The awards were the first of the New Year but are a more low-key event than the glitzy ceremonies which follow, with winners announced in advance, lending a more relaxed atmosphere to other events.
Picking up her trophy - only the second Icon Award given by the festival in its 25 year history - Meryl told the crowd: "My four children remind me everyday that I am not an Icon.
"I don't feel like an icon. Most of the days I feel like 'I can't.' [But] I feel like I'm an example now in my dotage of the fact that you just can't put those old gals out to pasture. We've got a lot of stuff still to say."
Other stars to be awarded at the event included Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Matthew McConaughey, '12 Years a Slave' director Steve McQueen and the cast of 'American Hustle'.
Matthew was given his trophy for his lead role in 'Dallas Buyers Club', but says he was also very proud of his performances in 'Mud' and 'The Wolf of Wall Street'.
He said: "I had a sensational year of acting," adding how he was blown away by the quality of many movies made in Hollywood during 2013.
He added: "We put out a damn good product. We've got challenging films. We've got stories of isolation, survival, history, con men, scams. A lot of these films, they walk that tightrope. They have that combination of two very hard things to have - import and entertainment."
U2 received the Sonny Bono Visionary Award, which was collected by the band's guitarist The Edge and singer, Bono, who made an impassioned speech talking about Hollywood's humanitarian strengths, Nelson Mandela and the worldwide AIDS crisis.
Palm Springs International Film Festival 2014 Awards Gala, full list of winners:
Meryl Streep - Icon Award
Tom Hanks - Chairman's Award
Bruce Dern - Career Achievement Award
Steve McQueen - Director of the Year Award
Sandra Bullock - Desert Palm Achievment Actress Award
Matthew McConaughey - Desert Palm Achievment Actor Award
Julia Roberts - Spotlight Award
'American Hustle' - Ensemble Performance Award
Lupita Nyong'o - Breakthrough Performance Award
Thomas Newman - Frederick Loewe Music Award
U2 - Sonny Bono Visionary Award