If you live in Los Angeles, chances are you’ve taken a weekend getaway to get out to Palm Springs at least a few times. It’s a beautiful oasis in the desert that gives you a quick break from city life. However, it’s also always congested, so why not turn it into a Los Angeles to Palm Springs road trip so you know where to stop when traffic gets bad?
I’ve done the Los Angeles to Palm Springs drive several times myself – once when going to see Coachella in 2015 (am I dating myself here?) and just last year, when I flew into Los Angeles and rented a car to meet a friend out in Palm Springs because it was cheaper than flying direct. While it does save money, the traffic is so horrible at what feels like any time of the day. That’s why I started writing this post to think of places you can stop when you need to break up your trip.
Based on my two trips there, here’s my best advice for doing a road trip from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, including when to go, where to stop, and where to stay. Now let’s get planning!
Tips for a Los Angeles to Palm Springs Drive
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of your road trip, let me answer some questions you may have.
How Long is the Drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs?
You can expect to arrive at Palm Springs from Los Angeles in about 1 hour and 45 minutes via I-10 E. Of course, this is without any stops, and if you are driving via car.
However, I suggest taking the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway route, which is far more beautiful and popular among roadtrippers. This is one of the most scenic drives from LA to Palm Springs and will take up more of your time.
How Far is Palm Springs from Los Angeles?
The total distance from LA to Palm Springs is 107 miles.
As you can see, it’s not far at all. You can quickly arrive at your destination in two and a half hours. That said, driving non-stop defeats the purpose, so I recommend allocating at least six hours to absorb and explore this gorgeous route.
How to Take the Scenic Route from LA to Palm Springs
Winding 130 miles through mountains and desert, the scenic drive is part of State Route 74. Firstly, you’ll travel east through the town of Hemet and wind through the quirky Idyllwild. Finally, you’ll get on Highway 111 south through Palm Springs and Palm Desert.
When is the Best Time to Travel to Palm Springs?
The glittering pools of Palm Springs can be enjoyed year-round.
I must say (and locals would agree) that most people overlook the city’s cool seasons. The temperature in fall can drop 50 degrees between day and night in winter, allowing you loungy leisure during the day and toasty fireside relaxation by night.
Here’s a guide to Palm Springs’ tourism seasons:
- High Season: January to April
- Shoulder Season: September to December
- Low Season: May through August
How Many Days Are Enough in Palm Springs?
Spending two days in Palm Springs is enough to see most of its top sights and relax by the pool. That said, you can add an extra day to your itinerary for all the traveling, especially if you take the scenic route.
You can also split your trip between the city and the national park if you want to take the opportunity for a trip to Joshua Tree as well. This would mean you’d need to add one more day to your adventure.
Los Angeles to Palm Springs Road Trip Map
7 Stops Along the Los Angeles to Palm Springs Road Trip
Here are my top recommendations for stops from Los Angeles to Palm Springs.
Riverside is a California city that offers “year-round fun in the sun.” Promising you good weather with plenty of sunshine, this would be an excellent destination for exploring historic spots and landmarks.
Fun fact: Riverside is known for its citrus industry, 24 nationally registered historic sites, and over 100 landmarks symbolizing the city’s flavorful history. You’ll love stopping here on your road trip to Palm Springs from Los Angeles.
Being a haven for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to scenic hills, lush valleys, and balmy beaches, I don’t think boredom stands a chance here. To give you an idea, you can catch a film at a 1964 drive-in theater, Van Buren Drive-In Theater, or learn all about the city’s aircraft industry at the March Field Air Museum.
Things to Do
- Visit a historical landmark (since there are plenty). California Citrus State Historic Park, Riverside Heritage House, and Mission Inn Museum are great options.
- Wander through the mystical UC Riverside Botanic Gardens, or if you’re feeling frisky, take a hike at Mount Rubidoux Park.
- Have fun at the picturesque Castle Park, a 25-acre amusement park.
Where to Eat
- Dig into a seafood bar, mimosas, and champagne at the Mission Inn Restaurant.
- ProAbition offers indoor/outdoor dining with a modern twist on classic dishes.
- Get your hands on the freshest seafood in town at the Market Broiler-Riverside.
There are plenty of places to stop on a Los Angeles to San Francisco drive.
2. Indian Vista Viewpoint
Why not stop at the Indian Vista Viewpoint for the most stunning panoramas? Sitting along Highway 243 in the San Jacinto Mountains, many travelers catch their breath, take some photos, and stretch their legs at this point.
You can take a brisk walk while you’re here; it’ll only take about two minutes. The 0.12-mile out-and-back trail is paved, short, and easy to follow, with super pretty views and vibrant wildlife. These include songbirds, red-tailed hawks, ravens, deer, bobcats, gray foxes, and coyotes.
