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Despite living less than 2 hours away by car, it has been years since I’ve been to Palm Springs. I’m not sure why – both Palm Springs and neighboring Joshua Tree are popular weekend getaways from Los Angeles. So you can imagine my excitement when I won (yes won!) a trip to Palm Springs at a tourism event. Even though I was under no obligation, I had to create this 3 days in Palm Springs itinerary to share all the cool things I did with you all.
Now that I’ve been there, I’m here to tell you my weekend in Palm Springs was one of the highlights of my California trips this year (which included Lake Tahoe, Ventura, the Channel Islands, Berkeley, and Tiburon. Sequoia deserves some love, too).
Palm Springs is such a fun vibe. It can be glam, nature-y, artsy, and even outdoorsy. If you visit in the spring like I did, you can spend the morning making snowmen and the afternoon in the pool. Palm Springs has hiking, art, quirky shops, and all kinds of amazing mid-century architecture. And, of course, there are tons of amazing places to eat in Palm Springs, too!
If that sounds intriguing, continue reading my 3-day Palm Springs itinerary for tips on making the most of your long weekend there.
Table of Contents
Arrival in Palm Springs / How to Get to Palm Springs
Again, I have no idea why it has been so long since I’ve visited – Palm Springs is within driving distance of Los Angeles! Plus, it has its own airport so getting to Palm Springs from other cities is super convenient.
From Los Angeles
The great news for Angelenos is that getting to Palm Springs from Los Angeles is really easy. It’s a pretty straight drive east on the 10 and the exit is really well marked.
Your Los Angeles to Palm Springs road trip will take about two hours – depending on traffic. And bonus, you’ll have your car to explore anywhere you want.
From Anywhere Else
Palm Springs has its own airport – Palm Springs International (PSP). It’s a really popular destination so there are tons of flights from all over, and you can usually score a deal on airfare to Palm Springs if you’re flexible on your dates.
How to Get Around Palm Springs
Downtown Palm Springs is super walkable, with tons of shops, restaurants, and art along North Palm Canyon Drive. It’s a pretty small town. There are only about 50,000 full-time residents.
But to get the most out of your weekend in Palm Springs, I recommend having a car or using a rideshare like Uber or Lyft. A lot of the best activities in Palm Springs are too little spread out to walk to, especially if you’re incorporating activities in the neighboring cities of Palm Desert and Indio.
Pro tip: If you plan to rent a car, you can find great rental prices here.
Best Time to Visit Palm Springs
Really, any time of the year is a good time to visit Palm Springs. It all depends on what activities in Palm Springs are on your list.
I went in the spring and the weather was great. It was warm enough to sit by the pool in the afternoons, but it was still cool enough that there was snow to play in at the peak of Mount Jacinto.
Summer in Palm Springs lasts from May to September and it is HOT. The good news is that it’s way less crowded then. If you travel to Palm Springs in the summer, you’ll want to adjust this itinerary to make sure you’re inside or poolside during the hottest parts of the day.
It gets crowded again in the fall. Fall in Palm Springs feels a lot like spring. It’s another good time to enjoy cool mornings and evenings while still getting to swim in the afternoon.
But if you’re not big on swimming, January and February can be some of the best months to visit Palm Springs. It’s cooler then but you’re not likely to experience bad weather. You can still go hiking, plus it’s fun to try out the hot springs when it’s cold out.
Best Things to Do in Palm Springs
If a weekend in Palm Springs isn’t on your must-do list, this Palm Springs itinerary will change your mind! There are a ton of fun things to do in Palm Springs and the restaurant scene is poppin, too.
Here of some of the best things to do with 3 days in Palm Springs:
3 Days in Palm Springs Itinerary: Day 1
Pro tip: Plan to arrive in Palm Springs in time for lunch on the first day so you can take full advantage of this Palm Springs 3-day itinerary.
Lunch at 1501 Gastropub
To really kick off a foodie trip to Palm Springs, start out at 1501 Gastropub. It has a fantastic patio for outdoor dining, but if it’s too hot, sit inside in one of the retro-meets-industrial booths.
