Palm Springs, an easy two hour drive from Los Angeles, happened to be one of the few well known Southern California cities our family had yet to explore, which made it the perfect choice for a quick getaway! The desert climate, landscape and architecture are all quite different from what we’re used to over on the coast, which really added to the feeling of being far from home, even if we really weren’t. We spent three relaxing days and two nights exploring and photographing the city and surrounding Coachella Valley.
Palm Springs Architecture
An architecture lover’s heaven, Palm Springs is famous for its distinctive Desert Modern architecture, and I found myself focusing the camera on many of the city’s unique architectural details.
It’s large concentration of historically important mid-century modern buildings put Palm Springs on the 2006 list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual national list of only 12 cultural tourism destinations for architecture.
Another notable architectural style found in the area is Googie. Confesion, I’d never heard the term Googie before my teenage son mentioned it, which is somewhat embarrassing since I’m married to an architect. Though I’d never heard the term, its unique style wasn’t new to me. Influenced by car culture, jets and the atomic age, Googie later became part of the more commonly known mid-century modern style.
Many guided architecture tours are available, and self guided maps can be purchased in the Palm Springs Visitor Centers both Downtown and at the Tramway Gas Station Visitor Center. “My architect” opted for neither and instead we spent a lovely afternoon wandering through residential neighborhoods admiring the various examples of desert modernism and landscaping.
Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway
A masterpiece of mid-century modern, The Alexander Estate was at one time referred to as the Home of Tomorrow. Elvis Presley’s farther thought it would be the perfect place for Elvis and Priscilla to relax and get away from Hollywood life. They leased the home for one year in 1966 for $21,000, and honeymooned there on May 1, 1967.
Located at 13500 Ladera Circle tours are offered daily at 1:00pm and 3:30pm. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ups are welcome (space permitting). Adults are $35, and children under 12 are $15.
The Tramway Gas Station
Considered a perfect example of modernist architecture the Tramway Gas Station was designed by Albert Frey and built in 1965. In 2015 the building was designated a National Historic Landmark and is now operated by the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism as the Palm Springs Visitor Center.
The visitor center is open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and located on the corner of North Palm Canyon Drive (HWY 111) and Tramway Road.
Palm Springs Art museum
The Palm Springs Art Museum, with three locations, is the largest cultural institution in Coachella Valley. The Downtown location features modern art and is spread out over three floors.
We all enjoyed this museum, which has a nice easy flow, a wonderful selection of art, and a lovely cafe. I loved all the different textures within the building.
At the time of this writing the main exhibition was a very impressive private collection of works by Andy Warhol, which took up one entire floor of the museum.
The Kids enjoyed flopping down on these Warhol inspired cushions in the middle of the ground floor, and poking around the exhibit specific pop up shop!
Some of our favorite works included, Yoshitomo Nara’s Your Dog, Chul-Hyun Ahn’s Tunnel, and Subodh Gupta’s Untitled, Duane Hanson’s Old Couple on a bench were so lifelike we all thought they were real people! Anthony Gormley’s Mother’s Pride was made completely of bread and wax.
The museum is located at 101 Museum Drive. Its operating hours are: Sun, Mon, Tue, Fri, Sat 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thu 12-8 p.m.; free 4-8 p.m.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
If you’re visiting the Palm Springs area with younger children consider a visit to the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. The animals featured here are from North America and Africa, and there are some unique and endangered species.
The desert gardens are beautiful and unique. A first at any zoo I’ve ever visited there were hiking trails and even the opportunity for camping overnight.
Open every day October 1 to May 31 9:00am to 5:00pm. Closed December 25 Summer Hours: Open every day June 1 to September 30 8:00am to 1:30pm Last admission at 1:00pm
You might also be interested in: 25 Zoos Around the World
Palm Springs Street Art
There is a very limited amount of street art in Palm Springs, possibly because of a backlash after this Fin Dac/Starfightera piece appeared on Bar in 2013, but I did manage to hunt down a few pieces.
Artist(s): Fin Dac & Starfightera
Location: 340 North Palm Canyon Drive
Artist: James Haunt
Location: The Corner of N. Canyon Drive & W. Racquet Club Road
Artist: Mad Man Art
Location: 707 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Relaxation and a dip in the pool were two of the main reasons we chose Palm Springs for our mini vacation. The desert climate ensuring that at least one of those activities would take place.
