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Are you ready to embark on a journey to explore some of the best places Southern California has to offer? Palm Springs, a city nestled in the Coachella Valley, is a popular destination for tourists seeking sunshine, relaxation, and fun.
From Marilyn Monroe’s iconic statue downtown to the numerous hiking trails, golf courses, and live music venues, there’s something for everyone.
But what about those of us who want to explore beyond the city limits? Fear not, because I’ve got you covered! In this blog post, I’ll be sharing some of the best day trips from Palm Springs, California that are sure to satisfy your thirst for adventure.
I’m going to share the best day trips from Palm Springs that take less than two hours, like Palm Desert or Joshua Tree, AND some exciting Palm Springs day trips over two hours away, like San Diego and some fantastic Route 66 towns.
Whether you want to stick closer to the city or venture a bit further out, you’ll find inspiration here!
Best day trips from Palm Springs in 2 hours or less
Yes, Palm Springs is a total desert paradise. But sometimes, a quick getaway is just what the doctor ordered!
There are a dozen different spots worth checking out within a two-hour driving radius, which for me makes the perfect day trip distance. Anything over two hours starts to feel more like a weekend get-away that might be more deserving of an overnight, although possible as a day trip-it really just depends on you and your preferences.
From scenic drives and beaches to charming nature parks and authentic Wild West towns, your itinerary will be full in no time. So get the most bang for your buck during your Palm Springs stay, and head out on one of these day trip adventures!
Greater Palm Springs
Greater Palm Springs is a region that spans across nine different towns, each with its own unique charm and desert attractions. This makes for a plethora of awesome, highly accessible day trips from Palm Springs.
The Greater Palm Springs towns include:
- Palm Springs
- Desert Hot Springs
- Cathedral city
- Rancho Mirage
- Palm Desert
- Indian Wells
- La Quinta
Visitors flock to Palm Springs for its Old Hollywood glamor and world-class golf courses. But beyond the greens, there’s a whole world to discover!
If you enjoy the city life, Palm Desert is a great option. With its rows of palm trees and designer shops, it’s easy to see why it’s often referred to as the “Rodeo Drive of the desert.”
Downtown Palm Springs is another gem, where you can stroll along the palm-lined streets, snap a selfie with Marilyn Monroe’s statue, and explore the Palm Springs Air Museum. Don’t forget to visit the Gene Autry statue, located just off of Palm Canyon Drive. There are also biking trails and a ton of yummy restaurants to grab a bite. I love a good brunch at the country-chic eatery, Farm and a sweet treat from Sherman’s Deli and Bakery.
Other cities in the region, like Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella, also offer their own unique experiences. Savor one for the whole day, or pack in a few if you’re feeling ambitious!
Indian Canyons (30 mins)
Indian Canyons is one of the most popular Palm Springs day trips, and for good reason! Located just a short drive from the city, this natural oasis is home to lush palm trees, flowing streams, and stunning rock formations.
The canyons belong to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who have carefully preserved this sacred land for generations.
Visitors can hike along the many trails, from challenging routes to easy walks. Embark on the 1.5-hour Indian Canyon Trail, or the easy Andreas Canyon Loop Trail.
Definitely don’t miss the Andreas, Murray, and Palm canyons, each with their own special features. As you explore, keep an eye out for wildlife, like desert bighorn sheep and various bird species.
Coachella Valley Preserve (30 mins)
Coachella Valley Preserve is another great place to stop during your Palm Springs visit.
This protected area, spanning over 20,000 acres, is home to unique desert life like the desert pupfish and endangered Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.
The preserve is an excellent place to enjoy incredible hikes along the many trails, guided nature walks, horseback riding, or mountain biking.
The 1.8-mile McCallum Trail is easy, short, and one of the most popular hikes in the valley. Notice the stunning rock formations, towering palm trees, and quiet serenity of this region.
And if you want sweeping views from above, you can’t miss the Coachella Valley Vista Point, right off Highway 74.
Another highlight here is the Thousand Palms Oasis, a breathtaking oasis of palm trees and freshwater springs.
Joshua Tree National Park (40 mins)
A day trip to Joshua Tree National Park and its stunning rock formations is a must-see for nature lovers. You’ll be in total awe of the magnificence of the Colorado and Mojave desert.
If you’re new to Joshua Tree National Park, you should absolutely head to one of three, Joshua Tree Visitor Centers first. Here you’ll find Colorado desert safety tips, useful maps, exhibits and info guides.
Hikers will love the extensive network of trails in this park. For a good go-to hike while on your day trip, try out the popular Hidden Valley Trail.
This easy 1-mile loop trail takes you through the rock-enclosed valley to admire the strange rock formations along the way. Those who love to boulder or rock climb will be in heaven here, Joshua Tree is a world class rock climbing destination and great for beginners.
Mt. San Jacinto State Park (1 hr)
An hour away from Palm Springs is a massive wilderness area and a haven for backpackers, hikers, and those who love a good mountain view.
Just 15 minutes into the state park and you’ll find the San Jacinto Mountains, which are bursting with adventure.
Challenge yourself by summiting Mount San Jacinto, or wander the forested trails and fascinating natural history museum of Idyllwild Nature Center.
Interested in more incredible views with less hard work? Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a MUST. This cable car skyride moves through the Chino Canyon, offering sweeping, rotating views of the mountains and valleys in the distance.
Temecula (1.40 hrs)
The small city of Temecula is one of the must-visit day trips from Palm Springs for those seeking world-class golfing, wine, and hot air ballooning.
To experience the culture of Temecula, browse around the Promenade. If you’re looking for some outdoor fun, stroll around the cute Duck Pond and Park, or pick up some fresh produce at Temecula Berry Co farm.
This is also a major wine region, so take your own self-guided tour to one of the nearby vineyards, like Wien Family Cellars with its big reds and crisp whites. Or have a blast on a group winery visit through Grapeline Wine Tours.
Salton Sea (1 hr)
The Salton Sea is a shallow, highly salty body of water, and attracts hundreds of different bird species. Birdwatchers should definitely make this natural landmark a priority.
The lake itself is a nice place to observe wildlife, explore the surrounding ecosystems, or go boating. Just keep in mind in recent years, this lake has begun drying up, thus emitting a toxic dust. Swimming is not allowed in the water, and boating is up to your discretion.
Visitors can also embark further into the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge with their binoculars to spot an incredible variety of birds.
Bombay Beach ruins is another highlight, a fascinating place full of derelict boats and abandoned trailers and homes. A bit eerie but makes for some really cool photography.
Borrego Springs (1.5 hrs)
Borrego Springs is an awesome day trip, just a 1.5-hour drive away from Palm Springs. This charming desert town is known for its stunning desert landscapes and is home to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest state park.
The park offers endless opportunities for nature lovers, such as hiking, spotting rare Big Horn sheep, and stargazing. Definitely stop at the park’s visitor center to learn more about the area’s history and ecology.
You can also explore the town’s art scene. You’ll find really unique art galleries and the favorite metal sculptures of Galleta Meadows. There are over 130 sculptures intentionally placed all over the desert from a Serpent crossing the road, a camel and her baby, to dinosaurs, mammoths and more.
Big Bear Lake (2 hrs)
Another great day trip option from Palm Springs is a visit to Big Bear Lake. This mountain town is nestled in the magical San Bernardino National Forest.
Big Bear Lake is abundant with recreational activities that every type of traveler can enjoy. This is a great spot for mountain biking and hiking in the San Bernardino National Forest.
Try your hand at the moderate 2.7-mile Castle Rock Trail, a fan-favorite for locals and visitors alike. Big Bear Lake is also an excellent skiing and snowboarding destination in winter.
Stroll around the charming downtown, lined with indie shops and local eateries. Or head out onto the lake for boating and fishing.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch (1.45 hrs)
Looking for a quirky day trip? Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch is the destination for you! This Route 66 roadside attraction is a whimsical display of hundreds of colorful glass bottles and metal sculptures.
It was created by Elmer Long, a local who started collecting glass bottles and vintage signs as a boy. As his collection grew, his desire to display it grew as well. He wanted to add a little excitement to the long stretch of road in front of his home, so he began displaying his finds and creating sculptures and art installations for passerby to enjoy. Visitors can explore the ranch to take in the eclectic craftsmanship of each piece and snap a few photos of this one-of-a kind property.
Amboy (2 hrs)
Introducing Amboy: a hidden gem of authentic Americana and Route 66 nostalgia! This small desert town was once a bustling stop for travelers on Route 66. Think Radiator Springs in the Pixar film, Cars!
This now-quiet destination is brimming with unique attractions to experience. Visit the Amboy Crater, a volcanic crater you can hike up and enjoy panoramic views.
Or check out the must-see attraction, Roy’s Motel and Cafe. This 1950s roadside attraction shows off an old gas station and vintage motel. You can stop by for a snack, souvenir, or snap a photo with the retro neon sign in front.
Los Angeles (2 hrs)
The California vibes are immaculate in the city of Angeles. This is a must-see city for anyone who wants to fully experience what California is all about. Just two hours from Palm Springs, this vibrant city would take years to fully uncover.
Head to the electric Santa Monica Pier, with its famous roller coaster and restaurants, shops, and cool street performers. Stroll along the beach or rent a bike for nearby paths.
A walk down Hollywood Blvd or a drive through the Hollywood Hills is an iconic must do while in Los Angeles.
You should also visit the Griffith Observatory, an art deco landmark over looking the city, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Public Art “Urban Light”, another iconic LA spot to snap a quick selfie.
Curious about San Marino? This small, affluent city is situated in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County. It’s certainly worth exploring for its charming tree-lined streets, historic architecture, and lush vegetation.
The best thing to do here is the world-renowned Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. This cultural center houses over 12 million objects, like rare books and manuscripts. It is a beautiful estate with stunning gardens and a world-class art collection- a must see!
Another great spot in San Marino is the Old Mill, a historic 1800s landmark and the oldest commercial building in Southern Cali.
Laguna Beach (2 hrs)
Laguna beach is a gorgeous coastal town in Orange County, just two hours from Palm Springs. If you love the beach, Laguna Beach is a great area to enjoy on a day trip from Palm Springs.
