I spent a relaxing weekend in the desert. California has so much to see, and the desert is a place that I have wanted to explore.
Flights from SFO to Palm Springs are about an hour and can usually be found for under $100—less than $200 if you prefer to fly first class, which isn’t really worth it in the tiny planes that shuttle between Palm Springs and San Francisco. I rented a car for less than $20 for an entire weekend. My Airbnb was affordable and adorable, especially since my gracious hosts gave me breakfast each morning!
Palm Springs International Airport
A beautiful, mostly outdoor airport full of palm trees that was a 5-minute drive from my Airbnb. The rental car process was quick, easy, and cheap. Ridesharing (see end of this post for more) is available to the airport, but they won’t pick up at the airport. You can walk to the nearest traffic light — a short walk — for pickup if you decide to use ridesharing services.
Food recommendations: Fresh Juice Bar (I had the Immunity Rocket), Bill’s Pizza (I had the Elton John), and Shanghai Reds (I had the World-Famous Fish Tacos while listening to live music after the Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade-the best!).
Aerial Tramway: I took a 360-degree rotating tram (the world’s largest!) two and a half miles up Mount San Jacinto. I enjoyed views of the entire Palm Springs area while drinking a hot chocolate and eating lunch at 8,500 feet. The top featured giant trees, snowy trails, and chilly 23-degree weather. Tickets are available in advance, but since my goal for the weekend was relaxing and being as spontaneous as possible, I just purchased my tickets ($25.95 + tax) when I arrived and only waited a few minutes for the next tram.
If you don’t rent a car and decide to use a ride sharing service to get to the Aerial Tramway, you can be dropped off and picked up right at the visitor center, but cell service can get spotty. If you can’t get a signal when you’re trying to order a car upon departure, log in to the free Wi-Fi provided by the visitor center. In fact, Wi-Fi is available throughout the buildings — at the bottom and at the top of the mountain — I even got some work done from 8,500 feet while enjoying the views!
Joshua Tree National Park
The National Parks System is amazing. My bucket list is filled with plans to experience as many of them as I can. I packed my hiking backpack and boots, grabbed my Patagonia layers, filled my water pack, and headed deeper into the desert from Palm Springs. The official park entrance is about 45 minutes off the freeway, and the road there is pretty desolate. I only saw a few other people during the entire day that I spent in the park.
I’d highly recommend researching various stops, saving them to the offline version of Google Maps on your phone, and having water, snacks, layers, sunglasses, sunscreen, hats, phone chargers, and physical maps with you. The park can be dangerous—warning signs are posted at the visitor centers.
Spa: Aside from the tram and exploring Joshua Tree, my only other itinerary item for my Palm Springs weekend trip was spending time at the spa. I treated myself to a manicure, pedicure, and massage in downtown Palm Springs and a soak in natural mineral hot springs (three pools at 89º, 101º, and 104º) at The Spring Resort in nearby Desert Hot Springs. The spa access at The Spring was $40 for the day.
I took breaks between soaks by relaxing by the fire pits and in the sauna. I witnessed a gorgeous sunset as the sun dipped behind the mountains, turning the entire sky pink. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to experience so much in this massive, beautiful state.