When I told a few friends that my husband and I had planned a spring break road trip to Palm Springs earlier this year, I must admit I got a few funny looks. While Southern Californians think of Palm Springs as a family-friendly destination, most of the rest of the country only knows it as the place where you go to golf or where grandma and grandpa move to retire.
But I’m the mom who took a toddler to Las Vegas for spring break last year. Palm Springs seemed infinitely more sensible, even if my family didn’t quite fit the usual visitor demographic. But it turns out we did! In fact, we found we had chosen quite wisely in selecting Palm Springs as a destination for our young kids (ages almost 7 and 2.5 at the time of our trip). The amazing weather and family-friendly attractions made for a relaxing three days and three nights during our spring break travels. We can’t wait to find an excuse to head back.
Here are a few reasons why Palm Springs is truly an ideal destination for young kids, with tips for what to do and see.
The Living Desert
I’ve been to a lot of zoos in my travels but the Living Desert was truly one of the very best I’ve ever experienced. Part zoo, part botanical gardens, the Living Desert has a huge footprint in Palm Desert about 20 minutes south of Palm Springs.
My family visited during spring break week so we definitely experienced a few long lines, particularly at entry. Once we were in, however, the place was so massive that there were rarely any crowding issues. While the animals are a huge draw, also just make time for kids to explore and play. My toddler especially loved the carousel and playground.
TwT Tip: A stroller is a necessity at the Living Desert with kids under 3 given the size of the complex. However, many of the areas you’ll need to roll it on are made of sand and dirt. If you can, opt for an all-terrain or jogging stroller instead of an umbrella stroller.
Awesome Resort Pools
Warm desert air means that recreation centers around water nearly year round in Palm Springs. There are many family-friendly resorts with amazing pools in the Coachella Valley area, where Palm Springs is located. Quite a few of these resorts aren’t in Palm Springs proper, but rather in the surrounding towns. Be sure to research resorts in nearby Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City, and Indian Wells for all the options. Even if you opt for more budget-friendly accommodations in a hotel rather than a sprawling resort, chances are you can find a place with a great pool for the kids.
My family stayed just outside of Palm Springs in Rancho Mirage at the Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa. While the resort itself was a bit of a mixed bag for the price, there was no arguing with the waterslide and the three on-site pools our kids enjoyed.
Palm Springs Air Museum
My love of flying has definitely rubbed off on my children, so I suspected that the Palm Springs Air Museum would be a major hit. It was!
What I didn’t expect, however, was just how meaningful the visit would be for me. The museum focuses primarily on World World II era aviation and has an impressive collection of mint condition historic planes. Walking through the museum felt like taking a walk with the Greatest Generation. Veterans were everywhere – touring with their families, listening to lectures, and working as volunteers. Touring the exhibits, it was impossible not to be deeply grateful for their sacrifice and in awe of what they lived through. If there ever were a place where history comes alive, this is it.
The museum has plenty for children to do and see. Older kids should try the flight simulators upstairs and kids of all ages will enjoy getting to sit in the cockpit of a World War II era plane. There’s even a kids education area near the snack bar where children can sit in a helicopter cockpit or climb on an old fire engine.
TwT Tip: Have a huge aviation geek in the family? The museum offers flights in some of the historic planes for a fee. It might well be worth the splurge for true enthusiasts. If it’s not in the budget to participate, you can still watch the plane taxi and takeoff.
The mark of a quality American roadside attraction is its randomness. Giant dinosaurs perched in the middle of nowhere in the desert? Random. And totally awesome for kids and adults alike.
If the Cabazon Dinosaurs look familiar you, you can thank Paul Reubens for that. The roadside attraction was the setting of several scenes in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. My husband has been a lifelong fan of the movie, so this destination about 15 minutes outside of Palm Springs was a bucket list pitstop for him. You must pay to climb into the T-Rex’s mouth and admission is a bit pricey, but totally worth it (as evidenced by our glee below!).
Joshua Tree National Park
One of America’s most weirdly beautiful national parks is within an easy day trip’s distance of Palm Springs. My family planned a full day to tour the park, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. There’s so much to do and see there that it deserved a whole post of its own, so make sure to read my tips for Joshua Tree with kids.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Our final stop in Palm Springs was another kid-friendly attraction that shouldn’t be missed: the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This tram ascends the cliffs of Chino Canyon up to Mt. Jacinto State Park overlooking the valley for amazing views. It rotates, which gives you panoramic views and a few thrills for the kids. There are several eateries at the top. In summer, you can even venture into the park for hiking and other outdoor adventures. In winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are available. The tram is pretty pricey for families ($25.95 for adults and $16.95 for kids 3-12 as of July 2016), but worth the splurge.
TwT Tip: Dress for winter weather, especially if you are visiting in spring. It was snowing at the top when we made our ascent, so we had fun getting photos in shorts and light hoodies – but only for a minute!
Tips for Traveling to Palm Springs with Young Kids
- Air Travel: The closest airport is PSP (located adjacent to the Air Museum, in fact). You can also fly to any number of LA area airports and drive the 1-2 hours but traffic may be an issue. The closest is Ontario (ONT) which is about 70 miles away.
- Getting Around: You’ll definitely need a car for your visit – Palm Springs is lots of sprawl with a million golf courses in the middle of it all taking up lots of land. Plan for plenty of drive time going from town to town – the attractions are a bit further apart than you might expect.
- Where to Eat: Many restaurants are kid-friendly, and we found many budget-friendly options as well. A can’t miss classic place to eat is Sherman’s Deli and Cafe in downtown Palm Springs with mile high sandwiches and mouth-watering baked goods (there’s also a location in Palm Desert).
Disclosure: Visit Palm Springs arranged for complimentary admission for my family to the Living Desert, the Air Museum, and the Aerial Tramway for review purposes. All other travel costs were at my own expense. As always, all opinions are my own.