If you view Palm Springs' diversions as sunbathing breaks, you'll find plenty to do. While the area boasts a few high-end shopping malls (the Desert Fashion Plaza has closed), it is off-price, outlet and discount shopping that is pervasive. Outdoors, you will find world-class golf and tennis, with both resort-based and public facilities. The course at La Quinta is a favorite, with spectacular vistas (and, unfortunately, prices to match).
Knott's Soak City Water Park (1500 S. Gene Autry Trail; 760-327-0499), operated by the people behind Knott's Berry Farm, features a wild water slide called the Black Widow, and 15 other water attractions, complete food service and private cabana rentals. It is open daily from mid-March through Labor Day and on weekends in September and October.
Joshua Tree National Park (760-367-5500; $10 per car, good for seven days) is awesome, with the true wonders of the West. The Mojave and Colorado deserts join to form the park, approximately 1,241 square miles. Varieties of flora, wildlife sanctuary, campgrounds, horse and hiking trails. Headquarters in Twenty-nine Palms; take Hwy. 62 through Morongo and Yucca Valleys; approximately one-hour drive from Palm Springs. For a snack, visitor information, maps, books or souvenirs, stop in at the Oasis Visitor Center, on Hwy. 62 in the park. Joshua Tree is a full day-trip from Palm Springs.
If you don't have the time, consider a visit to the Living Desert (47900 Portola Ave, Palm Desert; 760-346-5694), a wildlife and botanical park in an incredible 1,200-acre reserve, featuring native and exotic animals (including camels, hyenas and leopards). Take Hwy. 111 east to Palm Desert, turn right on to Portola Avenue and proceed three miles. The Moorten Botanical Garden (1701 S. Palm Canyon Dr; 760-327-6555), on the south side of town, contains some 3,000 species of plants that thrive in the desert -- it's one of the world's most impressive such collections.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (Tramway Dr./Chino Canyon off Hwy. 111 north; 760/325-1391 or 888/515-TRAM) is a thrilling ride from the desert floor to a lush alpine forest. Don't let yourself be stranded at the top of the mountain! The last car leaves the crest of the mountain at 9:45 p.m. It offers spectacular views from the top of Mount San Jacinto, 8,516 feet above the valley. Sunset is the best time to do it, but skip the mediocre mountaintop dinner option. The tramway features revolving cars so that everyone will get both uphill and downhill views at some point during the ride.
You can view the mountains poolside, but why not hike Indian Canyons (S. Palm Canyon Drive; 760-325-3400 or 800-790-3398; $8 adults) five miles south of town center. The three canyons offer easy-to-moderate hikes with intriguing views of the desert.
If you're up for something just a little more strenuous, hike Tahquitz Canyon (500 W. Mesquite Drive; 760-416-7044; $12.50). After a short film explaining the history of the spirit Tahquitz, who supposedly consumes human souls in the canyon, a guide will take you through the canyon, explaining the local flora and fauna en route. It's a bit of a hike, but the waterfall at the end makes it all worthwhile.
Desert Safari Guides & Outfitters (760- 325-HIKE or 888-TO-SAFARI) offers one-, two- and four-hour expeditions into the desert, including hiking and horseback riding. The Ivey Ranch Equestrian Center (73605 30th Ave; 760-343-4251) features trail rides, horse rentals, hay rides. Desert Balloon Charters (760- 346-8575) offers balloon flights.
Uprising Rock Climbing Center (1500 South Gene Autry Trail, next to Oasis Waterpark off I-10; or 888-CLIMB-ON) says anyone can do it, and provides beginner lessons on artificial structures to prove it. Specializing in beginner lessons for those 6 years old and up. Open-air, shaded, micro-cooled, and open year-round. The virtually flat terrain is great for biking and rollerblading, but only bikes are available for rent locally. If you want to blade, you'll have to bring skates with you.