3. Idyllwild-Pine Cove
Idyllwild-Pine Cove sits at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, encircled by whimsical alpine forests, glistening lakes, and gorgeous parks. It’s truly a nature lover’s oasis set in the San Jacinto Mountains, one hour from Palm Springs via CA-243 S. The alpine forest attracts many hikers and wildlife photographers as the air is scented with lilacs.
Oh, did I mention it’s beautiful no matter the season on your Los Angeles to Palm Springs road trip? However, fall is arguably the most dazzling, thanks to all the vibrant colors. After exploring the forest, you can head to its charming little town, peppered with quirky vintage boutiques, gift shops, and clothing stores on your drive to Palm Springs from Los Angeles.
Things to Do
- Go window shopping and collect memorable trinkets. Do swing by the retro and one-of-a-kind Ephemera selling vintage clothing and other intriguing bits such as vinyl, decor, accessories, and art.
- Hike and explore parks. Mount San Jacinto State Park, Idyllwild Nature Center, and Humber Park are great choices.
Where to Eat
- Opt for lunch or dinner at FERRO if you crave classic Italian food with fantastic vegan options.
- Alternatively, indulge in a casual lunch or dinner at the uber-busy Idyllwild Brewpub.
- Consider Mama’s Egg House for a delectable breakfast or lunch, from breakfast burritos to pancakes and eggs Benedict.
4. Lake Hemet
Another stop you should make is at Lake Hemet. It’s one of the few water stops on this drive, so it’s worth a look. Plus, you’ll take some of the most memorable shots here for the gram (peep these captivating road trip captions for Instagram). These include the tiny, glistening lake itself, stunning visuals of the San Jacinto Mountains, and tall trees reflecting on the water.
There are lush picnic areas, campgrounds, and RV parks all around the lake. I will admit it’s a bit swampy here and there, so wear the right shoes to avoid getting your car muddy afterward. Lake Hemet is the perfect place to pitch a tent, set up your fishing rod, and unwind.
Things to Do
- Take a dip in the swim zone area of the lake during summer.
- Have a picnic at the campgrounds.
- Relax on the beaches.
Where to Eat
- Enjoy traditional American dishes such as rib-eye steak at Gastrognome.
- Indulge in fusion cuisine, from pasta to salads and vegan options, at Cafe Aroma.
- Grab some tacos and nachos at La Casita.
5. Paradise Valley
You wouldn’t want to miss Paradise Valley, where Highways 74 and 371 meet. It’s the ideal spot for a quick break, a leg stretch, and a breath of fresh air. This popular place for travelers is often filled with motorcyclists and families having lunch. The valley sits in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, located 2.3 miles W of Morgan Hill.
Like most stops on this list, they are not towns but viewpoints. So, you won’t have many attractions and activities at your fingertips; instead, you’ll have plenty of sightseeing and bonding with Mother Nature.
Things to Do
- Hike the nearby Pacific Crest Trail.
- Go camping in Paradise Valley. There are three campgrounds: Lower, Middle, and Upper Paradise.
Where to Eat
- Grab some tacos or burgers at the biker-friendly Paradise Valley Cafe.
6. Coachella Valley Vista Point
Grab your camera because this scenic viewpoint in the mountains will have you awe-struck. The best part is, before you even get to the point, you’ll wind through various switchbacks up the hill on Highway 74. So, you can expect beautiful vistas after the other filled with short, gangly pinyon pine trees sticking out from rocks.
While there isn’t much to do here, it’s worth a stop to absorb the essence of the high mountain wilderness. You can also grab something to eat in the nearby Coachella Valley or wait that last half an hour before reaching Palm Springs.
Things to Do
- Find a nearby hiking trail. Some excellent options are Indian Canyons, Palm Canyon, and the Thousand Palms Oasis/Coachella Valley Preserve.
- Savor and capture the desert scenery.
Going on a drive from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon is another trip to put on your list.
7. Coachella Valley
You probably saw this one coming, but I can’t let you travel to Palm Springs without stopping in the ever-so-famous Coachella Valley. This arid rift valley stretches from Riverside County and Palm Springs to the Salton Sea. It’s just 20 minutes outside Palm Springs, so adding it to your road trip makes sense.
Being part of the Colorado Desert, the scenery here is unmatched, allowing ample opportunity to snap up some gorgeous images. You can start by visiting numerous museums, national parks, a brewery, state parks, and a distillery.
Coachella Valley is home to some of the best music and arts festivals, which you can attend throughout the year. Plan your visit in April if you want to catch the biggest one yet, the Coachella Music Festival.
Things to Do
- Pop in at some of the museums. I highly suggest the Cabot’s Pueblo Museum and the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.
- Join a music and art festival.
- Visit Desert X, a site-specific art installation that showcases the work of artists from all over the globe.
Where to Eat
- Try some authentic Mexican food and drinks from sunup to sundown at Taco Shop 760.
