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5 Private Tours of Palm Springs and the Desert

Memorable only-in-California experiences for travelers interested in nature, history, food, shopping, and more

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The upscale resort city of Palm Springs sits 100 miles east of Los Angeles. The surrounding desert communities—stretching across the Coachella Valley from the towering San Jacinto Mountains to Joshua Tree National Park—offer travelers an antidote to urban life. For decades, visitors have come to this stylish destination to relax and get away from it all, hike, play golf, indulge in spa treatments, and appreciate the desert landscape. Recently, the area has drawn a new generation of creative residents, many of whom are opening new businesses and helping to set the stage for the region’s future. To get a better sense of place and indulge in a unique desert experience, book one of these customizable private tours designed with the discerning traveler in mind.

For the Luxury Off-Roader

Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours brings travelers to Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and Mecca Hills, where knowledgeable guides offer an introduction to the area’s unique geological formations. On a sunset tour to the San Andreas Fault you may spot some of the desert’s wildlife, including coyotes and owls, emerging after the heat of the day has passed. You’ll also see a colorful display as the setting sun paints the sky in vivid purples and oranges.

For the Bird’s-Eye View

Relive the golden age of ballooning by taking flight near Palm Springs, where the climate is perfectly suited for hot-air balloon tours. Book a private sunrise tour with Balloons Above. While the cooler temperatures have their advantages when it comes to piloting the balloons, they also have a plus for passengers: You’ll get a bird’s-eye view of a new day dawning on the desert. Book a morning flight that includes breakfast and a champagne toast, to celebrate your adventure in the air.

For the Traveler Who’s Always Learning

Whatever your particular passion —bird-watching, photography, geology, cultural history—the Desert Institute of the Joshua Tree National Park Association offers a field class, tour, or lecture on the subject. Spend the day with a naturalist, learn tips from a photographer, or head out on a desert hike with a guide who knows how to access the most stunning vistas, and then assure you get back safely, too. Contact the Institute in advance to reserve a custom tour based on your interests.

For the Architecture Aficionado

Mid-century modern architects left their mark in Palm Springs and the desert. The Modern Tour offers exclusive access to a number of private homes by pioneering architects Albert Frey, Richard Neutra, and others. The architects aren’t the only bold-faced names on this tour; guests will also visit the former residences of celebrities including Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, and William Holden. All tours are semi-private, with a maximum of six guests, or you can book a private tour for an additional $300.

For the Shopper

El Paseo in Palm Desert is best known as the “Rodeo Drive of the Desert.” Don’t miss the distinctive shops, restaurants, and art galleries that line the mile-long strip. At Elizabeth & Prince, a women’s clothing boutique, owners Analisa and Shawn Holoubek showcase pieces by emerging designers. If you’re looking for a delicious brunch option in town, go to Wilma & Frieda’s Café, where comfort food is served with a twist. Two standouts on the menu include a churro waffle and blackberry custard French toast. For dinner, try the classic steak and seafood menu at Mitch’s on El Paseo. And if you want to stay on the strip, book a suite at Hotel Paseo, an Autograph Collection property that pays homage to mid-century modern design with a 1950 Airstream onsite.

In Partnership with Afar.

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