The History of the Palm Desert Golf Cart Parade

The beloved annual parade became a Coachella Valley tradition in the early 1960s.

October 16, 2023
Story by Amanda Oliver
Scenes from the Golf Cart Parade circa 1961.
PHOTO COURTESY PALM SPRINGS LIFE ARCHIVES

Everything from chicken wire and papier-mâché to PVC pipes, particleboard, and fresh flowers have been used by local businesses, schools, and civic organizations to deck golf carts for the annual Palm Desert Golf Cart Parade, a Coachella Valley tradition since the 1960s. Yet who exactly founded the event remains unclear. Some credit radio personalities Phil Harris and Alice Faye, while others say it was actors William Powell, William Boyd, and Ginger Rogers looking to connect with neighbors in their retirement. Some reports point to local businessmen angling to advertise in a new way.

The event originally took place in July with a goal to liven up summer life in the desert. In this they were successful, but by 1973, organizers moved the parade to a much more hospitable October. The event draws thousands of spectators each year, and hundreds of golf carts are designed around annual themes like “Goin’ Fishin’” (1975), “Through a Child’s Eyes” (2003), “Carnival Style” (2011), and “Area 51” (2015).

Festivities see a new Golf Cart Parade grand marshal each year, with previous grand marshals including Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Tom Flores, soap opera star John Callahan, and Dodgers legend Steve Garvey. The Palm Desert Golf Cart Parade is the largest of its kind, and organizers field questions about the event from media around the world, as far as the Philippines, Germany, and France.