Our hotel, The Riviera, had two separate pool areas, spacious rooms, and a welcoming lobby area complete with a pool table and a bar.
During our visit to Palm Springs we learned that 90 percent of the world’s dates are grown in the Coachella Valley, and that the Date Shake is the unofficial official beverage.
Of course I had to try one, and as just about every establishment in town sells their own version of the shake there are multiple opportunities. Had we more time I would have loved to visit and tour one of the area’s nearby date farms.
Day Trip to the Salton Sea
The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California and one of the world’s largest inland seas. Located just one hour east from Palm Springs, a drive around the 130 mile shoreline can easily be completed in one day making a great day trip destination.
You may not think the ruins of a once thriving resort town seem like a great day out, but many people (200,000 every year) are drawn to the Salton Sea, and the remnants of what it once was…
You might also be interested in: Day Trippers: The Salton Sea
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I need to check out the PS art museum the next time im there.
It’s really good one, and if it hadn’t been closed we would have loved to see the Architecture Museum which falls under the museum’s umbrella.
No one has ever made a visit to Palm Springs look soooo appealing! I’m suddenly wishing to go!! I was always just told it was a desert with nothing to do…but I guess that’s from my ex boyfriend in the USMC haha Now I gotta go! #CityTripping
Well… I admit to being a bit surprised myself. I guess that’s why it took me 17 years of living in Cali to finally go. 😂
passion fruit, paws and peonies
I’ve never been or even thought about it – but it looks like I’ve really been missing out. It looks like a fabulous destination and one to explore more. Thanks! xx
We were surprised at how much there was to see and do in a place we’d always considered a retirement community of sorts! 😂
I absolutely love all the vibrant colors!!! #FarawayFiles
Yes! A very vibrant place considering it’s in the middle of a desert!
I always see Instagrammers talking about Palm Springs and always wonder how it is to be there. Thank you for this post and photos because now I have a much better idea 🙂
It’s got a lot going for it design wise however I still prefer LA! 😘
I have never been to Palm Springs. I have seen buildings that look like Desert Modern architecture but never realised that it was a categorised style. I would have loved to see the Andy Warhol exhibit at the art museum.
The exhibit in on through Sunday! Ha ha! I think it’s a relatively new category, maybe out of necessity?
This really looks like the perfect place for a short break. No wonder Elvis liked it here. I really love the style of architecture you’ve highlighted and that art museum looks well worth a visit in its own right. #FarawayFiles
Yes, a short break was perfect. We did love the museum and would definitely go back if we found ourselves in the area.
Skyler - Learningbrave
I have never been to Palm Springs and so I’m grateful for your inspiring post! I love art and I would so love to take my kids to that fabulous modern art museum. I also love dates! I had no idea that so many of the worlds dates are grown in the US, I’m surprised as I’ve traveled to the Middle East where dates are plentiful, although, they didn’t have any ‘date shakes’, was it delicious? #FarawayFiles
The museum was fabulous! If you like sweet thing, which I absolutely do, then you would love the date shakes!
I didn’t think Palm Springs looked like this, this is cool! #farawayfiles
I agree! I didn’t think it would be cool at all. I was surprised!
Niche Travel Design
I have a special place in my heart for Palm Springs. Went there a lot in college, rented a mid century for my husband’s 40’s and had a surprise party/weekend there. I spent a month there once for work. I have been so many times and yet I have never been to the art museum or the Salton Sea. I am kicking myself. I need to go back! Great photos which took me back! Thanks. #farawayfiles
You’ll just have to go back!! So glad to have brought back happy memories!
Sharee (Inspire Family Travel)
What a fascinating place! We haven’t been to Palm Springs, and to be honest this is not how I pictured it to be. I love street art and great architecture and I know my family would enjoy the Zoo. Thank you for showing me another side. #FarawayFiles
I admit I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found it was a great family destination!
Amazing post. So many architectural wonders. I liked reading about Googie. Incredible art work collection and me personal favourite was couple made of bread and wax. Loved reading this post.
Thank you! PS is definitely a place for art and architecture lovers! I admit the wax couple freaked me out for a minute, but then I realized they weren’t real!
When I saw your photos I immediately recognised Palm Springs, we visited there fleetingly back in 2006 and was way beyond my expectations.
I’m not too sure what I expected, however it was a great place to stay and discover. I couldn’t believe there were Humming Birds just flying around.
