7 Unique Things to Do in the Coachella Valley

Published May 23, 2024

Best known for its hosting of the legendary festival of the same name, the Coachella Valley is also one of Southern California’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty.

One of the head-turning Cabazon dinosaurs (Photo: Kristina D.C. Hoeppner via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

The easternmost city of the Coachella Valley, in Southern California’s Colorado Desert, Coachella was originally a railroad town,  but is today most closely associated with the famous arts and music festival that has taken place here in 1999. But the area’s appeal extends far beyond the annual event that draws over half-a-million people here every year. We’ve picked out 7 of the most unique things to see and do that the valley has to offer.

Discover a roadside dinosaur attraction

You won’t miss the Cabazon Dinosaurs if you’re driving from Los Angeles into the Coachella Valley. Perched just off the side of this large collection of over 50 life-sized dinosaurs have quite the back story, having been first constructed in 1964 in an attempt to bring more visitors to a local restaurant owned by their designer. Originally the attraction featured just the two massive concrete dinosaur sculptures, but the site has expanded over the years and now boasts a huge assortment of sculptures and animatronic models. Despite their quirky origins as a roadside gimmick, the Cabazon Dinosaurs have become a cherished SoCal landmark among locals and visitors alike.

50770 Seminole Drive, Cabazon 

Explore a sand dune ecosystem

The Coachella Valley is home to a rare and protected sand dune ecosystem that offers a glimpse into the desert’s diverse habitats. The dunes here are formed from eroded granite, rather than the more typical quartz sand, giving them a distinct “salt and pepper” appearance. Rent an ATV or dune buggy to explore these unique dunes up close and with the wind in your hair. One of the prime spots for off-roading is the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicle Recreation Area, which encompasses 85,000 acres of otherworldly terrain. You can also take a guided Jeep tour to venture into the sandy washes and remote canyons.

 5172 CA-78, Borrego Springs / Open all hours

A dune buggy traverses the sands at the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicle Recreation Area (Photo: The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Hike a canyon trail

One of the most unique of the multitude of hiking trails available to visitors around the Coachella Valley is the Ladder Canyon Trail & Painted Canyon Loop. Not for the faint-hearted, this epic 4-mile out-and-back trail takes you through an achingly beautiful slot canyon that’s dotted with eye-catching rock formations and involves navigating a series of daunting ladders and narrow passages. But fear not, the stunning desert scenery will provide ample reward for your intrepidness.

The scenic environs of the Ladder Canyon Trail (Photo: Bureau of Land Management via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Sample some of the local produce

The valley is famous among other things for its date farms, where you can tour the groves, sample delectable ‘date shakes’ (date-based milkshakes), and stock up on locally-grown fruits and vegetables. One of the most popular spots here is Shields Date Garden in Indio, about six miles east of Coachella city centre, which has been operating for 100 years. If you’re willing to travel, you’ll also find a vegan version of the classic date shake at Nature’s Health Food & Cafe in Palm Springs, about 25 miles north of central Coachella.

Ride an aerial tramway

For breathtaking views, ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating aerial tram. This incredible feat of construction transports visitors from the desert floor in Coachella Valley over 2.5 miles up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon to the pristine alpine wilderness atop Mount San Jacinto State Park. The 10-minute journey begins at the Valley Station, designed by mid-century modern architects. As the 80-passenger tram car slowly makes two full rotations, 360-degree panoramic vistas of the rugged canyon scenery are revealed. At the Mountain Station, explore nature trails, a natural history museum, observation decks, and dine at one of the restaurants while taking in the mountain air.

1 Tramway Road, Palm Springs / Mon-Fri 10am-8pm Sat-Sun 8am-8pm

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway trundles along (Photo: Alan Light via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Sink into some hot springs

This Coachella Valley city is renowned for its abundance of thermal springs that feed directly into a number of luxurious pools and spas. To experience these soothing sensations for yourself, check out popular hotels like Two Bunch Palms or El Morocco Inn & Spa resort, both of which offer spring-fed bathing experiences. An afternoon or evening spent bathing in the therapeutic waters provides the perfect way to unwind amid the desert heat.

Marvel at mid-century modern architecture

With its resort town heyday in the 1950s-60s, the Palm Springs area became a playground for pioneering modernist architects to experiment with new styles suited to the desert climate. Today, it’s considered a mecca for admiring mid-century modern design. Take a self-guided tour to see iconic buildings like the Kaufmann House by Richard Neutra or Tramway Gas Station by Albert Frey. Guided tours offer enhanced insights into the stories behind these impressive buildings.