Tips for spending the holidays in Palm Springs

The holidays truly are a highlight of every year, and there is no better place to visit during the season than Palm Springs. There is plenty to do in the area, which includes endless opportunities regardless who you are traveling with. Here are some popular events and tips for spending the holidays in and around Palm Springs.

How to enjoy the holidays in Palm Springs

Of course, the weather in Palm Springs during the holidays is excellent, with the temperature typically staying above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This means, however, that northerners and others looking to escape the cold winters typically flock to the Palm Springs area during December, so it is best to book your hotel and car (if applicable) far in advance to get the best prices. If you cannot handle visiting without seeing some snow, though, chances are you may be able to by visiting the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway that runs along the San Jacinto Mountains.

Shopping is one of the best activities you’ll find in the desert region, so it is recommended you do some research and find exactly what outlets and shops you want to do your holiday shopping at. If you’re itching to eat at specific restaurants, it is recommended you call a few days beforehand to ask if they take reservations. Ultimately, as long as you plan in advance, your holiday trip to Palm Springs will be a blast.

Here are some unmissable events in the region during the holidays:

Thanksgiving and Christmas Events in Palm Springs

Thanksgiving Dinners

The holidays are about gathering with loved ones, and – of course – part of that entails food, including amazing Thanksgiving dinners! Luckily, there are many different places for a good holiday feast in the Palm Springs area. LULU California Bistro in downtown Palm Springs is offering a four-course Thanksgiving feast that is one of the best in the region, so you’ll want to make a reservation at 760-327-5858 as soon as possible. Golf pro Arnold Palmer’s restaurant in La Quinta is also cooking up a special menu for the holiday, which consists of an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert ($75/adult, $45/child).

Palm Desert’s Cuistot is offering a special Thanksgiving menu and a take-out option that feeds either five or ten people if you and your group wish to eat in. Another take-out option is none other than the popular Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa in Rancho Mirage, which is offering a “gourmet feast” that includes a full turkey and feeds between six and eight people for $220.

Palm Springs Festival of Lights

palm springs festival of lights paradePerhaps one of the top annual events in Palm Springs is none other than the Palm Springs Festival of Lights. The festival has now been going on for 30 years along Palm Canyon Drive in the heart of Palm Springs. Held on the first Saturday in December, there are thousands of sprawling lights as well as marching bands and balloons that give off a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade vibe. Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus always attend this event as well as other favorites like Minnie Mouse and Snoopy.

Tree Lighting at El Paseo Shopping District 

The El Paseo Shopping District is one of the most bustling shopping centers in the region and will be hosting a memorable tree lighting celebration on November 18th, 2022 from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Along with the lighting of a 60-foot Christmas tree, the show includes festive carolers and stilt walkers as well as kid-friendly activities and even Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. Of course, you can also get some gift shopping done there, so it’s a win-win!

Merry Movie Nights

The Gardens on El Paseo holds its Merry Movie Nights event each Saturday throughout the month before Christmas Day (November 26th to December 17 of 2022). Movies start at 5:00 PM on the center lawn and it is recommended you bring a blanket to sit on and some snacks to enjoy throughout the featured films. Tickets cost just $5 for children and $7 for adults, and previous attendees suggest you reserve your tickets ahead of time because the shows sometimes sell out.

Cabazon Dinosaurs 

Cabazon Dinosaurs is undoubtedly one of the most popular exhibits in the Palm Springs area, and it is even more special around the holidays. The dinosaurs’ Fall attire is converted into vibrant holiday cheer with lights and endless garland. The 65-foot tyrannosaurus rex will be dressed in his best Santa costume, and while Santa himself may or may not be there at the time you go, his sleigh will be and you can take a ride in it courtesy of the velociraptor that will be pulling it. This exhibition is a great spot any time of the year, but no other time beats the holidays.

See The Lights at the Empire Polo Club

A newer event being held from November 18th to January 1st is facilitated by Family Entertainment Holdings at the Empire Polo Club in Indio. The so-called “Magic of Lights” festival is a worthwhile trip, as it offers an amazing “Enchanting Tunnel of Lights” as well as fun for all of the kids regardless of what their interests are (e.g., it has everything from Barbies to monster trucks). Visitors stay in their cars the entire time as they ride through an unforgettable experience full of lights and holiday cheer. Tickets for one standard vehicle are $15 Monday through Thursday, and $20 tickets can be used any day.

Indio Tamale Festival

Another popular annual event in Indio is the Indio Tamale Festival. Held the first weekend of December, this event typically features over 300 food, drink, and retail vendors as well as amazing art exhibitions and, of course, a tamale eating contest! Entry into the festival is free of charge, but certain rides and other attractions require tickets, which can be purchased online or on-site during the festival. Be sure to check the website for more specifics on the festival, including what you are and are not allowed to bring with you.

Palm Springs Village Fest: every week!

While the Palm Springs Village Fest is actually held every Thursday from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM on Palm Canyon Drive throughout the year, just like with the Cabazon Dinosaurs, the holidays are the best time to visit. While many of the vendors in attendance are regulars throughout the year, the holidays bring some really special ones who sell delicious holiday treats and items that would be great for gifts. Whether you like crafts, clothing, or just good food, there is something for everyone at this event so you won’t want to miss it.


WildLights at Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Starting near the end of each November, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens features its so-called “WildLights” display that is a hit for the whole family. Thousands of lights are twinkling as you stroll through the zoo and gardens, which have been converted into a winter wonderland. Other holiday-specific treats include a s’mores making station, photos with Santa, a festive carousel, and extensive model trains all lit up. Of course, the animals are amazing, including the new rhino exhibit. You’ll likely want to purchase tickets in advance, which cost $16 for anyone ages 13 and up and $12 for children ages 12 and under. Children under 3 get in for free.

Photo Ops with Santa

Of course, if you spend the holidays in Palm Springs, you’ll need to take some photos, and photos are always better with Santa Claus in them! Along with fun games for children, Santa will be available at the Gardens on El Paseo on December 3rd from 9:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. If you have pets who love Santa, too, the Gardens on El Paseo are hosting a cat- and dog-only “Paws ‘n Claus” photoshoot on December 10th from 9:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.

What’s your favorite holiday tradition in Palm Springs? Let us know in comments.


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Palm Springs Traveller Staff