One of the best ways to appreciate the panoramic desert of the Greater Palm Springs area is to literally get above it—taking in the expanses of citrus trees and date palms, the sagebrush, the spring wildflowers, and even the 100-plus manicured golf courses from a hot air balloon, with the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains as a backdrop.
A number of operators do hot-air balloon rides in the Coachella Valley, primarily in the high season of November through May, with sunrise and sunset being the most popular times of the day for tours. Operators will typically come pick you up at your hotel for the trip and tours are fairly small—anywhere from two to 10 of you along for the ride.
Fantasy Balloon Flights, Balloons Above, and HavNFun Hot Air Balloons all use FAA-certified pilots and embrace the centuries-old tradition of offering up some sparkling wine after your voyage. (Ballooning as a sport began in France, no doubt including Champagne, in the 18th century.) Expect to be in the air anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes. Some of the operators let you get pretty hands-on, too: HavNFun lets passengers help set up and take down the balloon before and after their flights, while Balloons Above is happy to arrange lessons on how to fly a hot air balloon yourself.
On the Fantasy Balloon Flights tour of Palm Springs, the pilot will point out spots like the San Andreas Fault, the Salton Sea, and even celebrity homes. The company also offers Temecula wine country flights that glide over the vineyards and then touch down for a winery tour.