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15 Fun & Best Things to do in Palm Desert, California

15 Fun & Best Things to do in Palm Desert, California

If you’re looking for things to do in Palm Desert, you’re in for a treat. Whether you’re here to hit the green, indulge in some retail therapy, or hike the numerous scenic trails, Palm Desert and its long list of leisure activities promise an experience you’ll never forget.

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

It’s just a couple of hours away from Los Angeles and a little east of glamtastic Palm Springs, so expect an eclectic crowd here consisting of hikers, hipsters, retirees, snowbirds, and a happy LGBTQIA+ community.

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

If it already is, I’ve compiled the best things to do in Palm Desert you should include in your itinerary. This list, which includes activities for families, couples, and solo travelers, is a diverse mix of popular tourist activities and hidden gems. Ready to start your desert escapade? Here are the things to do in Palm Desert.

Where is Palm Springs and Palm Desert?

Palm Desert is a city situated in Riverside County, California. It’s located in the Coachella Valley, about 14 miles (23 kilometers) east of Palm Springs.

Stay in Downtown Palm Springs for a mid-century-infused, fashionable experience with fantastic restaurants, lots of activity, a dynamic hotel pool scene, and a chance to soak in all of the histories Palm Springs has to offer.

Palm Desert offers a more local experience where you may establish roots, play golf, relax poolside, shop, and have fun with your family. Remember that Palm Springs is simply a $20 and 25-minute Uber journey from Palm Desert.

See Related: Best Family-Friendly Hotels in Palm Springs

How to get to Palm Springs and Palm Desert

Greater Palm Springs is easily accessible by car if you can connect with US Interstate 10 (I-10). The region provides a surprisingly easy escape from many of the Southwest’s major urban regions.

Greater Palm Springs visitors now have more air travel alternatives than ever before, owing to new airlines serving Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), additional nonstop destinations, enhanced service, and extended duration of operation. If you’re looking for things to do Palm Desert has it all. Here’s what you should include in your itinerary.

Fun & Best Things to do in Palm Desert, California

1. Hike the Bump and Grind Trail

Bump and Grind Trail
image by Martin/TripAdvisor

Location: 72440 Painters Path, Palm Desert, CA, 92260

One of the most popular hikes in the Palm Springs region, the Bump and Grind Trail, is a short but tough circle climb that packs a lot of excitement. 

One of the most popular hikes in the Palm Springs region, the Bump and Grind Trail, is a short but tough circle climb that packs a lot of excitement.  Here, you’ll get to behold the amazing beauty of the desert foothills through a tough but possible climb.

You’ll also get to visit a refuge for the endangered bighorn sheep, as well as take in vistas of Southern California‘s two high peaks, Mt. San Gorgonio and San Jacinto. 

This path will offer you a thrilling workout with an elevation increase of almost 1,000 feet. To escape the crowds and the blazing heat, depart early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

The trail’s beginning is located behind the Desert Crossing Shopping Center. You don’t need specialized hiking equipment to complete the Bump and Grind Trail, but you should be prepared.

Although only a few steps away from a fully air-conditioned mall, this is a desert trek, and several hikers need to be rescued on a regular basis. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and wear appropriate footwear! 

The Bump and Grind trail is absolutely free to hike. There are multiple parking spots along the street, the closest of which is just past the trailhead.

See Related: Best Day Trips From Palm Springs (Ranked!)

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

Location: 47900 Portola Ave

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, originally known as the Living Desert Museum, is a Palm Desert zoo and botanical park. A visit to the Living Desert Zoo is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Palm Springs CA. This zoo introduces you to the world’s desert environments and wild populations via engaging and instructive displays.

The park has desert creatures from all over the world, with a focus 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, there are a few gardens that highlight over 1,400 plant species, including several types of agave, cacti, and prickly pear. 

Visitors advise going early in the morning when temperatures dip, as this is when the animals are most active The park has minimal shade and temperatures frequently exceed 100 degrees, so carry plenty of water and sunscreen.

General entry is $19.95 as of 2022, however, the elderly and children ages 3 to 12 are eligible for discounts.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Eureka, California

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

Location: 67616 Desert View Ave, Desert Hot Springs

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, fully hand-built structure, you’ll realize that Cabot’s Pueblo Museum has some of the Palm Desert’s most intriguing stories.

