3 Days in Palm Springs: A Weekend Desert Oasis Getaway
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From the sky, the grid of Palm Springs stretches out, line after line of low bungalows, like a series of sentences. It’s punctuated by the long shadow exclamations of palm trees, and the commas of kidney- shaped pools.
I never need a reason to travel, so when planning a trip for a friend’s bachelorette in Palm Springs, I added a few days to explore the city on my own – and my own terms beyond pool lounging and bar-hopping. Yes, there’s more to PS than that – my photo above hints that there’s history and culture to this desert oasis!
Palm Springs is an ideal weekend getaway for Angelenos; that’s how the city got its start perhaps that’s why it remains one of California’s top 3-day destinations. It’s a reasonable drive from L.A. and an even quicker flight from San Francisco to Palm Springs – plus P.S. has tons more to do that whatever you have in mind.
Whether you’re extending a Coachella trip, need a girlfriends getaway (or guy-friends, as Palm Springs is super LGBTQ-friendly), or just need a little more urban base for your trip to Joshua Tree, read on for my guide of the best things to see and do on a Palm Springs weekend.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Ɂívil̃uwenetem Meytémak (Cahuilla) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
The Best Things to Do in Palm Springs
Palm Springs’ modern history began as a resort destination, where people escaped Los Angeles’ pollution and stress to rest and recover in the dry desert heat and mineral spas. It’s therefore no surprise that one of the best things to do in Palm Springs is to relax. And really, you deserve it!
There are a number of great spas and resorts in 21st century Palm Springs, and most hotels will also have their own on-site pools, spas, and hot springs. I recommend a few of them below, as well as how to add that into your itinerary for a Palm Springs weekend.
Because Palm Springs has always attracted wealthy Angelenos looking for an escape from the city without sacrificing creature comforts, there are plenty of amazing things to eat and drink in PS. I’ve recommended restaurants in my suggested weekend itinerary below; almost all have fantastic cocktail and drink menus too.
Palm Springs is home to art in many forms; in some ways Palm Springs is art. The homes are fantastic and well-preserved relics of mid-century modernist design. The museums are full of world-class art by renowned artists. Everyone in Palm Springs – from authentic bohemian locals to desert-chic festival-goers – seems to be walking art as they stroll the storefronts and pose for photos. Basically, if art is something you love, you can find it in PS.
Contrasting the artificial, man-made beauty you can find on basically every street in Palm Springs, there’s plenty of natural beauty in Greater Palm Springs too. There are hikes for every skill level in the area, from 1-2 hour easy strolls to one of the greatest elevation gain day-hikes in the country (Cactus to Clouds, which rises over 10,000 feet!).
During my trip to Palm Springs, I made sure to get out for an easy hike: Tahquitz Canyon. I’ve detailed the resource I used to find that hike and what I thought of it below.
You might be surprised that there’s good stargazing near a big city like Palm Springs – never mind that Greater Palm Springs is comprised of nine communities and a whole lotta light pollution. Despite this, you can find cool pockets of dark sky to do some stargazing. Some of the top spots:
- Joshua Tree National Park – obviously!
- Sky’s the Limit Observatory – near the north entry to Joshua Tree
- Atop Mount Jacinto once you ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – more details below
- Rancho Mirage Observatory – the area’s only public observatory, which also hosts fun public events
3 Days in Palm Springs: A Weekend Itinerary
With those activities in mind, here is my suggestion for a Palm Springs weekend getaway that incorporates them all – and more!
Day 1: Arrive & Unwind
There are typically two ways to reach Palm Springs: by flying to Los Angeles and driving 3-4 hours or by flying directly to Palm Springs International airport. If you have to choose and it’s a reasonably cost, I recommend flying to Palm Springs directly – it is soooo much nicer to not have to worry about LA traffic affecting your arrival and departure plans.
Assuming you arrive sometime midday, the next thing to do is check-in and spend time by the pool. Almost every place you could stay (I recommended some hotels and vacation rentals below) will have a pool, and there’s no way to quite get in the Palm Springs weekend vibe like catching a few rays and enjoying a cocktail.
