Tips and things to do in Palm Springs, California: 20 reasons to visit

 

Take a tour around the birthplace of desert modern architecture

During the 1920s, architects famously flocked to the resort town and developed their own distinctive style that permeated throughout the west. The town is best experienced with a guide,  who can point out the house where Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra had notorious rows, the pedestrian bridge that connects two nudist colonies one famous architect belonged, Elvis Presley's honeymoon hideaway and Leonardo DiCaprio's latest retreat. Hot property tip: the overlooked A-frame "Swiss Misses" are rare and therefore worth squillions. Tours begin and end at the pastel-coloured Saguaro Hotel, one of the most Instagrammed hotels on the planet. psmodsquad.com

The Saguaro Hotel, Palm Springs.

Picture perfect: The Saguaro Hotel, Palm Springs. Photo: @thesaguarohotelpalmsprings/Facebook

Dare to visit the San Andreas fault 

The one place you don't want to be if the dreaded big one hits as it is one of the deadliest earthquake zones in the world, but it is the best way to get a sense of the thing that strikes fear into the residents of Coachella Valley. The fault is a fascinating and spectacular mess of rocks that jut vertically out of the earth, pushed into warped positions by the Earth's tectonic plates colliding together, creating what could only be described as a tortured landscape. Walk between the North American plate and the Pacific plates at Slot Canyon, but don't linger long – there's a 60 per cent chance of a major earthquake occurring over the next 30 years.

Landscape along the San Andreas Fault in Coachella Valley.

Clear evidence of the power of the San Andreas fault in Coachella Valley. Photo: iStock

Parker Palm Springs - the coolest hotel on the planet

Impossibly chic, this heavenly hotel featuring decor by designer Jonathan Adler is one stop you must make while visiting – its outside wall is the most Instagrammed in Palm Springs. Use Norma's restaurant as an excuse to browse its art-laden walls, a designer's dream, and if you can budget, sample a "zillion dollar lobster frittata" from its breakfast menu – where a super-sized serving with Sevruga caviar will set you back $US1000, or a regular $100. Stroll through the hotel's magnificent grounds which includes two pools, a "lemonade stand", and its stunning PSYC spa.

Joshua Tree: One of (many) of California's must-visit national parks

An hour out of Palm Springs, this national park is named for the desert-dwelling, gnarly Joshua trees that look more like a collection of broken limbs and grow only in the Mojave Desert. The park also features highly Instagrammable rock formations, desolate grassy plains, fields of cacti and grand views of the Coachella Valley. It's a firm favourite for anyone from rock stars to hikers to photographers, particularly at night when the bright skies are packed with stars.

Joshua Tree

Joshua trees only grow in the Mojave Desert. Photo: iStock

Advertisement

Rock out at Pappy & Harriets (Pioneertown Palace)

Almost as famous as some of the music identities drawn or born in the area (Think Jim Morrison, Josh Homme, Gram Parsons), this is a legendary live music venue which has free bands almost nightly and is renowned for its nightly barbecues and dancing. At festival times you'll see some major bands hit the stage. It's the centrepiece for Pioneertown, formerly an 1870s frontier town recreated by Hollywood investors in 1946 with a dream of creating a living movie set. Pappy and Harriet's was used as a cantina set for westerns, becoming a live music venue back in 1982.

Stay cool at the Hard Rock Hotel

Nothing says Palm Springs more than an afternoon spent floating across a pool on a giant pink flamingo or a unicorn while sipping a cocktail. Grab it while you can, for on weekends you'll be waiting for a turn as the Hard Rock likes to party hard; over Coachella, it's 600 people strong. Over its huge grounds is a museum dedicated to rock – listen to music that pumps through the hotel while you wander its hallways and spacious lobby, bars and restaurants, gazing at its exhibits, from Matt Sorum's Harley to Chad Smith's gun. Stay in its spacious rooms that feel like a studio and overlook the pool, each assigned a band name. In between, there's stripey carpets, a modern gym, huge portraits of rock icons, studded leather couches, and sculptures made from amps. hrhpalmsprings.com

The Hard Rock Hotel at sunset.