The restaurant says it serves upscale bar food, but to me, 1501 Gastropub felt like modern diner food. And it was delicious! I recommend the Strawberry and Burrata Salad (who doesn’t love burrata?) and the Cold Roasted Chicken Sandwich.
Explore Downtown Palm Springs
Take a stroll down Palm Canyon Drive after you finish lunch. This street is lined with tourist shops, vintage boutiques, and several great places to find art by local artists.
Palm Canyon Drive is one of the places where you can see stars embedded in the sidewalk. These stars indicate the famous people who lived in Palm Springs à la Hollywood Walk of Fame (find a link to the app for a guided tour here).
Pro tip: Be careful where you park. Parking rules and time limits are strictly enforced.
Stroll through the Botanical Garden
The Moorten Botanical Garden is a perfect place to stop and get acquainted with the area. It’s one of the best attractions in Palm Springs.
This botanical garden focuses on cacti and succulents that you can find in the surrounding desert. They just started offering docent-led tours. If you’re at the Moorten Botanical Garden on a day they’re offering tours, I highly recommend joining one.
The garden also has a shop with lots of fun succulents and gorgeous pots for sale.
Dinner at Birba
Head to Birba for a spectacular farm-to-table dinner and take full advantage of their gorgeous patio surrounded by planters and fairy lights.
The appetizers were all amazing, and I definitely had some order envy when I saw a plate of their handmade pasta on a nearby table. But I couldn’t pass up the wood-fired pizza Birba is known for. It lived up to the hype.
Pro tip: Save room for the Lemon Olive Oil Cake. It’s one of the best things I ate all day.
3 Days in Palm Springs Itinerary: Day 2
Breakfast at Ernest Coffee Shop
I don’t usually eat three full meals a day, so I was thrilled to learn about the iconic Ernest Coffee Shop. It had plenty of seating, a great selection of pastries, and seriously good coffee.
If a bigger meal is more your speed, give Farm a try. It has a heavily French-influenced menu with a selection of omelets and sweet and savory crepes that will blow you away. A favorite is the Canard omelet, made with crispy duck confit.
Ride the Aerial Tramway
I’ve been on trams and chairlifts before, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It leaves from the Valley Station on Tramway Rd and takes you up to the top of Mount San Jacinto.
Not only are the views epic, but the car also rotates, so you get to see the view from different angles throughout the 10-minute ride. It’s such a fun thing to do in Palm Springs.
Pro Tip: You can avoid the line and purchase your ticket ahead here.
Explore Mount San Jacinto State Park
When you get off the tram, you’ll be at the top of Mount San Jacinto. In good weather, there are over 50 miles of trails and nature exhibits to explore.
When I visited, there was still a lot of snow up there, and I took advantage of that time to explore some of the trails, but mostly to play in the snow. Mount San Jacinto has stunning views of the Coachella valley. You can’t miss it.
There’s a nice little café near the tram where you can warm up with a good cup of hot chocolate before riding the tram back down to town.
Lunch at Tac/Quila
One of the things I liked about this restaurant is that the interior feels funky and fancy all at the same time. I’m all for a good taqueria, but if you’re going to hang in Palm Springs, why not really go for something quirky, am I right?
But it’s not just the interior that I loved. The food lived up to the hype. The Jicama and Papaya Salad and the Rajas Tamale are two options you shouldn’t miss.
Swim at the Hotel Pool
Palm Springs is the perfect place to relax. Just about every hotel has a pool, and there’s no better way to spend an afternoon. Pool time is the most Palm Springs of all the Palm Springs activities.
Grab your towel and some sunscreen and take it easy poolside for a while. After all, when else will you get to say you played in the snow in the morning and swam in the afternoon?
Dinner at Roly China Fusion
Roly China Fusion was one of my favorite meals I had in Palm Springs (I love Chinese food). The menu is full of locally sourced, healthy ingredients. The noodles were perfectly cooked, and the Mongolian beef was some of the best I’ve ever had.
