A 5-Day Travel Itinerary for Palm Springs

Beyond the endless sunshine, Palm Springs, California offers great food, cool hotels, art, culture, and outdoor fun.

Palm springs welcome sign
Photo: Frank Datzer/Getty Images

When I travel, I want to try a little of everything while also having time to relax and do nothing. Usually, the struggle is real to find a spot that's easy to fly to, has great weather year-round (for impromptu get-out-of-Dodge long weekends), and provides enough to do on the nonlazy days. Palm Springs, I discovered, gives me all of this. And the views! The photo ops! I'm pretty sure I audibly gasped when I landed at the airport and took in the beauty of the San Jacinto Mountains. I couldn't believe how picturesque everything was—even the people. Everyone seemed to be wearing chic sandals and midcentury modern clothes (is that even a thing?). I felt like an outlier, with my dark denim and black leather jacket. I made a quick mental list: Check into the hotel; change into something else, anything else; and start exploring.

Here are some of the places I hit next—and my best suggestions for a five-day trip to Palm Springs.

Where to stay in Palm Springs:

Some people refer to the Saguaro Palm Springs as "the rainbow hotel," due to a colorful exterior paint job that's so eye-catching, it demands a grid post on Instagram. But it's not just about looks: The place has hip vibes and a great pool scene. If you want a smaller, more intimate, adults-only spot, there's the Fleur Noire Hôtel, a collection of art-filled casitas and suites. Margaritaville Resort, as the name suggests, is the brain baby of singer Jimmy Buffett, but the place is a good hang even if you're not a Parrot Head—and especially if you're traveling with kids and grandparents.

Hotel Specs

Saguaro Palm Springs

Each of the 244 rooms has a balcony or patio. You choose whether you want a view of the mountains, skyline, pool, courtyard, or garden. From $181 a night; thesaguaro.com.

Fleur Noire Hôtel

The 21 bungalows, casitas, and suites at this all-adult property lean into the boho-desert aesthetic, with a common courtyard shaded by ironwood trees. From $250 a night; fleurnoirehotel.com.

Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs

For a bit of the tropics in the desert, visit this 398-room island-themed resort. Pets—dogs, cats, and, of course, birds—are welcome. From about $200 a night; margaritavilleresorts.com.

Where to eat in Palm Springs:

If you're a taco aficionado like I am, go to El Jefe, the tequila and taco bar at the Saguaro. The nachos quickly became my favorite late-afternoon snack. I'm a bit of a sushi expert too (what are the chances?), and I dug into the inventive rolls—one is even called the Experiment—at Sandfish Sushi & Whiskey. When I craved comfort food, I hit 1501 Uptown Gastropub to sit outside. The menu is so good, it's hard to decide on just one thing.

Where to visit in Palm Springs:

Joshua Tree National Park

Driving and hiking around Joshua Tree National Park, I felt like I'd stepped onto another planet as I scoped out the rock formations, vast overlooks, and quirky, spiky Joshua trees. If actually leaving earth is your thing—and you don't need beta-blockers for your acrophobia—get fired up for a Fantasy Balloon Flight hot-air balloon ride (available October to April). You'll enjoy views of Palm Springs, a mod "forest" of windmills, the Coachella Valley, and the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountain ranges.

The Palm Springs Art Museum

I love a museum that gives me a sense of a place but doesn't overwhelm me with its size. The Palm Springs Art Museum has a cool collection, including a sculpture garden popping with desert plants, and exhibits, like Gonzalo Lebrija's History of Suspended Time. It's just a few blocks from the main shopping drag, Palm Canyon Drive.

Architecture Tours

Palm Springs is a mecca for midcentury modern architecture; driving around, you feel like you've been air-dropped into the best episode of House Hunters. During Modernism Week, you can actually go inside homes and see seriously authentic furniture and interior design. After just one walk-through—or gawk-through—I was ready to move right in. More than 350 other events fill out the 11-day festival (this year it's slated for February 17 to 27), including films, lectures, and bus tours.

Jeep Tours

Nothing says "rugged desert adventurer" like zipping around the landscapes of Palm Springs in an open-air Jeep. Desert Adventures' Red Jeep Tours offers a variety of trips, and you can mix in some hiking as well. Book the "Bones of the Earth" tour if you want to catch a gorgeous sunset while winding through the cuts of the San Andreas Fault Zone canyons.

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