There is so much more to Coachella than the music festival. People have been coming to the Coachella Valley for decades – including us. In fact, the originators of the area’s popularity were first based in Palm Springs and everything grew from there. Only more recently has the valley enjoyed a global reputation for hosting one of the most well-known music festivals in the world. Many people only know it for that, and don’t realize that are things to do beyond Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.
The actual festival only lasts for two weekends each year. Yes, it draws top-level performers and A-list celebrities to the Empire Polo Club in Indio. The sold-out festival has grown fast as one of the must-visit activities on the circuit, maybe because of famous performances by the likes of Beyonce, Billie Eilish, Harry Styles and Lizzo.
But there are things to do beyond Coachella Music Festival and its party throngs and traffic jams. In fact, the rest of the year provides many more reasons to visit this colorful and diverse destination.
Things to do Beyond Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
With roots in Old Hollywood, the Coachella Valley has been a playground to the stars since the 1920s. Because the old movie studios had stars under strict contracts, they required them to stay within a two-hour drive of the studio in case they need to come in for a meeting or quick scene. Since they could only drive so far, these movie stars found the Coachella Valley a perfect retreat since it was just 100 miles away. They flocked here, building houses, hotels, restaurants, bars – and many stories.
Old time movies stars were regulars, including Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Autry, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner and so many more. New Hollywood is still fascinated with the area, and current movie star homeowners still find rest and relaxation in the desert valley. There’s even a tour of movie star homes in Palm Springs you can do if that interests you. (It’s cheesy in a good way.).
But there’s so much more in the way of music, art and culture. There are plenty of things to do beyond Coachella Music & Arts Festival. Read on for a few of our picks.
Our List of Artful Things to do Beyond Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
Palm Springs Art Museum
The Coachella Valley has always been home to talented artists. They are drawn here for many of the same reasons we are – the stark desert beauty, inspirational vistas and fabulous weather. It’s why the Coachella Festival works so well here. But this artist community has spawned a very serious art scene with considerable heft, reputation and talent. Of course a world-class art museum would be built here, and the Palm Springs Art Museum measures up.
Set against the purpley-brown San Jacinto Mountains that jut in hard angles and rocky slopes from the desert floor, the museum is right downtown. Visitors can easily walk here from the main activities of bustling downtown Palm Springs. It’s just two blocks off the main thoroughfare of Palm Canyon Drive. Inside the museum, the permanent collection and exhibitions showcase an impressive range of talents. From contemporary to classic, from well-known to obscure, the works here are impressive. Curators here have worked hard to mount an interesting and diverse experience. For example, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Helen Frankenthaler and Louise Bourgeois are all represented with pieces on display. Traveling exhibitions round out the visitor experience.
For more information, check out the Palm Springs Art Museum website. Tickets start at $6 for students, $11 for seniors and $14 for general admission, while kids under 18, military and members are free. The Museum is open Thursday 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm, Friday-Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, and free on Thursday nights on a first come, first served basis.
Outdoor Art Installations for Days
Coachella Festival may have temporary art installations, but there are plenty of permanent examples throughout the Valley. Dotting the landscape from Palm Springs all the way to La Quinta, outdoor sculptures and art installations are prevalent. The entire valley seems dedicated to displaying public art in interesting and approachable ways. Most can be witnessed simply by driving along Highway 111 from Palm Springs through to Indio, spying out works from the roadway. It is about a 40 minute drive on average.
Of particular interest to us are the giant babies crawling in a gravel pit near the Palm Springs Art Museum parking garage. They are so odd and arresting, we had to circle the area to look down on them from different angles. Another nearby icon is the enormous recreation of Marilyn Monroe in her famous pose, white dress blowing up around her like in the movie The Seven Year Itch. “Forever Marilyn” by sculptor Seward Johnson is 26 feet tall and weighs some 24,000 pounds. Plenty are the pictures snapped while standing at her feet under her gigantic dress.
Another family favorite is “The Dreamer” by David Phelps, a Palm Desert installation of a man lying down on his back, appearing to sink comfortably into a green lawn of relaxation.
For more art and places to visit it, check out this great list from the Greater Palm Springs Visitors Bureau.
The Art of Drag Brunch
Owned by husbands and former flight attendants, this show at PS Air Bar is bawdy and fun. It takes place in a speakeasy entered through a gift shop-slash-liquor store called Bouschet. But don’t be scared away by the strip center entrance, because inside it’s a very upscale experience. Through the secret door and into the club, you enter what appears to be a spacious version of an airplane interior. Nicely decorated, of course.