The Hard Rock Hotel at sunset. Photo: @hardrockhotelpalmsprings/Facebook

Take to the skies in the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The world's largest rotating tram car follows the steep terrain of the Chino Canyon mountainside, offering spectacular views of the Coachella Valley. Up top, hikers have 80 kilometres of trails to traverse, but if you're short on time, scoot up to the observation deck for killer views. From here you can access the second highest point in California – the San Jacinto Peak – where on clear days you can see all the way to Catalina Island, or more impressive still, the glow from Las Vegas at night. pstramway.com

It's a long way up on the tramway at Palm Springs.

It's a long way up on the tramway at Palm Springs. Photo: @palmspringsaerialtramway/Facebook

Hang out at some of the US's best festivals

From what is arguably now the biggest and best music festival in the US – Coachella – to the boot stomping country and music festival of Stagecoach, being dry and sunny, the Coachella Valley has the perfect conditions for festivals, and there's one for everyone – from Joshua Tree's music festival, to pride parades and an international film festival, plus a parade of lights that's hard to beat over Christmas; and if that wasn't enough, it also puts on the largest gay dance party in the world. visitgreaterpalmsprings.com/events

Coachella Music and Arts Festival.

Hard to beat: The Coachella Music and Arts Festival.

Party on down with the beautiful people at a pool party

Palm Springs is the setting for some notorious pool parties, where the "pool" is just an excuse to party in a bikini, or, for blokes, tuxedo speedos. The setting never fails to disappoint; snuggle up the the bar beside huge mid-century pools surrounded by pastel deck chairs and umbrellas while listening to top-notch DJs spin tunes. Activities include favourite drinking sport beer pong, fire pits for late night snogging and bikini competitions. Some parties also include all-day access to facilities such as hot tubs, gyms, saunas and steam rooms. visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

Rinse pool party at The Saguaro.

Rinse pool party at The Saguaro. Photo: thesaguaropalmsprings/Facebook

Play bingo at the Ace Hotel

One of the most fashionable places to stay in Palm Springs, the Ace's Coachella Valley branch was formerly a derelict mid-century hotel connected to a Dennys. Its Swim Club features two large pools, hot tubs, a sauna and steam room, and non-guests can buy a day pass for $US30. It's also the site of the infamous Fabulous Bingo held every Monday night, hosted by a drag queen. acehotel.com/palmsprings

The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs.

The Ace Hotel, Palm Springs.

Furnish your home with mid-century design

During the mid-1900s, Hollywood stars fled to Palm Springs for R'n'R, commissioning homes from architects like Ambert Frey and Donald Wexler resulting in the highest concentration of mid-century architecture in the world. Now, scores of people come to Palm Springs to shop. Take home a piece of classic Palm Springs mid-century modern design from one of the many consignment, vintage or thrift stores. The Coachella Valley has the world's largest collection, encompassing not only architecture, but furnishings, clothing and jewellery. Stores have done the hard work for you and ditched the junk. Check out At Hom PS at-homps.com, 68929 Perez Road, Suite G-H-I, Cathedral City, scot@at-hom.com.

Mid_Century furniture at At Hom PS.

Mid-century furniture at At Hom PS.

Play some footgolf

Palm Springs is the home of the American FootGolf League, which is a cross between soccer and golf. It comes in nine and 18-hole versions, with the aim to kick the ball with as few strokes as possible into a 21 -nch cup. Although it sounds like a lot of fun, it is actually taken very seriously, with leagues competing across America. visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

Arrive: A new neighbourhood-friendly boutique hotel

A new, 36-room boutique hotel on Palm Springs' main street aims to please both locals and visitors alike with a street-fronted restaurant, artisanal ice cream and coffee shop brewing from locally made Joshua Tree Coffee. Anyone is welcome; take a seat at one of the rustic wooden tables or lounge outside by the pool, which you can use free of charge. Choose to stay and there's free bike rental, valet and wi fi. arrivehotels.com

Arrive Palm Springs.

