When people think of Palm Springs, California, they often imagine the luxurious resorts, upscale restaurants, celebrity culture, and desert scenery. But the Palm Springs area has a quirky and offbeat side too, which comes out in fun and unpredictable ways. Such as a giant robot light display. Unusual public art. And entire museums dedicated to bananas and crochet!
Many of Palm Springs’ most unique things to do involve celebrity history, which is no surprise since the city has been a popular vacation spot for Hollywood stars since the 1950s. Did you know that you can tour Elvis Presley’s former house? Or stop by the cabaret lounge where Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin used to perform?
If you’re looking for fun Palm Springs activities, ideas that are a bit quirky or unique, you’ll find plenty of suggestions here. And while Palm Springs can be an adult’s paradise, some travelers find themselves in the city with children. Scroll to the end of the article for a section describing some of the best things to do in Palm Springs with kids.
A lot of these attractions (such as the Faceless Babies, Aerial Tramway, and Celebrity Home Tour) require a camera with a good zoom. Don’t assume that your cell phone will be enough – bring a really nice camera, like this Panasonic Lumix with 60x zoom (Amazon link).
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Keep reading to discover some of the quirkiest Palm Springs tourist attractions that will make your Instagram explode, as well as a couple activities outside the city limits that are worth driving to!
27 Quirky and Fun Things To See and Do: Palm Springs Activities
Check Out the Palm Springs Walk of Stars
If you spend any time at all in the heart of downtown, you’ll spot the Walk of Stars along the sidewalk honoring prominent Palm Springs residents and frequent visitors. Honorees range from Medal of Honor recipients and U.S. presidents (Reagan, Ford, Eisenhower) to some of the biggest names in show business – Elvis, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, and many more. Find your favorites in the cement!
Visit the International Banana Museum
An entire museum dedicated to the banana! This is an off-the-beaten-path attraction if I’ve ever seen one. Try all sorts of banana-flavored treats, and browse the collection of banana plush toys, mugs, clothing, key chains, and other gifts. If it exists, and it’s banana-related, it’s probably here.
The Banana Museum is located in the town of Mecca about 40 miles outside Palm Springs. Despite the distance, it appears on this list because it’s one of the most unique things to do in the entire Coachella Valley. The Banana Museum has very limited hours – open 1 to 5 pm four days week, and sometimes even those hours are shortened – so call ahead before visiting.
See the Giant Faceless Babies
Nothing strange to see here… just a group of eight-foot-tall faceless baby sculptures crawling around a vacant dirt lot! Created by artist David Cerny, the babies have bar codes in place of their faces, as a comment on consumerism and dehumanization. Even the artist’s PR agency admits they are “fascinating and disturbing at the same time.”
Find the babies in the empty lot just across the street from the Palm Springs Art Museum. They are periodically re-arranged into different formations. As of this writing, the babies are scheduled to end their stay in Palm Springs in early 2020, so see them now!
Ride the Aerial Tramway
Behold the largest rotating tramway in the world! Topping the list of must-do Palm Springs activities is the Aerial Tramway, which carries visitors from the desert floor up to an Alpine forest at an elevation of more than 8500 feet. The slow, ten-minute ride gives visitors a chance to take in the Coachella Valley from above. Temperatures can be as much as 40 degrees colder at the top. Who would’ve thought that a visit to Palm Springs required a warm jacket?
Take a Selfie with Sonny Bono
Sonny Bono made quite a career for himself, moving from musical fame as part of Sonny & Cher to becoming a California state congressman and mayor of Palm Springs. There’s a bust of Sonny tucked behind the escalators at the Palm Springs airport, and there’s a lifesize statue on the sidewalk on Palm Canyon Drive, right in the heart of the walkable business district.
Stop By the Welcome Sign
The Palm Springs welcome sign on N. Palm Canyon Drive is the perfect spot to take a scenic photo by which to remember your trip. The white “Palm Springs” sign stands behind a patch of flowering shrubs and in front of palm trees, with the San Jacinto Mountains serving as an imposing backdrop. You can’t visit this city without getting a pic with the sign!
Tour Celebrity Homes by Bus
See where icons like Liberace and Marilyn Monroe once lived on a celebrity home bus tour! Most Palm Springs houses are very accessible, so the shuttle bus can drive right to the front door. The tour doesn’t follow the exact route each time, so there’s some variety in the homes you may see, and the guide even takes requests. To book this tour, or to check out the details, click here.
When I took the tour, we got to see the current or former dwellings of stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Bob Hope, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand, Dean Martin, Liz Taylor, Dinah Shore, and a few dozen others.
