Our family’s first trip to Palm Springs was in 2016. When I told friends that my husband and I had planned it as a major stop along Southern California spring break road trip, I must admit I got a few funny looks. While Southern Californians may know that Palm Springs is a family-friendly destination, most of the rest of the country only thinks of it as a place to golf, where grandma and grandpa move to retire, or as a town with an enviable and fabulous gay party scene.
But I’m the mom who took a toddler to Las Vegas (more than once). Palm Springs seemed infinitely more sensible, even if my family didn’t seem to 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 who were then ages almost 7 and 2.5.
Since that trip, we have just keep coming back to Palm Springs. Most recently, we spent the last two Thanksgiving weeks in the Palm Springs area, enjoying the amazing weather and family-friendly attractions on vacation with extended family (including a new toddler addition, my nephew). My kids are quite a bit older now, but we keep uncovering new things to do and see for every age on our desert vacations.
So if you are considering Palm Springs with kids – particularly younger ones – here are the essential things to do and see.
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Things to Do in Palm Springs with Young Kids
1. 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 last 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. As a toddler, my son especially loved the carousel and playground.
Trips with Tykes 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.
2. 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 (note this was pre-pandemic and is likely not the case at the moment). 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.
Trips with Tykes 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.
3. Cabazon Dinosaurs
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.
Admission to the enclosed portion of the park where you can climb into the T-Rex’s mouth is a bit pricey, but totally worth it (as evidenced by our glee below!). If you prefer just to get a quick selfie of the dinosaur pair for free, it’s entirely possible to do that without paying for admission. In recent years, the attraction has taken to painting the dinosaurs in various seasonal colors – a brilliant gimmick that always makes us want to stop to see the changes.
4. Joshua Tree National Park
One of America’s most weirdly beautiful national parks is within day trip’s distance of Palm Springs. Joshua Tree is full of desert hikes – many of which are entirely doable even for the youngest of national parks visitors.
On our family’s first visit to Palm Springs, we planned a full day to tour the park from our home base in Rancho Mirage, and it was one of the highlights of our trip. There’s so much to do and see there that Joshua Tree deserved a whole post of its own, so make sure to read my tips for Joshua Tree with kids for lots more information and tips.
5. Indian Canyons
If Joshua Tree is too far of a drive for you (particularly on shorter trips), it’s still possible to get in a magnificent hike and time outdoors in the desert landscape closer to town. Just outside of the city of Palm Springs is Indian Canyons, a park located on tribal land with some impressive views and desert oases to explore.
Our family has now hiked Andreas Canyon with the park twice. It’s a family-friendly 1.2 mile hike with minimal elevation changes. Young kids as well as mobile grandparents could all easily do this one together as we have. A somewhat longer but still moderate hike at Palm Canyon is another good choice.
Admission is pricey – $12 per adult and $6 per child 6-12 (not per car) – making it more expensive for a family to visit than many national parks. But the convenient location makes this worth the cost if you like to get outdoors.
Trips with Tykes Tip: Arrive early in the morning near park opening time to avoid the car line that always backs up at the pay station. By midday this queue can be a half hour or longer!
6. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
One of the most iconic stops in Palm Springs is the kid-friendly 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 everyone in the family. There are several eateries at the top as well.
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 ($28.95 for adults and $16.95 for kids 3-12 as of early 2022), but worth the splurge.
Trips with Tykes Tip: Dress for winter weather, especially if you are visiting in shoulder season. It was snowing at the top when we made our ascent in spring, so we had fun getting snow photos in shorts and light hoodies – but only for a minute!
7. Downtown Palm Springs
While shopping is an activity a lot of kids dread on vacation, Palm Springs has one shopping district worth of a visit with the family. Palm Canyon Drive in Downtown Palm Springs is more than just shops and restaurants – it’s a full blown scene that is fun to walk and explore.
The area is home to the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. My kids had fun trying to spot celebrity names that they recognized as we walked along the street. Stop into Lappert’s for a Dole Whip or ice cream or grab a milkshake at Great Shakes (the date shake is a local favorite). Just a block off of the main drag is the “Forever Marilyn” statue of Marilyn Monroe in her most famous pose.
Adjacent to Downtown Palm Springs are a lot of fancier neighborhoods where many celebrities have second homes. Take a drive or a stroll through them. You might be surprised how your kids will connect to the Jetsons-like mid-century modern architecture on display. Thanks to my brother-in-law, we’ve made it a family tradition the last two Thanksgivings to run our own “Turkey Trot” through Old and Vista Las Palmas, two of the tony neighborhoods. Highly recommended!
8. Awesome Resort Pools
Warm desert air means that many Palm Springs activities are centered around water close to year round in Palm Springs. If you don’t spend a lot of time in an awesome pool when you are in town, you are missing out!
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. My family has stayed just outside of Palm Springs in Rancho Mirage at the Westin Rancho Mirage Resort & Spa, which recently was completely renovated. There was no arguing with the waterslide and the three on-site pools our kids enjoyed.
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. Additionally, so many vacation rentals have backyard pools and hot tubs so you can still enjoy these amenities even if you want to forgo shared accommodations entirely.
Tips for Traveling to Palm Springs with Young Kids
- Air Travel: The closest airport is PSP (located adjacent to the Air Museum, in fact), which has seen a major increase in service the last few years. Our family’s favorite – Southwest Airlines – has added a number of routes. You can also fly to any number of LA area airports and drive the 1-2 hours but traffic from the LA area is often a major issue, especially around major holidays. 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).
Where to Stay in Palm Springs with Kids
Looking for a family-friendly resort or vacation rental? The Greater Palm Springs Area is teeming with them! Here are a few our family recommends:
- Westin Rancho Mirage Golf Resort & Spa (Rancho Mirage): large rooms with several suite layouts available, multiple pools, bowling alley, kids club, on-site bike rentals, mini golf, and lots of seasonal special events.
- Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa (Rancho Mirage): large rooms, Splashtopia water park
- Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa (Indian Wells): large rooms (some that sleep up to 6) with villas and suites also available, waterpark with dueling water slides, lazy river and splash pad
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.
Saturday 27th of October 2018
Thank you for this post! I am planning a family trip to Palm Springs with my 6 yo daughter so your post gave me lots of good ideas!
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