Palm Springs is not just a destination. It’s an experience with famous music festivals, celebrity chef-helmed restaurants, golf, culture, nightlife, film festivals, polo and historic landmarks. But a visit to Greater Palm Springs is only half the journey. The yin of the desert oasis has a yang, and it’s just a short day trip away to these 3 essential desert day trips outside Palm Springs.
The neighboring national parks and one-of-a-kind outdoor attractions have remained beautiful side trips for decades. In fact, more travelers are exploring past the rim of the Coachella Valley to remote, stunning areas that seduce with art installations, unique geological sites and, of course, miles of dramatic, natural beauty.
Beautiful places like Joshua Tree National Park, Pioneer Town and Borrego Springs have grown into attractions unto themselves, warranting enriching journeys and becoming 3 essential day trips outside Palm Springs. Legendary in their own way, these quiet, sprawling parks and towns are more moving than you would believe. Adventurous travelers behold enormous landscapes, eccentric culture and myriad activities, and it’s not uncommon to do a little soul searching in these magical excursions along the way.
Joshua Tree National Park
Stretching across an area of land nearly 800,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park has been around for many millennia, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the destination became a cultural fixture, when the Eagles’ first album was shot here, John Lennon recorded the rare The Joshua Tree Tapes and everyone from Jim Morrison to Keith Richards visited.
Joshua trees raising the bar for perfect desert views!
Photo: NPS / Brad Sutton pic.twitter.com/M5R9kQKvzM
— Joshua Tree NPS (@JoshuaTreeNPS) February 27, 2021
Perfectly enchanting, Joshua Tree reached fame on a global scale when U2 released The Joshua Tree album in 1987 (ironically, the tree in the photo is in Darwin, but Joshua Tree established a household name, inspiring millions of curious travelers over the years). Joshua Tree has long been a sanctuary for musicians, and annual music events—like Desert Daze and Joshua Tree Music Festival—continue to lure massive crowds.
The moon over Joshua Tree National Park. ? pic.twitter.com/U3UMbTZu6N
— Nina Lozano (@NinaReports) February 27, 2021
While its legacy remains unrivaled in music, Joshua Tree offers more than rock-star history and fests. Aside from ubiquitous (and distinctive) joshua trees, this desert valley unfurls with spectacular views. The money shot is at Keys View, overlooking the San Andreas Fault Line and Coachella Valley, which is perfect for sunsets.
Visitors can also trek miles of scenic hiking trails while exploring fascinating geological formations like Skull Rock and Hidden Valley, which are one of a kind in the desert and continue to inspire nature enthusiasts.
— Dr. Jennifer Wingate (@wingatejen) June 15, 2019
Many of those on spiritual quests get so inspired, they contribute to Joshua Tree’s flourishing art scene, and the mother of all things art is Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum. Here, outdoor exhibits comprise assemblages of old furniture, mannequins, industrial materials and even abandoned toilets. It’s an odd yet mesmerizing display of creative, thought-provoking art displays that seamlessly blend into the landscape.
The cluster of antique shops on 29 Palms Highway in Yucca Valley is a must see. Here travelers find unique gifts, vintage jewelry, thrift clothes, furniture, quirky antiques and all other things ultra hip and cool.
No, Pioneertown near Joshua Tree is not a mirage, but it is one of 3 essential day trips outside Palm Springs.
— Cosmic Cowboy (@ronnieruff) July 10, 2017
The retreat built in 1946 by Hollywood actors was envisioned as a film set, and it feels like the Wild West of yore, especially with the live Old West, gun-slinging reenactments on Saturdays. Pop into Pappy & Harriet’s, a Western-style indoor/outdoor concert venue that gets wild after hours with live music and great grub.
Whimsical and hypnotic, Borrego Springs is an oasis within an oasis. The small, laid-back town is completely surrounded by state park (famously Anza-Borrego Desert State Park), and it’s a member of International Dark Sky Community, which commits to little light pollution. Translation: expect the best stargazing in California.
Looking up to the sky today over Borrego Springs did not disappoint (Photos: Sicco Rood). pic.twitter.com/VFx21KxetO
— Anza-Borrego DRC (@AnzaBResearch) March 3, 2021
Outdoor enthusiasts get their nature fix with the blooming, seasonal wildflower in meadows, 500 miles of magnificent hiking, a handful of eco-conscious boutique resorts and amazing local art capturing the spirit of the area.
Borrego Springs is practically an outdoor museum thanks to metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda, who imagined Borrego with striking metal creature sculptures that include prehistoric (and fantastical) beasts—like sea serpents, dinosaurs and wooly mammoths—throughout the barren landscape.
— Anyone Can Bike (@AnyoneCanBike) March 3, 2021
Most travelers stop by Borrego Art Institute, which showcases local artwork, an ArtFarm providing education on organic farming and pottery workshops.
Like Joshua Tree, there’s just something magnetic about Borrego, and even Gale Gordon was a champion for the area. “Borrego Springs is not just any desert,” the I Love Lucy actor said in 1964, “for it has one highly desirable element that sets it apart from others.” While he was referring to water, we’re sure he meant “magic.”
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Please do! I’m a one-man team for this website, so any help is sincerely appreciated.