Head to the Crochet Museum
Here’s another one that’s a bit of a drive from Palm Springs, but it’s worth including because it’s so awesomely quirky. The “World-Famous Crochet Museum” occupies a former Fotomat kiosk in the town of Joshua Tree, very near the national park. This tiny museum displays hundreds of crochet animals and characters, collected over many years by local resident Shari Elf. What a fun, offbeat attraction!
Take in a Show at The Purple Room Supper Club
See a live cabaret or jazz performance in the cozy restaurant where Rat Pack icons Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. once performed decades ago. You’ll feel immersed in Palm Springs history as you see the black and white photos on the walls of Elvis and the other celebs who frequented this place back in the day. Both the live music and the food are really good, which explains why the Purple Room remains a popular attraction for locals and tourists.
Tour Elvis Presley’s Old House
Speaking of Elvis, you can tour the King’s former Palm Springs home! Known as “The Robert Alexander Estate,” “The House of Tomorrow,” or “The Honeymoon Hideaway,” the mid-century modern home at 1350 Ladera Circle is where Elvis and Priscilla spent their honeymoon. Elvis leased the house for a year from 1966-67.
Note: The house is currently for sale (asking price: a cool $2.7 million), and there’s no guarantee that a future owner will continue the tours. So the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway is another Palm Springs tourist attraction that you should visit sooner rather than later!
Visit the Kooky Robolights Display
The strange and unusual art installation known as RoboLights is the work of one man. Kenny Irwin Jr. created the light show 30 years ago at his home. It has grown into a prominent tourist attraction, especially during the Christmas season, when visitors come to see the 8 million lights that adorn the four-acre property.
The elaborate displays at RoboLights aren’t all Christmas themed – they also feature robots, plastic aliens, and pieces of electronic equipment repurposed into new shapes and structures. RoboLights has limited visitation hours, but even if you come when it’s closed, you can still see many of the massive displays from outside the property. A trip to RoboLights is definitely one of the most unique Palm Springs activities!
Stop in to the Palm Springs Art Museum
Art museums can be pretty stuffy at times, but the Palm Springs Art Museum has lots of cool stuff. Especially in its modern art and contemporary glass sections. Seeing the ways glass can be formed into familiar shapes and accented with colors is impressive. This 150,000 square foot museum also has an outdoor sculpture garden.
See Desert Tortoises and Cacti at the Moorten Botanical Garden
For only five bucks, you can stroll through the Moorten Botanical Garden, which houses roughly 3000 cacti from the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. Some of the cactus varieties tower over visitors, while others are tiny and rest inside a “cactarium” greenhouse. The garden also provides a rare chance to see several desert tortoises up close!
Experience the Weekly Village Fest Event
What are some cool things to do at night in Palm Springs? Mostly, it’s your typical nightlife: bars, restaurants, movies, theater. Beyond that, one of the major evening events in the city is the Thursday night Village Fest event. It’s a street fair with food trucks and local vendors selling gifts, clothes, artwork, and such. Village Fest is a great chance to see the artsy and cultural side of Palm Springs and take home some quirky souvenirs.
See a Volkswagen Beetle Turned Into a Giant Spider
If you’re heading north of the city to the windmill farm or Cabazon Dinosaurs, keep your eyes peeled for a sign on the side of the road for “Hole in the Wall Welding.” The shop may have gone out of business, but the sign remains, along with a giant spider that uses a VW Volkswagen Beetle as its body. How did they get the VW up there? And what on earth compelled them to do that? These are some of the unanswered questions surrounding this awesomely quirky Palm Springs attraction.
Marvel at Some of the Fancy Hotels
Palm Springs has loads of fun hotels, and many of them are fascinating from an architectural perspective. Parker Palm Springs has a strikingly Instagrammable white cement wall at its entrance. Saguaro Palm Springs (above) has eye-popping colorful balconies. You can get cool photos at both locations without even staying there.
The Sakura is a bed and breakfast styled entirely in a Japanese vibe. And the boutique property called the Hotel California offers a chance to get a cool picture in front of the welcome sign. Share it on social media and wait until someone inevitably makes a “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” joke.
Sit Next to Lucille Ball
Outside the Coffee Bean you’ll find the bronze life-size likeness of comedy legend Lucille Ball. The “I Love Lucy” star is taking up an entire park bench, but there’s room to cozy up next to her for a photo. Lucy had a couple homes in Palm Springs over the years and is considered one of the area’s most famous celebrity residents.
Drive Past the Nudist Bridge
Palm Springs got the world’s first nude pedestrian bridge (also known as “The Bridge of Thighs”) in 2003. It was constructed to connect two sides of a nudist resort that are separated by a main road. Now, guests at the resort can waltz across the overpass without having to throw on a towel or swimsuit.
