palm springs visitor

Welcome to the Coachella Valley

Discover the backstories and amenities that make each of the nine desert cities unique and vibrant.

Staff Report Current Guide, History, Vision

palm springs visitor
ILLUSTRATIONS BY BARBARA GIBSON

Welcome to Greater Palm Springs, nine vibrant cities bounded by the San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, and Little San Bernardino mountains. This diverse destination hums with rich arts and cultural experiences, a creative food scene, and ample activities to invigorate your well-being. Pair that with an unrivaled landscape and more than 300 days of sunshine per year, and it’s easy to see why the Coachella Valley has become a mecca for the modern traveler.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs began charming travelers in the early 1900s with its dry heat. They came to Nellie Coffman’s famed Desert Inn, originally a sanitarium with modest tent lodgings for people with respiratory issues and later a recreational resort, refashioned with suites for a highbrow clientele. By the time the city was incorporated in 1938, Coffman’s inn had become the geographical and social center of town.

The swinging ’60s ushered in an era of swanky cocktail parties and experimental architecture, and notable names arrived to pal around Palm Springs’ tennis clubs and golf greens.

Thanks to artful preservation efforts, many historic properties remain intact today. Legendary midcentury hotels now deliver stylish, modern amenities. The revived downtown offers an array of shops and culinary haunts to explore. And the Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza, opening in 2023 in the center of town, only adds to the city’s timeless appeal in the Coachella Valley.

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Cathedral City

In 1850, California surveyor Col. Henry Washington came upon a series of rock formations resembling a European cathedral. He named the area Cathedral Canyon, which 75 years later inspired the name of this town.

A destination for artists like plein-air painter Agnes Pelton, who settled in the 1930s amid the rocky foothills in a neighborhood now known as Cathedral City Cove, the area also became a hideout for Hollywood high rollers who sought out the exclusivity of the swanky Dunes Club casino in an era when gambling was still underground.

The vibrant city was incorporated in 1981 and in recent years has adopted the slogan “where art lives.” Still a haven for creative types, Cathedral City boasts an ever-swelling public arts scene anchored by the Downtown Arts & Entertainment District, which hosts regular concerts and community festivals. The area is experiencing major growth, making it the perfect time to explore this inclusive and welcoming city.

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Coachella

While the name Coachella has become synonymous with music and arts, the city itself is rich in Mexican heritage, which shines through in the authentic eateries and vibrant murals that bring Coachella’s walkable downtown to life.

An agricultural hub dotted with produce fields and farms that empower Greater Palm Springs restaurants to serve fresh, locally sourced fare, Coachella arose as a farming community more than a century ago. In the 1960s and ’70s, the city became a battleground in the civil rights movement as activists including Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta led farmworkers in protests for better wages and working conditions.

Known for its friendly, small-town vibe, Coachella recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. The city is a location where the past and future merge — a destination with burgeoning industries, including canna-tourism, where visitors can immerse in and learn about the cultural heartbeat of Greater Palm Springs.

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Desert Hot Springs

Nestled between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains, an open desert landscape has called to those seeking healing for more than a century. They come for the ancient mineral waters that bubble beneath the earth’s surface.

Cahuilla Indians made early camps here. But the land sat mostly unoccupied until settlers arrived in the 1900s, drawn by the 1877 Desert Land Act, which promoted homesteading in barren areas of Western states. Cabot Yerxa was among the first to arrive, settling in 1913 on 160 acres and building a pueblo that stands today as a landmark of the town.

Yerxa’s buddy L.W. Coffee named and began to develop Desert Hot Springs in the 1940s, enticing visitors with spa hotels and wellness retreats. The city has since blossomed into an internationally known destination for spa-seekers as well as canna-tourists, and it continues to welcome wanderers hoping to renew, refresh, and encounter the spirit of this Coachella Valley oasis.

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Indio

For those seeking sunshine and new opportunities in every direction, Indio bears the fruit of cultural exchange and youthful energy. The city takes center stage for major events such as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and Stagecoach, the Indio International Tamale Festival, and the Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival.

