Many stories have been written about finding fabulous treasure way out in the middle of the barren desert. If you think that will never happen to you, think again. Spend some time in Palm Springs and you’ll feel like you’ve found a real gem of a vacation spot. Once home to Hollywood megastars like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable and Bing Crosby, Palm Springs and the surrounding areas offer a wide variety of activities for every member of the family. So gas up your RV (or rent one); it’s easy to get around in this part of the American Southwest.
Here are some must-see attractions:
You’ll feel the Rat-Pack vibe of the 1950s and ’60s as you cruise through the city’s original downtown, starting with the clean, modernistic lines of the buildings themselves. Palm Springs has long been a mecca for those seeking mid-century modern furniture and décor; here you’ll find both pricey kitsch as well as affordable pieces.
Get your culture on at the Palm Springs Art Museum, where you can gaze at works by Chagall, Picasso and Warhol, just to name a few. Many other contemporary artists are showcased in the museum, as well as American Indian works and 19th century American landscapes.
Aviation enthusiasts and pilots of all ages will get a kick out of the Palm Springs Airplane Museum, where you can tour the nation’s largest collection of vintage flying military aircraft, featuring the iconic bombers, fighters and trainers of WWII. Flight demonstrations are held two Saturday afternoons each month.
Don’t miss the free Village Fest, a downtown street fair held every Thursday evening year-round. Catch live entertainment under the stars, plus dozens of booths featuring arts, crafts and foods.
You can’t talk about Palm Springs without mentioning the game of golf. In fact, the Palm Springs and Palm Desert resort area has been called “the golf capital of the world.” There are over 120 golf courses in the immediate area, including many public courses with reasonable rates. Keep in mind that this is a desert area, so drink plenty of water if you’re playing a round during mid-day, especially during the summer months.
The Living Desert
The Living Desert is a 1200-acre park preserve housing the Palm Springs Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Here you’ll find many varieties of desert-dwellers, including camels, gazelles, wart hogs, giraffes, sand cats, bobcats, wolves and foxes, as well as birds, butterflies and over 130 rare, threatened and endangered plant species. Don’t forget to stop by the huge outdoor model train exhibit, featuring G-scale trains running through an elaborate series of miniature towns and landscapes.
Hiking in the greater Palm Springs area can be quite an experience. There are many adventurous hikes from which to choose, ranging from easy to difficult. If you’re up for it, take the Araby Trail – an uphill hike that provides a good view of Bob Hope’s former home. Designed by famed architect John Lautner, this incredibly unique, nearly 18,000 sq. ft. home reminds more than a few of a spaceship with its undulating roof line.
A word of caution – Summers get very hot in the valley. Hiking any trail on the valley floor during the summer months can be dangerous. Never go hiking during the hot time of day. Be sure you have the proper equipment and always carry large amounts of water – more than you think you will need. Stay on the marked trails and don’t wander off of them.
Joshua Tree National Park
If you’re looking for more structured outdoor activities, then you will love exploring the desert wilderness that is Joshua Tree National Park. Here you can hike, take a horseback ride, go mountain biking, opt for an easy nature stroll or just park and wait for the stars to come out. If you’ve never had the opportunity to gaze up at the night sky without the hindrance of man-made lights and smog, be prepared for a totally mind-blowing experience.
Desert Hot Springs
After all that hiking, what better way to soothe aching muscles than a visit to the nearby oasis of Desert Hot Springs. A variety of treatments await at one of the many day spas supported by the area’s natural hot springs.
For an unforgettable photo-op, hop aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and take a 10-minute ride up the cliffs of Chino Canyon to the Mountain Station, elevation 8,516 feet. You’ll travel in the world’s largest rotating tramcar, giving you plenty of jaw-dropping views of the surrounding Coachella Valley. It’s also the only access to Mt. San Jacinto State Park – 14,000 acres of pristine wilderness with over 54 miles of hiking trails. Depending on the time of year, there’s a good chance you’ll find enough snow to scrape together a few snowballs for an impromptu fight. Two restaurants are also at Mountain Station.
Ever climb a dinosaur? You can at the famous “Roadside Dinosaurs” in Cabuzon. Claude Bell, a former artist with Knott’s Berry Farm, started building these tremendous metal sculptures in 1964 as a way to attract visitors to his restaurant. Dinny the Apatosaurus took 11 years and about $300,000 to build; work on Mr. Rex (yes , a Tyrannosaurus Rex) began in 1981 and was completed in 1986. These world-famous dinosaurs have been featured in countless commercials, TV shows, music videos and movies. For a small charge, you can climb all four stories to the top.
Shields Date Farm
California produces a large portion of the nation’s produce, including approximately 95 percent of the dates. Make it a priority to visit Shields Date Farm, an 80-year old institution that offers nine (9!) varieties of dates and date-filled products. Be sure to get a date shake and their signature date tamale.
Bet you didn’t know there was so much fun to be had in the desert, did you? Start planning your visit to Palm Springs today!