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, and it is loaded with images, relics, and historic artifacts that take guests on a whirlwind ride through Yerxa’s fascinating existence.

This property’s façade is a stunning example of Pueblo revival design. It was constructed using various objects collected in the desert’s natural surroundings. The Water gallery and the museum are open for guests to wander around in 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.

Tours are given from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday from October through May.  General admission is $13 while tour groups are restricted to eight persons.

See Related: 17 Best Things to Do in Santa Rosa, California

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

Palm Desert Aquatic Center Aerial View

Location: 73751 Magnesia Falls Dr

When it opened in 2011, the Palm Desert Aquatic Center was the talk of the town with its three pools and two water slides. This sprawling water wonderland is open all year for family-friendly water enjoyment, and a visit here is one of the best activities in Palm Springs.

The complex offers three swimming pools, diving boards, several water slides, and a variety of entertainment activities designed to appeal to guests of all ages.

The property is eight acres in size, so there is plenty of area for water enjoyment. The property is also offered for rent to individuals seeking a venue for unique occasions. Visitors looking to exercise can choose from a variety of workout classes both on and off the water. These are great for individuals who want to keep active while on vacation.

Proper swimwear attire is required at all times, and pool rules are strictly enforced for everyone’s protection. Children under the age of seven must be accompanied by an adult. If a youngster is unable to swim, parents must supervise them at all times.

Admission is $4 for Palm Desert locals and $6 for non-resident adults. Children ages two to five are charged $2.50 for locals and $3.75 for non-residents.

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

Location: 80223 CA-111, Indio

Flying above the Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley in a hot air balloon is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Palm Springs California. Balloons Above, founded in 1979, provides hot air balloon tours in Coachella Valley and around Southern California.

One of the most memorable experiences you’ll ever have is greeting or bidding farewell to the sun as you glide across the magnificent desert sky. Early birds can bring a thermos of coffee and go on a morning balloon ride, or for a romantic evening, go on a sunset balloon tour.

Get ready for breathtaking vistas of Coachella Valley from up above.  spectacular panoramas of some of California’s most gorgeous landscapes while soaring in one of Balloons Above’s colorful hot air balloons.

With your flight direction decided by the breeze, the Palm Springs golf grounds, polo fields, and orchards are just a few of the magnificent sites you will see.

Balloons Above’s hot air balloons are incredibly accessible and can accommodate everyone, regardless of their mobility limitations. Compared to standard balloon baskets,  baskets are easier to reach since they include walk-through doors that close once you’re inside. There’s no need to hop over the basket just to get in!

Individual visitors pay $225, while groups of two to five pay $195 apiece. Each child between the ages of 5 and 12 costs $175.

See Related: 11 Fun & Best Things to Do in Blythe, California 

6. Hit the green at Desert Willow Golf Resort

Desert Willow Golf Resort
image by Christopher Hurdzan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Location: 38995 Desert Willow Dr

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 level of significance. Desert Willow Golf Resort started with a layout that embraced the desert setting while also 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 golf course design.

Desert Willow Golf Resort, one of the most popular Palm Desert activities, has been established as one of the favorite destinations to play in the Palm Springs region.

Golf Digest ranked its Firecliff course one of its “Places to Play.” The establishment’s tournament-tested layout is one of California’s three courses and one of the top 50 in the country in terms of conditioning.

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. Don’t forget to soak in your surroundings and admire the Desert Willow sights and beauty while playing your round!

See Related: Best Golf Bachelor Party Destinations to Visit

7. Commune with nature at the Thousand Palms Oasis

Palm Trees and Lake at Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

Location: 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Rd, Thousand Palms

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

It is located near Thousand Palms, California, and is home to over 183 species of birds and other animals, including the endangered Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, which depends on the Preserve’s sand dune system for its existence.

Thanks to its variety of palms, watering holes, and trees, the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is a wonderful area for viewing birds and other types of wildlife. Palm oases have sprouted out across the Preserve in spots where water has collected on the surface, forming marshy areas and tiny ponds.

The active will find plenty of trails to hike, including a two-mile loop. This loop is an easy hike from the Visitor’s Center to a local pond and palm oasis where several picnic tables are available. It’s an excellent area to photograph birds and observe nature.

Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor’s Center to view the collection of images and artifacts depicting the Preserve’s intriguing past. There is no fee to hike or visit the preserve, but don’t forget to bring lots of water and food before visiting! 

See Related: Best Things to do in San Jose, California

8. Gawk over art at The Palm Springs Art Museum

Location: 101 N Museum Dr, Palm Springs

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

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, which seats 433 people and features a variety of events and performances throughout the year.

This theater not only hosts art workshops, films, lectures, and special events, but it also hosts a diversified schedule of jazz, Broadway, dance, and classical opera performances, among others. 

The art displayed within the Palm Springs Art Museum is a great reason to visit, but visitors should not ignore the building’s facade which is a testament to its architectural legacy. This 150,000-square-foot structure, built-in 1974 and expanded in 1996, has several galleries and areas for artistic expression, as well as a 433-seat theater.

The bulk of the items on display is current works by California artists, as well as Mesoamerican Art, classic Native American and western art, European modern art, and Mexican art.

Admission is $14 for adults, $11 for seniors, and $6 for students and teachers.

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

Location: Palm Desert, CA 92260

Itching for some retail therapy? Shopping is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Palm Desert! Palm Desert’s El Paseo Shopping District has over 250 stores selling fashion, art, jewelry, hotels, spa, and dining, among others.

Sometimes likened to Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive, the El Paseo Shopping District matches Los Angeles’ retail area with an astounding selection of posh businesses, gallery art, and top-notch hotels all located on a stretch of road. El Paseo’s culinary district is recognized for having over 20 restaurants, each delivering a distinct experience.

The region’s shopping malls create an exceptional retail experience unlike any other in the area, giving shoppers a diversified choice of regional-owned shops, well-known global brands, and high fashion establishments.

Though the area doesn’t feature gardens, El Paseo Drive is often dubbed the Gardens of El Paseo because of its location outdoors. The Shops on El Paseo is an indoor mall that houses the best high-end shopping in the neighborhood. Here you can visit world-renowned fashion houses including Ralph Lauren, Gucci, and Burberry. 

El Paseo shopping area provides everything for you, from luxury retail establishments that offer designer clothes, purses, cosmetics, and so on, to more affordable brands.

The brand-conscious may head straight to the heart of The Gardens on El Paseo for brand names such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Banana Republic, and Tiffany & Co.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Oceanside, California

10. Get spectacular views of Greater Palm Springs through the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

Pines Scenic Byway Scenery

Location: Start: 25 E Ramsey St, Banning, CA

End: 45400-45598 CA-74, Palm Desert

The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway, one of California’s most scenic driving roads, is a must-see when visiting the Greater Palm Springs region.

This scenic drive is one of the most fun things to do in Palm Desert, as 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 trails, towns, and attractions you’ll encounter along the way. 

For a shorter experience, stay in your car and make it a half-day trip by stopping only at picturesque viewpoints. 

Your journey will begin on Highway 74 in Palm Desert at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Visitor Center. When you leave the Visitor Center and proceed south on Highway 74, you’ll start ascending a mountain through several switchbacks.

This scenic drive offers beautiful vistas of the Greater Palm Springs region with plenty of opportunities to take them in.

You’ll notice the environment change considerably less than 40 miles on SR 74 in the San Bernardino National Forest. The scenery varies from palm-lined desert landscapes to rugged hilly regions and towering trees.

The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway crosses the San Bernardino National Forest, providing stunning vistas of the neighboring mountains on the horizon. It alternates between two and four lanes of traffic. Views of the sandy desert give way to rugged mountain slopes and lusher vegetation.

See Related: Best Day Trips from San Francisco, California

11. Explore the San Andreas Fault

Location: Palm Springs

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

This famous fault line stretches all through California, is 800 miles long, and is at least 10 miles deep. The infamous 1906 earthquake in San Francisco was triggered by the collision of these two plates.

Travelers will be able to example the fault line in a variety of cities including Palmdale, San Bernardino, San Juan Bautista, Indio, Portola Valley, Bodega Bay, and Daly City, among others, but the  Palm Desert is one of the most exciting areas to study the San Andreas Fault. 

