Palm Springs is a draw all its own. But for regular visitors, going through the same routine may feel a little stale. Why not mix things up with a day trip on your next stay in the Palm Springs area?
Palm Springs day trip: Borrego Springs
Borrego Springs, and neighbouring Anza-Borrego State park are loaded with things to do if you’re into photography, hiking, golf or just sightseeing the desert. Just 90 minutes drive from Palm Springs, the town is easy to get to, but once you’re there, you’ll feel like you’ve left the world behind. The badlands landscapes out here are unparalleled, and in some areas you’ll feel like you’ve been dropped on Mars.
If you like ATVing, you’ll find Nirvana out in the desert; Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area is a special zone where riders, and dirt-bikers can rip through the desert trails with like-minded enthusiasts. Even if you’re not a hard-core ATVer, if you have a 4-wheel drive truck, you can get out on the trails to see some pretty amazing landscapes and formations. Stop for dinner at one of the charming family-run restaurants in Borrego Springs before making it home to sleep in your own bed.
Palm Springs day trip: Los Angeles
If you time it right,you can visit LA and get back all in one day. Going to LA for some shopping, lunch or dinner and to see some sights can be easily done. Plan to leave at 6 or 7am; the drive is easy, but you’ll hit LA gridlock around Riverside. While you could do this drive in about 2 hours, the last 50 miles or so will be stop and go. Bring a book on tape, some music or a chatty companion and just plan to ride it out.
Once in LA, you can hit the beach, shop in Santa Monica’s promenade, the outdoor mall which runs along 3rd street for several blocks, or even visit a personal favourite spot; the Getty Centre. The Getty has an outstanding central garden, and the architecture of the building along can entrance me for hours. Add in the many exhibits and you can spend a few hours, or the day.
Relax with lunch at a chic outdoor cafe or patio, then plan for dinner in one of Los Angeles’ top restaurants. (ProTip: if you stay for dinner, you’ll miss the evening rush hour!) Leave the city around 8 to be home in time for a Palm Springs nightcap by 10.
Palm Springs day trip: Joshua Tree National Park
Just an hour to either the North entrance, or the southern entry, Joshua Tree National Park is a stunning natural landscape that’s worth a visit any time of year. While you can get to the boundary quickly enough, you’ll want to plan to spend the day here. From hiking trails, to sweeping vistas, or amazing rock formations, there’s lots to see.
Distances between some of the best sights can be longer than it looks, particularly because you’re bound to see thinks along the way that will make you want to pull off the road and get a closer look. ProTip: pack a cooler with chilled beverages and a lunch; there are no real services to speak of in the park.
Palm Springs day trip: Idyllwild
When the heat becomes too much, or you’re looking for a change of scenery, Idyllwild is the perfect choice for a quick break. Located southwest of Palm Springs, Idyllwild sits about 5,000 feet up in the San Jacinto mountains. It’s about an hour’s drive from Palm Springs and 90 minutes from Los Angeles.
Route 74, known as the Pines to Palms Scenic Byway, is a treat as you move from the desert up into the mountains. Idyllwild has a genuine small-town feel, and you can stop and eat at one of the small restaurants, or try something a bit fancier, like Restaurant Gastrognome.
Palm Springs day trip: The Integratron
The Integratron, in Landers, CA, just an hour north of Palm Springs, is a fusion of art, science, and magic. It’s a structure built based on a fusion of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla, and telepathic communications from aliens. Creator George Van Tassel describes the Integratron as “a high-voltage electrostatic generator that would supply a broad range of frequencies to recharge the cell structure.”
It’s 38 feet high, 58 feet in diameter, and features the Integratron Sound Bath, featuring 35 minutes of quartz crystal singing bowls played live while you relax in comfort.
There’s also a gift shop featuring crystals, meditation stones, and magnets, and a professionally recorded version of the sound bath.
Palm Springs day trip: Desert Hot Springs
Desert Hot Springs is located in the Coachella Valley, a 20-minute drive from Palm Springs, near the western edge of Joshua Tree National Park. As its name suggests, the area is known for an abundance of natural hot springs, and there are several spas you can use to enjoy them, including the Sea Mountain Resort Nude Spa for the more adventurous.
Another “don’t miss” attraction is Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, which focuses on Cabot Yerxa’s life and work and his discovery of the hot springs in the area. The museum is built as a Hopi-inspired pueblo, contains over 35 rooms, and is surrounded by beautiful scenic views.
Palm Springs day trip: Pioneertown
Pioneertown is located just a 40-minute drive north of Palm Springs., not far from Yucca Valley. The town was conceived of and created by a group of Hollywood investors, including Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. The idea was to make a town that films and television could be shot in by creating not only the facades of western buildings but interiors as well.
The town includes an art studio and gift shop, a saloon and restaurant, a general store, a pottery store, a soap shop, and an outfitters, in case you’re in the mood to dress western. On weekends, the town is more lively, with businesses open from high noon to sundown.
Palm Springs day trip: Salton Sea
Located about an hour to the southeast of Palm Springs, the Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, formed when a canal was breached, and the Colorado River flowed through. It’s an oddity, a lake where no one would expect one. With the conditions in the area and California’s drought situation, it’s possible that three-quarters of the volume of the lake could be gone by the end of the decade.
You can visit the ruins of Bombay Beach for photo ops, visit the International Banana Museum, or visit Slab City, a melting pot of eccentric characters and travellers. The Dos Palmas Preserve has lots of hiking opportunities.
I’ll be looking for some new must-see day trip options near Palm Springs. If you have a recommendation, please let me know!