Palm Spring is one of Southern California's most luxurious resort destinations, known throughout the world for its acclaimed hot springs resorts, golf courses, and high-end spas. Visitors can use the city as a launching-off point for exploring some of the top attractions of the surrounding Coachella Valley, including stunning natural areas like Indian Canyons and Joshua Tree National Park. Unique attractions associated with Route 66 line the region's roads, including Salvation Mountain and the one-of-a-kind International Banana Museum. The city is also located within easy day trip distance of some of Southern California's top visitor areas, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Monica.
© Rob Tilley and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
Amboy Crater preserves an extinct North American cinder cone volcano crater as a National Natural Landmark, located within the beautiful Eastern Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County. The crater rises 944 feet above sea level over a 70-square-kilometer lava field, standing approximately 250 feet above the nearby basalt lava plains. It earned its status as a popular tourist attraction after the opening of U.S. Route 66 in California, with many 1960s travelers boasting that they had climbed inside a real volcano. With the opening of nearby Mitchell Caverns and Mojave National Preserve, the crater has become a major tourist destination again today, renowned for its symmetrical shape. Visitors can explore the crater via the Western Cone Trail, which travels to the volcano's peak rim. A day-use parking area at the site offers picnic tables and restrooms.
2.Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California, stretching for more than 600,000 acres throughout the gorgeous Borrego Springs area. The park is framed by the picturesque Jacumba, Vallecito, Santa Rosa, Pinyon, Bucksnort, and Borrego Mountain ranges, located against the backdrop of stunning natural features like the Carrizo Badlands and the Salton Trough. Visitors can explore the park's visitor center throughout the year, which offers exhibits on the region's natural and cultural history, including a full-size model of Aiolornis incredibilis. More than 500 miles of accessible visitor roads traverse the park's landscape, along with 4x4 vehicle and hiking routes and several hundred miles of hiking trails.
200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004, Phone: 760-767-4205
3.The BMW Performance Center West
The BMW Performance Center West is a premiere driving instruction school in Thermal, owned and operated by renowned automobile company BMV. The state-of-the-art school is home to extensive track areas that feature elements such as a black lake wet track, a 300-foot polished concrete skidpad, and a multi-configuration course that showcases hairpin turns and high-speed straits. One and two-day driving instruction experiences are offered, including car control, M School, and teen driving courses. M School instruction experiences let participants get behind the wheel of high-performance cars and learn how to manage sophisticated vehicle dynamics. Advanced M School instruction experiences provide professional-level training with road course experiences.
86-050 Jasper Lane, Thermal, CA 92274, Phone: 888-345-4269
4.The Coachella Valley
© Felipe Sanchez/stock.adobe.com
The Coachella Valley is a lovely 45-mile desert valley in Southern California, stretch between the San Bernardino Mountains in Riverside County to the northern banks of the Salton Sea. The valley is traversed by the famed San Andreas Faultline and is home to the stunning Chocolate Mountains, which are used as a United States Navy live gunnery range. Visitors can explore the unique Coachella Walls, which showcase stunning murals painted by local artists, as part of self-guided tours throughout the year. Two casinos are located within the valley, along with the sprawling 35-acre Hotel Indigo. Recreational hiking and horseback riding experiences abound, along with opportunities for a variety of winter sports experiences. More than 125 golf courses are located throughout the valley, making it one of the premiere golfing destinations in the world. The valley is perhaps best known for its annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which spans two weekends in April and showcases top international independent rock, hip-hop, and EDM acts.
5.Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve
Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve is a gorgeous 1,831-acre public park in Santa Clara County, stretching along the Diablo Range foothills near Highway 101. The property protects significant rare serpentine grassland ecosystems, which serve as vital habitats for threatened species such as the Bay checkerspot butterfly, the California red-legged frog and tiger salamander, and the golden eagle. Visitors can access the preserve from two main sites, including its easier-access lower area, which is ideal for visitors with young children in tow. Stunning wildflowers are showcased throughout the lower area, along with meandering creeks that are heavily populated by butterflies and dragonflies. The park's upper ridge area contains more difficult hikes that gain over 900 feet in elevation over the course of two miles. Each spring, the park offers docent-led hikes to explore its beautiful wildflower hillside fields.
