Palm Springs, California, is much more than a desert dotted with golf courses. Californians have long known it to be a family-friendly destination with engaging activities and attractions (not to mention the perfect pool weather year round). Find out what else might surprise you about Palm Springs and why you should consider it for a trip with your kids.
You might know Palm Springs, California, for its lusciously green golf courses in the desert. It’s also famous as a place where grandma and grandpa retire in their golden years. Not everyone thinks of it as a destination for a family vacation!
After spending three days in the area during spring break this year with my family (including my kids, ages 7 and 2.5), we found an impressive array of things to do in Palm Springs for family travelers. If you are considering a trip there, here are eight things to know about Palm Springs with kids.
1. There’s much more to do than golf.
Think Palm Springs is all golf courses and retirees? Think again. Many Los Angeles area families have been vacationing in Palm Springs for years, but the rest of the country still has a bit of a skewed demographic perspective of the area. On my last visit during spring break with my family, we were amazed at how many travelers with young kids could be found. We found our itinerary filled with activities our kids adored – even without a golf excursion. There’s no reason families with kids should write Palm Springs off. Plus, it’s naturally a great fit for a multi-generational trip.
2. For family-friendly accommodations, look beyond the city of Palm Springs proper.
If you are planning a visit to Palm Springs, it’s important to know the geography of the area to make the right vacation planning choices. The greater Palm Springs area is made up of several cities, including Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Indio, Coachella, and more. While the main drag in Palm Springs proper has a number of hotels and restaurants with classic history, I’d recommend that families cast a wider net when looking for accommodations. Many of the larger resorts with amenities like amazing pools and kids clubs are located in the nearby towns. Some of the best (but also the priciest) options include the Omni Rancho Las Palmas, Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa, and La Quinta Resort & Club. We stayed at the Westin Mission Hills Resort in Rancho Mirage using Starwood points, which was not quite as luxurious but had all of the same kid-friendly amenities at a lower price.
3. One of America’s most kid-friendly and unique national parks is a day trip away.
Joshua Tree National Park is just an hour away from Palm Springs and is a must-do for family travelers in the area. The weird and wonderful desert landscape is like a Dr. Seuss book come to life. The park has numerous kid-friendly hikes and attractions and is small enough to be able to tackle a lot of its best offerings in a single day visit.
4. Remember to pack a winter jacket.
Palm Springs is in the desert, so it is extremely hot most of the year. My family visited in late March and we were comfortable in sleeveless attire. So why on earth would you need a winter coat? One of Palm Springs most famous attractions is the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which ascends the cliffs of Chino Canyon up to Mt. Jacinto State Park. When my family was there in late March, it was snowing at the top! A change of cold weather clothing is a necessity on a Palm Springs vacation to experience this unique attraction.
5. Palm Springs offers one of the best real life history lessons your kids can experience.
We are losing members of Greatest Generation by the second, but in Palm Springs, America’s World War II history is alive, well, and celebrated at the Palm Springs Air Museum. This aviation museum, built in 1996, is a monument to World War II history. Veterans volunteer and work there and interact with even the youngest of visitors in meaningful ways. A visit to the museum offers the rare opportunity to see both the planes and the people who served so honorably seven decades ago. This attraction was by far the most meaningful stop for me in my family’s travels year. It had the added bonus of being engaging for young kids, especially if your little ones are huge airplane geeks like my frequent flyers are.
6. One of America’s wackiest roadside attractions is a stone’s throw away.
Just outside of Palm Springs in the town of Cabazon stands one of America’s most famous quirky roadside attractions. The Cabazon Dinosaurs (made famous in the 1985 movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) tower over the desert landscape just off I-10. The brontosaurus houses an appropriately cheesy gift shop and is free to enter. The crown jewel, however, is the T-Rex where you can pay to climb inside the dinosaur’s mouth and relive Pee Wee’s road trip for yourself.
7. You can find animal experiences to rival Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
One of the top spots travelers with kids should visit while in Palm Springs is the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens. This zoo is reminiscent of the best of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, with wide open spaces for animals and well-themed areas like an African village and marketplace. Kids will love the giraffe-feeding, petting zoo, historical carousel, and playground on-site. The zoo is enormous, so you’ll need a full day to experience it all, especially if you want to explore some of the hiking trails or take one of the private safaris. Consider a stroller for younger kids (I’d recommend an all-terrain stroller as many of the paths are sand or dirt). Alternatively, pay for the shuttle system to take you around, especially on hot days.
8. There are many budget-friendly ways to get to Palm Springs.
Palm Springs is accessible by car for a lot of residents of major southwestern cities, making it a perfect option for a money-saving road trip. Both Phoenix and Las Vegas are under a 4 hour drive, and Los Angeles is close enough for a day trip or a weekend jaunt. My family drove down from Northern California with no problem, which saved on our usual air travel costs.
For visitors who need to arrive by air, the good news is that there are a lot of choices which helps to drive prices down as well. Palm Springs has its own airport in town (PSP) with non-stop flights to 32 cities and served by Virgin America, Alaska, American, and United. Another easy alternative is the Ontario Airport (ONT) only 70 miles away, served by Alaska, American, United, Delta, AeroMexico, Volaris, and Southwest. Finally, many visitors to Palm Springs fly into LAX which is about a 2 hour drive. With three airport options, chances are good you can find a flight deal.
Have you visited Palm Springs with kids? Share your best tips and favorite attractions.