The Hottest Desert Road Trip from L.A. to Palm Springs

By Sharlene Chiu,

One of the many  reasons why being in Los Angeles is the absolute best is its enviably close proximity to so many dreamy Californian getaways. When you’re in L.A. and you find yourself wanting a little vacay within a vacay, there’s no better escape than a fun 2 to 3 hour road trip from L.A. to Palm Springs, with pit stops along the way in Palm Desert and Joshua Tree. Here’s an essential hit list to make the most of a desert weekend getaway.

California Road Trip

Road trip ready!

What To See

Tramway Palm Springs

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

To really get the vast scope of the incredible beauty of the Greater Palm Springs area and beyond, take an adventurous 8,516 feet ride up the Aerial Tramway to the grand Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area. The 10-minute ride on the rotating tramcar is pure eye candy. While the tram takes you through the Mexican Sonoran Desert on the way to the Alpine wilderness, you’ll notice the spectacular nature and its inhabitants below, including beautiful yucca plants, prickly pears, Kit foxes and Great Horned Owls.

 Jacinto State Park Caifornia

Explore the 14,000 acres that Mt. San Jacinto State Park has to offer.

Once you’re at the top, you can embark on one of the many inspiring hiking trails that cover 14,000 acres of the park and take in the stunning views from the Mountain Station and its various scenic restaurants.

Joshua Tree

Sunsets at Joshua Tree.

On one of your getaway days, you must make the time to stop and drive through the Joshua Tree National Park, which is only about an hour away — you’ll feel like you’re on another planet. My favorite time to hike (or drive, no judgment here!) through the park is before sundown as there is nothing more awe-inspiring than a desert sunset over those gorgeous rocks and Joshua Trees that cover the land. It really will take your breath away.

Desert Art Museum

Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree.

While you’re in the neighborhood, also make sure to swing by the Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture in the town of Joshua Tree. Credited with re-defining black artistic consciousness through his work, you can see firsthand Purifoy’s larger than life installations over 10-acres of desert land.

What To Do

Shopping El Paseo

Shoppers rejoice! El Paseo is the Rodeo Drive of Palm Desert.

For any necessary shopping therapy, hit the nearby Uptown Design District for vintage fashion and furniture finds and the glorious mile-long El Paseo shopping avenue in Palm Desert. El Paseo is the Rodeo Drive of the desert where you’ll find independent boutiques, top designer retailers, spas, and home décor shops.

Palm Springs Spa Terre

A relaxing afternoon at SpaTerre’s Watsu Pool.

After shopping up a storm, soothe with a spa break at SpaTerre, where you can choose from a variety of special treatments like the Volcanic Earth Clay Ritual, which includes a detoxifying body mask and a Balinese massage or the Native Desert Sage that starts with an exfoliating body polish and ends with a relaxing desert sage oil body massage.

Where To Eat and Drink

Eggs Benny Palm Springs

Hacienda’s huevos benedictos in Palm Springs.

There’s no lack of options when it comes to the edibles in Palm Springs. Cheeky’s and the Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club  both serve up delicious brunch fare—the latter’s Huevos Benedictos on jalapeño cornbread is worth the drive alone.

Appetito’s Palm Springs

Appetito’s view – from the bar.

Tinto's restaurant

Tinto’s intimate Basque tapas bar in the Saguaro hotel.

Assuming you’ll still be pretty full from brunch, a lighter snack or lunch later in the day is ideal. Try the fresh Cali-Italian goodness at Appetito or head over to Pie for the People for a delectable slice of pizza while you’re in Joshua Tree and refueling post-hike.

For dinner, treat yourself to the authentic Basque tapas of renowned Iron Chef Jose Garces at Tinto in the Saguaro hotel, the playful bites (like the banh mi burger) at Vietnamese-American joint Rooster and the Pig, or the delicious Californian diner offerings such as buttermilk fried Jidori chicken and eggplant quinoa fritters at King’s Highway at Ace Hotel.

Pioneertown Harriots

Pappy & Harriet’s BBQ pulled pork sandwich with a side of mac and cheese.

On the day you’re in JT, the one stop you must make in the evening for eats and drinks is the long-standing staple and always fun, Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown. The BBQ pulled pork sandwich with a side of mac and cheese hits the spot every time and the accompanying nightly live bands really helps set the desert-time mood.

Palm Springs Cocktails

Fun cocktails at Bootlegger Tiki.

Back in Palm Springs, you can jump on the free (holla!) BUZZ trolley (because drinking responsibly is always on trend) and go on a little bar hop with cocktail stops at speakeasy Bootlegger Tiki, the chill and simply named Bar, and classic old-Hollywood mainstay, Melvyn’s at the Ingleside Inn.

Where To Sleep

Hollywood glam Palm Springs

That Old Hollywood Glam at the Riviera.

The Riviera is all about the glamour and excitement of the spirited days of the 60’s when the hotel was a hotbed and a regular hang out for the Rat Pack. The Riviera is always bumping—the delightful $6/glass of Veuve Clicquot happy hour helps! With spacious rooms, super comfortable beds and regular hot deals for weekend stays, it’s a combination that can’t be beat. If you’re craving something more low-key, the minimalistic and chic The Amado or the rustic Sparrows Lodge are also excellent options.

Palm Springs Hotel

A comfy bed means sweet, sweet dreams. All photos by Sharlene Chiu 

Grab some friends, hit the road and find your oasis in Palm Springs!

Find the perfect place to rest your head along the way

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About the Author: Sharlene Chiu is television & video producer, writer and host who has been traveling the world for over a decade meeting incredible musicians, designers, chefs and artists of all kinds, documenting their experience with the best local dishes, hidden drinking holes and colorful stories special to each country | Instagram