The new Arrive Palm Springs. Photo: @arrivepalmsprings/Facebook

Vino and vinyasa

At the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, you can enjoy a two-hour "journey of the senses" in an activity normally considered taboo by both yoga and wine connoisseurs everywhere. After 30 minutes of yoga, you can compare two glasses of wine followed by more yoga, then two glasses of red wine, just in time for a moment of relaxation in "corpse pose" before finishing off with a champagne toast. Expect to feel a little "buzzed" after the experience. Click here for more information.

Celebrity history at Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway

One of the mid-century classic houses you can take a peek inside, the Elvis house is open for tours. Elvis and Priscilla spent their honeymoon here on May 1, 1967, and daughter Lisa was born nine months later. The house was originally going to be used for the wedding, but a famous gossip columnist caught wind of what was happening and Elvis' manager, Col Tom Parker, had to quickly move the site of the wedding to Las Vegas, with private transportation provided by Frank Sinatra. The hideaway was restored in the 1990s to its original 1960s splendour, and is a true rock star's home. elvishoneymoon.com

Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway

Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway. Photo: @elvishoneymoonhideaway/Facebook

Follow the Palm Springs Walk of the Stars

Sidewalks of Palm Canyon Drive, Tahquitz Canyon Way and Museum Drive are littered with stars, and these aren't necessarily all from Hollywood; commemorating the literary, humanitarian and sports stars as well. All honorees must have lived and contributed to the charm, worldwide prominence and name recognition of Palm Springs. Look out for Chevy Chase, Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor, and Col Tom Parker. visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

Palm Springs' Walk of Fame.

Palm Springs' Walk of Fame. Photo: iStock

Fancy drinks out of funny glasses at Bootlegger Tiki

There is nowhere better to hide away from the intense sun than a good Tiki Bar, and you'll find three in Palm Springs, where it's not a crime to drink out of tall funny-shaped glasses filled with umbrellas and frangipanis and enveloped in dry ice. Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts and leileis are optional. Bootleggertiki.com

Tour the windmills

The iconic Palm Springs windmills are part of a farm that resides in San Gorgonio Pass, the gateway to Coachella Valley – one of the windiest places in southern California. The valley contains around 4000 turbines, and generates enough power to satisfy the demands of Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley. You can tour the turbines: windmilltours.com

The wind turbine park in front of the the San Jacinto Peak near Palm Springs.

The wind turbine park in front of the the San Jacinto Peak near Palm Springs. Photo: iStock

Instagram Cabazon's most famous residents

Australia is not the only home of Big Things – no trip to the desert is complete without a couple of selfies from Cabazon's most famous residents, two enormous sculptured roadside attractions called Dinny the Dinosaur – 150-tonne building shaped like a brontosaurus, which houses a gift shop – and Mr Rex, a 100-tonne Tyrannosaurus rex. Designed by artists Claude K Bell, they were built to attract customers to a now closed restaurant. The dinosaurs have had quite the history in Hollywood themselves.

Instagram stars at Cabazon.

Instagram stars at Cabazon. Photo: iStock

Shop at Cabazon - Desert Hills Premium Outlets

A great premium outlet branch to shop as it's not that busy, and parking is plentiful. Here you'll find all the usual brands like Nike, adidas, Kate Spade, Saks Fifth Avenue and 7 For All Mankind. However, it's the special outlets that make this branch worth the detour, such as Rag & Bone, Alexander McQueen and All Saints. cabazonoutlets.com

Cabazon outlet mall near Palm Springs.

Cabazon outlet mall near Palm Springs. Photo: iStock

The writer was a guest of Visit Greater Palm Springs - visitgreaterpalmsprings.com