9 fabulous things to do in Palm Springs for a memorable break that will recharge you

Our list of things to do in Palm Springs will show you why this Californian city should jump straight to the top of your travel wish list

A photo of palm trees and San Jacinto Mountains. admiring the beautiful greenery is one of our recommended things to do in Palm Springs
The San Jacinto Mountains in Palm Springs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s easy to overlook the boulevards of Palm Springs when planning a trip to the US, especially if your sights are set on the spangly tourist attractions of Los Angeles. But this city in southern California is the ultimate feel-good, laid-back destination, which is why we've pulled together a list of things to do in Palm Springs that will help recharge your batteries.

Whether flying into Palm Springs International Airport or driving from Los Angeles (a good run will take two hours), as soon as you reach the iconic wind turbines—which provide power for the entire valley—you can feel your mood lighten. There’s something about the dry desert heat that will make even the itchiest feet feel utterly relaxed. No wonder Californians come here in their droves whenever they can—and it's up there on travel bucket lists for many too, alongside Christmas in New York.

Palm Springs, iconic wind turbines

The iconic wind turbines of Palm Springs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Anyone who’s new to Palm Springs soon asks the question: how do they keep their landscapes so vividly green? The city is one of those places that is sunny year-round (so if you are wondering where is hot in November or other winter vacation months, the answer is Palm Springs). It sits in a dusty plain of ground-hugging cacti, with sunshine 350 days of the year, but the town is miraculously sustained by huge, deep aquifers. These supply the million sprinklers that keep Palm Springs’ lawns and golf courses luminously lush, and the high bougainvillea hedges refreshed. Even diners at street cafes are regularly spritzed by a fine, cooling mist while they eat. Which, when summer temperatures reach 40 degrees, you’ll be endlessly grateful for.

But other than enjoying the Oasis like greenery and eating great food, what else should you be experiencing in this Californian city? Here's our list of what to do in Palm Springs...

9 restorative things to do in Palm Springs

1. Immerse yourself in the swimming pool scene

ARRIVE hotel, Palm Springs

ARRIVE hotel swimming pool, Palm Springs

(Image credit: Palm Springs)

Palm Springs is the land of swimming pools, in every shape and size. The day begins and ends in the water. We stayed at the hotel ARRIVE and the truth is, we could have spent the entire break lounging by the pool, surrounded by palm trees that frame the dramatic backdrop of the San Jacinto Mountains. The swimming pool scene is a core part of the Palm Springs experience, so wherever you stay, make sure it has a fabulous slice of blue to retire to after days spent exploring. 

Travel editor's tip...

Read our holiday booking hacks to get an amazing deal on a hotel with an amazing pool.

2. Explore the Rat Pack's hedonistic playground

Frank Sinatra Twin Palms Estate, a spectacular example of mid-century architecture in the heart of Palm Springs, California

Frank Sinatra Twin Palms Estate with piano shaped pool

(Image credit: Getty Images)

We drove around town in an open-top Mustang, channeling Frank Sinatra and all the other Rat Packers whose spirit still lingers. In the 1950s and 60s, Palm Springs was the ultimate swinging getaway for Sinatra, Elvis, and a whole host of Hollywood stars. 

During this time, Hollywood actors were contracted to be no more than two hours’ drive away from the film studios, and Palm Springs just happened to be the furthest they could go. Over the decades, far from the media’s prying eyes, the likes of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra created a hedonistic playground, built by a roll-call of leading architects—Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler, John Lautner—whose style is now labeled mid-century modern.

Back in 1946, when Frank Sinatra had made his first million, he celebrated by commissioning a new house in the city where he hosted the most glamorous parties of the day. With motor-driven glass sliding doors, state-of-the-art recording equipment, a piano-shaped pool, and a flagpole (used to let friends know it was cocktail hour), it was the epitome of cool. If you want to party like Sinatra, you can now rent Frank Sinatra's former home for $2,500 or £2,000 a night. 

A multitude of modern celebs have since set up residence in Palm Springs too, from Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, to former President Obama and his family. So while you're cruising around, keep an eye out for A-listers.

Travel editor's tip...

Drop by the Palm Springs Visitors Centre—worth adding to your list of things to do in Palm Springs anyway to take a glance at the space-age structure, which was originally built in 1965 as a petrol station—and purchase a $5 map of Modern Palm Springs for a self-guided tour of celebrity homes, past and present.

3. Tour the city's most iconic mid-century homes

Elvis Presley honeymoon house, Palm Springs, California

(Image credit: Getty)

If you want to go a step further and have a nosy inside of some of the city’s most beautiful homes (don’t we all?), you can sign up for an interiors tour at psmodsquad.com. It’s a brilliant experience—Palm Springs’ architectural masterpieces are simply extraordinary.  Desert modernism in Palm Springs

Most of the houses are built in the mid-century modern style, decorated in soft pastel shades and flaunt sharp angles. One of the greatest pleasures of this place is that nothing is taller than the palm trees that have become the true stars of the town, and no two houses are the same. 

While you won’t be dropping by Leonardo’s for coffee, on the 90-minute Interiors tour, you’ll be taken inside three different homes, each is distinct and undeniably beautiful. If you’re lucky, some of the homeowners will be there to answer questions and share stories.

Travel editor's tip...

