Palm Springs is a desert oasis less than two hours from Los Angeles filled with palm trees, meandering golf courses and sprawling resorts. While Palm Springs has attracted the hip and Hollywood elite for decades, families flock here for outdoor activities and kid-friendly resorts with over-the-top pools.
If it’s your first time in Palm Springs with kids, The Living Desert and Palm Springs Aerial Tram are highly recommended attractions for all ages. Mt. San Jacinto State Park, at the top of the tram, has panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, 50 miles of hiking trails and sledding and other winter activities during colder months. It’s a unique experience to board the tram in summer weather and arrive at the top to find snow. Dress accordingly for a fun trip.
Palm Springs was originally inhabited by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and much of the surrounding desert area is tribal land. For a convenient introduction to the desert and the Indians, hike their ancestral ground at Indian Canyons, located 10 minutes from downtown Palm Springs, on your own or with a ranger-led tour.
With kids age five and up, families rave about Desert Adventures Jeep Tours. From the comfort of signature red jeeps, the three-hour San Andreas Fault tour takes families into the desert to see up-close the geographical features created by the famous fault line. Along the way, there are stops at a natural palm oasis and a recreated Cahuilla Indian Village where kids learn what it takes to survive in the desert.
The biggest time commitment is a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s about an hour each way from area resorts and works well with any age. Toddlers are happy to scramble over the rocks while school-age children will like the well organized Junior Ranger Program and wild Seuss-esque Joshua trees.
I wouldn’t recommend the Keys Ranch tour with small children as there are old nails, boards and things that kids can get into without constant supervision. The Keys View lookout however, where you can get a glimpse of the 700-mile San Andreas Fault, is spectacular and worth the extra drive. There’s no food or water in the park so plan to arrive early to beat the heat and bring a picnic lunch.
Wet ‘n’ Wild Palm Springs, formerly Knott’s Soak City, will open for it’s first season in 2014 with the addition of a new attraction, Flow Rider, that challenges riders to “surf” in the desert. Endless entertainment on the water slides, tidal wave, lazy river and family play area leaves kids exhausted at the end of the day. The 21-acre park is a manageable size with some shade and lounge chairs (and misters) when you need a break.
TIP: Bring flip flops that the kids can wear when walking between rides because the cement heats up quickly under the desert sun.
When you’ve had enough pool time, the Children’s Discovery Museum of The Desert, located in Rancho Mirage is a good choice for educational fun with kids under ten. Over 50 hands-on exhibits entertain kids and favorites include rope mazes, rock climbing and the highly touted painting of a real VW bug. There’s also a roped-off area for toddlers.
The Coachella Valley produces 90% of the world’s dates and the sweet fruit is used in kid-favorite ice cream shakes and a variety of baked goods. For visitors driving from Southern California, Hadley Fruit Orchards store in Cabazon is a well-known pitstop that offers every imaginable date product and date and banana-date shakes. You can also find a date shake at Palm Springs Fudge and Chocolate in downtown Palm Springs and at the quirky Shields Date Garden in Indio.
Photos by Kristi Marcelle unless otherwise noted
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