Idyllwild is a lovely Riverside County community located within the picturesque San Jacinto Mountains, home to its main community and the unincorporated communities of Pine Cove, Fern Valley, Mountain Center, and Garner Valley. The charming community is best known as the home of the popular Mile-High Idyllwild mountain resort, which sits at a mile altitude above sea level and offers year-round outdoor experiences, including opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The community has also been named as one of America's top artist colonies, home to the renowned Idyllwild Arts Academy, which showcases works by nationally-renowned artists and crafters. Each year, the city hosts the lovely Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines Festival, showcasing musical performances across three outdoor stages.
© Kevin Oke and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
Indian Canyons preserves four beautiful historic canyons in Palm Springs, known as one of the region's top natural attractions throughout the year. The site, which is located on Agua Caliente Cahuilla tribal lands on the city's western end, is best known as the site of the delightful Tahquitz Canyon, which was used as the filming location for the entrance to Shangri-La in the classic feature film Lost Horizon. Visitors can explore the canyon as part of guided hikes or trek on their own to its stunning 60-foot waterfall. 15-mile Palm Canyon showcases breathtaking flora and fauna, including California fan palm trees, while Andreas Canyon is home to over 150 species of plants and can be explored via a popular scenic foot trail. Murray Canyon is home to endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, mule deer, and Least Bells Vireo birds. Lovely visitor amenities include the Palm Springs Spa Hotel and Mineral Springs, which are home to hot springs believed to have healing properties.
38520 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264, Phone: 760-323-6018
© The Integratron
The Integratron is one of Southern California's most unique attractions, originally designed by ufologist George Van Tassel in 1959. Van Tassel claimed that the structure, which was partially funded by pilot and business magnate Howard Hughes, was capable of time travel, anti-gravity, and rejuvenation abilities. It is located near Joshua Tree National Park in Landers, reaching heights of 38 feet high and 55 feet in diameter. Following Van Tassel's death in 1978, the structure was purchased in the early 2000s by sisters Patty, Nancy, and Joanne Karl and opened as a tourist attraction. Today, visitors can view the kitschy National Register of Historic Places-listed structure and enjoy unique sound baths, which expose visitors to acoustically-perfect harmonic sound frequencies produced by quartz bowls to induce deep calming experiences. Exhibits at the structure's visitor center detail the structure's history and purported purposes by Van Tassel.
2477 Belfield Blvd, Landers, CA 92285, Phone: 760-364-3126
9.Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is one of Southern California's best-known national parks, named in honor of its unique, twisted Joshua trees. The park is located within the stunning, cactus-lined Colorado and Mojave Deserts and offers a plethora of year-round recreational opportunities, including opportunities for hiking throughout the Hidden Valley to overlook points showcasing the nearby Coachella Valley and Salton Sea. Rock climbing experiences offer routes of all difficulty levels along quartz monzonite granite terrain areas. A main paved road also offers opportunities for scenic driving, while the Geology Tour Road offers four-wheel drive experiences. Over 250 bird species populate the park, along with native wildlife such as California tree frogs, black-tailed jackrabbits, coyotes, lynx, and golden eagles. Nine campground areas are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The park is also known as a popular dark sky viewing region, offering amazing opportunities to spot sections of the Milky Way with the naked eye.