Once again love the street art.
Yes! The desert flowers and wildlife are so beautiful! PS definitely exceeded our expectations.
These buildings are beautiful, and you’re right – so distinctive. I’d never heard of Googie either, so thanks for educating me! #FarawayFiles
I rather like the term! It’s fun and so is the style!
These buildings are so beautiful, and distinctive. There’s certainly nothing like them here in London! I’d nver heard of Googie either, so thanks for enlightening me. #FarawayFiles
We love to plan getaways to Palm Springs (also 2 hours from San Diego). I have not yet been to the Living Zoo, as we’ve been there when it’s too hot. I really want to visit. I love your photos of the architecture. I wasn’t familiar with the style “Google” either!
Thank you! We really enjoyed the living Zoo, but it does close early in the summer. I always thought of Palm Springs as a retirement destination, but it has a lot to offer… either that, or I’m just getting old! 😳
Alex - My LIfe Long Holiday
So what’s a Date Shake like?? This sounds like my perfect kinda weekend – I loved all the architecture stuff and give me an abandoned town any day of the week…. Heaven. Sticking it all on my list for the day we ever get over to the West Coast! #citytripping
A date shake is very very sweet! Delicious! There is definitely a lot to explore here on the West Coast! I hope you make it some day!!
Looks interesting. Love the look of the buildings. We’ve never been #FarawayFiles
SeasonedTravelr, aka Jessica
Wow, I was born and raised in Socal, yet have never made it to any of the things on your list! Sure, I’ve been to Palm Springs, but it was basically just to spend the day in the pool and have a little getaway. I had no idea there was so much to see and do! I’ll definitely have to go back with this in mind, thanks for all of the fantastic information!
So glad I’ve been able to share something new with you! We weren’t sure what to expect but wound up really enjoying it!
Elizabeth (Wander Mum)
Who needs a tour when you have a personal architect guide. Loved reading all about Palm Springs Hilary and gazing at your beautiful photos. Would love to go one day. Thanks for linking #citytripping
I know! It’s fun watching him show and tell the kids his craft! I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Palm Springs and surrounding areas.
Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
There is beauty in the desert although I was surprised on my first trip to the Australian outback at the extent of my feelings for the land. Your Palm Springs story has provided so many different activities for visitors; maybe even me one day!
Australia is high on my husbands list, so maybe we will eventually get there…
Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
Lots of encouragement from this end!
Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
Whoops – I forgot the tag #farawayfiles!
I have never been to Palm Springs and the only reason I’d heard of it was because of the episode of Saved by the Bell when Jessi’s dad got married. But I love southern California and Palm Springs sounds like a great place for a quick getaway. #FlyAwayFriday
Ha ha! Saved by the Bell!!
Kathleen (Kat) (@katpegimana)
I had always thought Palm Springs was in L.A because of the movies but didn’t know that it’s actually two hours’ drive from LA 🙂 Based on your pics, I reckon Palm Springs is a perfect place to go for the weekend – love the landscape especially those tall willowy palm trees! #FarawayFiles
I never get tired of palm trees!
Fifi + Hop
I’m not sure I’d fall in love with Palm Springs, but I’ve always wanted to see it..and for whatever reason I’m so intrigued by the Salton Sea. Saw you wrote a dedicated post on it so heading there now. #citytripping
Like LA, Palm Springs has never been my list until I saw it through your eyes. Now I need to visit!
I’m honored, however if you can only choose one then It has to be LA!!
I’m sure that a road trip will be in order
I hope you find your way to our part of the world would be fun to meet up!!
It would, I have been given your photo walk in London for my birthday but need to get my wrist out of plaster before doing it!
Oh fun! Wishing you a speedy recovery! Can’t wait to hear how you like it!
The Queen of Collage
We’ve yet to visit Palm Springs. Thanks for sharing #FarawayFiles
Here I thought I knew Palm Springs in and out but apparently not! So many awesome spots I didn’t know about. Thanks for sharing! Hope to see you again on Fly Away Friday tomorrow! XO
Thanks!! Getting to see places from another person’s point of view is one of the best parts about blogging!
How fascinating! I would be all over the Andy Warhol exhibit! I love all his stuff especially the Marilyn Monroe pieces. Those hearts are gorgeous. I want one in my yard 🙂 Hope to see you at Fly Away friday later today xo
Beautiful captures and article!
Very informative. Thnx