Mid-century modern architecture, celebrity sightings, and sitting by the pool all come to mind when thinking about Greater Palm Springs. But you'll also find a treasure trove of outdoor activities to explore in and around the nine cities located within the Coachella Valley, surrounded by the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains to the west and Joshua Tree National Park to the east. This low desert (low elevation, meaning high temperature) climate provides year-round swimming, contributing to its reputation as a resort destination, but the easy access to mountains and the expansive desert terrain make it perfect for outdoor sports with a surreal desert flavor.
Where to Get Caffeinated
Before that big hike, it is essential to get that morning cup of coffee. At Ernest Coffee, you can see both locals and tourists donning activewear before taking off for their weekend adventures. It offers Stumptown Coffee and fresh pastries. The patio is a calming space for breakfast with mountain views. Ernest Coffee is centrally located in the Uptown Design District, making it a convenient spot to go between destinations.
Locally owned Koffi has three locations in the area—two in Palm Springs, one in Rancho Mirage—featuring fast breakfast options, baked goods, and, of course, the coffee, which it roasts in-house. You won’t be disappointed. In Indian Wells, you’ll find IW Coffee, another shop serving locally roasted coffee, featuring small batch beans from Joshua Tree, Calif. Old Town Coffee Company in La Quinta offers both breakfast and lunch, with baking done on the premises, in addition to a wide variety of coffee drinks and smoothies.
Where to Go Hiking
There are an abundance of places to go hiking, but first consider the time of year. Being in the desert, the temperature can reach 115 degrees during summer, and while warm in the winter, the mountains may have snow.
Start with a moderately easy two-mile hike in Tahquitz Canyon. The steady uphill hike provides a workout and you will be rewarded at the end with a 40-foot waterfall. This is best in late winter or early spring, as the heat dries up the waterfall in the summer months.
Too hot for hiking on the valley floor? Luckily, mountains are nearby. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to hiking trails in Mount San Jacinto State Park. The ticket price is well worth the cost to experience the breathtaking view of the valley and to escape the heat—the nearly 6,000 foot change in elevation will make your hike 30 degrees cooler. So layer up, but still be sure to bring plenty of water.
Where to Go Road Cycling
There are plenty of routes and bikes lanes in Greater Palm Springs, but if you are craving open road, it helps to get out of the city. Check out Big Wheel Tours in Palm Desert. The owner, Evan, gives hiking or cycling tours and is an enthusiastic, informative guide. Or simply rent a bike and go solo to Coachella Valley Preserve. Sand dunes and creosote bushes flank an open, and often deserted road to a natural oasis of palm trees. Round trip from Big Wheel Tours to the preserve is about a 34-mile ride that will satisfy a craving for open road and the stillness that the desert has to offer.
Where to Go Mountain Biking
For mountain biking, head to The Art Smith Trail. This challenging ride has steep climbs but those who conquer this trail are rewarded with scenic views of the San Jacinto Mountains. The trailhead is off Highway 74 in Palm Desert near Bighorn Golf Club. Need to rent a mountain bike? Again, Big Wheel Tours has several top-quality bikes available. Looking for more adventure? Check out these epic mountain bike trails.
Where to Go Climbing
Joshua Tree National Park is a world destination for rock climbing and just under an hour drive away. The park has 8,000 climbs, so with only a weekend, go to the Hemingway climbing area. It is near the entrance of the park with plenty of climbing spots if you do not want a long drive and hike to a site. Stop at Nomad Ventures on the way to the entrance of the park for climbing guides. They also have all the equipment you will need.
Where to Unwind
All of this activity earns a well-deserved rest. After a Sunday morning outing, head to Workshop Kitchen + Bar for brunch. The unassuming entrance off the Spanish-style courtyard opens to a dining room with high ceilings and an industrial, minimalist design. Unlimited mimosas made with just the right amount of fresh squeezed orange juice sets a good stage for discussing the morning's adventures over brunch. Workshop’s new American fare is a balance of light (market veggie enchiladas) and indulgent (brunch burger with a half pound of ranch beef and an egg) options. Wilma and Frieda’s Cafe in Palm Desert specializes in locally sourced comfort food, including a short rib eggs Benedict, served on a homemade English muffin, and banana caramel French toast. Louise’s Pantry was established as a lunch counter in 1946, and it now features two locations (one in Palm Desert, one in La Quinta) that feature breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. The Sunshine Café in Cathedral City is known for being a hole-in-the-wall with an eclectic vibe and excellent food. Pancakes, huevos rancheros, omelets and other breakfast staples will get you properly fueled up for any adventure.
Sitting poolside with a cocktail is practically mandatory in Greater Palm Springs. Arrive is a boutique hotel that creates the complete relaxation package. Their pool, which is open to the public (yes, even if you are not staying there, it is free!), restaurant and bar, coffee shop, and ice cream shop are all located next to one another so that you can get the best of all worlds. Absolute genius.
Originally written for Greater Palm Springs CVB.