Even better, this adorable restaurant is right on Palm Canyon Drive. I sat inside in one of the comfy booths, but they sometimes put tables around the pool out back, which is such a vibe.
3 Days in Palm Springs Itinerary: Day 3
Breakfast at El Jefe
Brunch is a big deal in Palm Springs, but I had too much I wanted to do to spend several hours in a restaurant. Instead, I just walked down to the lobby of my hotel and ordered breakfast at El Jefe’s Desert Cantina.
The menu at El Jefe has something for everyone. I ordered the Saguaro breakfast and it was delicious. I can’t say enough good things about El Jefe. You’ll love the food, the vibe, and the service.
Explore the Desert in a Jeep
The whole area around Palm Springs is really beautiful. I explored the desert and a palm oasis with Red Jeep Tours and can’t recommend their tours enough.
I learned so much about palm trees and as nerdy as this sounds, they’re surprisingly fascinating. After seeing the oasis, we drove past all these amazing rock formations that were formed by earthquakes and even had the opportunity to climb through one of the many rock crevices. The tour was incredibly interesting and super fun. I highly recommend it. Book a tour here.
Try an Iconic Date Shake
Take some time after your Jeep tour to visit Shields Date Garden. I was surprised to learn that the Coachella Valley produces 95% of the USA’s dates!
Shields Date Farm is also home to the OG Date Shake. They’re all over Palm Springs now but the one at Shields Garden is the best and a delicious drink you can’t miss in Palm Springs.
If you’re hungry for lunch, this is a good place to eat too. The farm has a restaurant called the Café at Shields. The onsite shop is also a great place to purchase date souvenirs for others (or just yourself!).
Admire the Art
One of the coolest things about Palm Springs is all the public art. Most of the hotels and restaurants feature local art on the walls. But you don’t have to go indoors to get artsy.
Use this self-guided tour to walk the streets of Palm Springs and see the best of the public art in town. You’re sure to find some creative works!
If you’re a huge art lover or you find yourself with some extra time, don’t miss a visit to the Palm Springs Art Museum. It’s a gorgeous space and it focuses on art by local artists and artists of color.
Visit the Living Desert Zoo
I’m not going to lie – I’m not a big zoo person and rarely recommend them in my blog posts for ethical reasons. But the zoo in Palm Springs is both spectacular and ethical. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Palm Springs for a reason.
One of the things I love most about Living Desert Zoo is that they participate in the Species Survival Plan to keep endangered and threatened species from extinction.
The zoo has basically all the animals you could want to see. There’s lots of staff interaction too, and the zoo posts signs to tell you when they’re doing things like feeding the rhinos. Don’t miss the giraffes though. You can feed them yourself!
Relax by the Pool
When you finish at the zoo, take one more opportunity to relax before dinner. I spent some time reading in the hammock at my hotel for a while before heading over to the hotel pool one last time.
Dinner at Lulu California Bistro
Lulu California Bistro was packed on a Saturday night and for good reason. It is known for amazing food, and after eating there, I know why. Everything I tried was delicious, but I can’t stop thinking about the Chilean Sea Bass I ordered as my entrée.
But it’s not just the food that makes Lulu one of the best places to eat in Palm Springs. The whole place is just an experience. It’s bright and modern and chock-full of local art both inside and outside the building. What better place to spend your last night in Palm Springs?
Where to Stay in Palm Springs
Hotels in Palm Springs are works of art on their own. They pretty much all have pools, which is great because hanging by the pool is a key part of any weekend in Palm Springs. The rates can get a little pricey depending on the time of year, but there’s still a wide range of options for places to stay in Palm Springs.
Here are my recommendations:
Vagabond Motor Inn (Budget-friendly)
The Vagabond Motor Inn Palm Springs is the best place to stay on a budget. The outside may look like your standard motel, but the inside is bright and modern, equipped with standard amenities like air conditioning, a mini-fridge, and in-room coffee. Even better, the pool area is really nice with comfy loungers. Plus, its location can’t be beat – within one mile of Downtown and walking distance of Moorten Botanical Gardens.
