Nested in the Coachella Valley, just a short drive from Palm Springs, the chic, sun-drenched desert haven of Palm Desert draws visitors escaping colder climes and looking for some laid-back luxury. The desert city may be best known for its world-class golf courses, country clubs, high-end spa resorts, and top-notch shopping, but there are so many more amazing things to do in Palm Desert, California.
Culture abounds amidst the glitz and glamor, with the state-of-the-art McCallum Theatre hosting many touring Broadway acts. Stroll down palm-lined boulevards and explore eclectic art galleries and engaging public art pieces. Get back to nature with a wander around the lushly agrarian Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, where you can meet cheetahs and feed giraffes. After checking out all the top tourist attractions, sip signature cocktails at a trendy café along the strip while ogling celebs.
Whether a cultural buff or an outdoor adventurer, read on to discover some of the best places to visit in Palm Desert, California!
Best places to visit in Palm Desert, CA
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
With cheetahs, meerkats, giraffes, and zebras, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens bring the African wild to the heart of California. Home to over 500 animals representing over 150 species, the non-profit zoo and desert botanical garden is a haven of wildlife and well worth exploring.
Stroll around the beautiful immersive botanical gardens that specialize in the desert environments of the world. Admire exquisite flora from the exotic deserts of Madagascar to Baja California’s Viscaino Desert. Hike one of the many nature trails through the park.
See mountain lions, leopards, warthogs, and bighorn sheep in their natural environments. Marvel at the speed of a cheetah, interact with goats, feed a giraffe, and laugh at the amusing behavior of meerkats.
Explore the interactive Discovery Center and enjoy a Wildlife Wonders animal presentation. Check out the largest G-scale model train displays in the world and relax over lunch at one of the park’s casual cafés.
Coachella Valley Vista Point
The vast desert oasis of the Coachella Valley is nothing less than spectacular. Tucked between the rugged San Jacinto Mountains and Santa Rosa Mountains, the valley is world-renowned for being a place of inspiration, solitude, and serenity.
One of the best places to soak up the valley’s endless desert vistas is the Coachella Valley Vista Point. Located about five miles up Highway 74 as it winds out of the Coachella Valley and into the Santa Rosa Mountains, the viewpoint boasts breathtaking panoramic vistas.
Stand in awe and gaze out over the north and east of Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, the Bighorn Country Club, and the rocky slopes of the San Jacinto Mountains and San Gorgonio Mountains.
Desert Holocaust Memorial
Pay your respects to those who are gone but never forgotten at the Desert Holocaust Memorial. Located 10 miles southeast of Palm Springs in Civic Park, this touching memorial is dedicated to the millions who lost their lives in the Holocaust.
The memorial features several beautiful and thought-provoking symbols, such as a circular row of trees at the entrance representing life outside of the enclosed fence of the concentration camps. In a rather haunting reproduction, the cobblestone pathway leading to the memorial is lined with replicas of light standards like those at Auschwitz.
Seven larger-than-life bronze figures mounted on a double-tiered Star of David rest at the heart of the memorial. These figures memorialize the lost parents, children, loved ones, and millions of innocent people. Plaques dotting the memorial tell the heart-wrenching stories of those who endured the unimaginable atrocities of the Holocaust.
The Bump and Grind
Surrounded by spectacular scenery, Palm Desert is a fantastic place to hike, and one of the most popular hiking trails in the Palm Springs area is the Bump and Grind Trail. This short, yet challenging hike is a great way to squeeze in a sneaky workout and soak up some beautiful views at the same time.
The 3.4-mile loop trail begins on Painter’s Path behind the Desert Crossings shopping center and winds its way up to an elevation of around 1,000 feet. Take in the incredible scenery of the desert foothills and the peaks of Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio along the way.
Pass or pop into a refuge for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and admire the beautiful wildflowers that carpet the hillsides.
The Bump and Grind Trail is extremely popular with hikers and bikers, so it’s best to start your hike early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat. Hiking at sunrise or sunset has the bonus of stunning, Insta-worthy photo ops!
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum
Take in some local history and beautiful Hopi-style pueblo architecture with a visit to Cabot’s Pueblo Museum. Situated in Desert Hot Springs, the American historic house museum was built in the early 1940s by Cabot Yerxa, an early pioneer of the Colorado Desert.