You can’t walk on the bridge (or see anybody else walking on it) unless you’re actually inside the resort. The best you can do as an outsider is drive beneath the overpass and let your imagination run wild about who might be walking above you!
Go Back in Time at Ruddy’s General Store
Ruddy’s 1930s General Store Museum is a glimpse back in time. This museum was designed to recreate a general store from the ’30s. Check out the old-time products, packaging, including some of the oldest boxes and cans you have ever seen. Travelers, take note: Ruddy’s is only open from September to May, the cooler months of the year in Palm Springs.
Pay Your Respects at the Graves of Frank Sinatra and Sonny Bono
Frank Sinatra was larger than life during his six-decade career, yet his grave is remarkably understated. The same is true of Sonny Bono. Both men were laid to rest in Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City. Their actual graves are difficult to locate because they’re quite small, the same size as everyone else in the cemetery. You’ll never find them in this large park without knowing exactly where to look. Sinatra lies in section B-8, grave #151. Bono can be found in plot B-35, grave #294.
See the LGBT Veterans Memorial
Also in Desert Memorial Park sits what is believed to be the world’s first LGBT Veterans Memorial. Even though gay Americans couldn’t serve openly in the Armed Forces until 2010, this memorial was dedicated back in 2001, in recognition of those who had quietly served their country over the years. The understated memorial is composed of an obelisk with an eagle and an inscription explaining the importance of their service. For more about LGBT life in the city, check out this extensive guide to gay Palm Springs.
Fun Things To Do in Palm Springs With Kids and Adults
Climb Inside a T-Rex at Cabazon Dinosaurs
As Palm Springs tourist attractions go, the Cabazon Dinosaur Museum is one of the strangest, in a good way. Experience 50 lifelike dinosaurs, including a giant T-Rex that you can climb up inside and look out its mouth!
You may recognize the large dinosaur statues from their many media appearances over the years, such as the Pee Wee’s Big Adventure movie and the “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” video by Tears for Fears.
Encounter Desert Wildlife at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
The Living Desert in Palm Desert is a botanical garden and zoo that holds appeal for folks of all ages. You can feed giraffes, ride camels, pet goats, and see animals of all types. Since they’re used to living in such a hot climate, you’ll find lots of African animals here. Look for the giraffes, hyenas, wild dogs, cheetahs, leopards, pythons, zebras, meerkats, warthogs, and desert bighorn sheep.
Tour the Windmill Farm
The San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm consists of thousands of windmills located in one of the windiest parts of California. The turbines produce enough electricity to power all of the Coachella Valley and you’ll see them as you drive around the region. Visitors can get an up-close look to see how these windmills work on a two-hour tour into the farm. You’ll never see windmills from a closer distance than this! Book the windmill tour here.
See Historic Aircraft at the Palm Springs Air Museum
Located right at Palm Springs International Airport, the Air Museum features a large display of historic aircraft. That includes one of the world’s largest collections of flyable aircraft from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, such as the vintage Warbird plane. Ride in an F-16 simulator and see historic photos and exhibits from American aviation history!
Have a Date Shake
Aside from its creative and upscale restaurants, what kind of food is Palm Springs known for? One of the region’s main crops is the date. Dates were brought to this area from Africa and the Middle East in the 1800s, on the assumption that they would grow just as well in the Coachella Valley as they do in other deserts around the world.
Date milkshakes are common in Palm Springs area, at places like Hadley Fruit Orchards. The sweet, dried fruits are chopped into tiny pieces and swirled throughout the shake, giving the ice cream beverage a mild and pleasant flavor. A date shake is a great activity in Palm Springs with kids, and a good way to have a fun culinary treat and get a taste of the local flavor.
Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert
The interactive Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage offers more than 100 exhibits and experiences, many of which have a unique desert feel. There’s a tortoise habitat, a music garden, a room of oversized games, and an outdoor trike-riding track.
Other Unique Things To See in Palm Springs
Those who are truly into quirky attractions will find even more delights in Palm Springs if they dig hard enough. For instance, country singer Gene Autry has a statue very near the airport, across from Walmart. The Works Floor & Wall store on S. Gene Autry Trail has a giant Rubik’s Cube made out of floor tiles out on its sidewalk. There’s a large Marilyn Monroe photo on the wall next to Lulu California Bistro. And don’t miss the bighorn sheep statue at the airport.
Hopefully this post gives you a few good ideas for what to do in Palm Springs. Do you have any other suggestions for fun and cool Palm Springs activities? Leave a comment and let me know!
My visit to Palm Springs was made possible by Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels.