20 Things To Do In Palm Desert 

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Appearing on the horizon like a desert oasis, the Coachella Valley city of Palm Desert morphed from being a famous resort town for Hollywood A-listers, world leaders and socialites during the early 20th century to a wonderful city combining indoor-outdoor living. Palm trees, striking mountains and cacti are everywhere in Palm Desert. Many of the things to do in Palm Desert involve being outdoors.

The soaring San Jacinto Mountains nearby provide skiing opportunities and spectacular vistas during winter and spring. While Palm Desert is the perfect place to use as a basecamp to explore the many top-notch parks in and around the Coachella Valley, the city has fun and entertaining sights, landmarks and destinations to be discovered and enjoyed by all.

Palm Desert, California

20 Things To Do In Palm Desert 

1- Drive The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

things to do in palm desert this weekend
Driving the Pines to Palms Scenic Byway is one of the things to do near Palm Springs.

The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway stretches along Highways 74 and 243 and passes by scenic forests, snow-capped mountains and many more diverse landscapes in a short amount of time on its way from Palm Desert to Banning Pass.

Free from large towns and tall buildings, the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway allows you to enjoy Southern California’s contrasting landscapes away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway is at CA-74, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

2- Float In A Balloon

fun things to do in palm desert Silhouettes of balloons raising tourists into the blue sky above the fiery red clouds in the early morning against the backdrop of an airplane flying high in the sky
Floating in a balloon is another of the iconic things to do in Palm Desert.

One of Palm Desert’s best attractions is the colourful hot air balloons floating about through the skies above the rugged desert.

Various tour operators whisk passengers up into the air to enjoy stunning sunrise and sunset vistas over the Californian desert.

These hot air balloon flights in the Palm Desert and Napa Valley are a memorable way to enjoy the landscape.

Experiences range from relaxing brunches to one-hour tours of the Californian desert surrounding Palm Desert.

3- Watch A Match At Indian Wells Tennis Garden

things to do in indian wells palm desert
Watching a match at Indian Wells is an iconic thing to do near Palm Desert.

Widely regarded as the world’s 5th grand slam, the Indian Wells tennis tournament is one of the region’s most significant sporting events, drawing thousands of visitors to Palm Desert annually.

Capable of seating over 16,000 people, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden has hosted several other events.

Most notable was when the NBA’s Phoenix Suns played their home games in the arena for three years, from 2008 to 2010.

Indian Wells Tennis Garden is at 78-200 Miles Ave, Indian Wells, CA 92210.

4- Visit The Palm Springs Art Museum

The lovely Palm Springs Art Museum is one of the region’s leading institutions in the fields of natural science and art.

It’s home to impressive collections of Native American, international modern and West Coast art.

Offering free guided tours of the entire facility’s exhibits and art installations, the Palm Springs Art Museum is a lot more than just a simple art gallery.

Hosting several events throughout the year and often used as a venue for the performing arts, visiting the Palm Springs Art Museum is bound to be a fun experience for all ages.

Palm Springs Art Museum is at 101 N Museum Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262.

5- Explore Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Located inside a beautiful Hopi-style house built by renowned artist, activist and explorer Cabot Yerxa from bits and pieces he found lying around in the desert, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum details the life of Cabot Yerxa and his wife.

Containing various artefacts, items and artwork which once belonged to Cabot’s collection, the four-story structure is a stunning hand-built Pueblo-revival structure that’s a fantastic destination to tour.

The home of a founding father of Desert Hot Springs, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a great place to get a glimpse of life in Palm Desert before it became the tourist hotspot it is today.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is at 67616 Desert View Ave, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240.

6- Go Shopping In El Paseo Shopping District

things to do in palm desert at night
Looking for things to do in Palm Desert at night? You’ll find plenty to keep you busy.

Palm Desert’s popular El Paseo Shopping District is home to over 250 boutiques, shoe stores, spas, eateries and jewellers.

Because of this, El Paseo is often compared to Beverly Hills’ famous Rodeo Drive.

Ranging from local-run mom-and-pop stores to large global fashion brands, the El Paseo Shopping District is Palm Desert’s number top place to shop.

Whether you’re planning to do some serious shopping or just window shopping, the El Paseo Shopping District is worth a stop.

El Paseo Shopping District is at 73-470 El Paseo St. Palm Desert, CA 92260.

7- Cool Off At Palm Desert Aquatic Center

Open year-round, the popular Palm Desert Aquatic Center is the perfect place to cool down during the scorching summer in the Californian desert.

The Palm Desert Aquatic Center will keep you entertained all day with water slides, diving platforms, child-friendly areas, and three swimming pools.

