Palm Springs & Coachella Valley: Where to Explore, Play and Party in the Desert

Southern California’s Coachella Valley is approximately a 45 mile-long expanse in Riverside County, containing nine desert cities, including Palm Springs and various unincorporated communities.

If you’re anything like me the thought of a desert conjures up images of barren and dull landscapes. But the Greater Palm Springs area is anything but, as evidenced by its reputation as one of the world’s premiere vacation destinations.

In fact, with a recent outburst of new dining, drinking, and entertainment establishments making their way out on to the scene — in addition to various signature attractions — the excitement in the desert is palpable, as I found out for myself on a recent trip.

If you’re planning on visiting, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the seemingly endless options for activities to engage in, places to eat, and sights to see. In fact, you may even find yourself planning your next trip before you’ve even checked out of your hotel. That’s how much the area has to offer. But while you could presumably spend several weeks just to experience everything, there are a few can’t-miss activities you should absolutely put on your list when visiting.

Here are five of my suggestions for things to do in Palm Springs and Coachella Valley to make your time there unforgettable.

Desert Adventures Eco-Tours

Whether you’re into sight-seeing, a lover or nature, a history buff or just love to explore, Desert Adventures has a tour for you. Led by extremely knowledgeable and friendly naturalist guides who are passionate about what they do, these tours will make the experience both educational and enjoyable. The options are varied and include everything from learning about and tasting exceptional craft beers from local breweries, to gazing up at the clear star-filled desert night sky, to exploring the San Andreas Fault and learning how the local natives once lived in the area. You can opt to be driven around the terrain in a rugged 4X4 jeep or you can put on your hiking boots and explore the land on foot.

Don’t forget to bring your camera because you will want to document and remember every minute.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

For one of the most spectacular ways to view all of Palm Springs and Coachella Valley, climb aboard the world’s largest rotating tramcar and take the 10-minute, 2½ mile ride up to Mountain Station, elevation 8,516 feet. Step outside to explore the Mt. San Jacinto State Park, where you’ll find 54 miles of astounding hiking trails, campgrounds and picnic areas.

You can also choose to dine at one of two restaurants and cocktail lounge or enjoy the vista through a comfortable viewing area.

Bonus: On an especially hot day in town, you can escape the heat by taking the tram up to Mountain Station, where the temperatures can naturally dip down to 20 degrees lower.

Palm Springs Biplanes

Grab your significant other or a friend for one of the most unique ways to view the valley: aboard a 1940 Stearman Biplane! Whether you opt for the 15, 30 or 60 minute ride, you’re sure to enjoy some of the most incredible and breathtaking scenery of your life. Sit back, feel the wind in your hair, and take it all in. Then grab a copy of the digitally recorded video and relive the moment as you share it with your friends and family.

Palm Springs Art Scene

The art scene is alive and thriving in the desert. Marvel at over 55,000 objects that are part of the Palm Springs Art Museum’s permanent collection of the Americas and 20th century California Art. The museum’s categories include International Modern and Contemporary art, photography, architecture and design, Western and Native American art, Contemporary Glass and Mesoamerican.

The museum also boasts 28 galleries, five art storage vaults, two sculptures gardens, four classrooms/resource centers and a lecture hall among other features.

Be sure to schedule a docent-led tour, which is free with admission, to get a fun, interactive and thorough education on the museum’s permanent collection and special exhibitions.

Palm Springs’ art scene doesn’t end at the museum doors. Browse over 200 booths featuring beautiful art and unique handcrafted items by local artists at downtown’s weekly VillageFest, held every Thursday evening. 

Check out Palm Springs’ Club and Nightlife

While there is no shortage of clubs throughout the cities, there are a few notable ones you do not want to miss. The Purple Room is one of them. As a favorite hangout spot of the Rat Pack’s Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, this recently refurbished supper club has a legendary reputation. Enjoy live jazz bands and sip on delicious late night cocktails as you’re transported back in time to a different era.