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a captivating example of the Pueblo revival design. Using elements found in the natural desert surroundings, such as sun-dried bricks and reclaimed wood, Yerxa began construction in 1941. Sadly, he never completed building the house before he died in 1965.
The four-story home has 35 rooms, which are now filled with artworks and fascinating exhibits detailing the life and times of the family who once lived there. Take a guided tour of the historic house museum and learn the intriguing story of Cabot Yerxa and his quirky home.
Palms to Pines Scenic Byway
If you love taking long Sunday drives, then this one is a must! The 67-mile Palms to Pines Scenic Byway winds its way from the spectacular desert landscapes of Riverside County to the snow-peaked mountains at Banning Pass.
While the striking scenery is reason enough to hit the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway, there are a few fantastic places to stop along the way. Visit the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument and stretch your legs on the super short Ed Hastey Garden Trail while learning about the local flora and fauna in the region.
Stop at the Coachella Valley Viewpoint for some beautiful valley vistas or the Cahuilla Tewanet Vista Point for great views of the mountains. Cool off with a refreshing dip in Lake Hemet, a man-made reservoir surrounded by shady pine forests.
Switch from the natural beauty of the surrounding desert landscapes to the beauty of art with a visit to the CODA Gallery in El Paseo. Founded by Connie and David Katz in 1987, this landmark art gallery has showcased local and international works through a revolving collection of contemporary art for over 30 years.
Located in El Paseo Square, the vibrant CODA Gallery features an impressive collection of paintings, photography, glass, and sculptures by a wide range of established and emerging artists. Walls are lined with vibrantly colored pieces that pop and exquisite pieces of glasswork that would light up a room.
Hailed as one of the nation’s top art galleries by the American Art Awards, the gallery is well worth a visit, not just to treat yourself to a special piece but to surround yourself with artistic creativity.
Coachella Valley Brewing Company
When it’s time for a cold craft brew, head to the Coachella Valley Brewing Company in nearby Thousand Palms. The first dedicated craft brewery in the Coachella Valley produces more than 20 locally produced craft beers on tap and offers tastings and tours of the brewery.
The beautifully appointed Coachella Valley Brewing Company taproom is on Gunther Street. Here you can relax over a few brews or enjoy a guided tasting with one of the beer makers.
Find out how local ingredients are used for farm-to-table brewing and try to taste the herbs, spices, honey, and citrus in the brews. Snack on platters of delicious appetizers during your tasting.
Take a tour of the brewery and learn how the Coachella craft beer is produced using a H.E.B.S. or high-efficiency brew system. Tours of the brewery are offered on certain days of the week, so be sure to call ahead to avoid disappointment.
Prefer your craft to be coffee? Make Cups Café the next stop on your Palm Desert itinerary. Quaint and cozy, this lovely little café has bright décor and a warm and welcoming vibe. Named after the restaurant’s original clock made of cups, Cups Cafe serves freshly brewed coffee and fresh farm-to-table fare.
The charming little eatery on Country Club Drive is perfect for an early morning brekkie before hitting the hiking trails or a lazy Sunday brunch with the papers. Tuck into buttermilk pancakes, towering burgers, sandwiches, or dishes from age-old recipes like homemade risotto.
Coachella Valley Preserve
Get back to nature with a trip through the magnificent Coachella Valley Preserve. Located in the bluffs of the Indio Hills about 10 miles east of Palm Springs, the preserve is home to several lush oases and some incredible hiking trails.
Start your adventure with a visit to the Coachella Valley Preserve at the visitor’s center in Paul Wilhelm Grove at the center of the park. Here you’ll find unique displays of the natural features of the preserves and trail maps.
The star of the oases show is the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis. Fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault, the lush watering hole spans 880 acres and features palm woodland oases and desert wetlands, and some amazing wildlife. Spend a few hours exploring this desert heaven on more than 25 miles of hiking trails.
Other oases in the Coachella Valley Preserve include Hidden Horseshoe, Indian Palms, and the Willis, all of which can be explored on lovely hiking trails. It’s a good idea to visit the preserve early in the day to avoid the soaring afternoon temperatures.
Palm Desert Cross
Another one of Palm Desert’s fantastic hiking trails is the Cross Loop Trail. The trail leads to the Palm Desert Cross, an illuminated cross perched at the top of a hill with beautiful scenic views. The cross is lit up by a solar system and stands as a beacon of light that can be seen for miles in the dark.
