15 Best Day Trips from Palm Springs

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Palm Springs conjures up idyllic images of relaxation, luxury and gorgeous scenery.

It’s a must-visit for excellent shopping, pampering in one of its many spas which are fed by the natural hot springs, and of course, some unrivalled gourmet restaurants.

You’ll feel like a star driving along its wide, tree-lined boulevards visited by many a famous name over the years.

Located in the Sonoran Desert in Southern California, Palm Springs also has a whole bunch of great day trips waiting to be undertaken in its outlying areas; with endless valleys, beaches and mountains of the state lying around every corner.

Here are fifteen of the best day trips from Palm Springs:

1. Salton Sea

Salton Sea, CaliforniaSource: Zack Frank / shutterstock
Salton Sea

Created completely by accident, Salton Sea is an interesting spot with a fascinating history of which you can learn more in the visitor center.

Just over a hundred years ago the area was flooded by the Colorado River thanks to an engineering mishap.

There’s also a museum to browse, which focuses on the ecology of the area.

There are several semi-ghost towns scattered about the region; almost completely abandoned by all former inhabitants, they make for an interesting diversion on your way home.

2. Joshua Tree national park

Joshua Tree National ParkSource: fotogestoeber / shutterstock
Joshua Tree National Park

The intriguing Joshua Tree National Park is certainly worth a visit from Palm Springs with its unique natural flora: the Joshua trees.

These scrubby trees stand out starkly amidst the desert landscape, and provide some excellent opportunities for photography alongside the ever-present cacti and boulders.

There’s hiking on offer in the Hidden Valley trail, and the national park is also one of America’s top Dark Skies sites, making it fantastic for stargazing if you’re there at night.

This national park is famous across the country, so the option to visit should not be lightly passed up.

3. Amboy Crater

Amboy Crater, CaliforniaSource: Jason Patrick Ross / shutterstock
Amboy Crater

Located just off the famous Route 66, the National Natural Landmark of Amboy Crater is well worth a visit to stretch your legs.

The lower half of an aged volcano, the hike isn’t all that easy, owing to the crumbled lava that covers the footpath, but it’s rewarding enough to make it worthwhile.

To the crater, it’s about two or three hours’ walk, and when you arrive you’ll be greeted with an alien sight that looks more like a moonscape, complete with lava lakes that are now dry.

Take plenty of water to rehydrate in the desert heat; there are no convenience stores around.

4. Route 66

Route 66Source: trekandshoot / shutterstock
Route 66

You can hardly pass up the chance to drive along this iconic road at some point in your life, and from Palm Springs it’s easily accessible.

Simply spend the day cruising around and soaking up the majesty of the desert; perhaps stopping off at some of the notable roadside attractions along the way.

Many spots down the road have gone through an era of thriving, then abandonment, making for an interesting aesthetic, but some are having a revival thanks to new interest; such as Roy’s Motel and Café, which now houses art installations and vintage cars.

5. Indian Canyons

Indian Canyons Hiking Trails near Palm Springs CaliforniaSource: Adventures On Wheels / shutterstock
Indian Canyons Hiking Trails Near Palm Springs California

Providing many opportunities to get out and about among nature’s wonders, Indian Canyons is also importantly the ancestral home of the Cahuilla Indians, of the Agua Caliente band.

The main viewpoint offers an interesting tribal museum, but there are plenty more active options for entertainment; including horseback rides around Murray Canyon or a hike up to a 60-foot waterfall.

If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of the endangered Bighorn sheep roaming the bare bones landscape.

6. Los Angeles

Los AngelesSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock
Los Angeles

You can hardly spend time in Palm Springs without taking a day trip to the tree-lined boulevards of LA. Mingle with all the celebrities, take a tour of Hollywood and spot some famous names along the walk of fame, or simply soak up the sun and hit the beach.

Spend the afternoon hanging out at one of LA’s many gorgeous cafes and restaurants, which are always great spots for simply sitting back and people-watching.

Just make sure to take plenty of in-car entertainment with you in case you get caught up in that infamous traffic on your way there or back.

7. Anza Borrego State Park

Anza Borrego State ParkSource: Patrick Lienin / shutterstock
Anza Borrego State Park

This Badlands landscape offers a whole host of opportunities for fun: hiking, sightseeing, photography options and some hard-core ATV or dirt bike trails if that’s what floats your boat.

It hardly feels like anything else on earth, with its crazy natural formations and barren landscape stretching for miles on end.

For a brief return to civilisation before you head back to Palm Springs, you can stop off at nearby Borrego Springs for a drink and a bite to eat, and to recount the adventures of the day.

