Things to Do In the Desert … Palm Desert

Looking for ideas on what to do? Here are some of my favorites.


Joshua Tree National Park: truly a beautiful and strange place where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet. Do yourself a favor and go to the far less crowded Cottonwood entrance. It’s about 45 minutes to the visitor’s center from our house and using that entrance has you miss the long lines at the others. In this direction, you pay at the exit.

  • It’s a perfectly enjoyable few hours to simply drive through the park and get out and look around whenever the beauty calls for it. The simplest loop with time for short stops will take a few hours from our place.
  • If you want to add in a self-guided audio tour, this is a good one.
  • Some of my favorite places to visit are the Ocotillo Patch (am in love with these plants), the Cholla Garden, and Keys Point (great for sunset).
  • JTNP is a designated Dark Sky Park, which means it’s spectacular for night skies.
  • If you exit at the West Entrance, which I would suggest, you’ll drive out through the town of Joshua Tree and its cute art shops, and you NEED to stop at the cutest bar ever, The Copper Room. Excellent apps and cocktails and a beautiful view from the bar.

Moorten Botanical Garden: also a weird and delightful place, right in Palm Springs, about 25 minutes from our house. It’s a small, privately owned garden full of enormous cactus and weird desert plants. They also have tortoises.I will go here as many times as possible, I just love it. It only costs $8 and will take you about an hour to stroll around. Great place for photos, and a lovely place to stroll on a comfortable day.

The Bump n Grind Trail: I’ve never actually done this because I don’t like going uphill. Or downhill. But the locals sure love it – I see super fit seniors practically racing up and down this every time I ride my bike past the trailhead. It’s only about ten minutes from our house, is listed as a moderate hike and is less than 4 miles round-trip. Get it. Alltrails description page with directions.

Indian Canyons and Tahquitz Canyon: Two beautiful locations on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation in Palm Springs. You have to pay around $15 per person to access either of these locations but 1) they’re really beautiful and 2) isn’t it time, in the words of Midnight Oil, to pay the price? (80s pop music reference). Check out this website comparing various trails when trying to narrow down which one.

Palms to Pines Scenic Byway and Idyllwild:If you’re in the mood to drive (or moto), this is a great option. Take windy and beautiful Route 74, which starts less than 10 minutes from our house, all of the way up into the mountains for beautiful views and high desert flora. You can take it all of the way to San Diego, but a better day trip option could be Lake Hemet, San Jacinto State Park, or the adorable town of Idyllwild. Here’s a good guide.


Salvation Mountain: The mountain is a colorful art installation created by Leonard Knight, who spent over 30 years building it by hand. It’s made entirely of adobe clay and features a variety of bright colors, painted murals, and religious phrases. The artwork is inspired by Leonard’s devotion to God, and he hoped that it would serve as a symbol of love and unity for people of all faiths. You can explore the various paths and alcoves that make up the mountain. Great for photos. It’s about 1.5 hours away and part of a great day trip to the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach, and East Jesus.

East Jesus: Just down the road from Salvation Mountain is a very cool little art gallery/museum/sculpture park called East Jesus. The art is an eclectic mix of sculptures, paintings, and other installations, created using a variety of materials like scrap metal, found objects, and recycled materials.

Bombay Beach: Explore the often-changing art installations and sculptures, take in the eerie beauty of the Salton Sea, and generally enjoy the weird atmosphere. Once a thriving resort town in the 1950s, the area fell into decline due to flooding and pollution, but it has since undergone a revival as an unlikely and unique tourist destination.

Palm Springs Art Museum: Considering that Palm Springs is such a small town, it’s got a pretty great art museum. It’s right in downtown PS and occasionally gets really amazing traveling exhibits. Nice little outdoor sculpture garden, too.

Desert X: If you happen to be visiting in the spring, you might luck into a Desert X exhibit. Every year, a bunch of artists create big sculptures and art pieces out in various spots around the Coachella Valley. They’re often fun or beautiful or moving, but always make for a great adventure.


El Paseo: fancy shopping real close to our house. This is a nice place to go for a stroll, get a coffee, maybe a cocktail or a meal. They’ve got art galleries and clothing boutiques as well as chains like Anthropologie, Apple, and Sundance. Also Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, and Gucci. It’s fancy. And pretty. Rancho Relaxo is my favorite store here. Did I mention it’s fancy? Excellent people watching though.

Downtown Palm Springs: this corridor seems to get bigger and more developed every week. It’s a core part of the PS experience and can be crowded and difficult to find parking in. I’d aim for a weekday if you want to avoid the craziness. About 30 minutes from our house.

  • Absolutely Fabulous: Great store with a definite Palm Springs vibe. An amazing curated selection of art and gift books, decor, cards, art.
  • Mojave Trading Post: I love this store. It’s kind of an Instagram-influenced vibe, but they have great jewelry, house wares, vintage clothing and all sorts of cool things. Great if you need to buy souvenirs or gifts.
  • Market Market Market: insanely expensive but really great place to see cool clothes, art, and furniture
  • The Best Bookstore in Palm Springs: it’s small, it’s cute, it’s new. And that’s its name.
  • Lighthouse Dispensary: good pot and nice customer experience. You need ID to get in and there’s an ATM on site.


Look, we’re not foodies. There are spectacular restaurants in the area if that is your thing, we’re just not going to be experts. I’d check out Eater if that’s your thing.

These are the places we like to go to.

Cactus Jacks: right down the street from our place, this is a local’s joint. Think great prime rib, super strong cocktails, and lots of golf related art on the walls. It’s my goal to get a Cheers-like Norm greeting when I walk in the door. I’m not there yet.

Wilma & Frieda’s: small delicious breakfast joint in the El Paseo shopping area (10 minutes away). Probably going to be a wait, almost certainly will be worth it. Mimosas are great, and so is the French Toast (and the coffee).

Mario’s Italian: old school, kind of kitschy Italian joint with very Americanized traditional things like Chicken Parm, Clams Linguine, and Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Chicken Ranch: I don’t know what they do to this chicken but it’s really fucking good. The Bahn Mi sandwich is probably my favorite, but the salads are amazing and so is the chicken wok. Nice wine selection and outdoor seating area. In the heart of Palm Springs, about 30 minutes from our place.

Billy Reed’s: Another old school, slightly kitschy spot with AMAZING people watching. If you can, sit at the bar. Great house dressing. Very strong cocktails. In Palm Springs, 30 min away.

Pappy & Harriets: Great place for music and delicious meat-based foods way up in the high desert. They don’t take reservations and you’ll probably have a wait but it will be worth it. About 50 minutes from our house.


El Paseo Starbucks: this is not your normal Starbucks — it’s populated by a crazy cross-section of people. If you go in the morning and sit on the patio you might just get to hear the locals ribbing one another and shooting the shit. Great tourist people-watching.

Varraco Coffee Roasters: if you are a coffee snob, this is probably the local place for you. It takes ten minutes to pull you a coffee but it’s really delish and the baristas are super nice. They have really amazing pastries, too.

Cartel Roasting Company: great indie coffee shop in Palm Springs. The barista is usually a dick but the coffee is real good.

About Me

I’m Victoria Griffith and I am enthusiastic about a LOT of things. Pine trees and mushrooms and the desert. Ocotillos, motorcycles, travel, and photography. Friendship and writing and books and surviving the love of your life’s terminal diagnosis. I blog about some of these things here, mostly about books and writing, but about the other stuff now and then too.

I was born in Paterson NJ, call Seattle WA my home, and spend the winters in the desert of Southern California. I try to get out to see as much of the world as time and money will allow. 

If you’d like to say hi, you can reach me at