The desert paradise of Palm Springs is the perfect weekend getaway but also a great place to explore California’s vibrant culture in one of its many surrounding cities. Here are the best day trips from Palm Springs, ranked.
The idyllic town of Palm Springs, known for its bright doors, palm trees and luxury resorts is a popular weekend getaway for many. But the city’s central location also makes it the perfect place to take a day trip during your stay there.
From the endless mountains in the north to the sunny beaches in the South, there is a world of places to explore around Palm Springs.
Table of Contents
The Best Day Trips From Palm Springs
Let’s get into the best day trips from Palm Springs (ranked in order of priority).
14. Salton Sea
Salton Sea may not be as glamourous as neighbors like Palm Springs but the coastal town has a charm and allure of its own. It was once the center for entertainment and now remains a ghost town. Salton Sea is the perfect day trip from Palm Springs if you are looking for some Zen.
Your first stop at Salton Sea should be in Niland which is a play on the word Nile and land as the place holds the unofficial title of the ‘tomato capital of the world’ for its fertile soil.
Take the road down to Bombay Beach to explore graffiti, illustrations and unique works of art.
The Sole Tree and Salvation Mountain are some of the town’s most popular pieces.
If you’re ever wondered what a ghost town looks like, take a day trip to Salton Sea from Palm Springs to find out.
While Palm Springs is a popular wellness destination, people that visit the desert-town try to squeeze in a trip or two to the surrounding destinations.
If you’re headed there for a week of sun and relaxation, here are a few day trips to take during your time there.
13. Salvation Mountain
If you are looking for a unique getaway on a trip to Palm Springs, Salvation Mountain, a hillside attraction in Northern California is just where you need to go. This eclectic work of art is just an hour and a half drive outside Palm Springs.
The attraction is made out of straw and features paintings of bible imagery. The site was declared an important folk art site by the Folk Art City of America.
The site remains in pristine condition thanks to a non-profit organization by the same name that maintains the attraction. You can even take a guided tour of Salvation Mountain.
See Related: Best Restaurants in Palms Springs
12. Indian Canyons
If you want to explore more of California’s natural beauty, head to the historic Indian Canyons. This site is located in Palm Springs on the Cahuilla Tribal Lands and was featured in various movies.
Visitors who want to get a workout in can hike trail that leads to a stunning 60-foot waterfall or the Palm Canyon trail for a peek into some of the canyon’s exotic flora and fauna.
The various canyons you can check out within the Indian Canyons. While the Murray Canyon is home to endangered species of animals, the Andreas Canyon has over 150 types of plants.
You can even spend the day at the Palm Springs Spa Hotel and explore the mineral springs on the property.
See Related: Northern vs Southern California
11. Old Town La Quinta
One of Coachella Valley’s pretties locales is the Old Town La Quinta. This desert paradise is located in the Santa Rosa Mountains and is perfect if you are looking for some major retail therapy. The town features over 30 retail outlets and salons and is known for its idyllic small-town vibe.
The downtown area of La Quinta has a number of eateries, handcrafted jewelry stores and candlemakers. You can also go wine tasting with your pals after a day of shopping or dog-watching at the town’s central lawn.
La Quinta is a 40-minute drive from Palm Springs. It’s one of the short trips out of list of best day trips from Palm Springs.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Southern California
10. Amboy Crater
Located in the Mojave desert, the Amboy Crater is an extinct volcano crater that is one of California’s natural national landmarks. The crater spans over a 70km lava field that is 944 m above sea level. This location got its claim to fame when Route 66 opened up and became a major stop-over sight for passersby.
Once you get to the Amboy crater, you can explore the region on a hike through the Western Cone Trail that takes you to the volcano’s peak. The trail earned its name for the crater’s symmetrical shape.
See Related: An Epic Minnesota to California Road Trip Itinerary
9. Lake Arrowhead Village
Lake Arrowhead is a picturesque town located in the San Bernardino National Forest. This pine-tree encrusted forest is just an hour’s drive from Palm Springs.
While Lake Arrowhead is a major tourist destination, many of California’s rich and famous have vacation homes here. The stunning estates were designed by famous architects like Roland Coate and John Byers.