The Saguaro Palm Springs (Mid-range)
The minute I stepped foot in the lobby of The Saguaro, I just got the vibe of Palm Springs; the hotel is colorful and playful and a touch retro. And the location is excellent – just 5 minutes away from Downtown Palm Springs.
This hotel has an older feel but has all the standard room amenities you’d want, and some and the staff was friendly and attentive. There’s even a fitness center and bike rentals (another fun way to explore Palm Springs!).
The Saguaro is arranged around a truly epic pool. It is a gathering spot during the day, but still popular at night. The hotel is really fun, but the walls are thin. If you’re a light sleeper, make sure to pack some earplugs! Noise aside, this was an excellent accommodation choice that I’d definitely return to during my next visit to Palm Springs.
Sonder The Cole (Luxury)
You can’t ask for a better location for a hotel in Palm Springs than The Cole. It’s located just north of downtown Palm Springs so the neighborhood is peaceful and easy to access. The vibe is really modern and clean but still has a fun retro feel.
What’s really nice about The Cole, besides the fantastic pool, is that every room has its own sitting area, making them extra-spacious. Plus, the mountain views can’t be beat.
The hotel is limited to guests aged 21 and older. That definitely adds to a party vibe around the pool, but it’s really quiet as soon as you leave the pool area. Also be aware that there isn’t not much staff on site, but the virtual support is good enough that you don’t really miss in-person check-in.
Alcazar Palm Springs (Splurge)
If you want to splurge in Palm Springs, you should stay at the best hotel in Palm Springs: the Alcazar Palm Springs. It has been recently redesigned and is even more beautiful than before, with the best pool in Palm Springs.
Alcazar is walking distance to a ton of restaurants and shops. They also offer bikes you can use to explore. The rooms are really luxurious with imported linens, daily towel service, and truly amazing showers. In the morning, grab complimentary fresh baked pastries and espresso in the lobby.
But even with all the amenities, the thing that makes Alcazar the best place to stay in Palm Springs is the staff. They’re super attentive and responsive. Basically, once you stay at Alcazar, you’ll never want to leave.
What to Pack for Palm Springs
You might think packing for Palm Springs is like packing for any other city. And it can be. But if you’re planning to take advantage of some of the outdoorsy things to do in Palm Springs, consider packing these items:
- Bathing suit: There’s nothing quite like the swimming pools in Palm Springs. They’ve all got this fun, retro vibe and are the perfect place to spend an afternoon! Don’t forget to pack a bathing suit or two. I really love these.
- Sun protection: One thing that’s a definite must-pack for Palm Springs is sun protection. The sun is intense and bright. You’ll be grateful for a good pair of sunglasses, sunscreen, and a shady sunhat.
- Water bottle: The desert is really dehydrating, even on cool days. Make sure you have a water bottle with you and drink regularly – even if you don’t think you need to. If you don’t already have a good water bottle, I love this one.
- A good daypack: Palm Springs can feel pretty glam, so if you’re not into hiking, you may want to take along a fun tote for the pool. But I just had my daypack do double duty. It’s light and durable, with plenty of storage for hiking.
- Good hiking boots: I saw a lot of people hiking in regular sneakers, but I’ll always recommend wearing good hiking boots (like these) if you’re going to hit the trails. I recommend getting fitted at REI if you’re unsure about what to get. Be sure to break them in ahead of time, and maybe take some blister plasters just in case.
- Layers: If you visit Palm Springs in the summer, it’s going to stay pretty warm even at night. But at any other time of year, the temperature is going to drop when the sun goes down. I was so happy I packed a fleece for cold mornings and chilly nights! Plus, it’s super packable so even if you don’t end up using it, you won’t feel like you wasted a ton of space in your bag.
I’m so glad I was finally able to return to Palm Springs after all these years and I’m eager to return again in the future.
Tell me: Have you ever spent a weekend in Palm Springs? What’s your favorite thing to do on a Palm Springs itinerary?
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