Palm Springs, CA
A playground in the desert? That’s how the city of Palm Springs, California, thinks of itself. This resort and retirement community at the western end of the Coachella Valley is 110 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Although many residents spend the more than 350 sunny days a year golfing, playing tennis and sunbathing, the city offers a myriad of other attractions, both natural and manmade.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway offers a visual overview of the area on the world’s largest rotating tramcars. The 10-minute, 2.5-mile trip is one of the top Palm Springs attractions for kids. The ride begins at the Valley Station, ascending more than 5,800 feet up the sheer face of Chico Canyon and completing the journey at the Mountain Station. The ride treats passengers to eagle’s-eye views of the Coachella Valley and the craggy peaks of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains.
Back down in the valley, Palm Springs shopping centers on the palm-tree-lined commercial thoroughfare of Palm Canyon Drive, which teems with clothing boutiques, antique and art galleries, international restaurants and hotels. Avid shoppers will also want to check out the downtown Villagefest. Held every Thursday evening, Villagefest packs blocks of Palm Canyon Drive with live entertainment and booths displaying a host of crafts and local foods for sale.
A few short blocks off Palm Canyon Drive, the Palm Springs Art Museum contains a fine collection of Modern and Contemporary paintings and sculpture as well as Native American and Western art. Among the city’s museums, it is the only one featuring art. The museum opened in 1938 as the Palm Springs Desert Museum with a focus on the region’s natural and cultural history. The museum moved several times through the years before landing in the Modernist structure it occupies today.
Once the Desert Museum’s wildlife reserve, the 1,200-acre Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is another prime attraction in Palm Springs. It showcases indigenous animals and plants from all four deserts in North America. Visitors see mountain lions, bighorn sheep, rattlesnakes and dozens more of the denizens of the Sonoran Desert on a tram tour through the reserve. Hiking trails thread the reserve’s 1,080 acres of desert landscape.
Among the must-see museums in the city is the Palm Springs Air Museum, which exhibits one of the largest groups of flying WWII military aircraft in the world. Three hangars roll out such vintage planes as a B-17 Flying Fortress and a P-51 Mustang. Lucky tourists may see these rare birds in the air, since pilots regularly fly them to keep them in good working order.
A drive out to the three Indian Canyons owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the area’s first residents, makes for a pleasant and enlightening day trip from Palm Springs. A ranger-guided hike is the best way to experience the serenity of these sacred lands and to admire the groves of California fan palms that stand out against the gorges of Palm Canyon.