Not meant for kids, the show’s humor is raunchy in a fun way. We laughed really hard through the whole production as the drag queens teased the crowd, shashayed down the aisle and performed musical numbers. It’s amazing what these girls could get done in a simulated airplane aisle! All the while, the crowd is being served cocktails and a delicious (light) brunch presented in an airline meal tray. They also do dinner shows.
You want culture? These ladies have got your culture right here. After all, who needs Beyonce on a stage 1,000 feet away when you can have Cher sit in your lap? Visit the PS Air Bar website for more information about reservations and menu options. Tickets start at $65 per person.
Rock & Roll & Food
In a convenient Indio location overlooking a golf course sits Big Rock Golf & Pub. Rumor has it that the owner loves 80s and 90s rock and roll, and has collected a serious amount of memorabilia to put on display in their restaurant. The entire experience exudes this music vibe, and it’s so much fun to drink and dine among some of the hitmakers of our past. Kind of like a Hard Rock Cafe only better, Big Rock has an extensive menu, enormous bar, stage for live music.
Looking around the restaurant, we saw families with small kids, ladies gathered to drink white wine, motorcycle enthusiasts in their leather gear, and young adults gathering to start their evening festivities. All of this takes place with an accompanying music track that had us singing along with the hits. (Of course, the kids knew very few of the songs we were singing – Kansas, Styx and Led Zeppelin did not register for them. It was hilarious.)
If you go, their menu is full of great pub dishes. We particularly loved the hot wings, spicy fried chicken sandwich, burgers and pizzas.
But it’s the vibe you should come here to enjoy. Live or recorded, the music here is an awesome and more approachable way to enjoy great bands. Coachella be damned.
Tacos and Live Music
The family that owns the Casuelas Cafe empire has been busy! A longtime staple on the must-go list of every visitor to the Coachella Valley, there are now several locations to choose from. We visited Casuelas Cafe in Palm Desert, deceivingly tucked into a shopping center. With an impressively large outdoor patio, the restaurant offers Mexican cuisine in the open (shaded!) air. And tot top it off, live music is performed on the patio almost every day.
We dined on all our favorites – spicy guacamole with tortilla chips, chicken enchiladas, chile rellenos, refried beans and more. The menu is extensive, and everything is prepared in the traditional Mexican way with great flavor and tons of love. Of course, those of us that can imbibe, did. We enjoyed the margaritas (rocks with salt, of course), made with fresh ingredients and so limey and delicious.
The live music was super fun. A quartet of musicians played relaxed rock and roll favorites, from Fleetwood Mac to Beatles, Steely Dan and Ricki Lee Jones. Bunches of people got up to dance in the sweet air of a warm evening. It was nice to see old folks doing the fox trot along with young couples slow dancing, and of course kids twirling and jumping. Such a great family destination.
Places to Stay in Coachella Valley
There is not a shortage of awesome places to stay through the Coachella Valley. We have our favorites, and started a list for you to consider here:
Westin Ranch Mirage – Large and in charge, this resort has something for everyone. Championship Golf Course? Check. Pools with slides for the kids (and kids at heart?). Check. Delicious restaurants, fun activities and spacious rooms? Check.
Korakia Pensione – Nestled up against the mountains in downtown Palm Springs, this sweet boutique hotel has a Mediterranean/Bohemian flair. The walls and decor are white and super comfy with a desert vibe. Love this place if we don’t bring the kids (not allowed). More on our stay at this hotel here.
La Quinta Resort – If you’re feeling fancy, this historic hotel is the place to go. Casitas dot the landscape along with more traditional hotel rooms, and the resort has something like 40+ swimming pools. The spa at La Quinta Resort is incredible, and yes this resort is very near the actual location of the Coachella Festival.
Clearly Much to See and Do Beyond Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival
With all these examples and so many more, there are clearly many things to do beyond Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival throughout the year. For more information, visit the Greater Palm Springs Visitors Bureau website for in-depth itineraries, suggestions and details.
If you do decide to visit, here are several other stories about the area to help you plan your trip:
Downtown Palm Springs is a Great Destination with Kids
5 Things to Do in Palm Springs Shade
Red Jeep Tour of the San Andreas Fault