17 Fun & Best Things to Do in Palm Desert, California

Things To Do In Palm Desert, California

Whether you’re in Palm Desert to hit the green, indulge in some retail therapy, or hike the many scenic trails, the things to do in Palm Desert offer a long list of leisure activities that promise an experience for every type of visitor.

This sun-drenched city is in the heart of Greater Palm Springs and woos trendy visitors with its stylish boutiques, chic art galleries, premier golf courses, top-notch restaurants, and entertainment venues.

Just a few hours away from Los Angeles and a little east of glamtastic Palm Springs, you can expect an eclectic crowd. Find hikers looking for popular hiking trails and hipsters looking for West Coast art. Meet retirees enjoying their natural desert surroundings and snowbirds relaxing amongst the desert wildlife. You can also find a happy LGBTQIA+ community.

While some are here for the sun-kissed sights and stellar shopping in the heart of Palm Canyon Dr., others book tickets for the city’s festivals—including the Greek Festival, the Desert ARC Italian Festival, CanadaFest, and many more that take place throughout the year. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Palm Springs during your visit, Palm Desert should definitely be on your list.

If it already is, we’ve compiled the best things to do in the Palm Springs area you should include in your itinerary. This list includes activities for families, couples, and solo travelers, offering a diverse mix of popular tourist activities and hidden gems across the Mojave Desert.

Things to Do in Palm Desert, California

Sure, it’s possible to head out to Palm Springs or the Palm Desert on a day trip from Los Angeles, but you’ll want to plan to stay a day or two and take it all in. Once you arrive, here are our picks for fun things to do in Palm Desert during your trip.

1. Hike the Bump and Grind Trail

Bump and Grind Trail
Martin / TripAdvisor

The Bump and Grind Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Palm Springs region. It is a short but tough circle climb that packs a lot of excitement. 

The impact of the Bump and Grind Trail represents the power of the nature trails in the region. The track puts you in the amazing beauty of the desert foothills as you experience a tough but doable climb.

You’ll also get to visit a refuge for the endangered bighorn sheep and enjoy the vistas of Southern California‘s two high peaks, Mt. San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountain, as you reach an elevation increase of almost 1,000 feet.

Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and wear appropriate footwear! This is a desert trek, and several hikers must be rescued regularly. If you’re looking for an easier way to see the mountains, consider taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. No hiking, just views!

2. Spy on animals at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Giraffes at Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is a Palm Desert zoo and botanical park. What was once known as the Living Desert Museum has turned into an introduction to the world’s desert environments. Explore the wild populations of wildlife and engage with the instructive displays.

The park has desert creatures from all over the world, focusing on North America and Africa. Mexican wolves, eagles, giraffes, zebras, camels, and other animals are among the highlights.

Along with wildlife like mountain lions, meerkats, and bighorn sheep, gardens highlight over 1,400 plant species. Find several types of agave, cacti, and prickly pear. 

We advise getting to the Living Desert Zoo early in the morning when the temperatures are lower. This is when the animals are most active, and you will have the most comfortable experience. The park has minimal shade, and temperatures frequently exceed 100 degrees. Carry plenty of water and sunscreen.

See Related: Family-Friendly Hotels in Palm Springs

3. Learn about the region’s founding fathers at Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Address: 67616 Desert View Ave, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240, United States

Wander around Desert Hot Springs, and you might be shocked to see a Hopi village in Cahuilla territory. As you get closer to this ancient, hand-built structure, you’ll realize that Cabot’s Pueblo Museum has some of the most intriguing stories near Palm Desert.

The house depicts the numerous exploits of homesteader Cabot Yerxa, one of Desert Hot Springs’ early founding fathers. The entire 35-room construction is composed of salvaged and repurposed materials. It has images, relics, and historical artifacts that take guests on a whirlwind ride through Yerxa’s fascinating life.

This property’s façade is a stunning example of Pueblo revival design constructed using natural objects collected in the desert. The Water gallery and the museum are open for guests to visit without paying a penny, but the best opportunity to view the pueblo and learn about its many tales is on a one-hour guided tour.

Hours are seasonal, but tours are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, from June to September. Those days can change between October and May. 

See Related: Things to Do in Santa Rosa

4. Make a big splash in the Palm Desert Aquatic Center

Palm Desert Aquatic Center Aerial View

Address: 73751 Magnesia Falls Dr, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

When it opened in 2011, the Palm Desert Aquatic Center was the talk of the town. With three pools and two water slides, this sprawling water wonderland is open year-round for family-friendly water fun. A visit here is one of the best activities in Palm Springs when looking to escape the heat.