After watching the sunset behind the San Jacinto mountains, head out for dinner on the town. During my trip, I tried several different restaurants:
- Tac/quila – A great place for fantastic cocktails and fresh Mexican food
- Birba – Alfresco Italian dining, which is dreamy if you’re visiting from somewhere that there are no outdoor restaurants
- Las Casuelas Terraza – Institutional Palm Springs Mexican restaurant with classic Tex-Mex dishes
- Eight4Nine – Design-forward space with California cuisine
Honestly, there are dozens of other great restaurants across the city, so if none of these speak to you, there are tons of options.
Day 2: Enjoy a Little Adventure, Art, or Both
On your second of 3 days in Palm Springs, it’s time to explore all the city has to offer. This is a full day, so I’ve broken it up into sections of the day…
Start your day with a hike, before the heat of the day comes on. There are amazing hikes across the Greater Palm Springs area, but I used this article about scenic, easy hikes to choose one during my trip: Tahquitz Canyon. It’s a great hike that offers a little bit of challenge, beautiful views, and plenty of wild birds.
As Tahquitz Canyon hike is on land owned by the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla Indians, you have to pay for admission – but I spent about 90 minutes hiking and it was completely worth the fee for the hike. Arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds; I was there by 8am and out by 9:30am as a lot more people started to arrive.
Unsurprisingly, Palm Springs is a fantastic place for brunch. After your hike, it’s time to refuel! Here are some options, both that I tried and places I heard were fab.
- Wilma & Frieda’s – Instagram-worthy brunch spot overlooking South Palm Canyon with amazing brunches and benedicts.
- Lulu’s California Bistro – Always crowded and popular, it’s an un-missable brunch spot on the main strip.
- Cheeky’s – Love bacon? This is the perfect place for you. Order a bacon flight! Or try a delicious cinnamon roll. They have delicious breakfast and lunch sandwiches too.
- Broken Yolk – California interpretations on breakfast and brunch classics.
In the afternoon, the heat will peak – it’s the perfect time to head indoors. The Palm Springs Art Museum is a great escape. Inside you’ll find incredible art in a number of mediums from globally renowned artists. It’s a great spot to spent a few hours in climate-controlled air admiring the collections; you can even dip out into the outdoor sculpture galleries to warm up if the AC is too chilly.
In the evening, now is the best time to head to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to watch the sun go down and enjoy dinner atop San Jacinto mountain. The Aerial Tramway might seem like a tourist trap, but it’s one of the most popular attractions near town for a reason.
After a breathtaking tram ride, you’ll have panoramic views across the entire Coachella Valley and into San Jacinto State Park – plus dinner options for any budget. Ride down once the sun has set to see the lights of Palm Springs and stars twinkling.
Day 3: Explore Greater Palm Springs
One of my favorite parts of planning a weekend trip is considering whether there are any great day trips to tack on; I think traveling outside Palm Springs will give you an even better idea of what makes this city so special.
Here are four day trip options to consider for your Palm Springs weekend itinerary:
- Visit Joshua Tree National Park. A short drive from Palm Springs will bring you to the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. You can make a loop of it, entering J-Tree from the West entrance (near the town of Joshua Tree, CA) and exiting from the South entrance (near Indio). Check out my tips for spending a day in Joshua Tree.
- Explore Greater Palm Springs. Did you know that there are nine cities that comprise Greater Palm Springs? You could go stargazing in Rancho Mirage, play golf or tennis in Indian Wells, or rejuvenate in the mineral springs of Desert Hot Springs.
- Plan a wine tasting tour in Temecula. There are a number of wine tour operators that will pick you up, drive you to wineries in Temecula, and then drop you back in Palm Springs at the end of the day. During my trip, I went with friends on a tour with Rockin’ Wine Tours.
- Road Trip to the Salton Sea. I haven’t actually been to the Salton Sea but it seems completely fascinating and there are plenty of interesting stops along the way there and back – like Salvation Mountain near the southeast lakeshore.
Obviously, there are plenty of great choices, and I’ve ordered this list starting with my favorite places. All you need to do is pick one, plan your day (and figure out how far you’ll be driving, since all of these require time on the road!), and get out to explore.