While most may not have the budget to replicate the interiours on show, you can take many of the design ideas home—from the way one particular home hangs their artwork to another’s inspiring art deco furniture. It’s just a shame you can’t take their swimming pools too…

4. Hit the luxury designer outlets

Desert Hills Premium Outlet shopping centre in Palm Springs

(Image credit: Simon Properties)

Located a mere 20-minute drive away is Desert Hills Premium Outlets. Here you can nab high-end fashion—home to Dolce & Gabbana, Saint Laurent, Jimmy Choo, Tory Burch and more—for up to 65% off. Our personal favourite was the Gucci outlet, where we spied some of the best Gucci bags. But there's even a chance you can get a cheap Louis Vuitton bag at the Neiman Marcus outlet if that's your designer handbag preference. 

Travel editor's tip...

It pays to visit the website for promotions and grab a VIP Club coupon book for even more savings.

5. Learn about Palm Springs' tribal history in a Jeep

Indian canyons area of Palm Springs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're looking for things to do in Palm Springs that involve exploring, then climb aboard a jeep and hiking tour with Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours. You can learn about the landscape of Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, where your knowledgeable guide will give you an introduction to the area’s unique geological formations. 

The Cahuilla Indian name for the Palm Springs area was Sec-he (boiling water), and the Spanish who later arrived named it Agua Caliente (hot water). Then came the name ‘Palm Springs’ in reference to both the native Washingtonia palm tree and the hot mineral springs on the tribal land. Today, remnants of the traditional Cahuilla society exist in the exquisite canyons that the tribe has worked to protect, while current tribal leaders work within the community to help strengthen and protect today’s modern city.

A pitcure of the Desert Adventures Red Tours Jeep in Palm Springs. Sat in the Jeep is Helena Cartwright, out travel writer

Helena Cartwright, out travel writer, on the Jeep tour

(Image credit: Helena Cartwright)

All of the canyons—Murray, Andreas, Tahquitz, Chino and Palm – are beautiful and you can easily visit any one of them. The walking tour is a gentle one-mile hike past hidden water caves and a multitude of palm trees—it’s a must-do activity while in the area, but the terrain is uneven so make sure you have some of the best hiking shoes.

Travel editor's tip...

Having found out we hadn’t yet seen Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s ‘honeymoon hideaway’, we made a quick pit stop before heading on to Andreas Canyon, situated just 10 minutes from downtown Palm Springs. 

6. Luxuriate in the view from the Aerial Tramway

A carriage on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Following a vertical climb of nearly 6,000ft, rotating all the way up, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway comes to rest in Mount San Jacinto State Park. Here, you’ll find a lofty sanctuary that offers 54 miles of diverse walking trails, with a captivating view into the Sonoran Desert below. 

Travel editor's tip...

Wear layers, because you'll start on the scorching hot desert floor—but after a short drive to the Valley Station and a 12 minute ride in rotating tram carriage, you are 8,516 feet above sea level, where is can feel chilly.

7. Visit a living museum of desert botany

The Nursery at Moorten Botanical Garden, which contains lots of plants you can buy and shoppers browsing

(Image credit: Moorten Botanical Garden)

To take in the extraordinary varieties of desert plants, visit Moorten Botanical Garden. A living museum of desert lore, the garden has something for everyone, with glistening crystals, colourful rocks, ancient fossils, and pioneer and gold mining relics. 

Travel editor's tip...

Head there in the morning hours before the desert heat sets in and make sure to visit the nursery to find small plant examples for sale (but do check you're allowed to transport them home if you're going back overseas).

8. Hunt for an Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park

Palm springs Joshua Tree National Park

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the most relaxing things to do in Palm Springs is to see plants in their natural habitat, head north-east for an hour to visit the Joshua Tree National Park. A whopping 800,000 acres of desert, rock climbers know it as the best place to climb in California, while hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-and-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams.

Travel editor's tip...

When viewed from the roadside, the desert can seem bare. But explore on foot, bike or by jeep and you’ll see blossoming wild flowers, scuttling lizards and the contorted trees for which the park was named. In springtime, the Joshua trees send up a huge single cream-coloured flower.

9. Head home completely recharged...

A photo of the pool at ARRIVE hotel in Palm Springs

(Image credit: ARRIVE hotel)

After days spent exploring, we spent our last afternoon back in the city, as any southern Californian should—in and around the hotel pool, cradling a cocktail. Then something quite remarkable happened. My husband, usually burning to move onto the next activity, was face down, fast asleep on a lounger. The combination of If ever there was a resort designed to help you completely switch off and recharge, Palm Springs is it.

Travel editor's tip...

Don't scrimp on the hotel for a truly relaxing stay. We stayed at ARRIVE hotel, just over a mile from the heart of downtown Palm Springs, there is easy access to the city’s lively shopping, food and festival scene. With just 32 rooms, its laid-back feel is refreshingly peaceful. When you check in at the bar (there’s no lobby), you’ll even get a complimentary cocktail to get you in the mood to relax. Prices start from $300.

Visit visitpalmsprings.com for more information on this cool Californian city

Kelly Bowerbank

Kelly is the former Digital  Editor of womanandhome.com. She joined the brand in 2015 and left in March 2022. With over 15 years of experience in digital and print journalism, Kelly has worked for some of the UK's most prestigious publishers, including The Guardian, Shortlist Media, Time Inc, and now Future Publishing. She specializes in women's lifestyle and has been nominated for two PPA awards throughout her career. In the past, she had provided expert advice and comment for the BBC and Channel 4 about fashion and feminism. Kelly also guest lectures at the London College of Fashion about digital fashion media.