The wider complex gives you three swimming pools, numerous diving boards, several water slides, and a variety of activities designed for guests of all ages.

The property is eight acres and can be fully rented for unique occasions. If you’re looking to exercise, you can choose from a variety of workout classes both in and out of the water. These are great for individuals who want to keep active while on vacation.

You must always wear proper swimwear attire, and pool rules are strictly enforced to protect everyone. An adult must accompany children under the age of seven. If your child doesn’t know how to swim, you must always supervise them.

See Related: Warm Places to Visit in the US During Winter

5. Go hot air ballooning with Balloons Above

Hot Air Balloon Above the California Hills

Flying in a hot air balloon above the Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Palm Springs. The adventure captures the sense of excitement found in desert exploration. Balloons Above provides hot air balloon tours in Coachella Valley and Southern California.

You can experience one of the most memorable hot air balloons you’ll ever ride as you greet the sunrise or bid farewell to the sunset. Glide across the magnificent desert sky as an early bird with a thermos full of coffee on a morning balloon ride or a romantic evening with a sunset balloon tour.

Get ready for breathtaking vistas of the Coachella Valley. From up above, you will have a spectacular panorama of some of California’s most gorgeous landscapes.

The breeze decides Your flight direction, giving you sweeping views of the Palm Springs golf grounds, polo fields, orchards, and more.

See Related: Things to Do in Blythe, California 

6. Hit the green at Desert Willow Golf Resort

Address: 38-995 Desert Willow Dr, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

Golf courses are a mainstay in recreation facilities and public parks, but it took the City of Palm Desert to elevate public golf to a new significance level. Desert Willow Golf Resort started with a layout that embraced the desert setting while respecting the natural resources required to keep the course in tip-top shape.

Local landscape architect Eric Johnson assisted in developing a plant palette that would make the golf course environmentally sensitive, one-of-a-kind, and beautiful, all while incorporating an amazing design.

Desert Willow Golf Resort is one of the most popular Palm Desert activities. It has established itself as one of the favorite golf destinations to play in the Palm Springs region.

The 7,056-yard Firecliff golf course is a genuine test of skill, with golfers navigating huge natural areas, multiple water features, and more than 100 waste and bunker areas.

See Related: Golf Bachelor Party Destinations Ideas

7. Commune with nature at the Thousand Palms Oasis

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve tranquil waterscape with reflective palm trees
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Rd, Thousand Palms, CA 92276, United States

The Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve attracts tourists year after year with its verdant palm trees, unique fauna, and sprawling hiking trails.

Thanks to its variety of palms, watering holes, and trees, the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is a wonderful area for wildlife viewing, home to over 183 species of birds and other animals, including the endangered Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.

The lizard depends on the Preserve’s dune system to survive. Instead of a single oasis, pam trees have gathered where water has collected on the surface, forming marshy areas and tiny ponds.

If you’re active, you can find many hiking trails, including a two-mile loop offering an easy trek from the Visitor’s Center to a local pond and palm oasis. It’s an excellent place to photograph birds and observe nature.

See Related: Things to Do in San Jose

8. Gawk over art at The Palm Springs Art Museum

Interior Atrium of the Palm Springs Art Museum
Scalia Media – stock.adobe.com

Address: 101 N Museum Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262, United States

The Palm Springs Art Museum opened its doors in 1938. It originally featured a series of natural science exhibitions and Cahuilla Indian relics. It is now one of the major cultural institutions in the Palm Springs area.

The Palm Springs Art Museum comprises two sculpture gardens, 28 galleries, a restaurant, a gift shop, an 85-seat lecture hall, and the Annenberg Theater. The theater seats 433 people and features a variety of events and performances throughout the year.

It hosts art workshops, films, lectures, and special events and has a diversified music schedule, including jazz, Broadway, dance, and classical opera performances. 

The art displayed within the Palm Springs Art Museum is a great reason to visit, but you shouldn’t ignore the building itself. The architecture is a testament to a legacy designed in 1974.

See Related: Amazing Southwestern Vacation Destinations

9. Get some retail therapy at the El Paseo Shopping District

El Paseo Shopping District Building
Jeff Whyte – stock.adobe.com

Address: Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

Itching for some retail therapy? While it may not be the cheapest shopping destination, El Paseo Shopping District is definitely one of the most popular places in the area. Enjoy over 250 stores selling fashion, jewelry, spa treatments, and dining experiences. You also have chic hotels and stylish art galleries.

Sometimes likened to Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive, the El Paseo Shopping District matches the fun retail experiences in Los Angeles with an astounding selection of posh businesses, luxurious cosmetics, and top-notch designers on a stretch of road.

