10 Things to Do in Palm Springs – Spas, Fitness, Food and Fun
When you think of vacations in the California Desert, you probably think first about Palm Springs and its celebrity history, golf resorts, dazzling swimming pools, lounges, casinos, dance clubs and colorful street festivals, but has so much more to offer for the spa, fitness, outdoors and wellness enthusiast.
If you’re wanting to explore the healthier side of this desert getaway, here are 10 Things to Do in Palm Springs and the surrounding area.
ABOUT PALM SPRINGS
Palm Springs is a desert city in the Coachella Valley in Southern California. It was first settled by Native American Cahuillas, who were drawn to this healing place of hot water and dry air. It became a mecca for the Hollywood elite in the 1930s, ushing in an era of resort living. Palm Springs is internationally renowned for both its historic and modern hotels, tennis and golf resorts, the abundance of mid-century modern architecture and design, hot springs pools, fine dining and nightlife.
As with any desert city in an area of natural beauty, its close proximity to desert trails and rock climbing, mineral springs and conservation areas means there are a host of wholesome and healthy activities and day trips for spa, fitness and adventure enthusiasts.
Known for its historic downtown village of shops, antique and consignment stores, day spas, cafes, theatres, and lounges, all sharing a variety of architectural styles ranging from Old Mexico to Retro Futurism to Mid-Century Modern.
A community of luxury golf course residential properties, country club living, golf, tennis and athletic clubs, spa resorts and luxury hotels, convention space, and splendid estates and luxury mid-century modern classic homes.
Known for its outdoor planned shopping mall, Restaurant Row with many upscale restaurants, golf courses, condominiums and golf course properties, and its extensive medical services and hospitals.
Known for its Shopping District, The Gardens of El Paseo is an upscale shopping destination with more than 150 name-brand designer shops, art galleries, day spas, and fine restaurants along the El Paseo Drive strip.
A family-friendly community with both public and private golf courses, casinos, affordable hotels and restaurants, big box shopping and hardware stores, plus numerous cafes and lounges in its “Old Town La Quinta” and “Plaza Calle Tampico” districts.
DESERT HOT SPRINGS
The only community separated from the greater Palm Springs metro area by the interstate, Desert Hot Springs known for its somewhat quirky, dated or rustic motels, inns and boutique hotels, many historic, featuring spa treatments and soaks in the city’s abundant hot springs, mineral waters and thermal wells.
PALM SPRINGS SPAS
One of our favorite reasons to book a stay at the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage is the hillside setting which gives views of the twinkling lights of the valley floor, which come alive after spectacular desert sunsets. This resort is surrounded by the beauty of both the Palm Springs desert floor and its rugged mountain tops. Opulent rooms, delicious food and craft cocktails, and spa treatments make for a perfect desert vacation.
Ritz-Carlton Spa® Rancho Mirage offers treatments based on holistic and indigenous herbs and plants, desert salts and clays. Try the Sec-He Rock Ritual. Sec-he translates means “boiling water.” The Cahuilla Indians valued the healing properties of the surrounding mineral baths as much as the region’s natural rock resources. This nearly 2 hour treatment includes a Desert Salt Scrub, Bath Ritual and Hot Stone Massage.
Spa facilities include locker rooms, wet lounges, whirlpools and relaxation areas. Enjoy a hot whirlpool, cold plunge pool, hydro-therapy shower, steam, sauna and an outdoor co-ed spa whirlpool with waterfall and mountain-scape views.
The Riviera Palm Springs is a blend of retro contemporary and hot sophistication. This Palm Springs hotel exudes iconic intimacy in each of its luxuriously appointed rooms and suites. Privacy is plentiful – share a picnic tucked behind a tree on the garden lawn, or a rendezvous with a bottle of champagne on the expansive grounds, or take refuge in Azure Spa. This 11,000 square foot masterpiece offers everything from body treatments to skin care to a full service salon. Don’t miss the watsu pool, private steam rooms and relaxation areas.
Heading the other end on the high-end luxury spectrum, but boasting a unique and whimsical charm, are the spa yurts for visitors and guests at the Ace Hotel & Spa in Palm Springs. The treatment yurts are private, cedar-lined, indoor treatment rooms with sauna and steam, and are adjacent to the Swim Club pool. Holistic and natural treatments are based on the local flora and fauna. After your treatments, visit The Commune Pool and its fire-pit. At night the pool comes alive with parties, film screenings, and fun activities, all with a view of the mountains. Add to this a cool mid-century design and a wonderful restaurant in a restored Denny’s, now boasting organic farm to fork regional cuisine, and you’ve got a fun city-in-the-desert getaway.
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WINE & DINE
Fortunately, Palm Springs, although a desert city, is easily accessible to assure daily fresh foods, fish and meats are available, making it easy to find locally sourced favorites, and avoid the corporate chains. While there are always a host of dining options in vacation destination towns, including at every major resort, you’ll also find copious cafes and bistros serving desert-friendly cool cocktails and fresh juice concoctions, and of course high end steak and chop houses for meets and greets after your winning golf or tennis match.
