Sometimes, even the biggest Disneyland fan needs a break from the manufactured magic, and Palm Springs may just be the perfect overnight side trip for Disney fans seeking a 24-hour respite from the resort. Learn how to exit Anaheim without leaving the pixie dust behind in our virtual tour of Palm Springs, direct from the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2023.
The scenic 100-mile drive from Disneyland to Palm Springs winds past vast wind farms and takes about 2 hours, or double that during weekend traffic. On your way there, stop for a selfie at the Cabazon Dinosaurs (50770 Seminole Dr., Cabazon; ☎ 909-272-8164; cabazondinosaurs.com), founded by Knott’s Berry Farm sculptor Claude Bell and made famous by Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. You can climb inside Dinney the brontosaurus to visit the free museum and gift shop, but the rest of the dino displays require paid admission.
As you approach downtown, pull over at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (1 Tram Way, Palm Springs; ☎ 888-515-8726; pstramway.com) for a thrilling 2½-mile ascent into the pristine peaks of Mt. San Jacinto State Park aboard the world’s largest rotating tram car (built by Doppelmayr, makers of Disney World’s Skyliner). The 360-degree views are stunning, but the swinging motion can be scary, especially during the descent; stand in the cabin’s center behind a railing for extra stability.
Enjoy a round-trip ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway with our POV video:
At the top, there’s a small nature museum and theater showing documentaries, along with a cafe, but the real attraction is access to over 50 miles of hiking trails within the 14,000-acre preserve. You’ll want to to bring a warm jacket (the temperature is typically 30–40 degrees cooler at the top) and sturdy shoes; free day permits are also required if you want to walk into the wilderness beyond the ranger’s station, but none are needed to enjoy the paved pathways and well-maintained ¾- to 1½-mile trails around Long Valley, making it ideal for families. Cell service is poor in the mountains, so download the tramway’s free app and any maps before driving up to the parking area.
Once you arrive in Palm Springs proper, explore downtown’s charming boutique stores and art galleries along Palm Canyon Drive, as well as the surrounding residential neighborhoods, which are a showcase of the city’s mid-century modern architectural heritage. Street parking is at a premium, so use the free public garage at 275 S. Indian Canyon Drive.
Artist Josh Agle’s SHAG Store (745 N. Palm Canyon Dr.; ☎ 760-322-3400; shagstore.com) is a must-see for his whimsical modernist interpretations of Disney and Star Wars characters.
You can see Walt Disney’s personal Grumman G-159 Gulfstream I airplane (a.k.a. “Mickey Mouse One”), which has been restored and placed on exhibit at the Palm Springs Air Museum (745 North Gene Autry; ☎760-778-6262; palmspringsairmuseum.org).
When you get hungry, try French Miso Cafe (19 La Plaza; ☎ 760-699-7730; frenchmisocafe.com) for innovative fusion bento boxes in a magical gardenlike atmosphere, or devour a throwback Pu-Pu platter on the junglelike patio of The Tropicale (330 E. Amado Rd.; ☎ 760-866-1952; thetropicale.com) if you can get a seat during the hopping happy hour (daily, 4–7 p.m.).
End the evening with a beverage at one of Palm Springs’ tiki bars, such as The Reef (411 E. Palm Canyon Rd.; ☎ 760-656-3839; thereefpalmsprings.com), where it’s far easier to get a seat than at Trader Sam’s.
When it’s time to call it a night, Disney superfans may be tempted to book a cottage at nearby Smoke Tree Ranch (1850 Smoke Tree Ln.; ☎ 800-787-3922; smoketreeranch.com), where Walt himself had a vacation home. Rates there start at $410 per night, and rooms are equally expensive in the heart of Palm Springs. Instead, look a few minutes south of downtown for a cheap yet cheerful motel like the Vagabond Motor Hotel (1699 South Palm Canyon Dr.; ☎ 760-325-7211; vagabondmotorhotel.com).
It’s conveniently located right next door to another attraction you must see in the morning before leaving town: the Moorten Botanical Gardens (1701 S. Palm Canyon Dr.; ☎ 760-327-6555; moortenbotanicalgarden.com), a nearly 90-year-old wonderland of cacti and other desert flora that supplied the towering succulents found in Disneyland’s Frontierland.
Take a vicarious walk around Moorten Botanical Gardens with our video tour:
What’s your favorite Disney-adjacent attraction in Palm Springs? Let us know in the comments below!
For all there is to see and do at Disneyland, check out The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland by Seth Kubersky with Bob Sehlinger, Len Testa, and Guy Selga Jr. All Disneyland fans should also check out The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey.
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