What to See and
Do | Hotels | Camping
Palm Springs was -- and is -- a desert oasis, and
that is what makes this famous resort town, and the whole
Coachella Valley such an interesting vacation spot. Quite
unlike its Nevada counterpart, Las Vegas, Palm Springs is
laid back, and very friendly.
It has high style without neon glitz and
gaudy architectural theatrics. After two or there days of
exploring Palm Springs and the natural element around the
town and the artificial ecosystems called golf courses,
you come away with a feeling that here is a region of
unique beauty -- with the nearby desert ready to enchant
you at any time of day, particularly at sunrise and
sunset. The town has parks, mountain recreation, trendy
boutiques, excellent restaurants and museums -- all
offered in an unstressful manner.
This is not just a vacation town for the
very rich and famous. Among the more than 150 hotels and
motels in Palm Springs are deluxe resort hotels and spas
which attract the wealthy. But there are also less
expensive motels, old-fashioned bungalow courts, and
several small, cozy bed and breakfast inns which offer
personalized service at a reasonable price. There are
even places where nudists feel welcome around the pool.
To find hotels with special interests and facilities,
check at the visitor centers. The most accessible one is
located on Palm Canyon Drive, at the north end of town.
Hotel reservations may be made here, and the center has a
variety of local maps and brochures.
For more than 2,000 years, Agua Caliente
Indians occupied much of the Coachella Valley, centered
in the Indian Canyons, where water and vegetation
was plentiful. They used the natural hot springs pool and
lived a hunter-gatherer existence. Mexican expeditions
first came to the area in 1774, and in 1853, a U.S.
government survey party mapped the valley, and
established a wagon route through San Gorgonio Pass.
Smallpox killed thousands of natives in 1863, and the
Southern Pacific Railway arrived in 1877. The
dispossessed Agua Caliente band finally achieved victory
in the U.S. Supreme Court, regaining their land
allotments, but having to wait until 1959 to profit from
their heritage. Today, many of Palm Springs' important
buildings -- including the Convention Center -- sit on
land leased from the band. The original hot spring is now
part of the Spa Hotel. This is the place to stay
if you're a hot spring fanatic.
What to See and Do
Palm Springs and its sister towns in the
valley are big on golf. More than 80 golf courses are
found in the valley, with most of the courses open to the
public, year-round. Tennis courts are everywhere, and
with 8,000 swimming pools in the area, you should be able
to find an activity to suit your interests.
As fine as the town is for vacationers,
it's the out-of-town experience which should catch your
full attention. Indian Canyons offer the largest natural
oasis on the continent. The area is home to many birds,
reptiles, and other animals, and thousands of plant
species which thrive along the canyon streams. There are
actually three canyons: Andreas, Murray, and Palm -- with
a trading post, hiking trails, horse riding, and picnic
And within an hour of town, several outdoor
locations attract visitors. East of Palm Springs -- via
Highway 74 -- the San Jacinto Mountains offer
great scenery. The little town of Idyllwild is a rustic
community with crafts studios, shops, and restaurants.
Lake Hemet is a good place to stop for fishing and
a picnic. The mountain resorts in the San Bernardino
Mountains are about 90 minutes by car from Palm
Springs. At Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead,
you'll find boating and downhill skiing, with resort
accommodations and shops.
Located on the bare desert just above
Indio, the Indio Hills Reserve is a wonderful
ecological preserve featuring hiking trails through dunes
and across flatlands, including trails that lead to palm
oases, which sit on a fault line, with water bubbling to
the surface, creating several oases. An interpretation
center offers brochures and special guided tours of the
National Park, via Highway 62, is a superb wilderness
in the desert with an amazing collection of wildlife.
Closer to town, The Living Desert is a commercial desert
wildlife park, with exhibits of desert plants, animals
and birds, and guided tours.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
takes you up the side of Mt. San Jacinto, the mountain
which dominates the Palm Springs skyline, up to the 8,500
foot level where the tramway stops in San Jacinto State
Park. Here are hiking trails, mountain meadows, and
attractions including a restaurant and lounge, movie
show, horse and mule rides, and campsites, with views of
nearby mountain ranges and the Coachella Valley. During
winter months, the park is a prime cross-country skiing
area. The mountain's summit is at 10,831 feet.
