Seven cool day trips to escape the Palm Springs heat

Can’t travel for vacation? Here are seven alternatives to help you beat the heat.

The return of triple-digit temperatures has Coachella Valley residents looking to escape the heat with a summer holiday. COVID-19 travel restrictions have limited vacation options this year but you can still beat the heat with these seven cool day trips from the Coachella Valley. Social distancing and masks are still required but all venues listed are open and ready for visitors. Advance reservations may be required and some services may be limited.


The mile-high mountain resort of Idyllwild is just a one hour, twenty minute drive along the scenic Palms to Pines Highway. Stroll among the local shops in the cool mountain air or enjoy the afternoon listening to outside entertainment at one of the many restaurants. Options for exersize are endless at the San Jacinto National Park, where hikers can explore more than 50 trails and experienced rock climbers can take on Tahquitz Rock, affectionately known as ‘Lily’ by locals.

A day trip easily turns into an overnight stay plenty of hotel and vacation rental options. The international Idyllwild School of the Arts presents art, music and theatre events during their summer session and Idyllwild ranks as one of the 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.

You can leave the car at home and enjoy a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway traveling over two-and-one-half miles up the cliffs of Chino Canyon to arrive on the eastern side of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The 8,516 feet high Mountain Station offers two restaurants, observation decks, natural history museum, and a gift shop and hiking trails.

Big Bear Lake

The San Bernardino National Forest’s Big Bear Lake is another alpine option at about a 2-hour drive from Palm Springs. The area offers a range of outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking and ziplining. Stroll along the streets of the quaint Big Bear Village for shopping and restaurants. The lake helps locals and visitors alike to beat the heat with activities such as paddle boarding, tubing, or jet skiing. There are several marinas that rent a variety of boats or take a ride on the Miss Liberty Paddlewheel Tour Boat. Fishing is taken seriously with trout, bass and other species making it a great place to cast a line from either shore or boat.

A day trip stretches easily into a weekend with hundreds of hotels, B&B’s, and lodges as well as vacation home and condo rentals. There’s plenty of nightlife in Big Bear with restaurants, taverns and even a nightclub in The Village.

San Diego

If beach is what you’re looking for, San Diego is only a two-hour drive by car. The eighth largest city in the United States offers unlimited food, entertainment, and activity options. Mission, Pacific and Solana beaches welcome sun and surf lovers and water activities abound with whale watching, bay tours, paddle boarding and jet skiing. You could spend an entire day – or two – at Balboa Park. This cultural oasis includes 17 museums, gardens and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.  The historic neighborhoods of downtown San Diego are also worth wandering. Food food and nightlife abound from Little Italy to the restored Gaslamp Quarter. The nearby town of La Jolla offers another alternative for the day. Take a hike at Torrey Pines State Reserve or visit with the sea lions at La Jolla Cove.

Lodging options for every taste and budget are available in downtown San Diego, up along the coast and down to Coronado Island. Developed in 1888 as a beach resort town, and home to the famous Hotel del Coronado, the island boasts one of the finest beaches in the United States.

Laguna Beach

A laid-back alternative to San Diego, Laguna Beach offers a relaxed California vibe in one of the most picturesque settings imaginable. Also, Treasure Island and Laguna Main Beach Park offer stunning views as well as activities. Basketball and volleyball are available everywhere but top activities along the main beach include surfing, bodyboarding, and snorkeling.

Laguna Beach is not just about the surf.  Art galleries abound on the PCH and the city hosts a number of art festivals throughout the summer. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is open and celebrating it’s 50-year anniversary with special exhibits and giveaways.

If you’re tempted to stay you’ll find a variety of lodging for every taste and budget here.


The beautiful, historic city of Pasadena is just one hour and 35 minutes away and offers more than one can do in a day. The Huntington Library and Gardens is a massive complex with more than a dozen themed gardens, a library with rare books, and an extensive art collection, The Huntington will take a full day to explore by itself. The library houses rare and original manuscripts, the museum boasts one of the greatest collections of 18th-century British art in the country and the Huntington Gardens is among the best botanical gardens in California.

Visit some of Pasadena’s other excellent museums such as the Norton Simon Museum. It  is renown as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled.  Southern California’s only museum dedicated to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands, the USC Pacific Asia Museum showcases the art and culture of Asia. The Pasadena Museum of History is a fun and informative way to learn about the city’s past.

Walk downtown Pasadena and explore the many shops and galleries. Enjoy a meal at one of the fine restaurants in Old Town and admire the award-winning architecture of the City Hall, the Gamble House, and the Wrigley Mansion. Or take a guided tour of the Rose Bowl Stadium, a National Historic Landmark. To make the most of your stay extend it to a long weekend with the varied lodging choices in the city.

Morongo Valley/Coyote Ridge

Located just a 20-mile drive from central Palm Springs and 3200 ft. above the Valley floor, Coyote Ridge offers some respite from the desert heat. The picturesque foothills of the Morongo Valley and the rugged San Gorgonio Mountains are the setting for Coyote Ridge Stables. They offer safe and scenic guided horse-riding trails for all different skill levels. All rides are accompanied by a knowledgeable guide to ensure the safety of guests and horses.

Beginners can start with a 75-minute canyon excursion with an introduction to desert scenery and horseback riding. For the more experienced trail riders, the rides can last up to four hours over hillsides and across washes, exploring rugged terrain and the famed Coyote Ridge.

If horseback isn’t your preferred travel mode, The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in the Little San Bernardino Mountains offers hiking trails and sightseeing. Elevations on the Preserve range from 600 feet on the canyon floor to over 3000 feet at the ridgetops. The upstream end of the canyon lies in the Mojave Desert, while its downstream portion opens into the Colorado Desert and is home to one of the 10 largest cottonwood and willow habitats in California.

Temecula’s Wine Country

With an average summer temperature in the 80’s, Temecula’s Wine Country is a good option for wine lovers and foodies. A ninety-minute drive will bring you to nearly 40 wineries in the Temecula Valley,  growing over 50 different varietals of wine. Check out these self-guided tour options or take a guided wine country tour. There are even some vendors that offer wine tasting tours by horseback. Or book your personal tour and driver from Palm Springs with a package from Palm Springs Limousine Services.

Old Town Temecula is a good choice to end your wine county day trip. Old Town is packed with antique dealers, alfresco restaurants and unique shops. If you decide to vist wine county on your own be sure to stop at the Temecula Visitors Center at 28690 Mercedes Street in downtown. Here you can pick up brochures, discount coupons for wine tasting as well as free winery maps.