Best Things to Do Palm Springs

Exploring California's Desert Oasis

Since the beginning of its recorded history Palm Springs has been a sanctuary. It started with the underground springs that fed the earth and supplied cool, desperately sought-after water to desert-parched throats, while hot mineral springs bubbled out solace for tired bodies. The mountains protected the place from fierce winds and gave it shade. The Indian tribes that lived there grew their crops in the valley and when the summer heat grew intense they found cooler shelter in the canyons and on the mountains' higher slopes.

The valley's fertility attracted the first European-American settlers, who began to transform the desert into farmland. From all over the states well-heeled convalescents came to breathe the dry air and soothe their aches in the waters. Boarding houses and hotels were built to accommodate them. Then, in the 1920s, the freshly burgeoning movie industry made Palm Springs its secret hideaway. A new breed of celebrity, the movie star, needed a place for weekend recreation and romance. Bound under contract to stay within 100 miles of their studios, the stars happily drove the 97 miles from Hollywood to ride, to golf, to play tennis, to drink, to gamble and to relax together, away from too inquisitive eyes.

By the middle of the century, Palm Springs wasn't quite so private, and fun became more family-oriented. Lucille Ball, Liberace, Dinah Shore, Elvis, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra built homes in the desert and architects designed sleek and chic modernistic residences for them. Marilyn Monroe jump started her career here, posing for photographers beside the Racquet Club pool and later, as a star, she reportedly returned to rendezvous with John F. Kennedy, well away from any cameras.

Palm Springs still combines an escape from the world's stress and a pursuit of its pleasures. The feeling of calm begins as soon as new arrivals to Palm Springs become aware of the protective presence of the San Jacinto mountain range. For those coming in from the elegant Mid-century modern airport, it happens as they exit the facility and approach the center of town. For travelers arriving by car it takes hold when they turn off the I-10 freeway and drive down Highway 111, passing the Mid-century gas station that now houses the Palm Springs Visitor Center.

Summer temperatures in the Coachella Valley typically soar to above 110 degrees Fahrenheit while winter daytime temperatures might be in the 70s. You can expect nighttime temperatures to drop by about 30 degrees in any season, so in winter a jacket is advisable for going out at night. The area gets under five inches of rain per year, meaning about 350 annual days of sunshine.

Many visitors are content to spend the scorching days poolside, but there's plenty to do away from the Olympic-sized oases. Whether you're taking in Hollywood history, playing an adrenaline-packed game of tennis or round of golf, appreciating Mid-Century architecture or hiking one of the mountain trails, adventures abound in Palm Springs.

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