Palm Springs Travel Tips
Planning for Coachella
So I haven’t been to Palm Springs for Coachella, but I have been to the area (my first trip to Joshua Tree was accidentally over a Coachella weekend). My top advice is to plan ahead.
Like, way ahead. Got your festival passes? Book your flight into PS, vacation rental, and rental car/Turo NOW. Make reservations at any places you know you really want to eat that does them. Everything will sell out, everything will book up. Nobody’s going to give you a pass or host you because you’re an “influencer” – it’s on you to get your act together from a logistics perspective.
Off my soapbox, I hope that if you found this post you do choose to extend your Coachella trip and visit Palm Springs for a few days or make it a long weekend. As you’ve seen, the city has so much more to offer – including bananas good Instagram spots – and most people will totally miss it.
Where to Stay in Palm Springs
There are a number of accommodation options in Palm Springs and Greater Palm Springs – it’s all up to your travel style and budget to find the one that’s right for your trip.
V’s Hotel Suggestions
I didn’t stay in a hotel on my trip but I did spot a few properties that caught my eye:
- Hotel Zoso – Tucked into downtown Palm Springs, this low-slung bungalow-style hotel has a massive pool and plenty of lounge space. It’s also more budget-friendly than others in the area. From $144/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- ARRIVE Palm Springs – Millennial grey. Millennial blue. Millennial pink. Instagram photo spots. Pool floaties. Are you sold yet? From $179/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Kimpton Rowan – Right in the heart of downtown, this hotel is splurge-worthy and has a rooftop pool. AKA Palm Springs perfection. From $199/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
V’s Recommended Vacation Rentals
On my trip to Palm Springs, I stayed in two vacation rentals. Vacation rentals are contentious in Palm Springs; because so many people book them for bachelor/bachelorette parties and Coachella weekends, neighbors can be really unpleasant. So no matter which of these you book, be sure to communicate with your host, don’t sneak in extra guests, and respect the house rules. (Don’t ruin it for the rest of us!)
- This Hip Hideaway is perfect for a solo traveler or couple. It’s a condo and has access to a community pool you can enjoy on hot desert days. From $90/night; book on VRBO.
- This Gated Resort Gem is the perfect spot for a small group; it has pool and hot tub and totally new features inside. From $100/night; book on VRBO, Booking.com, or Hotels.com.
- If you’re planning a big group event (like a bachelorette party), you’ll need a whole house. This Mid-Century Modern house with a backyard pool looks fantastic and fun place. This is definitely a good option for bachelor or bachelorette parties up to 8 people. From $382/night; book on VRBO.
What to Pack for Palm Springs
It’s a desert… but it’s an oasis? It’s hot during the day, but can get cool quickly at night. So what do you pack??? Here are 10 essentials to pack for PS:
- Bathing Suit – If you’re staying anywhere with a pool!
- Sunglasses – No matter what your plans, you’ll thank me.
- Sunscreen – The desert sun is blazing.
- Pool floaty – Are you a unicorn, flamingo, or swan kind of person?
- Comfy strolling shoes – Easy to slip on between pool sessions and strolling for souvenirs on South Palm Canyon Drive.
- Bohemian Chic – I asked around; this is just the style in PS. Floppy hats, fringe, it’s all good.
- Hiking Shoes – If you plan to stretch your legs, a good pair of shoes is necessary.
- Fitness Clothes – For hiking, brunch, or both.
- A good camera – For Instagram moments or sunset photo shoots.
- An appetite – There is so much good food and drink to eat and enjoy. Come hungry!
There you have it – you’re all set for an epic weekend in Palm Springs! Have other questions about planning your Palm Springs weekend trip? Hit me up in the comments!
Some of the experiences in my post were supported by Visit Greater Palm Springs. This post was published as part of an agreement with them, but all experiences and suggestions are included at my own discretion.
This post is perfect for our trip coming up in December! Have you ever been to the Integratron (https://www.integratron.com/)? I went a couple of years ago, it’s a not-to-miss spot.
Glad to help! I haven’t heard of that place before but it sounds *awesome.* I’ll add it to my list for the next time we’re in SoCal!
Thanks for the guide. I am planning to have a long weekend vacation and I’ll use your guide. It’s been a while since I had my last vacation.
Have a great trip!