El Paseo’s culinary district is recognized for having over 20 restaurants, each with a distinct experience. In winter, you may even be able to spot the snow-peaked mountains beyond the main boulevard.

Though the area doesn’t feature gardens, El Paseo Drive is often dubbed the Gardens of El Paseo because of its outdoor location. The Shops on El Paseo is an indoor mall that houses the best high-end shopping in the neighborhood.

You can visit world-renowned fashion houses, including Ralph Lauren, Gucci, and Burberry, along with brand names like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co. If you plan to do a lot of shopping, stay nearby at the elegant Hotel Paseo Autograph Collection.

See Related: Things to Do in Oceanside

10. Get spectacular views at the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

Pines Scenic Byway Scenery

Address: CA-74, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway is one of California’s most scenic driving roads. It’s one of the easiest day trips from Palm Desert, with plenty of time to stop and admire the view or stretch your legs on short nature trails, making the experience one of the most fun things to do in Palm Desert.

Your journey will begin on Highway 74 in Palm Desert at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Visitor Center before you start ascending the San Jacinto Mountains through several switchbacks.

You’ll notice the environment change considerably within less than 40 miles along the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway as you reach San Bernardino National Forest. The scenery varies from palm-lined desert landscapes to rugged hilly regions and towering trees offering beautiful vistas with plenty of opportunities to take them in.

See Related: Day Trips from San Francisco

11. Explore the San Andreas Fault

If you’re wondering what to do in Palm Springs, visiting the San Andreas Fault may intrigue you. The fault is a massive fissure primarily responsible for continental rifts that cause earthquakes in California. It acts as the meeting point of the North American Plate and the Pacific Plate.

This famous fault line stretches 800 miles across California and is at least 10 miles deep. See the palm trees, tropical plants, fissures, and the fault itself. You can stand above the visible line in the Coachella Valley Preserve, which is a pretty intense view.

The best way to experience the San Andres Fault is to take an open-air jeep tour. On your trip, you’ll be paired with an expert naturalist guide and get a comprehensive tour of the desert ecosystem.

See Related: Things to Do in California

12. Purchase a masterpiece at the CODA Art Gallery

CODA Art Gallery
differentname / TripAdvisor

Address: 73400 El Paseo Suite B-1, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

CODA Gallery is a great place to get your creative juices flowing if you’re seeking fun things to do in Palm Desert. This fine art gallery should definitely be on your list.

This popular tourist spot focuses on contemporary paintings, sculpture, glasswork, and photography by established, mid-career, and budding artists. The gallery has made a name in Palm Desert for its colorful, upbeat artworks.

CODA’s work reflects the characteristics of the gallery’s beloved owners, David and Connie Katz, two passionate collectors and philanthropists who debuted on El Paseo in 1987. When you visit the gallery, you will have a friendly greeting, where advisors are eager to share their knowledge with collectors of all levels.

The gallery is also one of the 25 top galleries and museums in the United States, according to the American Arts Award. Explore the exhibitions and see works stimulating the intellect and the eyes! 

See Related: Gift Ideas For Couples Who Love To Travel

13. Go on an exhilarating Jeep tour

Desert landscape with road in Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, California
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 74794 Lennon Pl. Ste B, Palm Desert, CA

Looking for activities to add to your list of things to do in Palm Desert? This exciting jeep and hike tour takes you on an unforgettable journey in the Palm Desert area, exploring with tours of Palm Springs Indian Canyons, Mecca Hills Wilderness Area, and Painted Canyon.

Wind through the maze of geological gorges and canyons of the San Andreas Fault Zone. Join a naturalist guide who enlightens you about the California desert’s flora, wildlife, geology, history, and seismology. Travel to the Coachella Valley Vista Point, reach the edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains or enjoy the view over the desert springs.

Tour Indian Canyons by foot and jeep for a closer look at the plants in the lush oases, or enjoy the magnificent steep walls shaped by the force of the fault line.

See Related: Things to do in San Diego

14. Nab one-of-a-kind goods at The Street Fair at College of the Desert

Address: 43500 Monterey Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

Make sure to add a visit to the Street Fair at College of the Desert to your Palm Desert to-do list! This outdoor fair has been regarded as one of the best things to do in Palm Springs for over 36 years. Locals and visitors get their retail therapy in an open-air but shaded market.

The Street Fair is hosted by the College of the Desert, near the intersection of Monterey Avenue and Magnesia Falls, providing offerings from home goods to furniture and fashion to vintage automobiles, as well as a farmer’s market and gourmet cuisine.

Every purchase contributes to helping college students achieve their goals, with all proceeds from merchant space leases going toward annual support for College of the Desert students. The Street Fair is open every Saturday and Sunday of the year from October to May, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. From June to September, the hours are 7 a.m. until 12 p.m.

There’s a nice Springhill Suites by Marriott hotel near the College of the Desert, and it makes for a great base camp if you know you’ll be hitting up the Street Fair when you visit.

See Related: Proven Ways to Save Money for Travel

15. Learn about the Holocaust at the Desert Holocaust Memorial

Desert Holocaust Memorial Statues
Management / TripAdvisor

Address: entrance on Fred Waring?, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

The Desert Holocaust Memorial is a striking and tragic reminder of civilization’s inhumanity, recalling all those who died in the Holocaust, as well as the thousands of heroic people who risked everything to conceal and protect Jewish families and friends.

Rife with symbolism, the memorial is surrounded by a circle of trees that represents normal life outside the confines of the concentration camps. Inside, there is a chronology of the Holocaust events as well as seven bronze statues representing various parts of the Holocaust.

The monument of the standing man is meant to look rebellious and accusatory. He represents the struggle of Jews and those who battled Nazi oppression.

16. Take in the sights at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

San Jacinto Mountains panoramic view in Southern California
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 51-500 CA-74, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument offers plenty of outdoor activities and natural wonders that epitomize the best things to do in Palm Desert. It doesn’t matter if you are a hiking enthusiast, a bird-lover, or someone eager to escape the city streets.

You can walk the extensive network of nature trails in search of the breathtaking landscapes of this national monument shaped by the diverse flora and fauna found at over 10,800 feet. Depending on your fitness level, find easy strolls or challenging treks.

Spot elusive bighorn sheep, mule deer, and a variety of bird species like Scott’s Oriole and the Ash-throated Flycatcher. At night, the natural light fills up the sky for perfect stargazing, or you can spend your day picnicking amidst the sounds of golden eagles or visiting with the park ranger.

If you’ve hiked all day and need to find a place to rest your head, it’s hard to top the Sands Hotel and Spa in Indian Wells, just down the street from the center of Palm Desert.

17. Find what’s good at the Palm Desert Visitor Center

Palm Desert Visitor Center  in Palm Desert, California
Jim Feliciano / Shutterstock

Address: 73510 Fred Waring Dr, Palm Desert, CA 92260, United States

The Palm Desert Visitor Center is the gateway to the city’s fun and abundant activities. It takes you beyond the things to do with tangible ways to experience Palm Desert, from maps to information about local events that change seasonally.

Knowledgeable staff are invested in how you experience Palm Desert and offer recommendations of must-visit places that most often aren’t included on large lists because locals always know best.

Explore interactive exhibits showcasing the region’s history. Discover the diverse flora and fauna that thrive in the surrounding desert environment.

Participate in workshops promoting local artists, musicians, and the community. The visitor center offers much more than suggestions to visit Palm Desert City Hall or the Scenic Byway.

Where to Eat in Palm Desert

You are spoiled for choice of places to eat when visiting Palm Desert. You have your typical and traditional places to eat, high-end, fast food, and more. But you also have places that give you lip-smacking surprises you may not get anywhere else.

Coachella Valley Brewing Company

Coachella Valley Brewing Company in California
Francisco G / TripAdvisor

Address: 30640 Gunther St, Thousand Palms, CA 92276, United States

When a restaurant is an experience in and of itself, it should be shared. Coachella Valley Brewing Company is an example of that type of place. The craft brewery is truly local, having grown out of the desert waters and striving to connect locals to locally sourced ingredients.

The tap list is ever-changing, but the quality is always high. Locally owned, locally crafted, and looking at ways to produce beer sustainably, you can find the inviting atmosphere of the taproom coupled with the inspiring flavors of concoctions like desert citrus or brown sugar rum cake.

Depending on your visit, they have different themed nights, so you could experience live music, an open mic, trivia, or more.

Lappert’s Premium Gourmet Ice Cream & Dole Whip

Ice Cream at Lappert’s Premium Gourmet Ice Cream
Lappert’s Premium Gourmet Ice Cream / Facebook

Address: 78206 Varner Rd STE G, Palm Desert, CA 92211, United States

Lappert’s is a quick and fun escape from the Palm Desert heat. Whether traveling with kids or eager to feel like a kid again, cool down in the summer with the selection of goodies that come in over 40 ice cream flavors, not counting the number of toppings or combinations you can choose from.

In the winter, you can still satisfy your sweet tooth with your choice of topical or tropical, savory and sweet combination, or full creative multi-scoop mania. It’s also tempting if you are craving the simple but nostalgic flavor of a pineapple Dole Whip. Grab a sundae, sip a smoothie, and enjoy the burst of color you can taste in every bite.

Nearby Attractions

Plenty of things keep you busy in and around Palm Desert. If you have time and the spirit of adventure, you can continue exploring with a number of the Best Day Trips From Palm Springs that follow.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees and granite boulders in Joshua Tree National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: California, United States

Joshua Tree National Park offers various activities for nature enthusiasts and adventurers. More than seeing striking scenery, it’s about exploring and experiencing the landscapes.

Iconic Joshua Trees dot the vast rocky expanse. You can follow the hiking trails, look for signs of coyotes, or trek to the Hidden Valley and Barker Dam.

Test your skills at rock climbing by conquering the granite formations at Jumbo Rocks or Ryan Mountain. Take your time beneath the night sky in one of the world’s few designated International Dark Sky Parks.

One of the best ways to experience the area is to take an off-roading tour of Joshua Tree National Park. This tour sells out fast, so book it well before your trip.

Explore an abandoned mine, travel to an elevation of over 5,180 feet for the Keys View panorama, or soak in the tranquil desert ambiance far from signs of civilization. It is a vast and treacherous desert. Bring plenty of water and food, and ensure you are connected in emergencies.

If you’re not used to hiking in the desert, it’s a good idea to join a guided hike of the park rather than strike out on your own.

Idyllwild

View of shops on main street of Idyllwild, California. Small town in San Jacinto Mountains.
Rosamar / Shutterstock.com

Idyllwild is a charming mountain town in California giving you a perfect escape from city life, even when enjoying the glitz, glamour, and dry air of Palm Desert. Great for nature lovers and art enthusiasts alike, Idyllwild can feel like part resort town, part bohemian enclave.

Set your sights on picturesque hiking trails like Devil’s Slide or Suicide Rock, which opens to a view across STraberry Valley. The artistic scene is vibrant, with local art galleries showing talented artists in a variety of mediums, from traditional painting to woodwork, graphic artists to ceramicists.

Live music takes place at venues like the Idyllwild Arts Academy and the Zen Center for meditation and mindfulness, which can feel like a refuge further removed from the colorful streets of the mountain town, hidden beneath the tranquil canopy. More than just arts and crafts, you can also find great bakeries and unique souvenirs, including Mountain Pottery.

FAQs

Where can I find art and cultural experiences in Palm Desert?

Palm Desert is full of art and cultural experiences. The city boasts an array of renowned galleries showcasing diverse artworks from local and international artists. The best places to find art and culture in Palm Desert include visiting Downtown Palm Springs, touring the Palm Springs Art Museum, or participating in the annual Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival and El Paseo Art Walk.

Where should I go for shopping and dining while in Palm Desert?

El Paseo Shopping District in Palm Desert is a shopaholic’s haven and a food lover’s delight. Perfect for shopping and dining when in Palm Desert.

While El Paseo offers a great variety of upscale art galleries and luxury shops known for their brand names, other retail areas around Palm Desert include Modernway Vintage Mid-Century Modern Furnishings and the Perez Art and Design Center. The Palm Desert area has so many shopping opportunities. It depends on what you are in the market for.

What are some unique events and festivals in Palm Desert?

Palm Desert is a gracious and exciting host of festivals and events throughout the calendar year. The culture shines as it celebrates the diverse landscape and community in different ways, including The Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival, which celebrates culinary excellence, and the annual Palm Springs International Film Festival, which showcases a diverse range of films from around the world.

For music fans, the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, held nearby, attracts music enthusiasts with its star-studded lineup of captivating art installations. The Desert Arts Festival is also a popular event that blends art, culture, and life across hundreds of galleries.

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Douglas Weissman
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Douglas Weissman

Douglas Weissman is an acclaimed travel writer, known for his gripping storytelling and uncanny ability to transport readers to the places he explores. Hailing from Simi Valley, CA, Douglas has journeyed through continents and cultures, from the lush landscapes of South Africa to the bustling streets of India. He offers readers an intimate view of the world, built upon his extensive experience in luxury travel, adventure tours, family vacations, and more.

His contributions to the field of travel literature have been widely recognized. He finished second in the Imustbeoff Travel writing competition and was featured as a storyteller on the Fit For Joy Podcast. His expertise was also utilized in BestLife’s article on preserving travel memories, revealing his commitment to not just experiencing the world, but encouraging others to immortalize their adventures.