Make sure you visit Victoria Beach Pirate Tower, a unique 1920s castle-like structure that once served as a private staircase to the beach.
Take a leisurely stroll along the sand, swim or surf, and savor the luxurious, artistic atmosphere of this city.
Best day trips from Palm Springs over 2 hours away
Looking for a more extensive adventure from Palm Springs? There are tons of incredible Southern California destinations just a bit farther out of reach.
From vibrant beach neighborhoods to sprawling, dynamic cities, there are a plethora of exciting day trip possibilities if you’re willing to venture past that two-hour mark.
With a little more planning and prep, you’ll have the pleasure of exploring some of the state’s most inspiring natural wonders and cultural hotspots. So gas up the car, and get ready for a drive!
Venice Beach (LA) (2.5 hrs)
The lively, bohemian neighborhood of Venice Beach is located on the westside of Los Angeles. This district is definitely made for those who love eclectic personalities, a rich arts scene, live music, and beautiful boardwalk-lined beaches.
One of the best things to do in Venice Beach is to walk along its famous boardwalk, lined with a cool variety of vendors, shops, live music performers, and eateries. Grab a souvenir, unique piece of art, or taste fresh seafood.
Looking for a more cultural experience? Check out the Venice Beach Art Walls, where local artists showcase their talent along this beachside pavilion. Or pretend you’re in Italy as you walk along the scenic Venice Canals (the palm trees are an added bonus!).
San Diego (2.5 hrs)
San Diego is an incredible beachside city in Southern California, and just 2.5 hours away from Palm Springs! There’s way more to do here in this sunny paradise than we can list, but we’ll try.
Of course, you can’t miss a visit to one of San Diego’s many sandy beaches with stunning ocean views, like Balboa Beach or Sunset Cliff Beach.
Another must-visit attraction here is Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre urban park brimming with over a dozen museums, botanical gardens, and venues. Even the San Diego Zoo is here!
Nearby is Point Loma home to the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, Point Loma Lighthouse and the Cabrillo National Monument. Enjoy the Sunset Cliffs Cave and have fun exploring Smuggler’s Cove at low tide.
Finally, the Gaslamp Quarter is worth exploring if you’re looking for a lively neighborhood filled with local shops, delicious cuisine, and fun bars. A stroll along the waterfront at Seaport Village is another great way to spend a day.
While in San Diego there are many other nearby small towns to enjoy which means you can easily turn this day trip in to a San Diego weekend getaway to get the most out of your stay.
La Jolla, Encinitas, Del Mar and Carlsbad are all fun towns to explore within 30 mins of San Diego city limits. From the Carlsbad Flower fields that bloom every April to hiking in beautiful Torrey Pines Reserve, there are a lot of fun activities to keep all ages entertained. Enjoy boutique shopping, trendy restaurants, water sports and more!
Tecopa Hot Springs (4 hrs)
Tecopa Hot Springs, located in the Mojave Desert, is a hidden gem that’s perfect for escaping the busy urban energy of Palm Springs.
The best thing to do here is soak in the natural hot springs, which are believed to have healing properties. If you’re on a busy, jam-packed vacation, this is a great way to unwind.
Visitors can also check out the nearby China Date Farm and Bakery. This unique spot offers a variety of tasty date-based goods like pies, jams, and breads. Take a guided tour to see the behind-the-scenes of the farm’s operations and history.
San Andreas Fault (4 hrs)
Interested in the unique geology and natural beauty of California? The San Andreas Fault is a worthy day trip from Palm Springs.
Just a few hours from the city, visitors can explore the fault line’s scenic landscapes on a hike, guided jeep tour, or dip in nearby hot springs.
Embark into the rugged terrain on a San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour, head out on the boulder-lined Faultline Trail, or visit the palm oasis along the Andreas Canyon Trail.
If you don’t want to drive, check out these tour options from Get Your Guide:
- San Andreas Fault Open Air Jeep day tour from Palm Springs
- San Andres Jeep Tour from Palm Springs
Oatman (3.5 hrs)
Interested in fueling your vintage Americana down the classic Mother Road? Palm Springs is close to one of the best sections of Route 66 in northern Arizona but if you only have time for one stop head to Oatman, AZ. This historic mining town appears frozen in the Wild West times and makes a great option for a fun filled day trip for all ages.
Check out its old-fashioned buildings and haunts like the Oatman Hotel, or pan for gold at a mining claim or Rent dune-buggies and head out on a guided desert tour. Another unique feature you won’t want to miss is spotting the wild donkeys that roam the streets.
While in Oatman, don’t miss out on a drive to the scenic Sitgreaves Pass, a winding mountain road with over 190 curves and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain and desert landscapes.
With so many options for fun day trips a short drive away, its clear Palm Springs makes a great home base for exploring southern California and its neighboring states. Although I have not been to everything on this list, Palm Springs is one of my favorite areas to explore in the US. The weather can’t be beat and the unique and quirky finds are always so plentiful!
I’d love to know in the comments below how you enjoyed your time visiting Palm Springs. I am sure there are plenty of attractions and places to see that aren’t on this list yet!
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