The 2.3-mile loop hike to this local landmark is pegged as being a moderately challenging route that’s suitable for both hiking and mountain biking and is open year-round. There are picnic tables, barbecue pits, and restrooms at the start of the trail in Cahuilla Hills Park.
The Cross Loop Trail is popular with outdoor lovers, so it’s best to go early if you want to avoid crowds. Four-legged friends are welcome on the trail as long as they’re leashed.
Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
Protecting the rugged peaks and vast landscapes of the Sonoran Desert, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument boasts a variety of unique and unforgettable hikes. Rising from the floor of the desert to an elevation of 10,834 feet, the reserve is home to a variety of ecosystems from snow-capped peaks to lush palm oases.
The best way to explore the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument is by hiking one of the many trails that crisscross the terrain. Stop at the Visitor Center to get information on the park, watch documentary movies, and grab a few maps of the area.
Hit the classic Cactus to Clouds Trail for a challenge, or take the shorter hike to The Cross. Admire carpets of beautiful wildflowers in the spring. Keep an eye on the sky for a wealth of bird species that call the park home.
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Explore the lush native fan palm oases in the Indian Canyons at the base of San Jacinto Mountain and enjoy a dip in the curvaceous pools fed by mountain water.
Desert Willow Golf Resort
You can’t visit Palm Desert without enjoying a round of golf, and the Desert Willow Golf Resort promises an unforgettable experience. The luxurious country club features two championship golf courses that have been voted two of the Coachella Valley’s best plays.
If you need help with your swing, get expert advice from a PGA professional at the Palm Desert Golf Academy. Try something on the Footgolf course – a unique combination of golf and soccer.
After your day on the green at Desert Willow Golf Resort, enjoy a delicious dinner at the Terrace Restaurant. Book a Woodford Reserve whiskey and food pairing dinner and sip some of the finest whiskeys in the world against a backdrop of breathtaking views.
The Painted Canyon is one of nature’s incredible phenomena and shouldn’t be missed! Located in the Mecca Hills Wilderness, the Painted Canyon is quite literally that: breathtaking natural rock formations and naturally marble-painted slot canyons.
At Painted Canyon, shades of orange, red, and brown merge with pink, cream, and gray to create a palette of colors that look like they’ve been painted onto the rock.
Marvel at this incredible beauty on the popular Ladder Canyon Hiking Trail. This 4.2-mile loop trail winds through spectacularly colored mineral deposits against a backdrop of views of the Salton Sea. Ladders have been placed along the slot canyon walls so that hikers can climb up waterfalls while they’re dry.
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Admire the diverse range of wildlife and plant life along the way, from palo verde and smoke trees to bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and spotted bats. Don’t forget to take your camera for some superb photos!
Need another dash of culture on your Palm Desert vacation? Catch a show at the intimate McCallum Theatre. Named for a pioneering desert family, the McCallum Theatre is an intimate, 1,127-seat theatre on the southern edge of the campus of College of the Desert. You can enjoy a variety of performances by dance companies, theatrical troupes, and internationally renowned artists at the state-of-the-art facility.
From the Broadway classic, My Fair Lady to a Celebration of the Music of Chicago, the theater hosts a wealth of diverse performances and shows that cater to all tastes. Check out the McCallum Theatre events calendar for the season’s line-up.
Pacifica Seafood Restaurant
Have a hankering for fresh seafood in the heart of the desert? The go-to spot for sea-smackingly fresh fish in Palm Desert is Pacifica Seafood Restaurant. Located atop The Gardens on El Paseo, the homey restaurant has a beautiful dining room and outdoor patio with mountain views.
Book a table on the outdoor patio for alfresco dining under the stars. Tuck into an amazing selection of fresh fish and shellfish, succulent steak and pasta dishes, crisp salads, and small plates. Complement your dinner with award-winning wines, hand-crafted cocktails, or a short from the extensive vodka selection.
Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours
Explore the wilderness on an unforgettable adventure with Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours. Hop into a bright red jeep and venture into the wilderness on a guided tour. Choose from a variety of tours offered by the local tour company and experience the desert like never before.
Discover the Mecca Hills Wilderness Area, marvel at the magnificent Painted Canyon, and delve into the lush oases of Palm Springs Indian Canyons. Venture further afield on a trip to the Joshua Tree National Park and enjoy lunch in the reserve.
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You can also enjoy other activities with the company, like hiking, sightseeing, and wagon rides with Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours.