a group of palm trees with the sun shining through

Don’t let the influencers of Coachella ruin the real vibe here. Palm Springs is half of what you heard, and double how fun you think it might be. Or, if you visit the wrong area maybe not so thrilling at all.

It’s half true that in terms of architecture and design, not much has changed since Sammy Davis Jr, Steve McQueen, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe were bopping around, but that’s all part of the iconic charm. As to everything else, life is fresh.

Whatever you’ve heard about Palm Springs being just a sleepy old place in the desert for retired folks is long gone and totally untrue. This place is vibrant and thanks to an influx of great dining additions, delicious.

It’s a booming hideout for everyone from A-list celebs to sun starved travelers looking for glorious, bountiful outdoors and it’s now got the food and attractions to match any top destination. Even the city benches have been purposefully graffiti’d by local artists.

Here’s your ultimate guide to 48 perfect hours in this desert oasis known as Palm Springs, with tips for more, if you can swing it. Even if you do a month, you might find that you could easily have stayed forever. Feel free to skip around to find what you need.

Getting To Palm Springs: Flights, Cars

Palm Springs proper is a relatively small city and from any locale you’re only a few minutes from the airport. But, flights can often be considerably more expensive into Palm Springs than nearby airports in Southern California.

Travelers venturing into the city of Palm Springs are best served by comparing prices into Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN), Orange County (SNA), Ontario (ONT) and Palm Springs (PSP), and weighing up prices of picking up a rental car and driving from one of these locales.

The drive from San Diego or Los Angeles to Palm Springs is around 2 hours of largely easy highway driving, so factoring in flight and rental car prices in each potential spot can shift a travel budget considerably.

If you’re not on a budget — lucky you — the convenience of Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) is too good to pass up, and puts you minutes from downtown. It’s only a 35 minute walk, too!

Most major airlines, including Delta, American, United, JetBlue and Southwest service the airport from largely regional hubs like Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, LA and more.

Hot tip: Uber drivers play games to jack up prices in Palm Springs when flights arrive, so just be aware of that before you arrive, and pad arrival time at the airport a bit.

a street with palm trees and cars

Palm Springs Neighborhoods And Where To Stay

Palm Springs offers a variety of little enclaves and neighborhoods within walking distance of the downtown Palm Springs strip which focuses around Palm Canyon Dr.

Palm Canyon Drive goes from North to South, and the simplest way to explain it is that the further South you go, the more chain hotels and big brand restaurants you’ll find, and the further north you venture, the more ‘European’ feel, unique boutiques, cafes and upscale dining offerings you’ll encounter. There are exceptions, of course.

In Palm Canyon Dr navigation terms, if the mountains are on your left, you’re headed North. Right, you’re headed South. Easy enough, right?

PS — if you really want to “complete it”, no trip to Palm Springs is complete without checking some of the nearby desert and high desert locations.

a group of palm trees with the sun shining through

If you’re coming to Palm Springs for seclusion, there’s plenty of choice as to “how” to make that dream a reality, and that includes the type of lodging too.

Airbnb, VRBO and other sharing economy stays can bring superb value, offering private pools, outdoor areas and multiple bedrooms for the same price as many resorts.

Many places you might find on a major rental site are also offered by local and boutique home sharing and rental companies in the Coachella Valley, and often with better prices, or at least lower fees. You can often find the names of these companies on the Airbnb listings.

Hot tip: homeowners typically don’t need to pay tax on monthly rentals, but do on short term rentals, so staying a bit longer can save considerably more than 2-3 week stays. Four weeks probably costs the same or less as three, particularly when you add in the Airbnb tips to save money.

Focusing on neighborhoods such as Movie Colony, Old Las Palmas or Racquet Club will put you in great areas with easy access and fantastic accommodation options.

GSTP location pick: Movie Colony. This area is just a few blocks off Palm Canyon with superbly designed houses, classic Palm Springs vibes and gorgeous views and an easy walk to the best shops and restaurants. It”ll give you a sense of place, luxury and relaxation of the greatest magnitude.


Many of the chain hotels are found on the Southern part of Palm Canyon Drive, and this includes options like the Renaissance, Viceroy, Kimpton Rowan and Hyatt. These locations all put guests within walking distance of Palm Canyon Drive, where most of the food, shopping and drinking is found.

Don’t be afraid to look into smaller more boutique options, particularly if you’re trying to limit social contact with others right now.

Smaller boutique hotels are what the Palm Springs charm was built on, and there are cute options tucked throughout the streets, including the Parker, Saguaro, The Ace, Triada, Colony and Alcazar.

a colorful boxes with a box full of colorful sprinkles
Even the benches in Palm Springs are beautiful.

But First, Coffee

No trip can start without good coffee, and Palm Springs is experiencing a stunning exodus of Angelenos flocking to this less crowded desert paradise, where the best of city life is following. And yeah, the weather is very hard to leave.

That means hip third wave coffee is everywhere in the city now. If you like the good stuff that’s roasted — rather than burned! — locally, that’s good news.

For a discerning coffee enthusiast, the short list of best spots for a flat white, V60 pour over or speciality coffee in Palm Springs starts with: Cartel Coffee Roasters, La Jefa and Ernest Coffee.

La Jefa provides a wonderful outdoor space to enjoy your curated caffeine, while Cartel and Ernest duke it out with the most refined beans. Expect well brewed, well roasted coffee and nicely curated pastries and extras. Caffeine, check!

Best Palm Springs Restaurants: Lunch & Dinner

Palm Springs is striking an amazing balance for travelers right now, with incredible options to dine in, and just about all the best also doing takeout and delivery. It’s fair to say sometimes the only thing better than a delicious restaurant meal is enjoying it by the pool at home.

a plate of food on a table

Palm Springs has at least 10 restaurants which should win a seal of approval from any food critic, each with their own unique twist or angle on American classics, or regional mastery from the far reaches of the globe. Here’s a few worth prioritizing…

Workshop Kitchen + Bar: Fine dining without the fuss. Truly swoon worthy interior and exteriors in the classic El Paseo building make this a must for a great meal. I’d say Workshop would be considered fantastic food in any global city, and the local, foraged elements of the menu are impressive. It’s on the pricey side, but worth it for the a-list service and impressive quality.

Birba: “Real” Italian food done right. I say real, because it’s seasonal and the menu champions top quality produce. New Yorkers could compare it to the Barbuto of old and Angelenos could compare it to Jon & Vinny’s. It’s fun, and inventive with great atmosphere and also available for takeout.

Hoja Blanca: My personal favorite. Originally a food truck slash pop up, this is a moving location for truly inspired and authentic Mexican food. Not Tex-Mex, not four tortillas. Just real, chef driven food with real ingredients. Everything is as delicious, as it is beautifully presented.

Roly: This is Chinese and Asian fusion, but without many of the trappings or failures of the many spots which attempt so called “fusion”. It’s “good”. The ambiance is lovely outside by the pool, each dish is made with cares, and as a frequent explorer of Asia, things are fairly authentically spiced. It’s reasonably priced and a great comfort meal.

Cheeky’s: A lunch time go-to in town, with al fresco dining and excellent variation on the menu. You’ll find inspired menu items from around the world, like a superb Asian chicken salad to zucchini fritters right out of a Greek taverna, with things like Bacon flights (yes, that’s a thing) and great sandwiches too.

El Jefe: How can you talk California without real, homemade masa corn tacos or guacamole? There’s plenty of mass appeal margarita and fajita dens in town, but EJ Jefe at the Saguaro is ingredient forward, with superb Mexican food. Meat eaters will love the al pastor or short rib, and veggies can adore the roasted sweet potato with herbs and aioli. The guac is also a-list.

Rooster & The Pig: Southeast Asian food is often simply represented by Thailand in America, but Rooster And The Pig changes that, a bit. It’s more Vietnamese than Thai, but draws on authentic dishes from around the area. Everything packs the flavor, heat and aroma of the genuine article and this hole in the wall is an absolutely ideal takeout meal. It gets busy, so order ahead!

Eight4Nine: This is a fun, slightly scene’y go to for new American staples done well and some creative international twists too. Lunch or dinner, the outdoor seating area is a dream. Whether it’s the roasted cauliflower steak with puree or the actual carne tacos, the food is great and the atmosphere will make you happy you came.

Sandfish: Quality sushi with a more traditional focus than others, even if there’s a selection of specialty rolls. The rolls are great, the rotating nigiri specials are very good, but it’s actually the Brussel sprouts which are most mind blowing.

Jake’s: The simple classics with a little twist done right, with a lively patio and fun buzz about the place. The margaritas are huge (and good), the sandwiches are inventive and the staff is nice. Think BLT with basil and tarragon aioli type stuff. The weekend brunch sees an expanded menu with incredibly good pastries.

