Whether you’re a beach bum or a desert rat, your travels through southern California have probably brought you to Palm Springs at some point or another.
Once a chic getaway for the Hollywood elite, the area is now on any midcentury modernist’s bucket list. As well, it acts as a gateway to San Jacinto, has dotted the landscape with miles of wind farms, and provides access to a number of palm oases and Indian Canyons maintained and preserved by the Agua Caliente tribe.
It’s true – Palm Springs is and does all of those things. But that only scratches the surface of this (literal) hotspot in the Coachella Valley.
So, here are some of the coolest ways to chill out in the greater Palm Springs area – even when the mercury rises into the triple digits.
1. Cabot's Pueblo Museum
For a truly oddball experience in the Palm Springs area, head north to Desert Hot Springs, where you’ll find Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, the grand palace of Cabot Yerxa, whose homesteading efforts in 1913 – and discovery of both hot springs and a cold aquifer –helped found the community of Desert Hot Springs. In 1940, he started building a four-story, Hopi-inspired adobe out of locally sourced reclaimed materials and with his own two hands. Perhaps Cabot didn’t know when to stop – because he just kept building, for as long as there were abandoned cabins to dismantle and crooked nails to straighten out. And that meant he didn’t stop until the day he died in 1965. Though he lived in his pueblo with his wife Portia, he always intended that it open to the public as a museum of Native American artifacts and culture – and, in 1949, it did and is still open for tours today. Wander through the 35 rooms (with 65 doors) and try to unravel its mysteries that are enshrouded in adobe and sun-dried bricks.
2. Ruddy’s General Store Museum
Stepping onto the Village Green of Palm Springs is like stepping back in time to the 19th century – before Marilyn, Frank, Elvis, and Dinah, when pioneers were still settling the area and building houses made of railroad ties. Thanks to the Palm Springs Historical Society, which is headquartered there, you can take a break from the shopping and dining of Palm Canyon Drive and get whisked away to the year 1884 as you cross the threshold into the McCallum Adobe. Or, transport yourself to 1930 (which still predates the Palm Springs playground as we know it now) and peruse Jim Ruddy’s collection of foodstuffs and soaps in their original boxes and tins plus period ephemera and bric-a-brac, all part of the time capsule known as the General Store Museum. It’s a roadside attraction you might expect to see along the way on a cross-country road trip of Americana attractions – which makes it a shocking stop to make in the middle of Downtown Palm Springs.
3. Palm Springs Stadium
In Palm Springs, it doesn’t matter if your blood runs Dodger blue or if your major league loyalties lie with your hometown team. There’s only one baseball game in town – that of the summer collegiate league team, The POWER. You may be surprised to hear that Palm Springs even has a baseball field at all – but, in fact, it has a proper baseball stadium, and a historic one at that. Originally built upon a former polo field, the stadium’s earliest stands date back to 1949 – and from 1961 to 1992, it hosted spring training for the California Angels (now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) while Gene Autry (the singing cowboy who also lived part-time in Palm Springs) owned the MLB team. Seeing a baseball game at the stadium now is a perfect slice of Smalltown USA, replete with Rocky the dancing mascot (a ram), pie-eating contests, snacks, occasional fireworks shows that you can watch from the field, and the oh-so-necessary misting system to keep you cool on the bleachers. And while you’re there, you might spot the budding talent of a ballplayer on his way to the majors. Recent POWER placements in the pros include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Twins, and St. Louis Cardinals.
4. Palm Springs Air Museum
Even if you’re just passing through Palm Springs, it’s worth the detour to check out the Palm Springs Air Museum’s stellar collection of warbirds – and maybe even take a ride in one. On the museum’s front lawn alone, you might find originals or replicas of, say, an “Intruder,” a "Tomcat” a “Skyhawk,” or a “Hornet.” Once you actually pay admission and enter the museum, there are two hangars full of planes: one for those from World War II and another for the wars in the South Pacific (Korea and Vietnam). Outside on the tarmac, abutting the runways of the Palm Springs Airport, there's a Sikorsky H-34 helicopter, an F4U Corsair, and the Navy's 1958 Grumman C-1A Trader "Blue Ghost #6" – as well as plenty of warplanes with fantastic tail art, glimmering propellers, and plenty of tales from the front lines. Some of these planes have been completely refurbished, and can still actually fly. But for those that are grounded forever, basking in the golden sun, it's a good life in Palm Springs. There, they can be restored and stay that way, not exposed to the humidity or other weather elements that tend to erode and age historic artifacts like this.
In Palm Springs' affluent "Movie Colony" neighborhood -- so called because of the Hollywood movie stars who flocked to it in the 1930s through 1960s -- there's a tourist attraction that some of the neighbors don't like very much. In fact, they haven't liked it for the greater part of the 30 years it's been there, predating some of their move-in dates. They call it a hazard and an eyesore. But its creator, outsider artist Kenny Irwin Jr., calls it simply "Robolights." Kenny makes larger-than-life robots out of found objects -- mostly computer monitors, TVs, machine parts, and toy guns – most of which stay up all year long, though access through the front gate is usually limited to Christmastime evenings. The rest of the year, especially during the day, is a great time to swing by and gawk at the future apocalypse and gawk at the bright colors and organized chaos of it all – even if its mission and message are somewhat of a head-scratcher. Once we all understand it, though, it’ll probably be the right time for Kenny to make his neighbors happy and take it all down. But there doesn’t seem to be any risk for that yet, so hopefully it’ll continue to baffle us for quite some time.