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Up The Road: Where To Now? Enjoying Palm Springs

Randy Heinitz
Flickr Creative Commons

Sitting around the pool doing nothing is no sin in Palm Springs. Countless swimming pools here, reportedly one for every six residents—all kinds of water use hard to believe in the middle of a desert. It’s the first thing you’ll notice, along with acres of lawns, and well over 100 golf courses.


No worries, people say. Plenty more where that came from, thanks to our underground lake.

In fact, without regular infusions from the Colorado River, the water situation would be dire. Yet the oasis fantasy flows on, encouraged by some of the lowest water rates anywhere.


Palm Springs has other oddities, like an excessive number of plastic surgeons and psychiatrists. And unique charms—such as world-class second-hand shops. Start at The Estate Sale Company, colossal consignment space for the art, furniture, fine jewelry, and odds and ends left behind by the well-off.


Winter is tourism high season, with plenty going on in spring and fall too, so the community’s calendar runs from October through May.


Palm Springs is an attitude as much as place. The entire valley shares its identity. Directly north is Desert Hot Springs, right atop the San Andreas fault—a geologic fact that explains the location here of most of the valley’s natural hot springs and historic spas.



Credit Bembridge / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons
Tramway Oasis Gas Station, now the Palm Springs Visitor Center but once an Esso gas station, designed by midcentury-modern architect Albert Frey.

The glitz, though, is due east, where the money migrated—Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta—home to the ritziest resorts and shops. The larger valley is semi-agricultural, good for farmers’ markets and produce stands, the latter farther east in Coachella, Indio, and Thermal, where many ag and service workers live. Do try a date milkshake, whenever you can find them. Yum. Truly.

Otherwise: A taste of Palm Springs includes The Living Desert in Palm Desert, 1,200 acres of innovative zoo and educational park. Desert Adventures’ fun open-air jeep tours offer access to great out-there places.

The Palm Springs Air Museum spit-shines its rare collection of World War II aircraft—many warbirds flight-ready. With extra cash and some planning, you too can fly in them. For more dubya-dubya-two, head for nearby Chiriaco Summit, near Joshua Tree National Park, where the four-star attraction is the General George S. Patton Memorial Museum.

Credit Thank You / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons
Water, water everywhere: Pool at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells.

Get more ideas about things to do at the 1963 Tramway Oasis Gas Station near Palm Springs’ northern entrance, a midcentury-modern landmark designed by architect Albert Frey, now the official Palm Springs Visitor Center. Put together your own “desert modern” architecture tour and—once COVID-19 is behind us—take a very informative walking or biking tour with the Palm Springs Historical Society.


Frey’s icon marks the turn to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which carries people straight up Mount San Jacinto—a vertical mile and five distinct biomes, desert to alpine forest, in less than 15 minutes. “Crocker’s Folly” took electrical engineer Francis Crocker 28 years to design and build. Albert Frey also designed the modernist lower tramway station, E. Stewart Williams, the mountain tram station.


Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel


Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:


Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.