The Best Experiences In Palm Springs

3 April 2016
Read Time: 2.2 mins

The closest thing we may actually have to time travel is the two-hour drive along the I-10 from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, where you're transported back to the heyday of mid-century architecture.

Large swathes of this desert retreat feature immaculately preserved dwellings, several of which are intertwined with Hollywood.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Cary Grant all once owned property here, while contemporary celebrities such as Leonardo Di Caprio and Sia have pads these days. Historically a boom-or-bust town, Palm Springs is currently enjoying a resurgence as a hip, happening spot.

If you visit, here's what not to miss.

Welcome to Palm Springs sign Welcome to Palm Springs. The fun is just around the corner (Image: Joanne Brookfield)

Architecture Tours

Palm Springs is such a visually striking destination. Hugged by barren mountains dwarfing the towering palms that reach to the cloudless sky, the modernist architecture integrates purposefully and beautifully into this landscape.

Trevor O'Donnell conducts small (up to five guests) three-hour tours in his air-conditioned minivan, taking you past hundreds of homes, sharing his passion and knowledge as you go, stopping at key properties in the area to give their histories.

Architecture buffs will be in heaven and first-timers will learn just why this is such a special part of the world.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Take in the views of Coachella Valley from 2,595 metres high. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes ten minutes to transport you up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon. The interior of the gondola rotates, so you can get a 360-degree view of the vast expanse below and beyond.

Once at Mountain Station at the top, there are dining options, hiking or you can simply get that camera working overtime capturing the contrasting alpine scenery. Make sure you pack a warmer top; the temperature drops significantly on the way up.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway All aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (Image: Joanne Brookfield)

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On Thursday night, stroll and shop along Palm Canyon Drive in Downtown Palm Springs. There are more than 200 stalls, plus businesses stay open late (look for the BOLT signs – Business Open Late Thursdays) as part of the weekly Villagefest, which has been running for two decades.

If you're not around on a Thursday night, there's plenty of shopping along Palm Canyon Drive on any given day. Home to the Uptown Design District, it has plenty of mid-century furnishing, decor and fine art for sale, as well as fashion boutiques, cafes and restaurants.


In the dry desert surrounds of Palm Springs lies an unexpected oasis of colour. Born-and-bred Palm Springs artist Kenny Irwin Jr has spent the past three decades transforming his four-acre backyard in the Movie Colony East neighbourhood into a fantasy-dreamscape art installation.

Robots are a dominant theme, but there are all kinds of references to popular culture created from donated recycled items.

Although open to the public during the day, from Thanksgiving through to New Year it becomes the largest residential light display in the country when Kenny dresses the entire lot in fairy lights for night-time visitors.

Palm Springs Robolights Just wait until the sun sets and these robots light up (Image: Joanne Brookfield)

Big Events

Depending on your interests, Palm Springs will likely host a major annual event that caters to you.

Each January, Hollywood stars flock for the Palm Springs International Film Festival. If you prefer short films, time your visit for June when the Palm Springs International ShortFest is held.

A celebration of all things mid-century, Modernism Week opens up homes and buildings, combined with exhibitions, films and lectures, for the curious and the connoisseurs each February.

In April, music fans descend for the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, while November sees the Greater Palm Springs Pride Parade come to town.

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to California.

Joanne Brookfield

From Antarctica to America, Croatia to Canberra, there's no place I won't go and best of all, plenty more destinations still on my list. I'm a professional travel writer and love my job. You can read more about my adventures at