Best Museums in Palm Springs and Coachella Valley
On the off chance you need a break from relaxing by the pool all day at the desert’s most talked-about resort for gay men, you’re in luck. Greater Palm Springs is home to a varied collection of museums encompassing everything from modern art to dinosaur fossils. Here are our six favorite museums, including an iconic midcentury estate and gardens. Get out there and explore!
Palm Springs Art Museum
101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs
The focus here is on modern and contemporary art, and it’s totally worth a visit. Housed inside an architecturally significant building designed by E. Stewart Williams, the museum’s collection includes over 3,000 sculptures, paintings, and prints, and 2,000 fine art photographs. Stroll the airy galleries and explore works by Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Henry Moore, Diane Arbus, and Andy Warhol. Other significant collections include architecture & design, Native American art, art of the American West, Pre-Columbian ceramics, and glass studio art. Online reservations are recommended, and tickets include admission to the museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion. Located a few blocks to the south in another Williams-designed building that was originally a bank, the pavilion hosts one temporary exhibit and features a fun gift shop and bookstore located in the bank’s former vault. Open Thursday 10 AM-7 PM, Friday-Sunday 10 AM-5 PM. On Thursday evenings admission is free starting at 5 PM, first come first served, no reservations required.
Palm Springs Air Museum
745 N Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs
A must-see for aviation buffs and flyboys, this is the place to get an up-close look at the legendary fighters and bombers of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, including a B-17 bomber and F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter. There are 10 acres of lightly air-conditioned hangars and tarmac to explore, an F-16 flight simulator, and even a library where volunteers will help you research your family’s military history. Many of the planes are kept in flyable condition, and flights can be arranged if you feel like a splurge. Named one of the 14 Best Air Museums in the world by CNN Travel. Open daily, 10 AM-5 PM.
Further Afield, Greater Coachella Valley
Sunnylands Center & Gardens
37977 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage
This stunning 200-acre midcentury modern estate opened to the public in March 2012 and serves as a high-level retreat center for national and international leaders. Winding paths take visitors through an Impressionist-inspired desert garden, past meditative reflecting pools, and a labyrinth, to the glass facade of Sunnylands Center. The spacious, contemporary building houses a rotating art exhibition, café, gift shop, and multimedia offerings that detail the history of the estate and its founders, Ambassadors Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Admission to the Center & Gardens is free, but you’ll want to plan ahead and purchase a ticket so you can snoop around inside the Annenberg’s historic former home where they hosted US presidents from Eisenhower to Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II, and entertainment icons Bob Hope, Gregory Peck, and Frank Sinatra. Located in Rancho Mirage, about a 30-minute drive south of Descanso. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 8:30 AM-4 PM. Closed summer months. Re-opening September 14, 2022.
Cabot's Pueblo Museum
67616 E Desert View Avenue, Desert Hot Springs
Step back in time at this eccentric Hopi-style Pueblo home turned into a museum. Adventurer, artist, writer, and homesteader Cabot Yerxa built the sprawling 35-room Pueblo by hand from materials he collected and reassembled from abandoned homesteads, old telephone poles, buckboard wagon parts, and other materials found in the desert. Now the Pueblo’s rooms are filled with a treasure trove of Native American art and artifacts, plus memorabilia from early desert homesteader life. Download the audio app and take a self-guided tour inside the Pueblo, and make sure to take time to explore the extensive grounds. Cabot’s is about a 25-minute drive north of Descanso and reservations are recommended. Definitely, a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours. Regular hours Tuesday-Sunday, 9 AM-4 PM; summer hours Tuesday-Saturday, 9 AM-1 PM.
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
62975 Blair Lane, Joshua Tree
Located on 10 acres of land near the town of Joshua Tree, this open-air museum contains over one hundred works of art including large-scale assemblages and environmental sculptures created by African-American artist Noah Purifoy between 1989–2004. Discarded machinery, computers, toilets, car parts, old jeans, and other “junk” create surreal and sometimes head-scratching juxtapositions under the expansive desert sky. If you’re day-tripping to Joshua Tree and intrigued by this description, you’ll want to make a stop. Go early in the day and bring water. Admission is free, but make a donation for good karma. Open daily, sun up until sundown.
Museum of Ancient Wonders
69028-B E Palm Canyon Drive, Cathedral City
Inauspiciously located in a strip mall next to Big Lots, this ambitious little museum features an extensive collection of replicated fossils including life-size dinosaurs, skulls, teeth, claws, and eggs displayed in chronological order. Other rotating exhibits feature Asian antiquities, African masks and sculptures, and a Tutankhamun collection that includes over 100 dazzling replicas of the boy king’s sacred and personal possessions. The owner and curator of the museum is often on hand to provide fascinating insight to the exhibits. Yes, it’s kind of quirky, but people rave about this place. If you’re intrigued, check their website before you go to see what’s currently on display. Open Monday-Saturday, 10 AM-6 PM; Sunday, Noon-5 PM.