Palm Springs is the desert resort where Hollywood's biggest stars went to vacation. Here's Ricardo Simich's guide to the hot spots.

From the glamour of the stylish resorts to the magnificent isolation of the desert and the heaving throngs of one of the world's biggest festivals, Palm Springs and its surrounds have it all. Things change gear the further you go into the Coachella Valley, and exploring the other eight cities of Greater Palm Springs will bring you to some of the best hiking, tennis, golf and shopping in the world.

Cathedral City is a great destination for family entertainment. The area offers all grades of hiking through the mountains which, at 2600m, are snow-capped and stunning more often than not.

Rancho Mirage is the place of mega resorts and palatial Spanish style mansions. It's also known as the Playground of the Presidents — Eisenhower, Ford (wife Betty set up the world's first rehab clinic here) and Reagan all have ties to the city and the hot rumour in town has it that Obama is to follow suit.

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In the city of La Quinta further out in the valley, there are golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye. The average rainfall in Greater Palm Springs is three inches, so the valley, including its 124 golf courses, receives its water from underground aquifers.

The Coachella Valley, dry and beautiful at any time, is a popular spot for retirees — but is probably most famous for the namesake music festival, held every April since 1999.
Famously star-studded — both on stage and in the audience — the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has featured diverse lineups, with headliners in recent years including AC/DC, Drake, Lady Gaga, Radiohead and OutKast. Lorde took the stage in 2014.

Saguaro Hotel, Palm Springs.
Saguaro Hotel, Palm Springs.

Up the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon, you will find the world's largest rotating tram car, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, it will save you the mountain climb and have you among cute woodland creatures. The tram travels more than 4km from the desert and along the breathtaking cliffs of the Chino Canyon to the San Jacinto Mountains and State Park. During the 15-minute journey, the tram cars rotate slowly, giving you the most picturesque views of the valley beneath. The journey ends at Mountain Station — elevation 2.5km — where you can enjoy a meal at one of two restaurants and marvel at the view further from the observation decks. There's a natural history museum, documentary theatres and more than 80km of hiking trails to explore.

Resort city Palm Desert has its own version of Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive: El Paseo. The shopping avenue is complemented by Westfield Palm Desert, Desert Crossing and Town Center Plaza. For huge bargains, head to the Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon, 15 minutes from Palm Springs on Highway 10.

Indian Wells was my favourite city outside Palm Springs. As the open vistas of the valley unfold, you look out to another set of mountains called the Santa Rosa. Of all the many resorts and spas in Greater Palm Springs, the four in this city provide deeper relaxation because of their immense space and surrounds.

Indian Wells is the home of the annual BNP Paribas Open, which Roger Federer won for the fifth time in March, while world No 15 Elena Vesnina beat fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova to win the biggest singles' title of her career. Californians drive in for a day at the tennis and the tournament has been dubbed the fifth grand slam, thanks to the mega-development by billionaire Larry Ellison, who bought the club in 2009.

The two, palm tree-lined concrete courts, have been finished in purple, Ellison's choice evidently, and it is the perfect contrast to the valley.

Next year's event takes place from March 5-18, but if your visit is outside that time, for just $27.50 you can hit the ball about and be made very welcome by the folk at the tennis club.

It gets hot in Palm Springs, so thankfully a good cocktail is never far away. For the best cocktail, you'd do well to head for Truss & Twine and order a Game Changer (gin, onion brine, and celery bitters).

An hour's drive from Palm Springs, along a highway cluttered with dinky motels, you'll first come across one lonely tree which will become 10, then hundreds as you travel higher and further into the rugged rock formations against a desert backdrop. This is Joshua Tree National Park, declared such in 1994. Real-life ranger George gave my group a guided tour and he was brimming with insightful information.

Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Joshua Tree National Park, California.

For example the Joshua Tree was named by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree's unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. George also had a few good rock band stories to share.

Long before U2 discovered it, the area was favoured by many 70s Californian bands, who found their inspiration at night underneath the star-filled desert sky — no doubt inspired by a few psychedelics. George told us this is where the Eagles came up with their name after spotting an eagle while high — it's a story that divides popular culture.

His stories just got weirder, but, looking out at the end of the park towards the Colorado and Mojave Deserts, you could almost hear the sounds of the 70s.

With the San Andreas Fault line smack bang between, you can see evidence of the millions of plate movements that have given the area the magnificent topography it has today.

Whether you hike it, drive it or drink it, you'll find something around Palm Springs to rock your world.