Palm Springs—with its world-renowned collection of breezy, modern homes and luxury resorts equipped with superbly refreshing pools—is made to handle summertime sun, but as the weeks of triple-digit temps and all-blue skies fill the forecast, everyone will be searching for new ways to cool off. We’ve found six places—all within or a short drive from the city—that promise to offer some reprieve from the summer swelter.
PALM DESERT AQUATIC CENTER
Nothing beats a cool pool on a hot day, and the 8-acre Palm Springs Aquatic Center has three—plus multiple slides and diving boards. Located in Palm Desert’s Civic Center Park, this summer hangout is an easy win for energetic kids and parents looking for a lap swim workout or just a proper dose of vitamin D. Seeking a more private waterpark experience? Rent out all or some of the facility for parties, corporate events or other special occasions.
Situated about 90 minutes north of Palm Springs, this 19-square-mile lake is perfect for a range of outdoor activities. Catch a breeze hiking or biking through the ponderosa pine-filled forests, book a paragliding experience, or take to the lake to fish for rainbow trout. On cooler days, animal-lovers can visit Wildhaven Ranch, the wildlife sanctuary near Lake Arrowhead’s east end that houses black bears, coyotes, eagles, and owls.
For a larger-scale lakeside experience, hop in the car, crank the AC and cruise 90 minutes north to Big Bear, a 6.5-square-mile lake beloved by SoCal residents for its bountiful population of fish, 22 miles of shoreline and more than 60 miles of trails. Rent kayaks, jet skis or paddle boats to get a refreshing splash of Big Bear’s waters, which stay in the high 60s during the summer months.
Get a great glimpse of pioneer times in this historic boom town, which burst onto the map in the 1870s after gold was unearthed nearby. Located 100 miles south of Palm Springs, today Julian is best known for its wineries, quaint downtown and apple orchards (the picking season kicks off at the end of August). Julian is a great setting for picnics, and campers can reserve sites and cabins amidst the pine tree-lined meadows of William Heise County park. However you decide to enjoy Julian, don’t leave without getting a slice of pie and an ice cream float from the Miner’s Diner.
A little less than 90 minutes east of Palm Springs sits Idyllwild, a town familiar to climbers, who usually flock there to take on Tahquitz Rock, a 7,659-foot tall, multi-pitch crag visible from Idyllwild’s downtown. If scaling steep rocks isn’t for you, Idyllwild also offers access to a range of hiking and mountain biking trails as well as secluded campgrounds perfect for stargazing. For a bit more comfort, book a room at one of the B&Bs along Strawberry Creek (and keep an eye out for the wild strawberry bushes it’s named for).
PALM SPRINGS AERIAL TRAMWAY
Get a bird’s-eye view of Mount San Jacinto State Park and the Coachella Valley from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The world’s largest rotating tram car, it travels a little over two-and-a-half miles up Chino Canyon’s cliffs, a picture-perfect ride that lasts about ten minutes. At Mountain Station—the route’s highest point at 8,516 feet—the temperature is a revitalizing 30-40 degrees cooler than the desert floor. At the summit, take pics, enjoy a beer at the Lookout Lounge and an avocado BLT at The Peak’s Restaurant, then browse the natural history museum before setting out on a hike or tramming back down.