Plan 2.5 hours for this 140 mile drive - and make sure you head to Palm Springs other than during the summer. It won't provide relief from the heat! This trip is great for a normal weekend or 3-day weekend. But it may not be the best place to take the kids.
Our first visit to Palm Springs started at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area (just southeast of Palm Springs). Don't bother - the lake is dirty and stinks, and there are dead fish along the banks. The visitor center is small and its only draw is a 15-minute video on the geological history of the lake. Between Palm Springs and the Salton Sea are several date orchards and associated gift shops. All are kitschy, but worth
dropping in for 15 mins. We stopped at Oasis Date Gardens (59111 State Hwy 111, Thermal CA) with our picnic basket. They have picnic tables and you can buy dessert inside (date milkshake).
In Palm Springs proper, we stayed at the 1950s themed Rendezvous B&B. This place was excellent because it had a great breakfast and cocktail hour (snacks and signature Rendezvous blue martinis). Plus, the staff was very knowledgeable about the local area. We bought discount tickets for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway at Rendezvous. The tram car actually rotates 360 degrees twice on each trip. So stand anywhere because you'll see it all. Worth the $23 - but arrive early because the place was packed by noon! At the top (summertime), you can hike in the San Jacinto State Park. In the winter, you can snowshoe or sled ride. Pack a lunch because the cafeteria looked pretty poor.
More hiking can be found at The Indian Canyons or at Tahquitz Canyons. Both are on Native American lands and charge a nominal entrance fee. Check out the Palm Springs Visitor's Center for a discount ticket (military discount is applied too). Before your trip to Palm Springs, you can get a visitor's guide mailed to you (at the above website). The hikes in Indian Canyons and Tahquitz Canyons vary in length and difficulty, but they're pretty good. Trails aren't signed well, though.
You're undoubtedly hungry after a long day of
hiking, so walk from Rendezvous south on North Palm Canyon Drive to downtown Palm Springs. It's a 20 minute walk. Don't take the free bikes from Rendezvous because you'll assuredly get hit by a car en route. Palm Canyon is a busy street. There are so many great restaurant choices - pick one and you'll probably pick right. Or, check out the collection of menus at Rendezvous first. Our favorite low-key place: Fisherman's Market & Grill (235 S. Indian Canyon Dr.). You order at the counter and seat yourself.
On day 2, check out the Palm Springs Air Museum (active duty military & family free). The museum is small and you may only spend an hour t
here. Take a drive through a few old neighborhoods and view the 1950s architecture. At 1350 Ladera Circle, you can see Elvis' Honeymoon Hideaway.
If you have an extra day, consider driving through Joshua Tree National Park. Or camp overnight there. Great hiking and fabulous rock formations await you! En route to Joshua Tree's northern entrance is Pioneertown (left on Pioneertown Rd, go 4 miles). We were there on a cold, foggy day. And I'm not kidding - this is the creepiest place in California when vacant in the winter. No admission charge. Just weird facades and in summer, possibly a bowling alley and ice cream parlor.