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The Best Things To Do In Palm Springs/Palm Desert, 2021

If you’re going to be in the Palm Springs/Palm Desert area you may be looking for something to do. We spent hours reading over reviews on Yelp so you don’t have to. We limited our selection mostly to results with at least 4.5 star ratings, with few exceptions — and here’s who we picked to be the best of 2021.

By The Smoking Chair Editors  |  2021

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Tourism is a major factor in the city’s economy with 1.6 million visitors in 2011. The city has over 130 hotels and resorts, numerous bed and breakfasts, and over 100 restaurants and dining spots. Events such as the Coachella and Stagecoach Festivals in nearby Indio attract younger people, making greater Palm Springs a more attractive area to retire.

Following the 2008 recession Palm Springs revitalized its Downtown, “the Village”. Rebuilding started with the demolition of the Bank of America building in January 2012, with the Desert Fashion Plaza scheduled for demolition in 2013.

In 2020 Christy Holstege became the mayor of Palm Springs, which made her the first openly bisexual mayor in America, as well as the first female mayor of Palm Springs.

The movement behind mid-century modern architecture (1950s/60s era) in Palm Springs is backed by architecture enthusiasts, artistic designers and local historians to preserve many of Central Palm Springs’ buildings and houses of famous celebrities, businessmen and politicians.

Palm Springs has a hot desert climate, with over 300 days of sunshine and 4.93 inches (125.2 mm) of precipitation annually. The winter months are warm, with a majority of days reaching 70 °F (21 °C) and in January and February days often see temperatures of 80 °F (27 °C) and on occasion reach over 90 °F (32 °C), while, on average, there are 17 nights annually dipping to or below 40 °F (4 °C); freezing temperatures occur in less than half of years. The lowest temperature recorded is 19 °F (−7 °C), on January 22, 1937.

Summers are extremely hot, with daytime temperatures consistently surpassing 110 °F (43 °C) while overnight temperatures often remain above 80 °F (27 °C). The mean annual temperature is 75.6 °F (24.2 °C). There are on average 180 days with a high reaching 90 °F (32 °C), and 100 °F (38 °C) can be seen on 116 days. The highest temperature on record in Palm Springs is 123 °F (51 °C), most recently achieved on June 17, 2021. The climate year-round is suitable for many palm trees in this area of California due to the amount of sunny days annually, the average high temperatures, and daily low temperatures.

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Palm Desert

#1: Red Jeep Tours by Desert Adventures

74794 Lennon Pl Ste B

Venues & Event Spaces, Walking Tours

This was the best spent money I’ve had this week.  My friend from Texas,
and I, were pleasantly surprised at the RED JEEP TOUR content, the
knowledge and humor of the driver, John, and the property we were privy to.  
We are so glad we did a private tour – it wouldn’t have been as personal in a group setting Thank you for providing this service to the valley. Julie Jensen

— Review by Juli J.

Palm Springs

#2: Smoke Tree Stables

2500 S Toledo Ave

Horseback Riding

This has been by far the best horse back riding experience. Starting from making reservations., making changes, communicating w Stacey via e-mails and then driving out to Palm Springs w my 2 kids and a friend. Every person working at the S’more Tree Stables was warm, knowledgeable, understanding and helpful. Everyone has a great attitude and smile on their face.
One of my kids has motor skills disabilities and I can’t stress enough how helpful and great everyone treated us and so understanding. Alex was one of several guides that came w out group and he was attentive, told us so many cool facts about the area and nature.
Horses are amazing! All of them! It is a harder trail, sand and rocks and very narrow path at times, up and down and it all went so smooth.
We were provided excellent hats  and water for the ride. Super organized.  
I can’t wait to come back here w my husband again to take this ride and see all the cactuses bloom.
Thank you so very much for an amazing experience!

— Review by Irina B.

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Pioneertown

#3: Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

53688 Pioneertown Rd

Music Venues, American (New)

My friends and I absolutely loved this place, so much so that we came back two nights in a row. As far as options for a fun night in the desert go, you really can’t beat Pappy & Harriet’s. Situated atop a remote hill, you’ll take a 15 minute drive up a windy road and start to wonder if you took a wrong turn. Alas, once you see the friendly lit up sign, you’ll know you’ve made it. The first night we visited, it was Saturday and there was a show going on as well. There was a bit of a line to get in and we were told that the wait could be up to two hours and twenty minutes. We figured we’d try to wait it out and wanted to check out the bar anyhow. The place is interestingly formatted, with two main dining rooms as well as a large outdoor space with picnic tables, a separate concert area, and another separate area for private events. Oh, now that I think of it, there was a wedding reception happening that night as well! All that said, we only ended up waiting a little over an hour to be seated, much to our delight. While waiting, we hung out in the outdoor area and ordered drinks from the outdoor bar (you can order a selection of canned beverages as well as a small selection of food – mostly hot dogs and hamburgers). The overall vibe was wonderful – people were extremely friendly and there were a number of fun and colorful costumes to observe (everything from cowboys/cowgirls to bachelorette party garb).

