One Week in Palm Springs – Best Things to Do

Things to do in Palm Springs

Palm Springs always seems to have the “next big thing” in its back pocket. Nowadays, the world-famous Coachella music festival is top of mind, but there’s so much more. Palm Springs is the vacation home of Hollywood film stars, the golf playground of presidents and one of the original American spa destinations. Here’s a One Week in Palm Springs Itinerary that, no matter what the time of year, you’ll get a glimpse of why Palm Springs remains so glamorous and popular.

Day 1 in Palm Springs – Relax in a Spa

The first day of our itinerary is about acclimatization. Nonstop flights are few; by car, it usually takes at least three hours of steady driving from LA, and nearly five from Las Vegas or Phoenix.  (Fun fact: The song, “I Drove All Night,” is based on the miles between the Palm Springs desert area and LA). So on your first day chill.

Luckily, the local spa industry features every kind of pampering in basic to deluxe surroundings. And when downtown Palm Springs’ Agua Caliente Cultural Museum opens in summer 2020, the complex will feature a bathhouse and day spa for the enjoyment of the area’s famous mineral waters. Until then, the hotels of nearby Desert Hot Springs offer guests relaxing hot mineral soaks. (There are many, with Two Bunch Palms being the most famous and Miracle Hot Springs offering day passes.)

One week in Palm Springs
Two Bunch Palms Spa

Following a soak or a spa treatment, just relax by the pool at one of Palm Springs’ mostly unique properties. These may include the Saguaro, Ace, Riviera and Kimpton on the larger side; and Float, Caliente Tropic, Movie Colony, Avalon or Los Arboles on the petite side. (The latter two also offer fine dining under the stars.)

Day 2 – Hanging Out with the Stars in Palm Springs

During Palm Springs’ many film festivals, officiating Hollywood stars are in town but are often hard to find. This One Week in Palm Springs itinerary will boost your chances of seeing one. A star-struck day in Palm Springs begins with breakfast at Spencers at the Mountain, located literally at the base of the San Jacinto range. Spencers offers up an eclectic range of hearty entrees, from three eggs with corned beef hash to lobster Benedict. On Thursdays and Mondays, it won’t be too crowded and you may see Hollywood elite on a long weekend, lingering over coffee.

Next, take the Celebrity Grand Tour offered by Palm Springs Celebrity Tours, offered daily (except holidays) at 10:00 am and 1:30 pm. You could, of course, sight see on your own with the variety of maps available, but PSCT’s 36-passenger bus allows you to peer over high walls without trespassing; plus, the guides are knowledgeable – chances are, you wouldn’t be able to find the former site of Alan Ladd’s hardware store (he’d personally deliver lumber) on your own. And they share gossip.

For an atmospheric fine-dining experience, visit Copley’s, located in the former guesthouse of what was the Cary Grant Estate. Finish the night at the piano bar at Melvyn’s Ingleside Inn, a Palm Springs mainstay. Who knows whom you’ll meet?

Day 3 – Shopping and Museums in Downtown Palm Springs

In California, cars rule. But in the heart of Palm Springs, it’s possible to ditch the car and still have access to posh hotels, dozens of restaurants, two museums with world-famous collections and tons of power-shopping. That’s because Bellardo Road, where chic bijoux properties nestle behind valet parking kiosks, is just a short walk away from Palm Springs’ “Time Square” – Tahquitz and Palm Canyon.

Bellardo itself ends right at the entrance of the new Kimpton Rowan, the tallest property in Palm Springs, featuring a rooftop bar with a stunning view of the city. The Rowan is also at the edge of the new Palm Springs downtown retail complex (Kiehl’s, Johnny Was, etc.). Turn east on Tahquitz to enjoy the massive Starbucks Reserve, which offers rare coffees; or turn west to visit the Palm Springs Museum and its adjacent Annenberg Theater. The Museum’s eclectic exhibits – from live rattlesnakes to mid-century modern artifacts – reflect the SoCal lifestyle, while the Annenberg offers everything from free movies to lectures and performances.

Back on Palm Springs Canyon is an astonishing choice of restaurants, but you’ll want to go to Pinnochio’s for breakfast, because it’s delicious AND a Palm Springs’ by-word. Just off Palm Canyon on Tahquitz; look for the statue of Marilyn Monroe wearing a rainbow flag. Bonus: Every Thursday night, Village Fest closes Palm Canyon between Tahquitz and Baristo; it features street performers and booths of art, products and food. All an easy walk from Bellardo.

VillageFest part of one week in Palm Springs
Palm Springs VillageFest

DAY 4 – See the Western Heritage of Palm Springs

There are a lot of Western pioneer references in Palm Springs, part of America’s “Cowboys and Indians” mythology. It might surprise visitors to learn that much of Palm Springs is built on reservation land that is still owned and managed by the Cahuilla tribe. It might further surprise them that the “cowboys” most often associated with Palm Springs are Gene Autry and Roy Rogers!