The facility covers over eight acres (3 ha), so there’s plenty of space to sprawl out, even on busy days.

Offering a host of fitness classes on land and in the water, it’s a great spot to cool off and stay fit while vacationing in the Californian Desert.

Palm Desert Aquatic Center is at 73751 Magnesia Falls Dr, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

With a history of displaying expressive and thought-provoking art that stretches back some 30 years, the magnificent CODA Gallery is one of Palm Desert’s most important cultural centres.

It celebrates all things contemporary and modern art from California and beyond.

Unlike many other galleries and art museums, virtually everything on display in the CODA Gallery is for sale.

Filled with glass-art sculptures, contemporary paintings and stunning photographs, the CODA Gallery is a highly recommended place to visit that’s one of the cultural highlights of a visit to Palm Desert.

CODA Gallery is at 73400 El Paseo Suite B-1, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

9- Ride Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

best things to do in palm desert
Riding the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is one of the fun things to do near Palm Desert.

Overlooking the stunning snow-capped San Jacinto Mountains, Desert Springs and the nearby Palm Springs treat visitors with incredible vistas of the mountains in the distance.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway whisks passengers to the top in under 10 minutes for a stunning view from the summit.

Rising a staggering 8,516 feet (2,596 m) to the top of the San Jacinto Mountains, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ferries passengers to the 50+ nature trails and skiing slopes of the San Jacinto Mountains in an instant.

Taking a journey on the tramway is a highlight of any trip to Palm Desert and a must-do activity to get your bearings.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is at 1 Tram Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262.

10- Watch The Sunset At Coachella Valley Vista Point

things to do in palm desert area
Exploring the Coachella Valley is one of the things to do in Palm Desert, California.

The Coachella Valley Vista Point is the best spot in town to observe the sprawling Coachella Valley and the Salton Sea in the distance from high above.

Completely free and one of the most photographed spots in Palm Desert, the Coachella Valley Vista Point is perfect for stopping by at any time of the day.

Be there at dusk to watch the spectacular sunset and the illuminated city streets off in the distance.

The best place to pose for the perfect Instagram selfie the Coachella Valley Vantage Point is the spot.

Coachella Valley Vista Point is at Pines to Palms Hwy, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

11- Visit The Living Desert Zoo

A zoo and botanical garden combined, the picturesque Living Desert Zoo and Gardens showcases a stunning array of desert and African animal species.

Giraffes, eagles, Mexican wolves and camels are just some of the many animal species visitors can catch a glimpse of while wandering the expansive zoo.

The zoo’s botanical garden features beautiful collections of cacti, palm trees and various other desert biome plants in the lush and manicured garden.

The botanical garden’s butterfly garden is another fantastic section of the zoo that’s well worth visiting.

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens are at 47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

12- Hang Around Civic Center Park

unique things to do in palm desert
Admiring nature – wildflowers and cactus – at a city park is one of the things to do in Palm Desert.

Located right in the middle of Palm Desert’s downtown area, the Civic Center Park is Palm Desert’s largest public park, covering an area of over 70 acres (28 ha) of lush greenery for all to enjoy.

Alive with families, joggers, strollers and active, outdoorsy types practising yoga, the Civic Center Park is Palm Desert’s most popular outdoor attraction, given the park’s proximity to the city’s best shops and restaurants.

Very accessible and abuzz with festivals and events throughout the year, the Civic Center Park is the ideal destination to take a breather from all of Palm Desert’s many other fantastic attractions and sights.

Civic Center Park is at 43900 San Pablo Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

13- Cycle The Bump and Grind Trail

The aptly-named Bump and Grind Trail is one of the most popular nature trails in the Coachella Valley among locals.

Rising about 1,000 feet (305 m) from base to summit, the Bump and Grind Trail is a go-to destination for joggers and cyclists wanting to enjoy a great workout surrounded by an unreaped desert landscape.

Not only is the Bump and Grind Trail a haven for fit, outdoorsy types, but the various endangered animal species that can be seen while traversing the trail make it an excellent destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

Fun, safe and 100% free, the Bump and Grind Trail is a fantastic nature trail accessible to hikers.

Bump and Grind Trail is in Rancho Mirage, CA 92270.

14- See The San Andreas Fault

things to do in palm desert An aerial view of San Andreas
Seeing the San Andreas fault is one of the interesting things to do from Palm Desert.

Perhaps the most notable fault line in the world, the infamous San Andreas Fault, stretches for over 1,200 kilometres (746 mi) from Mexico to San Francisco and separates the Pacific and North American continental plates.

Despite popular belief, the San Andreas Fault is not a massive scar in the earth, on the contrary, large sections of the fault can easily be mistaken for a ditch.

Sections of the fault are spectacular, so be sure to visit parks and nature centres on or around the fault, where you can join a guided tour led by geologists.

15- Desert Willow Golf Resort

palm desert golf course
Playing golf is one of the top things to do in Palm Desert.

A stone’s throw from downtown Palm Springs, the award-winning Desert Willow Golf Resort is the best golfing destination in the Coachella Valley.

Made up of two 18-hole golf courses, the Mountain View Course and the Firecliff Course, the Desert Willow Golf Resort is open to players of all experience levels.

The resort’s stunning al fresco eateries and spectacular natural scenery make the Desert Willow Golf Resort a fantastic spot to visit, even if you’re not a golfing fan.

Desert Willow Golf Resort is at 38-995 Desert Willow Dr, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

16- Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

thousand palms oasis
Experiencing nature at Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is one of the best things to do near Palm Desert for nature lovers.

Situated in the picturesque Coachella Valley, the sprawling Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve spans some 880 acres (356 ha) of unspoilt Coachella Valley desert landscape.

A haven for hiking, enjoying the pure desert wilderness, going on a bird-watching tour, or joining a free docent-guided tour from the preserve’s rustic Palm House visitor centre, the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is a wonderful outdoor attraction to visit.

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is at 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Rd, Thousand Palms, CA 92276.

17- Joshua Tree National Park

things to do in palm desert ca dusk
One of the things to do in Palm Desert is to visit Joshua Tree National Park.

Neatly nestled in the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the spectacular 3,218 km² (1,242 mi²) Joshua Tree National Park is Southern California’s premier nature park catering to all sorts of outdoorsy types with a whole host of fun activities.

Incorporated in 1994, Joshua Tree National Park is littered with striking rock formations, untouched desert landscapes, and resilient Joshua trees.

Despite its recent inception into the National Park register, especially when compared to Yellowstone and Yosemite, the Joshua Tree National Park has already established a reputation as one of the best parks in the United States.

While regular outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking and camping are some of the park’s most popular activities, the park’s incredibly scenic vantage point overlooking the Coachella Valley is certainly one of the park’s most overlooked attractions.

Joshua Tree National Park is at 6533 Freedom Way, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277.

18- Coachella Valley Preserve

The sprawling 20,000-acre (8,094 ha) Coachella Valley Preserve is a stunning free-to-visit natural playground filled with diverse biomes, rich fauna and flora, and some of the best nature trails in southern California.

The expansive preserve, which includes the 880-acre Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, is filled with rare desert animal and plant life, blooming wetlands, and seemingly endless amounts of soaring palm trees guaranteed to be a feast for the eyes.

The sheer size of the Coachella Valley Preserve means that you can come back many times without seeing the same thing twice, making it a wonderful Palm Desert landmark perfect for spending a couple of hours exploring.

Coachella Valley Preserve is at 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Rd, Thousand Palms, CA 92276.

19- Indian Canyons

Indian canyons
Visiting the Cahuilla tribe’s Indian canyons is one of the things to do in Palm Desert, California.

Situated just 6 miles from Palm Springs, the Indian Canyons, consisting of the Murray Canyon, the Andreas Canyon and the Palm Canyon, are a stunning collection of canyons located on the reservation lands of the Cahuilla tribe.

Hiking trails are throughout the canyons, winding past spectacular desert scenery and trading posts selling authentic Native American pottery and artwork.

You can spot various endangered species throughout the Indian Canyons, such as the vireo bird and the peninsular bighorn sheep.

Serene and breathtakingly beautiful, the Indian Canyons blend unspoilt nature with the unique Cahuilla culture and people into one excellent destination that’s simply a fantastic outdoor destination to explore on foot.

Indian Canyons is at 38520 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264.

20- Sunnylands Center

Situated on the 200-acre (91 ha) Rancho Mirage estate owned by diplomat Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore, the Sunnylands Center, which hosted presidents, royalty and Hollywood stars, is a world away from the desert landscapes of the Coachella Valley.

The centre is complete with reflective pools, a 9-acre (4 ha) garden, and over 50,000 plants sourced from the Mediterranean, Africa, North America and South America.

A fantastic place to wander about, the Sunnylands Center offers a 1.25 mile (2 km) trail and a free audio tour to take in the centre’s amazing sights and picturesque surrounding landscapes.

Sunnylands Center is at 37977 Bob Hope Dr, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270.

For more California ideas, see:

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Mark Westwood is a Seattle-based writer who writes for various online blogs and travel websites. In 2017, he went on a 12-month road trip across the USA visiting many iconic landmarks and small towns along the way. Having explored over 20 countries, his favourite places to date are along the west coast of the USA but he is happiest anywhere where there are mountains and ocean.