Palm Springs, California, is missing from most lists of top spring break destinations. Unlike the usual meccas — in Florida, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Texas and elsewhere in California — Palm Springs has no beach. It’s in the middle of the California desert.
But Palm Springs gradually is gaining stature as a spring break destination, thanks to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and to the town’s hipster, party-time atmosphere. If you get pulled into Palm Springs’ orbit this year, you’ll find that it can be a budget-friendly vacation when you plan ahead and know where to look for bargains.
Getting there and getting around
Eighteen airlines fly in and out of Palm Springs International Airport. When comparing deals, also check out the cost of flying into nearby Ontario International Airport (about an hour and a half away) or Los Angeles International Airport (two to three hours) and taking a shuttle, rental car or Amtrak to Palm Springs.
For getting around Palm Springs, to the festival and to other desert towns and destinations, Sunline Transit Agency bus lines is your best bet for saving money.
Invariably, the sun is shining in Palm Springs, and the city boasts many miles of bike routes through downtown and historic neighborhoods. Download this map of bike routes and trails. Call or visit the official visitors center: 800-347-7746, 2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive, to ask about bicycle rentals and tours.
Where to stay on a budget
Your biggest expense, after concert tickets, is accommodations. Don’t waste a minute getting yours lined up because, as you surely know, demand is high during spring break season. Hotels are fun and CBS Los Angeles names three popular with spring break vacationers: Colony Palms Hotel, Ace Hotel (“for those looking to party”) and the Saguaro Palm Springs.
But your money goes further when sharing a vacation rental home with a kitchen and several bedrooms and baths. Even if you don’t cook you’ll save by fixing coffee, refreshments, breakfast, sandwiches and frozen pizza in your unit.
Here are a few sites for bargain-hunting:
The Coachella Festival has links to campgrounds, parks and RV parks.
Music and nightlife
The wildly popular Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (April 15-17 and April 22-24) is a big draw. Nearly 200,000 tickets were sold in 2015 and advance tickets for this year sold out in a few hours in January 2016. The Desert Sun lists possible (pricey) alternative ways to find tickets.
If you can’t get in, though, don’t worry. There are a lot of other ways to have fun:
- USA Today lists the 10 best spots for live music, from pubs and bars to special events.
- Search for concerts at Eventful. See who’s playing live music at popular venues, including Blue Coyote Grill, Las Casuelas Terraza, Melvyn’s Restaurant and the Village Pub.
- Check Palm Springs Life’s event calendar to learn what’s going on and find the magazine’s dozen favorite nightlife spots.
- Get your karaoke fix at Peabody’s Cafe on weekend evenings.
- Palm Springs.com, the visitors’ center site, has a wealth of tips and ideas.
Window shop and gallery hop
Whether you prefer window shopping or dropping some cash, the Palm Springs area is known for shopping. Palm Springs is only one of a cluster of affluent desert cities and El Paseo Drive, in nearby Palm Desert, is like Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive, a glittering district with high-end international boutiques. You may want a car to reach them.
PalmSprings.com has store directories for El Paseo Drive, downtown Palm Springs and The River, an upscale center in nearby Rancho Mirage. Retreads make their way to a myriad of consignment stores. See Yelp for the details. And if you are in a driving mood, you may want to explore the big outlet malls about 17 miles east of Palm Springs, off Highway 10 in Cabazon.
Palm Springs and the neighboring communities are filled with galleries and studios:
Palm Springs: The Palm Springs Art Museum brings stunning, big-city level exhibits and collections to the desert. The museum’s Annenberg Theater presents plays, dance and nationally recognized performers. The intriguing Backstreet Art District has local galleries. Meet artists in their studios each first Wednesday of the month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Frances Stevens Park holds sales of original works by California artists. Parking and admission are free. Look here for art events at Stevens Park and other desert locations.
Palm Desert: Palm Desert’s El Paseo shopping district has a dozen or more museum-quality galleries and features an art walk on every first Friday evening of the month, from November through May. The Palm Springs Art Museum’s new 8,400-square-foot Palm Desert building mounts art exhibits and a large sculpture garden.
Joshua Tree: Ask at The Joshua Tree Art Gallery — “your cultural outpost in the desert” — for information about art “crawls” and the art scene in Joshua Tree, 35 miles east of Palm Springs: 760-366-3636.
Forage for food
You’ll find locally grown produce at farmers markets in three desert towns
- Palm Springs: Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 2300 E. Baristo Road
- Old Town La Quinta: Sundays 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 78100 Main St.
- Palm Desert: Wednesdays 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 72-559 Highway 111
Get more details and directions at the Certified Farmers Market.
Palm Springs Life gives directions and descriptions for five “amazing” desert hikes, from easy to strenuous, in such stunning spots as Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs Indian Canyons and the San Jacinto Mountains.
Tips: This is the desert. Start early when it’s cooler. Don’t get caught in the midday sun. Carry a lot of water and use strong sun protection, including clothes, hats and high SPF sunscreen.
- Sun-Protective Clothing: Worth It, or Just a Pricey Trend?
- The ABCs of Sun Protection (Don’t Get Burned by SPFs)
Do you travel to the sunshine in the later winter or early spring? Or, are you among the residents of those warmer climes who witnesses the annual influx from the north? Share your experience with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.