October 22, 2017

9 things to do in Palm Springs

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.

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 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 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. And I reckon mine are brand new!

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

So here goes…

Palm Springs mountains

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

There are 9 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. Plan to spend a couple of hours just driving through so you have a bit of time to stop and take photos too. You need to pay $25 for a two-day car pass to the national park, or $80 for a year which gives you access to all the US national parks.

Joshua Tree boulders

The boulders are as remarkable as the trees!

Joshua Tree national park

The incredible photo ops all along the road through Joshua Tree

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.

There are 100 golf courses in Palm Springs!
Actually more than 100. If you’re a golfer check out this site palmsprings.golf/com 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 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!

Aerial tramway
Take a 4km ride in a rotating gondola up to 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. 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

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 that 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.

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

Mid century architecture Palm Springs

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

Mid century outdoor living

The astro turf back yard

San Andreas fault line tour
This is a 1200 km fault 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.

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!

San Andreas fault

Entering the San Andreas fault

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

The 4000+ wind turbines
When you drive into Palm Springs from LA you are welcomed by what looks like a sculpture park 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 windmilltours.com 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 GreaterPalmSprings.com

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About Megan Singleton

Megan

Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this blog as well as on radio every week and a few newspapers and mags from time to time. I set off on this travel blog malarkey 17 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 monthly newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

"9 things to do in Palm Springs" - What do you think?

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  1. Margarita on

    I love this beautiful valley the tramway the golf course I lived in Indio Cali Palm springs cathedral city and thermal miss it always

    Reply
  2. Justin on

    Megan,
    One of my major highlights during my visit to PS was meeting you and Sharon. Erik and I spoke of the two of you our entire trip. We are still day-dreaming about future travels, joking we want to be just like you when we grow up. We will never forget the two beautiful world travelers we met during our stay in Palm Springs. Thank you for being a part of our journey!

    Reply
    • Megan on

      Hi Justin, it was lovely to meet you guys too! We had a wonderful few days exploring PS and I especially loved the mid-century architecture which was new to me when I went on a snooping open home as part of Modernism Week. Hope your conference was great and thanks for your message!

      Reply

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