If you plan a get away from any Southern California urban area pack patience in your bag. Brace for swirling traffic on 8-lane freeways and drivers determined to test the speed limits, especially during rush hour. Improve the experience by avoiding that time of day or better yet, avoid the multi-lane highways altogether! Consider the lesser roads with their relaxing bounty of vistas and roadside attractions especially on a Palm Springs road trip.
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I’ve driven to Palm Springs from both the Los Angeles area and San Diego many times. Traffic has definitely diminished since the pandemic but still it takes a bit of planning for the journey to be as enjoyable as the destination. There are several routes to choose from.
Wine tasting options on a Palm Springs road trip
Ask yourself these questions before leaving for a Palm Springs road trip:
- What day are you leaving and returning? Weekday traffic will be lighter except around holidays and school breaks.
- How much time do you have for the drive? Can you spend a leisurely afternoon wandering smaller highways or does your Palm Springs road trip need to be quick?
- What time of day are you leaving? Most drivers leave late morning to afternoon. Depart early well before lunchtime for less traffic or after dinner.
On a recent Palm Springs road trip we had time and a midweek departure on our side. The historic highway 74 is a leisurely route from San Diego offering several viewpoints, low crowds, and even some historic points of interest. It was great fun to ramble a bit and reconnect. The best part of any Palm Springs road trip is being able to stop on a whim, pull over at lookouts and arrive relaxed, ready for a few days exploring the desert oasis.
Where to stay during a Palm Springs road trip
The desert is a popular vacation for locals year round and during the pandemic has been a refuge for Southern Californians needing a safe and quiet break from home stays. There are many wonderful small hotels, several resorts and shared rentals like Airbnb options throughout the desert area.
This map can help you choose where to stay:
“In this place of solitude and beauty, please take time to show respect for both the natural surroundings and those who share this highway.” From an eloquent sign post on Scenic Highway 74.
I studied trees and kept my eyes on the changing view as raptors, red tailed hawks and eagles, are plentiful here. Sadly, our ride included a close encounter. As we rode around a bend, a large bird feathers flat and flared, lay still in the road. We turned around swiftly and pulled over to move the large hawk off the asphalt. It was still warm and must’ve crashed into a fast vehicle. After moving the tragic beauty to a roadside bush, we resumed our travels. In California it’s illegal to harvest road kill but we did take pictures. I like to think it didn’t die in vain.
Historical plaque about the Pony Express and old stage coach route on the way to Palm Springs. The sign was dedicated nearly seventy years ago.
A midweek Palm Springs Road Trip escape almost guarantees light traffic. After stopping at an egg ranch booth we wound on until a viewpoint beckoned. It was the Coachella overlook. Most businesses are closed on weekdays. Tempting winery tasting rooms were shuttered or our trip would’ve taken much longer.
It’s not ancient history by international standards but we were surprised to find a marker for the 1858 stage coach stop. In this digital age, it’s amazing to stand at the site of one of the first mail stage coach routes. The land was occupied by Warren Hall in 1858 as part of the Overland Mail service between St. Louis and San Francisco until 1861. According to the plaque, the driver Jacob Bergman, was notable for passing here. Why we can only guess. Perhaps the broken down barn on the side of the road was once an important rest stop for his horses.
View of the Palm Springs basin from Palm Canyon
I really enjoyed seeing where Elvis honeymooned and Frank Sinatra vacationed
. For decades Hollywood stars and Mid-Century Modern architects made desert oasis famous as their get away. Today, anyone with access to a car and time, can follow the same Palm Springs road trip routes.