Nearly 4 million tourists flock to this evergreen forest each year to enjoy the weather and the views. Attractions at Lake Arrowhead include the Lollipop Park and the Lake Arrowhead Country Club for a day of golfing.
You can take a walk around the town’s quaint streets and even check out a performance at the Arrowheads Art Association.
California is often defined by its Old West culture in movies and if you want to experience its symbolism for yourself, head to Pioneertown. Located just 40 minutes from Palm Springs, this town is an Old West movie set brought to life. In order to provide an authentic experience, you will have no cellphone signal during your time here.
Experience the Old West at its finest with a walk through Pioneertown where you can walk through traditional homes and movies that are often used as props in many Hollywood movies. You can even spend the night at one of the ranches if you decide to extend your day trip.
After a hearty meal at Pappy and Harriet’s, a local barbecue joint that that attracts numerous tourists and bikers, hike up the Pioneertown Mountains Preserve to walk off the calories.
The scorched path that was once a victim of a wildfire features an array of flora and fauna.
If you are looking for a much-needed break, Pioneertown offers the digital detox you need.
Here are the top things to do in Pioneertown.
7. Huntington Gardens and Library
The Huntington Gardens and Library is a magnificent 120-acre estate in San Marino, California. A 1.5-hour drive from Palm Springs will bring you to this stunning place. The Huntington Library houses a number of manuscripts and art and has over 16 gardens on the property.
While the library features some great pieces of art, it’s the gardens that are the estate’s main attraction.
The various gardens include the Japanese Garden complete with a Koi stream, a Jungle Garden and the Desert Garden. Given the expanse of the Huntington Garden and Library, it is recommended that you start with a tour.
The tickets for The Huntington are $25 for adults on weekdays and $29 on weekends.
Free admission to the museum is also available on the first Thursday of every month. For all the nature enthusiasts out there, a trip to the Huntington Library and Garden is definitely worth your time.
See Related: 9 Best California Road Trips
6. Route 66
The iconic Route 66 road that crosses over 8 states is just a short day trip from Palm Springs. The road has been the inspiration behind countless movies, books and songs, making it a must-see spot during your trip to Palm Springs.
Although Route 66 goes through multiple states, you can take this road to Los Angeles which is the starting point.
The road will take you through some desert towns and you can even make multiple stops along the way to check out sites like The Grand Canyon.
As you drive on Route 66, you will pass through various regions, some thriving, others abandoned but nevertheless embody California’s vibrant culture.
One of the more famous stop-off points is Roy’s Motel and Café that includes vintage cars and art pieces depicting California’s vintage aesthetic.
5. Big Bear Lake
Big Bear is one of the most picturesque places in California and just a short day trip from Palm Springs. This lake is located in the San Bernardino Mountains at a 7,000 ft. elevation and is the perfect destination to visit all year round. You get to breathe in the fresh mountain air as you spend the day skiing or camping depending on the season.
If you visit Big Bear Lake in the wintertime, make sure to hit the slopes at one of the two major ski properties- Snow Summit or Big Bear. If you don’t ski or snowboard, the slopes have some great tubing options.
However, if you find yourself in the mountain resort in spring or fall, you can camp out on the grounds and check out the hiking trails in the surrounding region. The Alpine Pedal Path or the Cougar Crest trail are great options.
End your day of skiing or hiking at one of the many restaurants at Big Bear. The Santana Maverick and the Grizzly Manor Café are great options to grab a bite with friends.
See Related: Ultimate 5-Day Yellowstone Itinerary
4. Joshua Tree National Park
The serene desert that surrounds Joshua Tree National Park is just an hour’s drive from Palm Springs and a place worth visiting. The national park is the shining jewel of the Mojave Desert and earned its name from the Yucca brevifolia trees that are scattered around the park.
In addition to the picture-worthy Joshua Trees, the National Park is known for its various trails and hikes that take you to different regions of the park. Enjoy the beauty of Joshua Tree on the Hidden Nature Valley Trail, a short 1-mile loop that takes you through the exotic fauna and flora dotted around the park.
From there you can drive up to the Arch Rock or Skull Rock Trail to explore more areas of the park. End your day at Joshua Tree National Park with a sunset view at Key Views. Given the setup of the trails and hiking paths, you can easily accomplish a full experience of Joshua Tree in a day.
You can head back to Palm Springs on the same day or spend the night glamping at one of the park’s many lodges like the Joshua Tree Yurts or The Desert Yacht Club.
Check out these other epic national parks to visit in November.
See Related: Things Do in Northern California
3. San Diego
San Diego is a beach town in California known for its laid-back surfer vibe but the city has so much more to offer. A 2-hour drive from Palm Springs will bring you to this stunning coastal town that encapsulates different neighborhoods, each with their own unique vibe.
Start your day in San Diego with a tour of the city. The major attractions are Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quarter. Balboa Park is a huge property that contains various museums and cafes. It’s the perfect place to spend a day with family and friends. Later in the day, you can head to Gaslamp Quarter which is where the city’s nightlife is centered.
To explore San Diego’s natural beauty, head to La Jolla Cove to watch the seals and sea lions in their natural habitat as the waves crash against the rocky shores. This is also one of the best places in San Diego to watch the sunset.
You can do a Harbor Cruise to see the city from the bay.
Restaurants like Trust and Ironside Fish and Oyster and popular local eateries if you are looking to grab a bite.
See Related: San Diego vs Los Angeles
2. Santa Monica
Another beach down that’s perfect for a day trip from Palm Springs is Santa Monica. It’s a great way to pair one trip into two best day trips from Palm Springs (with a larger city I’m sure you are familiar with).
A 2 hours’ drive from Palm Springs will bring you to this California-cool boardwalk that has a lot to explore.
The Santa Monica Pier is the highlight of the city so this should be your first stop. You can watch seagulls by the pier or watch street artists at work.
The edge of the Pier leads to a small amusement park where you can ride the Ferris Wheel and enjoy some panoramic views of the Santa Monica.
From there you can even rent out some bikes and ride them down the boardwalk all the way to the neighboring Venice Beach.
Venice has just as much to offer as Santa Monica from small shops that line the boardwalk to quaint colorful streets. Venice is an Instagram hot-spot so make sure you have your cameras out.
End your day at one of the many seaside cafes on Santa Monica or Venice Beach and watch the sunset over the waves.
See Related: 14 Best Day Trips from Las Vegas
1. Los Angeles
Los Angles aka The City of Angels is one of America’s most vibrant cities. It one of the best day trips simply due to the amount of action and things to do during your day trip. That’s if you can make it there with Los Angeles traffic.
LA is known for its incredibly diverse culture and has so much to do and see. From beautiful hiking trails to extravagant gastronomy and sunny beaches, the city has it all. A day trip from Palm Springs to LA should take you an hour and 45 minutes.
Given that LA has so much to see, it can be hard to squeeze everything into a single day, so make sure to plan your trip before you get there. The top places to see in LA include the iconic Hollywood sign that involves hiking the Griffith Observatory trail which gives you a view of the sign and Downtown LA.
You can also head to the Hollywood Walk of Fame to check out the ‘stars’ and buy some souvenirs. Stay on the lookout for celebrities attending a movie premiere here. If you’re looking to grab a drink or dinner with friends there are a number of eateries in Downtown LA and West Hollywood which are also great places for bar hopping.
Curb your retail cravings, at the famous Rodeo Drive or smaller (but still great) places like Melrose Avenue or The Grove. History buffs will enjoy museums like the LACMA or The Broad. You can even buy a Hop-on, Hop-off bus ticket on GetYourGuide to see the major sights.
Palm Springs is one of California’s most paradisal destinations with its luxury resorts, spas and golf courses.
While the town promises nothing but a good time, it’s also a great place to explore California’s laid-back culture at one of its many surrounding cities and towns.
Whether it’s watching the LA skyline or exploring the ghost town of Salto Sea, there’s something there for everyone!
Are you ready to choose your favorite day trips from Palm Springs?
- Travel Hacking 101
- Motel vs. Hotel vs. Inn: What’s the Difference of Each?
- Best Sites for Booking Tours