Palm Greens Cafe is a local favorite bistro that caters to the clean eating crowd with an extensive menu of fare for vegans, vegetarians, and meat and fish eaters alike, plus those with specialty diets, including gluten-free. All fare is made fresh daily in small batches, using organic and sustainable food, free of artificial ingredients preservatives. Order your breakfast platter with fresh local eggs, lean turkey bacon, or opt for tofu and tempeh bacon. The colorful rainbow salad sampler platter is one our favorite lunch entrees — so generous it’s enough food for an entire day and keeps you going for trail hikes and exploring. The menu includes eye-opening smoothies and acai bowls, organic beer and wine, and delicious baked goods.
Essence Restaurant is the garden restaurant at the Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa. Guests enjoy the fresh, regional fare with spectacular mountain views. The menu features California fresh, organic cuisine, always farm-to-table and seasonal. Choose from shared plates for an intimate dinner, hearty fare for outdoor enthusiasts or calorie controlled for the health conscious. The menu is designed with a balanced range of vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and nutritional whole foods, like the signature Blueberry Quinoa Pancakes, Body Cleanse Teas and Tonics, Superfood Salads, Grilled Seafood, and much more. Yes, you’ve spotted fellow guests dining in spa robes — it’s all about relaxation, here.
You don’t need to be an adherent to a Raw Food Diet to enjoy a visit to this food bar serving fresh, local and sustainable fruit and vegetable based fare. Raw Remedy is part of the excellent local Farmers’ Market community, known for its excellent juices and smoothies, smoothie bowls, salads with daily house made dressings, such as the always good Rainbow Carrot Pad Thai with Almond Lime Dressing, dairy-free frozen desserts, and easily totable wraps and snacks for a day on the trails, and organic coffee and teas. Look for the mobile juice truck, too, at local events.
At Chicken Ranch, they like to say they “Good Food is Simple” and it really is. Locally sourced poultry, produce, fruits and baked goods, all combined for delicious, perfect, clean Rotisserie Chicken or Fried Chicken entrees, sandwiches, wraps, tasty sides served with house made salads and dressings, iced teas, organic beers, and desserts. Opt for a chicken dinner with roasted local vegetables, or get a baguette sandwich or wrap with thick-cut fries and a cold beer or craft cocktails. Always a delicious, easy, and fast meal. Watch for Happy Hour and Sunday Brunch specials, too.
DAY TRIPS and ADVENTURES
Head outside to experience these beautiful canyons, parks, trails, and natural wonders.
There are so many wonderful art installations, museums and educational tours in Palm Springs, it’s tough to choose just one. From the family favorite Living Desert Zoo, the Joshua Tree National Monument, or McCallum Adobe House, or the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, to the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, to Sunnylands (pictured)— a historic, 200-acre estate in Rancho Mirage on the former estate of Walter Annenberg, now open to the public for garden and estate tours and yoga and Tai Chi classes on the Great Lawn.
The Coachella Valley Preserve is nearly 900 acres of natural vistas with views of the Little San Bernardino Mountains and the southern edge of Joshua Tree National Park. The Sheik, starring Rudolph Valentino, was filmed on the site in 1921. The Preserve has a Visitor’s Center open seasonally, and the preserve itself is open for hiking and picnicking all year. The Preserve is home to springs, dunes, mesas, hiking, and riding trails, free to the public (with donations appreciated). Guided hikes by volunteer docents give you an expert overview of the Preserve, its history and flora and fauna that can be found within the Preserve. Bring a camera and they’ll take your picture standing on the San Andreas Fault.
Desert Hot Springs’ natural hot mineral waters originate from the Desert Hot Springs Aquifer, which continues to be heated by ancient geothermal forces thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. Naturally heated to temperatures as high as 180 degrees, for centuries the waters have been believed to hold curative powers. Today, Desert Hot Springs’ groundwater is ranked among the nation’s best. There are numerous local motels and hotels (pictured is Miracle Springs Resort), from traditional to vintage to funky to even RV Parks with pools, all offering mineral pools and some with therapeutic treatments for those seeking to “take the waters.”
The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve is close to Morongo Valley just northwest of Desert Hot Springs. Visitors are invited to enjoy many trails, including boardwalks through the marsh and stream habitats, meandering through the Preserve. The one-half mile Marsh Trail is wheelchair-accessible. The Preserve is open daily throughout the year (free, but donations welcome). Group Hikes are led by experienced and knowledgeable hikers who provide an informative and interpretive tour of the canyon, ridges, and desert trails.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway—the world’s largest rotating tram car—travels over two-and-one-half miles up through the cliffs of Chino Canyon, taking you to the pristine wilderness of the elevated Mt. San Jacinto State Park. During your ten-minute journey, the tram car will rotate slowly, offering you a spectacular view Coachella Valley. Once you reach the Mountain Station at elevation 8,516 feet, enjoy the observation decks, natural history museum, two documentary theaters, 50 miles of hiking trails, and two restaurants, one of which offers evening dining with a few of the twinkling lights of the valley floor below.
The unique topography of the mountains and valleys in Palm Springs makes it an ideal destination for wind farms which are use to produce energy for the entire valley. The otherworldly, almost alien-like beauty of the thousands of windmills makes for an interesting tour. The tour is 2 hours on an air-conditioned luxury bus with a knowledgeable guide, and ends with a famous Date Shake — a frozen ice cream milk shake with local sweet dates. Private and group tours also available.