Permit for the hike is free, tickets for the aerial tramway, $30.95 per adult. (Prices subject to change).
Round Trip Mileage; ~11 miles
Elevation gain: ~2,644′
Average Time: 6 -7 Hours
Learn more about our experience summiting Mt. San Jacinto.
Day 4: Breakfast, exploring downtown Palm Springs and Ruth Hardy Park
After a breakfast of delicious french toast, we set out to explore many of the famous sculptures and statues that adorn the downtown streets of Palm Springs.
Palm Springs is known for its public art displays scattered around the city center. Take a stroll through the area and you’re likely to come across a larger-than-life Marilyn Monroe statue or Lucille Ball relaxing on a park bench.
Official Website: City of Palm Springs – Art Guide
Average Time: 1 – 2 hours
Highlights: Lucille Ball, Sonny Bono Statue, Isabelle, Marilyn Monroe, Palm Springs Babies, Angel Cove Monument and more.
While not free, if you’re looking for even more art, you can also check out the Palm Springs Art Museum.
We were nearing the end of our time in Palm Springs, but had enough time to enjoy a nearby park before heading back to the airport.
Frisbee at Ruth Hardy Park
Ruth Hardy Park has 22 acres to explore. We enjoyed the quiet park, lounging on picnic tables and throwing around a frisbee.
Location: 700 Tamarisk, Palm Springs, CA
Official Website: Ruth Hardy Park
Average Time: 1 – 2 hours
Highlights: Bike path, play structures, tennis courts, volleyball courts, basketball court, drinking fountains, grilling area and more.
Is visiting Palm Springs worth it?
Rating: 3.5 Mooses
What we liked:
- There are plenty of activities and day trips not far from Palm Springs.
- We enjoyed the large selection of dining options.
What we didn’t like:
- Traffic around the area can be tough. Everything is pretty spread out and you’ll need a car to get around. Plus, parking can be challenging.
- Temperatures can be a problem if you visit at the wrong time. It was pretty warm when we visited Joshua Tree and the sculptures in Anza-Borrego.
- There are less activities in the heart of Palm Springs than we expected.
Verdict: We enjoyed our time and wouldn’t mind going back for a second visit.
Things we wish we had time for
- Cabazon Dinosaurs – An iconic roadside attraction, the “world’s largest dinosaurs” are located around 20 minutes from Palm Springs. The sculptures have been featured in movies such as “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure” and “The Wizard”. Learn more here.
- Biking – Palm Springs is branded a “bikers paradise.” With sunny days and dedicated bike lanes throughout many neighborhoods, we had hoped to do a bike tour on our visit. Here is the route we were planning on taking.
- Palm Springs Air Museum – The air museum has one of the world’s largest collection of aircraft dating back to WWII. More information can be found here.
- Tahquitz Canyon – A 60-foot waterfall in the middle of desert? Yes, please! Visitors can experience one of the most beautiful areas on the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation and explore rock art, ancient irrigation systems and of course the waterfall.
- Other activities that peaked our interest but we never finished researching: hiking Murray Canyon Trail to Seven Falls, San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour, a scenic drive from the Palms to Pine scenic byway, and hiking the Painted Canyon & Ladder Canyon trail.