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9 things to do in Palm Springs

Palm Springs is synonymous with desert heat, Joshua Trees and mid-century modern architecture. But a buzzing food scene inspired me and I found some other great things to do in Palm Springs to keep you busy for a weekend.

I’m down in Palm Springs, California, after meeting my “sister” Sharon at LAX and driving like Thelma and Louise out here on Sunday night. Sans the cliff dive at the end. And sans the soft-top. And actually we were not on the run and therefore nothing like T & L at all.

Palm Springs mid century modern architecture
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So out of Enterprise Car Rental we drove, she behind the wheel because she’s American, and me regaling her with stories because it’s been about four months since we last saw each other. Occasionally I would have to hush while she figured out a sudden off-ramp manoeuver but my shouting, I like to think, also assisted in that process.

About two hours later, we had navigated the Sunday night LA traffic south-west into the desert and arrived at the Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort which was to be our home for the week.

This resort is not just for golfers either with loads of kid-friendly activities and a pool, plus each day there is a puppy in reception for someone to adopt and it stays there until someone does. So far four have been adopted. Awww.

Oh and I didn’t bring my trainers to go out to the San Andreas Fault (see below), but guess what? For $5 you can borrow a pair of New Balance for your entire stay. So I did, and I reckon mine were brand new!

Anyhoo, I am here to run my media training for some of the hospitality businesses in Palm Springs and also to check out some of the region’s coolest things to do to tell you about them.

So here goes… my top suggestions for things to do in Palm Springs:

Palm Springs mountains
The mountains are further away than they appear in Palm Springs!

There are nine cities that make up Greater Palm Springs: Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, each a little different but the hero is undoubtedly Palm Springs.

So in no particular order I now list some of the coolest things to do here…

Joshua Tree National Park

One of the biggest highlights is to take a few hours and drive out to see the remarkable Joshua trees, named for their reaching spiky leaves that the Mormon pioneers who found the place (after the Indians of course) thought reminded them of the Biblical Joshua finally arriving at the Promised Land.

But as well as the trees are the extraordinary boulders that you can climb or just take endless photos of.

Joshua Tree boulders
The boulders are as remarkable as the trees!

Plan to spend a couple of hours just driving through so you have a bit of time to stop and take photos, or stay in a Joshua Tree cabin and spend the night.

You need to pay $25 for a two-day car pass to the national park from a shop the entrance to the park, or $80 for a year which gives you access to all the US national parks.

Joshua Tree national park
The incredible photo ops all along the road through Joshua Tree

Dine at Pappy and Harriets in Pioneertown

On your way back from Joshua Tree, turn off to Pioneertown and plan to have a pint or a meal at this old saloon bar, Pappy and Harriets. It’s closed Tuesday and Wednesday, but at 5pm Monday when we arrived, there was a line out the door.

It’s a big place too and live music is often played. They smoke meats out the back and the whole place was originally built as a movie set in the 1940s which is now a functioning little town.

Play golf in Palm Springs!

There are 100 golf courses in Palm Springs! Actually more than 100. If you’re a golfer check out this site to see all the courses, costs and book a tee time.

Try a date shake!

90% of all dates exported from the United States come from Palm Springs and if you want the best date milk shake in town, head to Shields Date Garden where they use date crystals and vanilla ice cream to make what is really dessert in a cup. A huge cup too for $5.95! It has a caramel kind of sweetness, or even a malt shake. Delicious!

Ride up the mountain on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

This is a 4km ride in a rotating gondola up 8,500 feet to the top of Mt. San Jacinto, along the Chino Canyon, where it’s 30 degrees cooler and even snows up here in winter. I know!

There’s a restaurant and bar up here and 60km of hiking trails. Or you can just take photos of the view and head back down. The ideal summer escape when temps in the city are up to 120 degrees!

Palm springs aerial tramway
From the top of San Jacinto mountains

Explore the Mid-century Modern architecture

The 1960s is still in full swing in Palm Springs and in February and October you can go into some of the best examples of these homes and twirl in circles at just how cool they are.

The October event is the Fall Preview for the February event, but even the Fall Preview has become a 4-day event in itself with bus tours around the best neighbourhoods showcasing the 60s architecture and design and loads of exciting events including house tours.

Mid century architecture Palm Springs
One of the stunning mid century homes on display in Palm Springs. This one is designed by Thomboy.

But in February Modernism Week sees people coming from all over the world for the 11-day event which includes films, cocktail parties, lectures from architects and designers, double-decker bus tours so you can peer over the fences (!), and a nosey through some of the most amazing homes out here in the desert.

Jump onto for more info about what’s going on and to get your tickets. They sell out fast.

Mid century outdoor living
The astro turf back yard

Take a San Andreas fault line tour

The San Andreas Fault is a 1200 km fault line that runs through the state of California on the edge of the Pacific Plate and North American Plate. But a tour is much more interesting than it sounds!

I joined Bonnie of Desert Adventures in her bright red jeep. She’s a fascinating woman and utterly passionate about things like techtonic plates and snakes – which we had to be careful we didn’t step on. Actually we didn’t see any, much to my sadness. But there are rattlers out here, I know because Bonnie showed me photos.

San Andreas fault
Entering the San Andreas fault

These plates move against each other up to 30mm per year with no ill effects – unless you’ve built your house on top of it of course. But they’re about 120 years overdue for a big quake, she told me.

I loved the edible leaves and berries out here from this salty grey leaf like a potato chip (below), to a the bitter taste of cresote to the seeds of the palm tree that the native Indians would use for all sorts of medicinal purposes and which I personally think scientists have a lot of catching up to do!

Salty leaves in the desert
Salty, yummy chippie leaves!
San Andreas slot canyon
Creeping through slot canyon in San Andreas
San Andreas fault tour
Driving through the wash that can flood suddenly at the San Andreas fault

Tour the 4000+ wind turbines

When you drive into Palm Springs from Los Angeles you are welcomed by what looks like a sculpture park of thousands of wind turbines.

I’m a bit of a geek and was awfully excited to be able to take a tour and learn about the developing technology of these gigantic machines, all out here in the valley and built all over the world. These wind turbines generate up to 7% of California’s energy and can be centrally turned on and off. If you’re a geek like me, jump to to book yourself a tour behind the fences!

Arriving in Palm Springs
Greeted by thousands of wind turbines arriving into Palm Springs

My trip was kindly hosted by the wonderful people of Greater Palm Springs tourism. If you want to check out what else is on the 9 cities including the iconic Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals, jump on to
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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

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