8. Santa Monica

Santa MonicaSource: Lux Blue / shutterstock
Santa Monica

The Santa Monica area of greater Los Angeles is probably your best bet for a beach break.

Third Street Promenade is a popular spot for grabbing something for breakfast; it’s also within walking distance of the beach and the Santa Monica Pier, which offers a whole host of entertainment options for kids and adults alike in the Pacific Park.

If you get bored of the beach and the amusements, there’s also the option to hire bikes and tootle along the beachside path.

It’s an all-round enjoyable option for a relaxing day out of Palm Springs.

9. Idyllwild

Idyllwild, CaliforniaSource: Kevin B Beggs / shutterstock

This mountainous region is just as idyllic as the name suggests, and at just over an hour and a half’s scenic drive from downtown Palm Springs, it’s the perfect option to escape for the day.

At a much higher elevation than Palm Springs, it offers a literal breath of fresh air compared to the surrounding desert.

There are plenty of outdoorsy activities on offer here; from hiking and biking to rock climbing and some fabulous vistas from the many viewpoints.

It’s definitely a great place to bring a picnic and enjoy nature.

10. Coyote Ridge

Coyote Ridge, CaliforniaSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Coyote Ridge

Located just twenty miles, or a half hour drive away from central Palm Springs, Coyote Ridge is a brilliant place to escape into nature, with awe-inspiring views out over the Santa Gorgonio Mountains.

There are some excellent guided horse riding trails spread out through this area, and a whole lot of wildlife and plant life to make the excursion that bit more interesting: red tailed hawks, eagles and kestrels can be seen soaring above.

11. Pioneertown

Pioneertown, CaliforniaSource: Ovidiu Hrubaru / shutterstock

Founded in 1946 by an eccentric group of investors from Hollywood, Pioneertown certainly offers something a bit different from your average day trip.

Dreamed up as a live movie set, and designed around the theme of an 1870’s frontier town, the place was used for the filming of over 50 movies and some television shows too, throughout the 1940s and 50s; though it has today fallen out of use for that purpose.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace is now the major draw with their lively food, drink and music events.

Well worth a visit for a unique day out.

12. Whitewater preserve

Whitewater Preserve, CaliforniaSource: Steve Minkler / shutterstock
Whitewater Preserve

Hiking trails abound in this natural wonderland, where you’ll find yourself roaming for miles without running out of things to see.

You’ll have the chance to spot wildlife as wide-ranging as bobcats, bears, deer and coyotes, as well as the rare Bighorn sheep that are a unique feature of this area.

While fishing isn’t allowed in the ponds scattered throughout the preserve, you can still spot the colourful rainbow trout, which is great entertainment for the kids too.

13. Tahquitz canyon

Tahquitz Canyon Visitor CenterSource: Steve Cukrov / shutterstock
Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center

A good, easy option for those with children in tow, Tahquitz Canyon provides a reasonably easy two-mile hiking loop with some excellent views of the scenery.

It’s a fairly short hike, likely to take under two hours, and the admission price is minimal.

The hike features a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, which might be a good spot for a picnic if you time it right.

This is definitely a good way to go if you don’t feel like doing anything too strenuous but still want to escape to the countryside.

14. Coachella valley preserve

Coachella Valley PreserveSource: Lowe Llaguno / shutterstock
Coachella Valley Preserve

A glorious natural wonderland can be found in the Coachella Valley Preserve, and this is a great place to spend the day.

Pack a picnic to munch on as you marvel at the scenes spread out before you, and take your pick of hiking from the 28 miles of trails on offer.

There’s yet more opportunities for wildlife spotting.

All this lies just ten miles away from Palm Springs and is an ideal choice for a tranquil break.

15. San Diego

San DiegoSource: Dancestrokes / shutterstock
San Diego

A bit further afield than some of the other options, but still well worth the visit, is San Diego.

This vibrant city has a lot to give.

With everything from beaches and parks to excellent dining and drinking options, San Diego will definitely keep you busy during your day away from Palm Springs.

It’s a hub for arts and culture too, with over 17 performing arts venues and museums, as well as outdoor theatre in summer and plenty of live music events regularly hosted throughout the city.

If inner city life isn’t what you’re looking for, then there is still over 70 miles of coastline waiting to be explored; including plenty of good surf breaks and some great spots for a barbecue or bonfire in the evening.

15 Best Day Trips from Palm Springs:

  • Salton Sea
  • Joshua Tree national park
  • Amboy Crater
  • Route 66
  • Indian Canyons
  • Los Angeles
  • Anza Borrego State Park
  • Santa Monica
  • Idyllwild
  • Coyote Ridge
  • Pioneertown
  • Whitewater preserve
  • Tahquitz canyon
  • Coachella valley preserve
  • San Diego