74485 National Park Drive Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597, Phone: 760-367-5500
Julian is one of Southern California's top getaway destinations, located within the stunning foothills of the Cuyamaca Mountains about an hour east of San Diego. The city, which was originally developed as a gold mining boomtown in the mid-1ith century, is home to many preserved historic buildings today within its Designated Historic District, including renovated businesses and living history facilities that can be toured throughout the year. Apple orchards abound throughout its uniquely cold-weather climate, which is home to the annual October Apple Festival, known for selling more than 10,000 prepared apple pies each week. Other festivals held in the city throughout the year include the Julian Community Fourth of July Parade, the autumn Music at the Marketplace concert series, the Vintage Cookbook Fair, and the Fat Tire Bike Festival.
11.Lake Arrowhead Village
Lake Arrowhead Village is a picturesque village located a mile above sea level within the stunning San Bernardino National Forest. The gorgeous village was historically known as a bedroom community for wealthy Angelinos, home to amazing estates constructed by significant architects like John Byers, Roland Coate, and Robert Farquhar. Today, it attracts more than four million tourists each year to resorts and attractions such as the Lake Arrowhead Country Club and Golf Course, the unique family-friendly Lollipop Park amusement resort, and the Mountain Skies Astronomical Society. Quaint specialty shops line the village's downtown district, along with a variety of national name-brand outlet stores. Visitors can take in performances at the nonprofit Arrowhead Arts Association or explore the city's waters via Lake Arrowhead Queen Tour Boat voyages. Outdoor attractions include McKenzie Water Ski School, which offers water skiing experiences for novices and experts.
28200 CA-189, Lake Arrowhead, CA 92352, Phone: 909-337-2533
Lake Hemet is a charming reservoir in the village of Mountain Center, located within the picturesque peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains. The reservoir was created in 1895 following the construction of the Hemet Dam and holds 14,000 acre feet of water today. Lake visitors can fish for rainbow trout, largemouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish and can enjoy excellent opportunities for boating, hiking, picnicking, and camping throughout the year. A plethora of migratory bird and raptor species populate the area, including eagles and hawks, making it a great spot for birdwatching. During the summer season, the Splashing Eagle Waterpark offers high and mild water thrill and play experiences for visitors of all ages and swimming ability levels.
Los Angeles is Southern California's most vibrant metropolis, most associated with the film and entertainment industry attractions of its Hollywood district. The city is the United States' second most-populous area after New York City, known throughout the world for its amazing cultural and entertainment attractions, including iconic landmarks like Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Paramount Studios. Visitors can enjoy high and family thrill rides at the Disneyland and Universal Studios theme park resorts, tour celebrity homes in elite neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, or explore the museums and attractions of sprawling Griffith Park. The city's culinary scene is one of the most acclaimed in the nation, serving up delicious global fusion fare, with a focus on south-of-the-border Baja favorites. Nearby, some of the world's best surfing beaches can be found at spots such as Zuma Beach, while internationally-renowned amusement attractions line the Santa Monica Pier.
14.Old Town La Quinta
© Tomasz Zajda/stock.adobe.com
Old Town La Quinta is one of the Coachella Valley's most charming historic destinations, nestled within the foothills of the lovely Santa Rosa Mountains. The city's quaint Main Street is home to more than 30 independent boutiques, shops, salons, and cafes, known for their small-town ambiance. Al fresco dining patios line the downtown district, serving up delicious Californian cuisine offerings and spectacular brunch specials. Visitors can peruse fine and handcrafted jewelry stores, chic fashion and accessory boutiques, independent aromatherapy and candle makers, and original art galleries for unique shopping finds. Delicious wine tasting rooms are also offered, along with stores selling imported Italian, Greek, and Chilean olive oils. The city's central lawn is home to spacious park benches and a unique dog-friendly cafe, selling coffee beverages and biscuit treats for four-legged friends.
