What to Do
Find fun citywide
Your first stop should be the Palm Springs Visitors Center, and not just for the wealth of info you’ll find there. The building itself is legendary—a 1965 gas station with a soaring, geometric canopy—now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also the gateway to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which offers a breathtaking, 2.5-mile ride to the alpine forests of the San Jacinto Mountains.
You’ll want to clear your calendar for Modernism Week, which takes place every February (Feb. 14–24, 2019). What Comic-Con is to San Diego, Modernism Week is to Palm Springs, with thousands of fans of midcentury-modern design flocking to a citywide lineup of films, lectures, exhibits, classic car and Airstream trailer shows, chic galas, concerts, and home and estate tours. And if you want to bring a little something back with you, don’t miss the event’s Modernism Show & Sale, featuring dealers from around the world, and Modern Design Expo, offering the latest home technologies, as well as furniture and art.
Can’t make it to Modernism Week? Not to worry. The Palm Springs Art Museum, which boasts an impressive collection running the gamut from Native American textiles to Pop Art, has converted a glass-and-steel 1960s bank building into its Architecture and Design Center; there’s a year-round schedule of exhibitions and programs. And you can get the backstory on the area’s illustrious homes with PS Architecture Tours, which take small groups (no more than five people) on in-depth explorations of the city’s design history and the work of architects such as Albert Frey and Donald Wexler.
You can take in some more history, as well as 9 acres of landscaping at Sunnylands Center and Gardens. The former winter home of businessman and diplomat Walter Annenberg, Sunnylands has played host to presidents and royalty, and the landscape design (by the Office of James Burnett) was inspired by Annenberg’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Cactus lovers will want to stop in at the Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium to marvel at its collection of some 3,000 species of desert flora. This family-owned facility was originally opened in the 1930s by “Cactus Slim” Moorten, who had been an actor in silent movie comedies, and his biologist wife, Patricia.
If you have kids in tow, the whole family will enjoy The Living Desert, a zoo and botanical gardens highlighting plants and animals from the driest, hottest places on earth. The Living Desert hosts critters ranging from giraffes to ostriches to cheetahs, while the gardens recreate environments stretching from Mexico to Madagascar. Families can take in more of nature’s grandest designs with Desert Adventures jeep tours, including stargazing outings and explorations of Indian Canyons, the desert oases that have been sacred to the local Agua Caliente Cahuilla people for thousands of years.