California Dreaming: Things to Do in Coachella Valley
Hit up the festivals and resort towns of Coachella Valley with our guide.
The Little San Bernardino Mountains carve up the eclectic and arid topography of Colorado Desert in California. It’s just a two-hour drive east from the centre of Los Angeles, and has become a bit of a getaway resort for the city’s affluent vacationers. You’ve got Palm Springs, the Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Desert among the resort towns and areas favoured by Los Angelinos and other Californians, while Indio and Cathedral City make up the most populous parts of Coachella Valley.
Hit up some of the many festivals that take place in the bumpy desert, with Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival the most famous in the region. We at the Plum Guide have done some thinking and compiled this expert list of things to do in Coachella Valley.
Discover Californian charm in Palm Springs
So you've explored all Los Angeles has to offer but still can't get enough of hikes, palm trees and fancy restaurants? Time to head to Palm Springs. As you can imagine, Palm Springs is lined with palm trees, swaying in the breeze of this desert valley. Clamber into the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and survey the diverse terrain from way up high. Pop in to the Palm Springs Visitors Center and chat to local guides to learn a little about the area. If you're in Palm Springs with family, bring the little ones to the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens and study the historic aircraft on show at the Palm Springs Air Museum.
Another highlight in the city is the Palm Springs Art Museum. By now, you’ll be realising that most things in Palm Springs have the city’s name in them, as if it’s making a claim to each attraction, for fear of it blowing off into the desert. At the southern end of the city lies the Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium, which is full of spiky, prickly beings… oh, and cacti too. Ha.
Continue exploring the city to see its dinosaurs, art galleries and the antique shops downstairs. The dinosaurs aren’t real, but huge sculptures of them can be found guarding the entrance to the Cabazon Dinosaurs exhibit.
You'll feel right at home in this Palm Springs apartment, where you can enjoy the large community pool and tennis courts.
Attend the festivals
Depending on the time of year you're visiting Coachella Valley, you might just be there for one of the biggest festivals of the year. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival takes place in the middle of April in Indio, the most populated city in the valley. Dating back to 1999, the festival has become a huge hit, featuring music across pop, rock, hip-hop and many other genres. It has all manner of intriguing and outright weird art installations in the fields of the Empire Polo Club that hosts the festival. Of course, we're not expecting you to actually camp at the festival – you're a bit old for that now. Check in to this gorgeous Plum Guide home in Indio instead, and enjoy your own private oasis after a day of festival fun (not to mention an ample bathtub).
Other big hitters include the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January, the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival in February and the Stagecoach Festival in April.
It's the biggest city in the area, after all, so checking out Indio is definitely one of our recommended things to do in Coachella Valley. Remember that Empire Polo Club that hosts the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival? The rest of the year, it’s actually a polo club, as its name would suggest. Enjoy a meal at the restaurant at the foot of the mountains and actually watch a game of polo (people on horses hitting a little ball). Another option would be the Eldorado Polo Club. Try your luck at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino and learn about the area in the Coachella Valley History Museum. Attend the Indio Open-Air Market and chat with the vendors about the local culture. One of the highlights of the city is the Shields Date Garden, with its garden, farm and café. There’s also a theatre and a trail that runs through some religious sculptures. Pick up an audio guide and check out all the works of art.
Lose yourself (not literally) in the Joshua Tree National Park
Forget the U2 album of the same name and get on down to the park. It stands at the confluence of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and has a long wooden path so you don’t have to actually touch the icky desert floor and risk an insect or something running up your leg. Take in the stunning views of the mountains and make sure to bring enough water; you’re not a cactus.
Do you know what a Joshua Tree actually is? Wait – do we know? Yes, we do. It’s a weird, spiky, prickly beast of a tree. It has long been wrapped up in all kinds of myths and legends, and many birds, mammals and reptiles have come to depend on it for nourishment and shelter.
A bit of everything else
For this last bit, we didn’t want to focus on just one place, as there are still many things to do in Coachella Valley. Take a trip to the Cabot’s Pueblo Museum for its Hopi-style architecture and works of art. Bring the whole family down to the Children’s Discovery Museum and don’t forget the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum.