Two hours south of Los Angeles and a day trip away from Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert are Palm Springs and Palm Desert. This area is an oasis of golf courses, tennis courts, spa resorts, shopping, and fine dining.
Palm Springs has a hip feel to it with a mixed population of gays and young adults. Palm Desert is right next door and has a large number of retirees. In the Golden Years of Hollywood, many movie stars would escape from the paparazzi to this part of Southern California for some rest and relaxation. Today, it’s a popular getaway for Los Angelenos and those looking to experience the desert.
Days are typically clear with less than 25 percent humidity. Temperatures are most comfortable in the spring and fall, with an average high/low of 85 and 50°F (29 and 10°C) respectively. Winter brings cooler days, around 60°F (15°C), and freezing nights. It occasionally snows at higher elevations. Summers are hot, over 100°F (38°C) during the day and not cooling much below 85°F (29°C) until the early hours of the morning.
Downtown Palm Springs is a hotspot for activity. Several blocks are aligned with restaurants and bars many of which feature live music. Many of the restaurants are trendy or fine dining with excellent ratings. The weekends can get crowded so reservations are recommended but not always necessary.
Even during the Pride Parade weekend, two wheelchairs didn’t have to wait long. Many places look delicious and had the chance to dine at one of the hippest spots called LuLu California Bistro for dinner and breakfast. On the edge of Palm Canyon Drive, near the downtown sign, the Thai House Restaurant is preparing some top-notch Thai food with a patio and indoor seating. For a great burger try Woody’s Burgers located at 317 N. Indian Canyon Drive.
Along Palm Canyon Drive in the downtown area are a few shops intermingled, especially men’s fashion. Every Thursday evening this main street is closed to vehicles for a local farmer’s market filled with fresh produce and hand-made crafts. Prepared food is available too, like Gyros and Mexican Hot Chocolate. Many people come here for the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
In the middle of the downtown are three small museums about the history of the area, including Miss Cornelia’s “Little House,” which is filled with historical artifacts. The next street over is one of two casinos located in the area; the other is in Palm Desert. Over Downtown Palm Springs, shoppers prefer the high-end shopping in El Paso in Palm Desert. Of course, one can expect brand names as well as lots of cafés, restaurants, spas, and art galleries.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
One of the biggest attractions is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Each tram car can carry a maximum of 80 passengers on an 8500 feet journey from the desert floor to the cliffs of the San Jacinto Mountains. The tram platform continuously rotates 360 degrees so one can enjoy the complete view. The ride is about 15-20 minutes and then the tram drops everyone off at the lodge.
The lodge has a restaurant, café, and bar as well as a small museum and movie theater, both with information about Mt. San Jacinto State Park. All around the lodge are more incredible views of the desert below and the surrounding mountains. There are outdoor patio areas too, one with accessible binoculars. The ground floor station is equipped with a smooth outdoor lift to take you from the parking lot to the inside. A nice accessible viewing area outside the back door is at this station, allowing you to view the ascending and descending tram cars. Accessible binoculars are also available at this station.
Botanical Gardens & Zoo
Another activity is exploring the Palm Desert Living Desert, a botanical garden, and a zoo. The property is 1800 acres, 1000 of which have been preserved in a natural state. The animals featured are from North America and Africa. The biggest attractions are the giraffes, cheetahs, and zebras. It’s best to visit the park in the morning or evening when it is cooler and the animals are most active. During the heat of the day, animals conserve energy by getting out of the sun and moving as little as possible. Some do a really good job hiding so they are not visible at all.
Most of the walkways are paved and relatively flat. Only a couple of areas had slight inclines or packed dirt roads. In the Botanical Gardens, there are a few smaller pathways off the main one that are not wheelchair accessible due to the narrowness or steepness, but most are. My favorite attractions of the Botanical Gardens were the Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardens but I was struck in awe by the impressive and diverse display of cacti throughout. There are many special events at the Living Desert. For instance, in November and December, there is the WildLights Festival at The Living Desert in which the desert is transformed into a winter wonderland with a North Pole Holiday Tree.
Museums are also another way to spend some time in the area. The Palm Springs Art Museum has contemporary and Western American art as well as a Theater. The Palm Springs Air Museum has an extensive collection of World War II airplanes each with their character and a few other modes of transportation, like a sidecar motorcycle. Some of the planes you can even roll right underneath them and see what they looked like from the inside. The display of WW II memorabilia is well thought out and is backed by the U.S. Vets, so much heart is in everything. The whole museum is on one smooth floor with displays inside and outside. Plus, there is a small movie theater that plays videos continuously.
A little over ten miles outside Palm Springs is the cheesy tourist attraction and museum of the World’s Biggest Dinosaurs. This is an over-the-top tourist spot right off the 10 Freeway but my childhood love for dinosaurs made me stop. And yes, these are the largest dinosaur statues I have ever seen. Plus, there is a “museum” with robotic and stationary dinosaurs along with two rides for little kids. This museum is pretty much a tourist trap cause it’s way overpriced but you can still see the world’s biggest statue of a T.rex and a brontosaurus.