Back on the valley floor, Moorten's
Botanical Gardens features nature trails through
cacti, trees, succulent varieties and flowers. The
nursery here is a good place for desert plant lovers to
buy cacti and succulents to take home. There are
well-designed and executed collections of Western art and
artifacts in the Palm Springs Desert Museum, at
101 Museum Drive. The Annenberg Theater here
provides a full schedule of performances.
Living Desert, the 1,200-acre desert
interpretive center, features exotic birds and animals, a
visitors center, bookstore/gift shop, botanical gardens,
nature trails, a picnic area, and a cafe. The Eagle
Canyon section features mountain lions, wolves, javelina,
bobcats, golden eagles and more. Living Desert is open
daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last admission at 4:30
p.m. It's closed from mid-June through August. To get
there, drive along Highway 111 to Palm Desert, and turn
onto Portola. You'll see signs. For information, call
Summer months feature Class-A baseball with
the Palm Springs Angels, affiliated with the
On Thursday evenings, Palm Canyon
Drive becomes a pedestrian mall -- with street
musicians, farmers' market, food booths, antique vendors,
and crafts people selling their work. It's called
VillageFest. On Friday nights, the northern part
of Palm Canyon Drive features the Canyon Stroll, with
much the same atmosphere, except car traffic continues on
The Agua Caliente Heritage Festival
is held the first weekend after Easter -- it's a lively
family affair that includes chili cookoffs, Native
singing and dancing, hay rides, and Indian art and crafts
sales. Food served includes Indian fried bread, tamales,
stew, and culinary activities include pig roasts, and
barbecues. The fiesta is a major fund raiser for the Agua
Caliente band's Heritage Museum, and is held at
Andreas Ranch, near Indian Canyons -- a 5-minute
drive from downtown Palm Springs.
Palm Springs is not all there is to resort
activity in this desert region. Other towns in the
Coachella Valley include Rancho Mirage, Palm
Desert, Cathedral City, Indian Wells,
La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella. The
towns are spread along the valley's main street (Highway
You have a wide range of hotels and motels,
for your Coachella Valley stay. Most of the chain motels
are here, and they are often larger and more well
furnished than their sister motels elsewhere. You also
have to decide whether to stay at an expensive golf
resort, at a hot spring spa, or in what is probably the
most exclusive hideaway resort in the U.S. (Two Bunch
Palms in Desert Hot Springs).
Springs lies on slightly higher land, under the
Little San Bernardino Mountains, east of Palm Springs.
This spa town features hot pools at several hotels, and
the rich and reclusive stay at Two Bunch Palms, a unique
oasis resort tucked away at the south end of this
fascinating little town. The major spa hotel is La
Toscana Resort, but the Royal Fox Inn, with
115 rooms, and the smaller Cactus Springs Lodge,
also have hot spring pools.
Several resort-style parks accommodate
RVers. The largest is Outdoor Resorts/Palm
Springs, at 69-411 Ramon Rd., Cathedral City (just
south of Palm Springs). With 620 sites, this huge
landscaped area features grassy sites with concrete pads,
store, laundry, restaurant, eight heated pools, ten
whirlpools, sauna, and tennis courts. There's also a
par-3 golf course. For information, call (760) 324-4005.
De Anza Palm Springs Oasis RV Resort
(36-100 Date Palm Drive, Cathedral City) has 140 sites,
all with hookups plus a heated pool, whirlpool,laundry,
tennis. and an 18-hole golf course is nearby.
Happy Traveler Recreation Vehicle
Park (211 West Mesquite Ave., Palm Springs) has 138
sites with hookups, just a block from Palm Canyon Drive.
Check for any restrictions here. Pool, whirlpool,
recreation room, playground, laundry. For info. call
Pinyon Flats Campground, is a Forest
Service campground with primitive facilities, 14 miles
southwest of Palm desert, on State Route 74.
Camping is also available at the top of the
tram ride, in San Jacinto State Park.
National Park has organized and primitive
campgrounds, and also features backcountry camping. It's
under an hour's drive from Palm Springs