Monsoon: Think: Indian food you know and love, some you don’t, and all done well. This predominantly North Indian spot has all the good chicken tikka masala, but also lovely daal makhani and Indochina inspired bites. The cauliflower is like crack. You can’t go wrong here, if you’re feeling some Indian food.

a building with palm trees and a sign

Boutique Shopping In Palm Springs

With more and more (often) young city people moving out to the Palm Springs area permanently, the shopping is on a serious high, not just the dispensaries in the area.

New boutiques and small designers are opening up shop and there’s just a lot to love from on trend ‘tie dye’ hoodies made from organic cotton to hand poured candles and Scandinavian homeware options. GSTP loves a few unique shops in town.

Mojave Trading & Flea is simply a must. A collection of many local small boutiques under one roof, this is a place to find clothes, candles and items you won’t find pretty much anywhere else. There’s also a Yucca location, which is worth the trip into the high desert.

For curation of the finest order, with incredible designers and a beautiful aesthetic, Elizabeth & Prince is high end boutique done really, really right. For people staying in Palm Desert, or La Quinta, there are two more locations, too!

It’s modern, its cool, the fabrics all feel right at home in Palm Springs and the team at the store are highly knowledgeable without being annoying or “salesy”. They will tell you when something looks amazing though!

Moving on, there’s the chic The Shops at 1345, which brings together a series of small boutiques and galleries into a highly enjoyable little market. You can browse through designer after designer, with all things ranging from throw pillows to jewelry and high brow loungewear.

Finally, Windmill City. This is a shop trying to champion regionally made products from designers and producers in the area. It’s more casual and quirky than high fashion, but the threads and sweats are nice. It’s a great spot to find heavenly Joshua Tree Candle Co candles, limited run clothes, totes and postcards. The people are lovely too.

a patio with a fire pit and a table

If you’re trying to bring some Palm Springs inspiration home, or rather into your home, Pelago is a must visit. It’s a star among the many inspired homeware and design shops in town, and home to prints from the artist Michael Murphy, who champions aviation and retro Palm Springs in his work.

Just wander North Palm Canyon Drive and the shops, little art galleries and great coffee spots will come at you. You might even miss them if you blink. And if it all seems a bit much, pull off into the gorgeous hidden courtyards just off the main strip, like the one tucked between Alejo and Chino, near the mountains off Palm Canyon.

Things To Do In Palm Springs

You’ve already got your food, drinking and shopping, so what else is there in life? Just kidding, of course. Palm Springs proper has hiking, tennis, golf and enviable outdoor lifestyle at every turn, and a variety of things not too far away, either.

If it’s hot, the Palm Springs Art Museum is wonderful, with a rotating cast of excellent exhibitions. The city’s ‘modernist week’ is always worth the trip.

Ruth Hardy Park is the perfect place for families to entertain kids, or friends to play some tennis, within walking distance of most places to stay. Hikes are plentiful and are an amazing way to see just how much of a valley the city of Palm Springs is in.

Joshua Tree is only an hour or so, and the drive through Yucca is worthwhile and really, there’s only one Joshua Tree, so go do it for an amazing afternoon hike or night of stargazing, ideally with professional guides to help.

a giraffe standing on a hill
A giraffe at the Living Desert in Palm Desert.

On the family travel note, The Living Desert is a world class zoo and gardens, just some 20 minutes away near Palm Desert. It’s open and worth the trip, kids or sans. Look out for the giraffes, which enjoy a huge area where photos could fool friends into thinking you’ve gone to Kenya.

Nearby Indian Wells is the home of a huge ATP Tour tennis tournament featuring all the top names and takes place in mid March and not long after the insanity of music festivals like Coachella begins.

DesertX is an awesome art initiative bringing installations all throughout Palm Springs and the valley, with moving exhibitions set against nature. This is an attraction which will trend upwards now and in the future, so if you know, you know.

Palm Springs is about relaxing though, so don’t feel bad if you just sit by the pool tanning, or snap some photos while walking through Movie Colony, or any of the old neighborhoods with classic homes.

a desert landscape with trees and a blue sky

Day Trip: Joshua Tree Excursion

If you’re not in the region often, a trip to Joshua Tree really is a must. It’s easy, and under an hour to reach from the Palm Springs area. The Joshua Tree National Park is easily accessible by car if you’re traveling on your own and simple ‘quick snap’ trips would do fine without a guide.

Getting a guide is awesome though, and opens up so many more possibilities, like late night astronomy with huge telescopes and more. An adventure with the Joshua Tree Excursions team is highly recommended, even if it ain’t cheap! There’s nothing like a desert sunset.

Hot tip: it gets colder at night than you’d imagine. Even Bostonians and those coming from the worst winter weather areas will want to heed the warning, if you plan to stay out past sunset!

Palm Springs Is The Place Right Now

It’s hard to think of a better destination for vibrant, outdoor lifestyle than Palm Springs. With more city folk giving up the hustle and bustle for the seclusion offered, the curated elements like food and beverage hot spots will only continue to improve, and that means the reasons to visit will too.

What’s your favorite part of the Palm Springs experience?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Gilbert – It appears you didn’t fully research the best airports to fly in to:

    “Travelers venturing into the city of Palm Springs are best served by comparing prices into Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN), Orange County (SNA) and Palm Springs (PSP), and weighing up prices of picking up a rental car and driving from one of these locales.”

    You neglected to mention Ontario (ONT), a major airport just one hour away from Palm Springs, closer than LAX, SAN, and SNA.

    1. Shawn, that’s one way of looking at it and I appreciate your comment. Ontario rarely enjoys the lower prices of LAX/SAN, so it was a conscious choice because I see benefit in a drive if it’s considerable savings on flights, and or also lower priced rental cars, given the huge capacity at major city hubs like LAX/SAN. Otherwise a flight into Palm Springs is too easy to pass up. I hope you were able to enjoy the rest of the 2,000+ word guide on the actual city itself and its many delights…

  2. Nice article. You neglected However, to mention Pickleball!! The #1 growing sport in the U.S. 4 million+ players and P.S. and surrounding areas are a YEAR ROUND draw even in Summer.
    You mentioned Indian Wells Tennis center but failed to mention that they also host the Pickleball National Championships every November.
    Fun read.

    1. Hey Kevin, do you like pickle ball, by chance ; ) It’s a great sport and thanks for adding this tidbit. It’s a lot of fun and thanks for highlighting!

  3. I agree with @Shawn that ONT should have been mentioned as we have often used it as an alternative to our yearly flights to PSP….especially if you do not want to do the horrendous drive from LAX or SAN. As for restaurants, there are a ton of great places not mention that are essentially Palm Springs institutions like Spencer’s and Le Vallauris for dinner and Sherman’s Deli for lunch….and let’s not forget Koffi if we are talking about coffee places.

    1. La Bonita’s in downtown Palm Springs is an awesome spot for legit Mexican food in the most casual of environments. Their cheese tortilla tacos are sinfully delicious.

  4. As a single traveler, flying directly into PSP is the way to go for convenience alone. Well worth the extra bit of cash and time savings. Many of the larger hotels offer airport shuttles, the best option to get from the airport to the hotel. There’s also a casino downtown, if that’s your thing. Last time I was there in Dec, 2019 I won enough money to pay for my meals. 3 day trip, good return on the $20 I threw into the video poker machines.

  5. Hi Gilbert, really appreciate the efforts you have put into these travel guides. Thanks

  6. Hi Gilbert,
    This is a great list, thank you so much!! I recently bought a condo and completely remodeled it hoping to spend more time in the desert. Alas, work has me flying 3 weeks a month so this winter I’m going to rent it out. I wonder if you have any thoughts for sources other than Airbnb?

    Here is my link https://abnb.me/Lmg44rLfnub

  7. We have been visiting Palm Springs for almost 25 years, and though things have changed, it has never been “sleepy old town” during that time. You failed to recommend some of the more “true and tried” dining establishments in town that the locals would recommend. The list of restaurants you recommend are those listed by the Instagram crowd, definitely not what those who has been there for years (or locals) would recommend. Our favorite Palm Springs restaurants include: Johannes, Copley’s, Miro’s, La Csuelas Nuevas (in Rancho Mirage). Also it would be amiss not to mention Sherman’s Deli.

    We recently, for the first time, flew into Long Beach Airport to visit Palm Springs. We thought it was a great little airport. That should also be included in the list of possible airports to access Palm Springs. It’s not any further than LAX and you save tons of time compared to most other airports because it is small.

    1. Hi Naoyuki, thanks for the comment and for sharing your perspective. I do not share a love of your dining choices but that’s what makes travel great, we each get to go where we like. I do agree that Long Beach is a good option and it is significantly more convenient for domestic travel.

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