Conventional belief is that Southern California doesn’t have seasons, or if it does, there’s a wet and a dry season. That’s it. While not accurate, this perception from those on the East Coast or Northwest may seem true, especially on the California coast.
But in Palm Springs, you can experience a full range of seasons, more varied than that in, say, Los Angeles or San Diego.
Winter: December through February
Winters in Palm Springs are among the mildest in the continental United States, with temperatures ranging from around 40 – 70° F (4.5 – 24°C).
Like the rest of Southern California, winter is the rainy season, but Palm Springs only receives about five inches of rain per year. It’s really hard to call that “rainy.”
It’s the mountains to the west of Palm Springs that let you know it’s winter. While you may read about rainstorms happening in LA, the mountains block most of the moisture from reaching the desert. But the winter storms produce dramatic scenes for desert floor dwellers, as the clouds swirl around and through the mountains, dropping rain and, at the higher elevations, snow. After the storms, the peaks are covered in white, creating a beautiful contrast between the mountains and the palms and lush gardens below.
You’ll be warm outside if you’re in the sun, but in a shady canyon or when the sun goes behind the mountains, you may need a jacket. Nights can be cooler than on the coast, as the desert air doesn’t retain heat. If you’re considering a trip up the Tram, expect cold temperatures and snow.
In winter the snow birds arrive, and “the season” opens with popular events, such as the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Modernism Week.
Spring: March through May
Spring starts early in Palm Springs. While folks back east are still shoveling snow, temperatures rise, with averages from the 50s to 90° F (11 – 34°C), and wildflowers come out. This is “the height of the season” in the desert – the most popular time for visitors. This is when many of the major annual events take place, such as the Coachella Music Festival, the White Party and Dinah Shore weekend. It’s a time when you need dinner reservations, and some of the hiking trails are busy.
Any winter rain is usually over before March, the days are warmer, the nights balmy, and the desert blooms. The abundance of seasonal wildflowers depends on the amount of winter rain, but even the smallest amount brings out desert natives, such as brittlebush, desert lavender, globe mallow and cactus flowers. Palo Verde trees glow yellow, and ocotillo are tipped with red flowers. The canyon creeks are running full, and waterfalls, such as Tahquitz and West Fork are at their most spectacular.
By April and May, even unheated pools warm up. Late spring in the desert is like summer elsewhere, without the humidity, making this the most comfortable and thoroughly enjoyable time of year.
Summer: June through September
June is a transition month from spring to summer. July, August and September are the warmest in Palm Springs. Daytime temperatures almost always reach triple digits. But it’s important to keep in mind that 105° F (40° C) in the dry desert air doesn’t feel as hot as a humidity-laden 90° F (32° C) in Atlanta or New York. Mornings are still cool enough for tennis, golf or hiking, and evenings are terrific for outdoor dining and pool parties. Late summers occasionally bring evening thunderstorms with dramatic displays of lightning.
Years ago, people didn’t come to the desert in summer. That’s changed. Splash parties have become a millennial favorite at hip hotels, and some luxury hotels have great deals on wellness and spa weekends. But things are still quiet enough that you may not need dinner reservations anymore.
Fall: October and November
Bright sunshine, lower temperatures at night, but still warm during the day, fall is a secret season for residents. Visitors are not as common, but the weather is beautiful. Halloween is still warm enough that you don’t freeze in your skimpy costume, and you can even have Thanksgiving dinner al fresco. The Greater Palm Springs Pride parade and festival is the first weekend in November, and shorts and t-shirts (or no shirts) still rule. Daytime highs range from the 70s to the 90s (21-32° C), while nights can dip into the 50s (10° C), so a change of clothes for evening is advised.
If you’re looking for fall colors, you’ll have to drive to nearby Idyllwild, or go hiking at the top of the Tram.
With about 350 days of sunshine per year, Palm Springs has four distinct seasons, each one welcoming and beautiful in its own way. It’s a climate that encourages outdoor living and activities, night and day.