- Craving a freshly brewed cup for the road? Visit the quaint and locally-owned Vintage Coffee House, which serves handcrafted coffee, pastries, and tea drinks.
- Dig into American-style comfort food in hearty portions, from traditional French toast to honey-dipped fried chicken at Sloan’s.
Los Angeles to Palm Springs Road Trip: 3-Day Road Trip
Most of my road trips follow a two or three-day itinerary, but this one will only span a few hours. So, to make the most out of your drive, I’ve divided the trip into three days:
- 1 day for driving and resting
- Day 2 in Palm Springs
- Day 3 in Joshua Tree National Park
Day 1: Los Angeles to Palm Springs
Driving time/distance: Roughly six hours / 180 miles
Since this road trip is quite short, you can really take your time unless you have made plans in Palm Springs. Let’s assume you’re not in a rush; you’ll be able to make all of the above stops on your way. While it’s okay to leave in the early morning hours, you can catch stunning sunset views if you take the road a bit later (around noon).
Where to Stay
If you want to see more of Idyllwild and the surrounding areas, I suggest spending the night. I’ve found the perfect little resting place tucked in the Idyllwild Mountains if you want to take a break from the road. Modern, cozy, and bursting with color, The Creekstone Cabin is an idyllic, chic mountain retreat. (rates start at $140 per night on Booking.com)
Another fun trip is a Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip!
Day 2: Exploring the City of Palm Springs
After arriving in Palm Springs, you can spend a night or two wandering through the city and exploring its outskirts. Day 2 is the perfect time to get to know this luxurious Cali city. Between the rejuvenating hot springs, luxe spas, golf courses, high-end restaurants, and stylish hotels, you’ll have your hands full.
Palm Springs has been a highly favored destination for decades thanks to its enthralling mid-century-modern buildings and the famous names associated with it. The likes of Walt Disney and Frank Sinatra adored this desert oasis for its sunny weather, desert scenery, and buzzing nightlife.
You can get a taste of this lavish lifestyle by going shopping or chilling in a spa. You can go out to Miracle Hill, 15 minutes north of Palm Springs, in the community of Desert Hot Springs, to experience the healing mineral springs. Lastly, El Paseo Shopping District offers fine dining and luxury shopping; browse odd bits and bobs at the Palm Springs Vintage Market and wander through the Backstreet Art District.
When it’s time for food, enjoy a juicy burger or spicy wings alongside craft beer and gin cocktails at the snazzy 1501 Uptown Gastropub. Pop in at Cartel Roasting Co. for some of the best cuppa Joe in Palm Springs. For dinner, Sandfish Sushi & Whiskey serves tantalizing Japanese dishes, including sushi, sashimi, and gyoza.
Where to Stay
I 1000% recommend staying at this villa-esque boutique hotel, Alcazar Palm Springs. This elegant and beachy-themed hotel boasts an outdoor pool, hot tub, and terrace with mountain views. (rates start at $190 per night on Booking.com)
Day 3: Day Excursion to Joshua Tree
Driving time/distance: Roughly one hour / 49.1 miles
Break away from the city and explore the Sonoran Desert with a lovely day excursion to Joshua Tree National Park. I see no reason why you shouldn’t. Plus, you can reach the national park in under an hour on the I-10 E.
Joshua Tree National Park is where two deserts meet: the Mojave and the Colorado, each with a distinct ecosystem. The Martian-like scenery will captivate you, and it’s home to fascinating critters like the adorable desert cottontail bunnies, coyotes, and desert bighorn sheep. Expect to see large boulders, which some climb, bright desert flora, cacti, and the famous Joshua Trees, of course.
Hike up to Keys View for unmissable panoramas over the San Andreas Fault and Coachella Valley. Test your fitness with a half-day guided hike in Joshua Tree National Park, then go stargazing in Joshua Tree National Park, an unparalleled experience thanks to the dark and starry-filled skies.
Local Tip: Make the most out of stargazing in Joshua Tree by visiting the east side of the park, as it has the least amount of light pollution.
Hungry? Grab a quick breakfast at the Morongo Valley Cafe, which boasts a dog-friendly patio if you’re taking the road with your pup. The Red Dog Saloon is part hipster, part cowboy restaurant straight out of a Western film set, offering tasty Tex-Mex cuisine paired with cocktails. Craving quesadillas, barbecue, burgers, and cocktails in mason jars? Head over to Pappy + Harriet’s, a place that I’ll never stop recommending to fellow road-trippers.
Where to Stay
If you want to sleep near Joshua Tree National Park, I can’t recommend AutoCamp Joshua Tree enough. It’s the ultimate glamping experience in the desert, featuring complimentary bikes, an outdoor pool, and stunning mid-century modern rooms. (rates start at $218 per night on Booking.com)
You’ll love all these stops on your Los Angeles to Palm Springs road trip.