One of the reasons is its proximity to the site, allowing you to drive to the fault’s locations. Another factor is the abundance of tours, especially the popular jeep tours, which are accessible to both visitors and residents. 

The San Andreas fault is its oasis and mud pots. Visitors will be able to enjoy sights of natural wonders like palm trees, tropical plants, fissures, and of course, the fault itself with its intricate geological characteristics. Hiking along the San Andreas fault line also makes for an unforgettable day out.

See Related: Best Things to do in California

12. Purchase a masterpiece at the CODA Art Gallery

CODA Art Gallery
image by differentname/TripAdvisor

Location: 73400 El Paseo Suite B-1

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 included in your Palm Springs what-to-do 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 for itself 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. Visitors are greeted with friendliness the minute they visit the gallery, where advisors are eager to share their knowledge with collectors of all levels.

Purchasing art at CODA is a pleasant experience. Whether you want to add a single piece to a room or completely redecorate your home, gallery advisors blend their experience with your style and taste to identify the appropriate pieces of art.

Coda’s upbeat attitude, along with a welcoming staff, has garnered recognition from the American Art Awards, which recognized it as the “Best Gallery in California 2020,” a distinction it previously held in 2017. 

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 the works that both stimulate the intellect and pleasure the eye! 

See Related: Best Gifts For Couples Who Love To Travel

13. Go on an exhilarating jeep tour with Red Jeep Tours

Palm Trees and Lake at Red Jeep Tours in Palm Springs

“Red Jeep Tour, Palm Springs, CA” by KateEditor is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Location: Desert Adventures, 74794 Lennon Pl Ste B

Looking for activities to add to your list of things to do in Palm Desert? Red Jeep Tours has been providing the most highly acclaimed outdoor adventures in the Greater Palm Springs region since 1988.

This local tour business takes travelers on an exciting journey in the Palm Desert area. There are several jeep trips available, including tours of the Palm Springs Indian Canyons, Mecca Hills Wilderness Area, and Painted Canyon.

The San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour is one of the most fascinating tours offered by the firm, as it winds its way through the maze of geological gorges and canyons of the San Andreas Fault Zone. A naturalist guide enlightens participants about the flora, wildlife, geology, history, and seismology of the California desert.

Desert Adventures is the only outdoor adventure business in Greater Palm Springs that can transport you to its exclusive 800-acre Metate Ranch in the Indio Hills. Here, the company provides Jeep, hiking, and sightseeing trips, among others.

Metate Ranch has miles of untouched desert to explore by foot or by jeep, as well as an exclusive palm oasis where water bubbles out of the subterranean aquifer year-round. Visitors will also witness magnificent steep-walled canyons forced up by the San Andreas Fault and incredible panoramic views of the environment. Private jeep tours begin at $175 per person.

See Related: Things to do in San Diego, California

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

Crowd in a Street Fair at College of the Desert
image by On the White Line is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Location: 43-500 Monterey Avenue Palm Desert

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. Here, locals and visitors can get their retail therapy in an open-air but shaded area.

The Street Fair is hosted by the College of the Desert, near the intersection of Monterey Avenue and Magnesia Falls.

The Street Fair provides over a thousand offerings including home goods, furniture, fashion, vintage automobiles, a farmer’s market, live entertainment, gourmet cuisine, and much more, with merchandise and services for all ages and budgets.

While you purchase, you’re also contributing to a worthy cause and assisting college students in achieving their goals. All proceeds from merchant space leases go toward annual financing and 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. On-campus parking is provided and free of charge. You may park in any lot that is not reserved for student activities. 

See Related: Proven Ways to Save Money for Travel

15. Learn about the holocaust at the Desert Holocaust Memorial

Desert Holocaust Memorial Statues
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Location: 43900 San Pablo Ave, Palm Desert Civic Ctr

The Desert Holocaust Memorial, a striking and tragic reminder of man’s inhumanity, recalls 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.

The other characters are a mother with two children pleading for compassion, a ghetto youngster, a praying rabbi, and a lone figure behind all of the monuments: a dying man. His death symbolizes ignorance, hatred, and bigotry when taken too far.

A visit to the memorial is a riveting experience, but it is essential for people of all ages as the past should not be forgotten.

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