78100 Main St, La Quinta, CA 92253, Phone: 760-600-0758
15.The Palm to Pines Scenic Byway
© Ritu Jethani/stock.adobe.com
The Palm to Pines Scenic Byway is an officially-designated scenic drive spanning along the length of Interstate 5 between San Juan Capistrano in Orange County and Riverside County's Palm Desert. The stunning scenic drive, which also encompasses parts of California State Route 74, is named for the vastly different ecosystems it traverses, changing scenery completely within the span of a few hours. A number of charming towns are located throughout the byway, including Mountain Center and Idyllwild, known as popular day-trip destinations for their lovely cafes, restaurants, and local shops and boutiques. The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Visitor Center offers information on the region's natural wonders, while the Highway 74 Switchbacks region is home to some of Southern California's most stunning mountain drive vistas, including the Coachella Valley Vista Point. Other attractions along the way include Lake Hemet, known as a popular year-round outdoor recreation and camping destination.
Pioneertown is one of Southern California's most unique attractions, originally constructed in 1946 by a group of Hollywood investors, including famed Old Hollywood actors Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. The town is intended to be a permanent Old West-style attraction, lined with 1880s-style false-front facades and tourist attractions related to the history of Hollywood films. More than 50 films and television series were filmed at the town throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Today, even though some parts of the village were damaged during a 2006 wildfire, the town is still a lively tourist attraction, showcasing mock gunfights regularly along its charming Mane Street. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace serves up delicious Western-style fare and attracts live music performances from major artists such as Robert Plant and Leon Russell.
Route 66 was America's most expansive highway at the time of its construction in the mid-2oth century, spanning all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles along a 2,400-mile stretch of highway. An important stretch of the highway still traverses Southern California today between Needles and Upland, stretching along the banks of the Colorado River at portions. Visitors can explore unique attractions on the route today such as the 1,000-acre Pirate Cove Resort and Marina, which is home to an RV park, a restaurant and bar, hiking trails, and a zipline course. Amboy Crater preserves a nearly-symmetrical volcanic cinder cone, while the former mining town of Ludlow is home to a unique ghost town landscape. Other attractions include Newberry Springs' famed French-style Bagdad Cafe, the 1910 Harvey House, and the California Route 66 Museum in Victorville.
18.The Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is a unique shallow saline endorheic rift lake that is located within California's Coachella and Imperial Valleys, located directly atop the famed San Andreas Faultline. The lake's surface occupies the lowest elevations within the Colorado Desert's Salton Sink, reaching depths of 236 feet below sea level. It is home to the lively Salton Sea State Recreation Area, originally established in 1955. Today, the beautiful recreation area offers a plethora of year-round visitor attractions and recreational opportunities, including chances for boating, water skiing, jet skiing, hiking, birdwatching, and fishing. More than one million visitors come to the recreation area each year, which is also home to 1,400 campsites and hundreds of day-use picnic sites.
Salvation Mountain is a unique hillside art attraction created by Imperial County resident Leonard Knight, located just north of the city of Calipatria within the California Desert. The attraction, which is located a few miles from the Salton Sea near the Slab City trailer park area, is composed entirely of adobe, straw, and lead-free paint, creating a unique visionary environment dedicated to Christian imagery. Bible verses and Christian sayings line the unique attraction, which has been declared as an important folk art site by the Folk Art Society of America. Though its philosophy is structured around the Sinner's Prayer, it has grown to showcase a wide variety of Christian imagery and text. The Salvation Mountain, Inc. nonprofit organization protects the site today and preserves its sensitive environmental conditions. Visitors can arrange guided tours of the site with advance reservations.
Beal Rd, Calipatria, CA 92233
San Diego is the West Coast's southernmost metropolis, located along the United States' border with Mexico's beautiful Baja California peninsula. The city is known around the world for its stunning public parks and aquatic attractions, including massive Balboa Park, one of the nation's most acclaimed urban parks. Amazing aquatic park Mission Bay Park spans more than 4,200 acres along the city's coastline, while the Embarcadero harbor district is lined with lively visitor attractions and delicious restaurants. Top attractions include the acclaimed San Diego Zoo, seasonal theme park SeaWorld San Diego, and the USS Midway Museum. Historic attractions abound throughout the city's hip Gaslamp Quarter, which is home to some of Southern California's top dining and nightlife destinations.
