Fed by a deep underground aquifer, the desert gushes to life in regal palm groves and fabulous swimming pools, and also in a string of vibrant communities—Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, and the namesake town of Palm Springs. This is where 1950s celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley built sleek estates, played golf at championship courses, and wined and dined the desert night away.
Today, the Coachella Valley still sports a cool, mid-century modern vibe, but a new wave of entrepreneurs has brought in cutting-edge dining and shopping. Stroll through the Palm Springs Art Museum’s mix of contemporary and modern paintings, sculpture, and art glass. Visit Moorten’s Botanical Garden, a family-owned cactus Shangri-la planted with 3,000-plus specimens. For brunch or dinner, take your pick from Palm Springs’ primo restaurants—the ever-evolving food scene offers countless choices.
And of course, the beauty of the California desert is everywhere you look. Take a hike in the Indian Canyons, where streams tumble down from the San Jacinto Mountains, dense palm groves provide year-round shade, and bighorn sheep clatter across the hillsides. Located on tribal land on Palm Springs’ southwest edge, each of the Indian Canyons has its own distinct character. Closest to downtown is Tahquitz Canyon, where you can join a guided walk or hike on your own to see a perennial 60-foot/18-meter waterfall. (Movie buffs may recognize these falls as the entrance to Shangri-La in Frank Capra's 1937 film classic Lost Horizon.) The Tahquitz visitor center highlights the region’s Native American culture with a film and exhibits.
Nearby Palm and Andreas Canyons are laced with footpaths leading past colorful rock formations to streamside palm oases and Indian rock art. Take an easy stroll through Andreas Canyon to watch hummingbirds flit among more than 150 species of plants. Or try to keep your feet dry as you criss-cross Murray Canyon’s creek on a twisting 2-mile/3.2-km trail. You can never guess what’s coming around the bend in this labyrinthine canyon—soaring red cliffs, stately fan palms, and barrel cactus that swell after spring rains. At trail’s end, you reach the Seven Sisters, a terraced waterfall that drops over slick granite.
To get a wide-angle perspective on this soulful landscape, take a hot-air balloon ride with tour operators like Fantasy Balloon Flights, Balloons Above, and HavNFun Hot Air Balloons. As you float 1,000 feet above the desert floor, your FAA-certified pilot will point out landmarks like the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea, and even the homes of Hollywood celebrities. When you get back down to earth, salute your adventure with a champagne toast.
Prefer to soak instead of soar? Take this sand-and-sky desert oasis and add natural thermal mineral water, and you have a hot spot for luxurious spas. Southeast of Palm Springs, the 38,000-square-foot/3,530-square-meter spa at Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa is a wonderland of spoil-me services with dozens of private treatment rooms, a salon, fitness facility, and soothing saltwater pool. Spa guests can take advantage of hot and cold plunge pools plus ancient Ayurvedic healing treatments.
For a more intimate experience, consider Agua Serena spa (Spanish for “peaceful waters”) at Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa. Before or after your massage, lounge beside a dipping pool with relaxing fountains and swaying palm trees. Or go luxe at Desert Hot Springs: Two Bunch Palms, the A-listers’ getaway where palm-shaded pools brim with silky water, offers an incredible variety of treatments, from water shiatsu to mud baths to sound vibration therapy.