To learn about indian culture and history in the region, visit the new Agua Caliente Cultural Museum.  The museum offers five different exhibit areas dedicated to telling the story of the Agua Caliente people, from the native flora and fauna of the Indian Canyons to ancient artifacts. Browse for Native-made art, books, jewelry and clothing in the gift shop.  You can also wander through an Education Garden blooming with brittlebush, creosote and other indigenous plants. Finally, don’t miss the 360-degree animation of the tribe’s creation and migration stories.

Travelers interested in early Native American culture can also take Desert Adventures’ Red Jeep Tour of a model Native-American village on undeveloped private property, and get a glimpse into what life was like in the Coachella Valley 4,000 years ago. Early settlement insights can also be gleaned at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs, or even the collection of early cabins set in the middle of downtown Palm Springs.

Red Jeep Tours in Palm Springs
Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours

For cowboy aficionados, a visit to Joshua Tree’s Pioneertown, where Roy Rogers and Gene Autry used to film, is a must – as is some crazy-fun time at Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace (live music and ambiance). Visitors who enjoy country music should time their visit to coincide with Stagecoach (April 24 – April 26‎, 2020), although the casinos (Native-American owned) book top country performers year-round.

DAY 5 – Choose from a Myriad of Golf Courses in Palm Springs

You can’t spend time in Palm Springs without getting in a little golf so we’ve added some golf info to our One Week in Palm Springs itinerary! Golf visitors may not get to play at the same golf course as Eisenhower, Reagan, Ford, Bush 41 and 43, Clinton or Obama, but with 124 courses to choose from, that is not a hardship. Many of the best courses, with PGA West being the top, can be pricey, but there are many value courses including Tahquitz Creek Country Club, which is just outside of Palm Springs proper.

Golf courses in Palm Springs
PGA West Golf Course

Popular, too, is the golf lifestyle; for example, the cities of La Quinta and Palm Desert are zoned for using golf carts for transportation. Visitors who are in the desert in late October may also check out Palm Desert’s Golf Cart Parade. Now in its 55th year, 2019’s Grand Marshal was baseball great Steve Garvey.

DAY 6 – Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs is considered a literal paradise – but you can’t please everyone. Especially during the summer months, when the temperature is in the 100s. That’s when seeking higher ground may offer a better perspective on the desert lifestyle. Start with taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the Mt. San Jacinto Station. It’s the fastest way to shed unwanted Fahrenheit – within 15 minutes, it can be 10 degrees cooler! Or you can plan to drive and spend the day at Idyllwild, an artistic mountain community with plenty of hiking and fresh air.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

But if you only have a morning or afternoon, you might want to have sundowners at Kimpton Rowan’s rooftop bar; or drive out to the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage for a meal at State Fare Bar & Kitchen, where the view is fantastic.

DAY 7 – Joshua Tree National Park and Shopping!

Drive to Joshua Tree National Park for some amazing desert flora. Enter the park through the South Entrance on Hwy 10. Your first stop is at the Cottonwood Visitors Center. Stop here to top off your water reserves — it’s the last chance for water until you leave in the evening. Just beyond the campground is a small fan palm oasis called Cottonwood Springs. This is the trailhead for a number of day hikes which are a little too long for a one-day visit, but you can still enjoy the palm oasis.  Next stop is the Cholla Cactus Garden. Cholla are nicknamed “Jumping Cholla” for their ability to detach from the plant onto your clothing/shoes/skin. Make sure you’re very attentive as you walk through this dense cactus garden so that you don’t accidently bump into any of them.

If you have time move on to Keys View for a sweeping panorama that takes in two of Southern California’s biggest summits: Mount San Jacinto (elevation 10,834 feet/3,302 meters) and Mount Gorgonio (elevation 11,502 feet/3,506 meters).

When you are back in Palm Springs, you can head out for some shopping.  Visit local shops – like the SHAG Store, resident designer Trina Turk’s headquarters store and the Uptown Palm Springs’ quirky design stores – for unusual items. Further afield, Palm Desert’s Shops of El Paseo and Cabazon’s Desert Hills Premium Outlets are also meccas for shopaholics.

Where Palm Springs and the Desert Cities shine, however, is in their thrift, consignment and resale shops. Estate sales of the very wealthy (including movie stars) make it more than likely you will find something valuable and unique for less than what you’d pay elsewhere. (Recently, Hollywood costumer designer Daniel Orlandi shopped Palm Springs to clothe Matt Damon and Christian Bale for “Ford v Ferrari”.) Resale shops with multiple locations include Angel, Revivals and Consign Design. Good hunting!

If you have more time and want to experience the beauty of the surrounding desert see our One Week in the California Desert – Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks itinerary.

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