21.San Juan Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano is a lovely Orange County city originally constructed around the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano, home to some of Orange County's most architecturally-varied buildings, including 18th-century adobe buildings. The city is famed for its annual cliff swallow migrations, which travel from Argentina to the city's mission each year around St. Joseph's Day in March. The annual Swallows' Day Parade celebrates the birds' arrival, known as the longest-running non-motorized parade in the western United States. Visitors can tour the town's historic Spanish mission sites or explore unique family-friendly attractions such as the ZOOMARS Petting Zoo, which is home to cows, sheep, pigs, emu, bunnies, and goats. Other attractions include the 8,000-acre Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, the historic home O'Neill Museum, and the 1794 Montanez Adobe.
© Simon Dannhauer/stock.adobe.com
Santa Monica is a lovely coastal city located just west of downtown Los Angeles, best known as the home of the delightful Santa Monica Pier and Beach, one of Southern California's most iconic landmarks. The free-admission pier is known for its Pacific Park amusement park, which showcases family-friendly rides and attractions such as the National Historic Landmark 1922 Looff Hippodrome Carousel and the world's only solar-powered Ferris wheel. Visitors can explore the charming Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, the Muscle Beach outdoor gymnasium, and picturesque Palisades Park, which offers unparalleled Pacific Ocean views. Public works of art abound, along with cultural attractions like the Angels Attic Museum and the Bergamot Station Arts Center. Other unique attractions include Chess Park, which lets visitors engage in competitive games of blitz chess.
23.The International Banana Museum
© Africa Studio/stock.adobe.com
The International Banana Museum is one of the United States' most unique museums, entirely dedicated to the fruit of the same name. The one-room museum, which was originally founded in 1976 by Ken Bannister of the International Banana Club, holds the Guinness World Record as the world's largest museum devoted to a single type of fruit. Today, it contains more than 20,000 banana-related items, including banana-shaped phones, clocks, toys, costumes, record players, golf clubs, and ceiling fans. Some of the museum's kitschiest items include a banana-shaped couch, a gold-plated banana, and preserved bottles of banana soda. The museum is also home to the world's only petrified banana, submitted from the closet of a girl in Kentucky. Banana-related food and drinks are served up at the museum's Banana Bar.
98775 CA-111, Mecca, CA 92254, Phone: 619-840-1429
23 Best Weekend and Day Trips from Palm Springs, CA
- Amboy Crater, Photo: Rob Tilley and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Photo: Ron/stock.adobe.com
- The BMW Performance Center West, Photo: mirabella29/stock.adobe.com
- The Coachella Valley, Photo: Felipe Sanchez/stock.adobe.com
- Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve, Photo: Andrei/stock.adobe.com
- Idyllwild, Photo: Rosemarie/stock.adobe.com
- Indian Canyons, Photo: Kevin Oke and Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- The Integratron, Photo: The Integratron
- Joshua Tree National Park, Photo: Ferenc/stock.adobe.com
- Julian, Photo: OlgaDm/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Arrowhead Village, Photo: alexandros33/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Hemet, Photo: LittleSteven65/stock.adobe.com
- Los Angeles, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Old Town La Quinta, Photo: Tomasz Zajda/stock.adobe.com
- The Palm to Pines Scenic Byway, Photo: Ritu Jethani/stock.adobe.com
- Pioneertown, Photo: MelissaMN/stock.adobe.com
- Route 66, Photo: trekandphoto/stock.adobe.com
- The Salton Sea, Photo: rouda100/stock.adobe.com
- Salvation Mountain, Photo: gnagel/stock.adobe.com
- San Diego, Photo: giumas/stock.adobe.com
- San Juan Capistrano, Photo: littleny/stock.adobe.com
- Santa Monica, Photo: Simon Dannhauer/stock.adobe.com
- The International Banana Museum, Photo: Africa Studio/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Iriana Shiyan/stock.adobe.com