Onto the food itself – this place prides itself on its barbecue and it didn’t disappoint. The prices are PHENOMENAL – both nights, we couldn’t believe how low our bill was. For about 5 entrees and drinks all around, plus an appetizer, we paid just over $100 before tax and tip. You really can’t beat those prices. The food was great – a solid 4/5 stars. Among us over the two nights we tried the steak quesadillas, the tri-tip, the salmon plate, the veggie chili and veggie chili fries (delicious and a huge portion), and the cobb salad (this was the one dish not to our liking). Each entree comes with two sides and generous portions. The service, as well, was excellent.

As far as ambiance goes, you really can’t beat this place. The place is decked out floor to ceiling with fun Western nostalgia, paintings, photos of celebrities who’ve visited, and all kinds of fun stuff. It feels somewhat frozen in time and visiting is truly an immersive experience.

I really can’t say enough good things about Pappy & Harriet’s, and the hordes of other 5 star reviews speak for themselves. What are you waiting for, go already!

— Review by Mallory W.

Palm Springs

#4: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

1 Tram Way Rd

Aerial Tours

First off I am afraid of heights and initially kind of regretted purchasing tickets as I watched the tramway go up from ground floor. BUT it ended up being such an amazing and memorable experience. I’m so glad I did it!

The views are SPECTACULAR! Especially at night when they turn off the light in the tramway and you can see the city lights of Coachella Valley. Thank god they played music in the tramway to ease the tension. There’s slight swinging at certain parts which they warn you ahead about.

The views at the top are so beautiful and air is crisp. I did a short hike which was enjoyable. It is cold up there so be prepared.

— Review by Lynn T.

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Palm Desert

#5: The Living Desert

47900 Portola Ave

Zoos

Living Desert was a fun zoo in the Coachella area. This is probably the best family destination you can find here.

Tickets are 50% off if you have a LA Zoo membership. Normally $29.95 for adults and $19.95 for kids.

The train set is neat in the beginning. The zoo is divided up amongst different continents. Australia was neat. Getting up close and personal with the Wallaby’s was cool. There are so many and they just hop right by you.

They have big game animals also. You have to be lucky for them to be active.

Africa had nice photo ops. You can feed the giraffes if you are at the area during the feeding times. It costs $8 a person. Hit or miss with the kiddos.

Good fun place for a family day.

— Review by Kevin W.

Palm Springs

#6: Offroad Rentals

59511 US Hwy 111

ATV Rentals/Tours

AMAZING FUN for the ENTIRE family!!!

—–

Concise Review

Fun and Safe for the entire family… Mom, too!
They teach you how to drive the four-wheelers.

Recommendation to get there early in the day, especially on a weekend, as the wait list grows quickly.

Any wait you may have will be worth it… so much fun!

Great course on the “flat bottoms” and up the tall hill.

The ride is on sand/small rocks.

Thank you for the great time, Offroad Rentals!!!

—–

Longer Review

The entire family had a LOT of fun riding at Offroad Rentals… even my wife, who was zipping around with the rest of us!

We visited Southern California – Palm Desert, Yucaipa, and Malibu – for Spring Break 2021, and we spent several days with family while we were there.

Before leaving home, had some activities planned, but not every day was full.  The night before we left, just as we finished packing, the cousins asked if we wanted to ride four-wheelers.  Sure!  So we packed an extra bag with pants and boots that we wouldn’t mind getting dusty… and then on the first morning we went to Offroads Rentals.

Off-road Rentals is popular, and rightly so.

We arrived a little before noon and they booked us a reservation for 4:30 and informed us that we may likely get a chance to ride by 2:30.  By 2:30 they did call to confirm we could ride, and we did get to ride that day.

If you don’t want to wait quite so long, try to get there earlier in the day.

They have a smooth sign-in process… just add your names to list (pen-on-paper) then wait to be called.

When it’s your time to ride, enter and watch a short safety video, then get your hair net/simple plastic cap (like a shower cap), to wear between you and the helmet.  Then pay and get on your bike.

They instruct everyone on how to drive the four wheelers, how to shift gears and break, etc.

And then… you’re off.

They have a relative flat area to ride on, and also a tall hillside… all in sand.

It did take a few minutes to get used to shifting, and then we felt like professionals.

The bottom section was great for zipping around, and for making tight turns / donuts around the tires they have setup just for this purpose – tight turns.

The hillside is so tall… the phone’s GPS said 400 feet… that seems a little too tall… it’s definitely 250 or so… The view is great… and there are multiple trails all around it… and then you fly on down the hill… You’ll likely be a bit more comfortable going downhill if you lean your weight back… at least I did.

The ride was for 30 minutes or so and was a blast.

We definitely plan to ride on our next trip to Palm Springs.

Thank you, Offroad Rentals!!!

— Review by Mike V.

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Palm Springs

#7: Palm Springs Air Museum

745 N Gene Autry Trl

Museums, Community Service/Non-Profit

Really awesome museum. Lots of planes in beautiful condition. Apparently most of these planes are in flight ready condition. Some of these planes are 80 years old and look like they just rolled off the assembly line.

There are planes inside and outside of the facility.

Lots of cool world war II memorabilia.

Some interesting models of subs, aircraft carriers, ships, and planes.

Very friendly and helpful staff. This museum is right next to the international airport.

— Review by Jeffrey W.

Palm Springs

#8: Moorten Botanical Garden

1701 S Palm Canyon Dr

Nurseries & Gardening, Botanical Gardens, Venues & Event Spaces

Mooren’s Botanical Garden is really only dedicated to cactus and succulent varieties.  But it is really good in this specialty. They call it a “Cactarium”, which is perfect, given the amazing amount and variety of plants.  

I recall admission as being $5, well worth it !  Word of caution, watch where you step and be careful with your arm swing while walking around.

In addition to the spectacular plants growing  along the trails, there is a gift shop with a very nice assortment of cactus and succulents.  As in the big box stores, prices increase with the maturity of the plant and the size of the container.  However, some very nice specimens are available at reasonable prices.

This is a great place for collectors and anyone interested in drought-tolerant landscaping.

— Review by Bert G.

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Palm Springs

#9: Downtown Palm Springs

133 E Tahquitz Canyon Way

$$ • Hotels, Bars

I love the downtown scene!

I had not thought much of vacationing in Palm Springs until a series of events that lasted all weekend long popped up in the Yelp events radar and got me excited to take a trip to the desert. Palm Springs has a dry, desert climate. Jun-Sep is super hot. We were here in the latter part of September… still damn hot but we experience this similar type of weather during summer in the Sacramento valley so we’re sorta, kinda used to it a little bit.

Palm Canyon Drive is the main drag but we found an abundance of eateries everywhere and around Tahquitz Canyon Way also. A few of the many dining places we’ve experienced:

Wilma & Frieda’s – nice setting with views straight onto Palm Canyon Dr
El Patron – ceviche and Baja-Style tacos! Yum!
Ruby’s Diner – throwback diner serving American food
Elmer’s Restaurant – best place to have brunch!
Great Shakes – delicious sweet treats!
Peabody’s Cafe & Bar – breakfast, burgers and karaoke!
Sherman’s Deli & Bakery – breakfast-to-dinner eats and baked goods

And what would a Palm Springs downtown experience be without some retail therapy?! Oh yes I did!! The downtown plaza has that covered, too. We walked in some cute boutiques, mom and pop shops, as well as some national chains like H&M. Lots of galleries and art museums to enjoy too!

We checked out a cool little place, Ruddy’s 1930’s General Store Museum. Pure nostalgia. $1 admission. Must visit when in Palm Springs. They also have their own Walk of Stars in downtown — Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Sonny Bono. The Aerial Tramway was closed for annual maintenance but it’s next on our list of places to visit.

The downtown scene has lots of tall, light-covered palm trees that gently shade the street beneath Mount San Jacinto. Downtown isn’t very big. The trees are signature Palm Springs. Fun and friendly atmosphere with a nice vibe. Looking forward to getting this COVID-19 pandemic behind us… so much to explore and discover in downtown Palm Springs. I may need to return often to catch up on what I’m missing!

Note: Locals have advised us that warm winter (Nov-May) is peak travel.

— Review by May A.

Palm Springs

#10: Indian Canyons

38500 S Palm Canyon Dr

Parks, Hiking

I hiked this canyon in the morning in October 2021. We arrived at a little after 7am. The gate was closed and it didn’t open until 8am. After us like 10 more cars did the same. We turned back and waited until 8am.

When you enter there is a $12 fee for person to enter the park. We saw coyotes and there were signs to beware of long horns. We hiked to an oasis and enjoyed the sight of all the trees. Pretty cool experience!

— Review by Fernando C.

Palm Springs

#11: Bootlegger Tiki

1101 N Palm Canyon Dr

$$ • Tiki Bars

This place is super cute and has great service. Highly recommend. I came on a Saturday afternoon and unfortunately this place is reservation only. Luckily since we got there around opening, they were able to seat us for 45 mins before the parties started to come in. This was perfect and enough time for us to order and enjoy our drink

It’s dimly lit and has 3 booths inside and some bar seating. They also have an outdoor seating area too. They have happy hour as well (3-5 PM think) where drinks are $5! We could choose between Estrella beer, mojito, sloppy joe or a daiquiri. There’s also complimentary (and very delicious) popcorn which was a nice surprise

— Review by Nicole T.

Palm Springs

#12: Tahquitz Canyon

500 W Mesquite Ave

Hiking

This is a pretty awesome hike.  At first I wasn’t too keen on having to pay $12 for a hike when there are a bunch of them you can go to for free.  However it was worth it for the following reasons:

1) The trail, stream and waterfall areas were all in great condition.  
2) There were a bunch of great spots to take some really nice photos
3) Nice parking lot
4) The stream was really clean, we spent a lot of time just hanging out at the stream and soaking our feet
5) They limit the number of people on the trail so everyone can be socially distant

Definitely check out this trail if you are in the Palm Springs area.  Get there early, otherwise you can get turned away if it gets too crowded.

— Review by Will C.

Palm Springs / Palm Desert

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