By Tricia Witkower
Coachella Valley is the land of festivals. With two weeks of Coachella, Stagecoach, and many other festivals throughout the year (Rhythm, Wine, and Brews and the one-off legendary Desert Trip) we’ve earned our spot on the map as a live music destination. What locals know, and many visitors don’t, is that there is so much more to do here.
A particularly unique activity to add to your desert to-do list, is Desert X. This biennial interactive art experience is in its second year and spans from Whitewater to the Salton Sea with nineteen different art exhibits that are extremely Instagrammable. All are free and open to the public and range from sculptures to virtual reality experiences. Find the map on their website, https://www.desertx.org/, and plot your path as you visit as many as you can before catching the set of your first Coachella artist of the day.
While you’re checking out the Desert X spots on that side of the valley, a trip to Joshua Tree National Park is a must. This park draws rock climbers, hikers, and tree lovers alike with its beautiful namesake Joshua trees, interesting rock formations, flora and fauna, and even a view of the San Andreas Fault. Go to https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm for directions, closings, and any other important info. Joshua Tree is just one of many exciting outdoor escapes in the valley. For hikers looking to get a healthy start to their day before heading into the festival madness, there are many popular trails to hit. In Palm Desert, the Bump ‘N Grind and the Cross are the two most easily accessible and well-traversed trails. This website will give you directions to those hikes (or any others in the valley): https://www.alltrails.com/us/california/palm-desert
Great news for locals and visitors – the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is back open! Take a two and a half mile ride in the world’s largest rotating tram car to the top of San Jacinto State Park at 8, 516 ft. altitude. Once at the top, you can dine at two restaurants, look over the valley from the observation decks, check out the natural history museum or the gift shop, or even take a hike (there are over 50 miles of hiking trails). Tram tickets are $25.95 and can be purchased online in advance: https://www.pstramway.com/ or at the station the day of.
You may not see Ke$ha this year at Coachella, but you can visit where she shot her video, “Praying,” at Salvation Mountain. This bright and colorful mountain is a work of art in and of itself and is worth the trip to Niland, past the Salton Sea. Entrance is free and down the road you can visit Slab City and East Jesus, eclectic, strange, and intriguing areas of art and sculptures that you have to see with your own eyes to believe. http://www.salvationmountain.us/
For anyone still looking to perfect their festival look, Coachella Valley is a haven for fashionable shoppers. El Paseo, also known as the Rodeo Drive of the desert, has hundreds of shops – from clothing to hair salons and restaurants. You can find upscale stores the likes of Gucci and Saks 5th Avenue here, as well as locally-owned boutiques such as Blonde, BG’s, and Grayse. The food options are plentiful – and delicious. Piero’s Pizza Vino has authentic Italian cuisine with a wallet-friendly all-day happy hour in the bar. Kitchen 86 is new to the street and serves food until 2 am for those who rocked out so hard all day they forgot to eat. For festival ‘dos and braids, El Paseo is home to many salons, including Mai Salon and Sherry Mesa the Salon, both specializes in the best of festival hairdos. For a full directory of stores: https://www.elpaseocatalogue.com/
While you’re in the desert cities, try some of the eateries that have become institutions. Many would say a trip here isn’t complete without trying a sandwich or a slice of cake (both the size of your head) from Sherman’s Deli, which has locations in Palm Springs and in Palm Desert. http://shermansdeli.com/ Shields Date Garden is known for its infamous, and sinfully delicious, date shake. https://www.shieldsdategarden.com/ Another perfect choice for drinks and delicious food before hitting the festival is Jackalope Ranch in Indio. Their BBQ is to die for and will help fuel a night of dancing and walking the polo grounds. https://www.thejackaloperanch.com/
Not to worry if you spend a lot of money on drinks and food at the festival – there are several casinos nearby that you can double down at and win your money back (or lose it all, such is gambling). Check out Fantasy Springs Resort Casino https://www.fantasyspringsresort.com/
and Spotlight 29 in Indio, or Red Earth Casino in Thermal. https://www.redearthcasino.com/
This is only an abbreviated list of the entertainment this valley holds. A few other ideas: Escape Games at the River in Rancho Mirage (https://escapegamesattheriver.com/), Jeep Tours (https://red-jeep.com/), Laser Oasis in La Quinta (https://www.laseroasis.com/), Shots in the Night at Indian Wells Golf Resort (https://indianwellsgolfresort.com/shots_in_the_night/), or Boomers in Palm Springs (https://www.boomerspalmsprings.com/). Enjoy your time at the festivals and have fun exploring the Coachella Valley!