I've been visiting Palm Springs for 2 decades and these are 11 things I always do in the desert that have nothing to do with the pool
- With about 350 days of sunshine per year,
Palm Springshas much to do in the desert.
- Insider's list of must-do activities will help you map out your itinerary for the perfect getaway.
If you only come to Palm Springs to lounge in the pool with a mai tai … well, you're doing it right.
But the city and its environs offer much beyond that thanks to 350 days of sunshine per year that provides an incredible backdrop for golf, tennis, and all sorts of sports.
The city's famous association with midcentury modern style makes it a worthy destination for design buffs looking to tour architectural marvels, and street fairs provide the chance to score vintage art and souvenirs.
I come here every year for all of that and more. In between pool dips, I plan my trips around hikes amid otherworldly landscapes, shop at designer boutiques, and take my family to the zoo.
Whether you're into retro design, outdoor pursuits, or family-friendly activities, you'll find so much to do in the desert. Here are my favorites.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway tops my list of must-do activities in Palm Springs. Billed as the world's largest rotating tram car, it's guaranteed to make your palms sweat over its two-and-a-half-mile ascent along Chino Canyon to the wilderness of Mount San Jacinto State Park.
Mind your wardrobe even if it's hot on the valley floor. At an elevation of 8,516 feet, it can be a lot colder than down below, by as much as 40 degrees. In fact, would you believe I once experienced a truly magical Christmas Eve snowfall here at the summit?
At the top of the mountain, you'll find restaurants, observation decks, a natural history museum, a gift shop, and more than 50 miles of hiking trails.
Palm Springs Art Museum
In addition to all that sun, soak up some culture at the Palm Springs Art Museum. The largest cultural institution in the Coachella Valley (and the only major art museum between L.A. and Phoenix) features a huge permanent collection spread across 150,000 square feet.
The collection features 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century works with an emphasis on contemporary California art from the likes of Marina Abramović, Louise Bourgeois, John Chamberlain, Antony Gormley, Duane Hanson, Mona Hatoum, Anish Kapoor, Anselm Keifer, Sarah Sze, and Stanley Whitney.
The 433-seat Annenberg Theater within the museum hosts concerts and events like Broadway shows, cabaret, jazz, classical, opera, dance, and entertainment-industry speakers.
Palm Springs VillageFest
If you're in town on a Thursday night, head straight to downtown Palm Springs for VillageFest on Palm Canyon Drive for this great market. The street closes to vehicles and comes alive with pedestrians for a traffic-free art walk with vendor booths offering a mix of art, food, and other shoppable temptations set up on both sides of the street, from Indian Canyon Drive to the east and Belardo Road to the west.
Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, a nonprofit zoo and desert botanical gardens in neighboring Palm Desert is a favorite among families with kids who need an outing for all ages. The park focuses on desert climates, so it's not like the average zoo and is home to more than 500 animals representing more than 150 species.
The zoo includes a newly opened four-acre Rhino Savanna with 12 African species, as well as a giraffe-viewing platform where you may feed the giraffes for an added fee. There are also hiking and nature trails, a petting zoo, a discovery center, an Australian-themed area, and so much more to explore.
The former Annenberg Estate located in Rancho Mirage is a 200-acre site that is currently run by the nonprofit Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnyland. Visit the Sunnylands Center, an airy glass building with rotating art exhibitions, café, gift shop, and multimedia offerings, and explore its gardens; admission is free.
For a fee, the historic estate is open for tours (outdoors only for now), and the campus also hosts an array of peaceful outdoor classes and
Palm Springs Vintage Market
Bring a taste of Palm Springs' vintage design home with a visit to this monthly seasonal market held at the Camelot Theater. On the first Sunday of each month, from October through May, the Palm Springs Vintage Market is a mecca for vintage-loving locals and visitors. Pay $5 to enter and find your fill of housewares including glassware, lamps, furnishings and other "Mad Men"-era finds to trick out your place back home (or the Palm Springs vacation rental your trip inspires you to buy).
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a visual stunner and a must-visit about 40 miles from Palm Springs that's known for its rugged rock formations, dramatic desert landscapes, and famous twisted trees for which the park is named. Park, hike, and then pop over to neighboring Pioneertown for a stop at Pappy & Harriet's for cold beers and live music.
You can even enjoy the park as a quick pit stop as I recently did. We paid the park entrance fee, parked by the side of the road, and spent a pleasant hour or two bouldering around the 1.7-mile Skull Rock Nature trail loop.
Indian Wells Tennis Garden
The desert region around Palm Springs is one of the top destinations in the world for tennis. Located just 15 miles southeast of Palm Springs, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden is the second-largest tennis stadium in the world, with more than 16,000 seats. Serious fans will want to come for the annual Indian Wells Masters tournament in March (and expect peak hotel prices). The facility also has a year-round tennis club that's open to the public — a bucket-list opportunity for a fan of the sport.
When the weather is mild, there are few greater pleasures than hiking trails in Palm Springs and its surroundings. You'll find dozens of trails here, from succulent-studded wide-open spaces to shaded oases flowing with trickling streams. Indian Canyons is a favorite for its more than 60 miles of hiking and walking trails. The otherworldly desert landscape starts out vast and stark, before revealing a lush oasis of towering palms and trickling streams.
Additional great hiking is found at Tahquitz Canyon, a moderately easy 1.8-mile loop trail framed by towering rock formations that leads to a 60-foot seasonal waterfall. I visited recently to get in a little cardio before heading back to the Ace Hotel for drinks — a perfectly balanced day in the desert. The center's observation deck has great views, too. Just remember to pack lots of water on any hike.
View Insider's comprehensive guide to visiting Palm Springs.
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