Development began in the area in the late 19th century when Southern Pacific Railroad tracks reached the Coachella Valley. Workers who settled to operate the station, opened in 1876, dubbed the village Indio, Spanish for “Indian” and a nod to the Cahuilla people who’d long occupied the land. Indio was incorporated in 1930, becoming the Coachella Valley’s first official city. Population-wise, it is now the largest.

An ambitious revival of the downtown district is currently underway, with inspired arts and culinary businesses moving in and alfresco entertainment on tap throughout the year.

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Indian Wells

In a sunny cove of the Santa Rosa Mountains, Indian Wells has been a gathering place for recreation and revitalization since its inception — from the early Cahuilla Indian inhabitants unearthing and residing around its namesake well to the city’s 21st-century status as a world-class residential and resort community.

The name “Indian Wells” traces back to the expedition diaries of a Spanish explorer who routed through the thriving Native American village in 1823. The rough-and-tumble gold rush and railroad years spurred development, which exploded in the 1950s and ’60s as Hollywood legends teamed up with golf greats to establish prestigious hotels, country clubs, and courses.

Today, the scenic city attracts visitors from around the globe who attend the acclaimed BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament and participate in the city’s annual Ironman event. It’s an ideal choice for a luxury retreat, as well as a hub for family-friendly activities such as hiking, swimming, golf, tennis, and pickleball.

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La Quinta

As Angelenos discovered the call of the desert wild in the early 1900s and arrived to unwind in hot springs, hit the links, and hang with fellow luminaries, some ventured farther east, toward the Santa Rosas.

Among them was entrepreneur Walter H. Morgan, heir to an oyster company fortune. He purchased 1,400 acres in the East Valley foothills and in 1926 opened a Spanish-style refuge, La Quinta Hotel (now La Quinta Resort & Club). When the city was incorporated in 1982, it was named after the property.

La Quinta has 25 golf courses designed by some of the sport’s best, including nine at PGA West, host of the PGA Tour’s The American Express golf tournament. From hiking and biking to outdoor yoga, recreation abounds in this city that’s also known for its prestigious country clubs, charming Old Town, and lively arts scene. One visit and you’ll quickly learn why La Quinta is locally known as the “Gem of the Desert.”

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Palm Desert

Nestled in the heart of the Coachella Valley, this family-friendly city, incorporated in 1973, delivers a healthy balance of natural beauty and creativity. It is home to numerous art galleries, a landmark theater, luxury shopping, championship golf, and some of the best hiking this desert oasis has to offer.

Of course, it took a visionary to transform the raw landscape into the cultural and retail hub that the city is today. Back in 1946, the central location and pristine landscape inspired magazine publisher Randall Henderson and his brother Cliff to transform the area into a resort destination, ultimately attracting such Hollywood A-listers as Jimmy Stewart and Bing Crosby and stimulating rapid development midvalley.

Today, whether you’re exploring The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens or strolling the El Paseo Shopping District, Palm Desert is all about moving with the calm rhythm of the desert and discovering exciting new sources of inspiration in the Coachella Valley.

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Rancho Mirage

They call it the “Playground of Presidents”: a 25-square-mile stretch of palm-dotted land in the central valley. Dwight D. Eisenhower lent his name to the city’s renowned medical center. Richard Nixon spent the day of his pardoning at Sunnylands. Gerald Ford lived here through the final decades of his life.

It all began to flourish after World War II, when architect Hank Gogerty opened an airstrip and the Desert Air Hotel in the area now occupied by the Rancho Las Palmas shopping center. The fancy fly-in retreat drummed up an elite patronage, spawning the development of prestigious country clubs and golf courses.

With conservation, community, and recreation at the forefront, Rancho Mirage fêtes its semicentennial in 2023. State-of-the-art development continues with the ground-breaking of Cotino, a Storyliving by Disney residential oasis with a lagoon and a luxury hotel where magical moments are bound to create lasting memories for generations to come.

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