My guess is that when you think of Palm Springs, you think of exotic cocktails, lying by the pool, hiking in the desert, exploring art galleries, dining at retro eateries and nightclubbing with the likes of Frank Sinatra impersonators. Little did you know that the town is actually full of child-friendly spots.
Whether you go for a few days or a full week, you won’t run out of things to do with the kids. Palm Springs is really easy to get to, as well. It’s a mere two-hour drive from Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico and an easy flight from Phoenix, Arizona.
Thinking I traveled there recently? You are correct, and I have the complete low-down on what to do with kids in Palm Springs. My son and I just spent 3 days exploring the city. My so was mesmerized by the entire valley’s beauty. He wants to live there when he grows up, and I’m rethinking my retirement plans. I hadn’t been there for a good 15 years, when my husband, then my boyfriend, and I traveled there from L.A. where I there was for business.
As soon as we arrived and took sight of the palm trees that sweep the land, memories of our visit came back to my mind instantly (Who could forget being madly in love while hiking through the Joshua Tree Desert?) and I realized how lucky I was to have brought my son to such a special place.
Located at the base of the Mount San Jacinto Mountains, Palm Springs is known for its sunny skies, year-round sunshine, stunning landscape, palm tree lined streets and starry nights. We were happy to take a break from our daily NY routine for a taste of sunshine and laid back California life. I was amazed by the breadth of things to do with my 9-year old and feel a return trip in our near future with the other half of our clan.
Here’s the low-down on visiting Palm Springs with kids:
WHERE TO STAY:
Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa was our designated stomping ground, and I was thrilled to discover such a Mediterranean styled, family-friendly resort located in the heart of Palm Springs. It’s also the only area resort to have its own water park with water slides and a lazy river called Splashtopia. The resort was acquired by the Omni chain and given a upgrade a few years ago. It’s expansive, with many buildings located around a river full of palm trees and lush foliage. It is also the home to a Country Club and apparently President Obama stayed there on a recent trip.
Despite its status as a 4-star hotel,the hotel is quite elegant, very clean and full of amenities for all ages. Our room was comfortable, with one King-sized bed and plenty of room for our belongings. We also had a desk, cozy reading chair, mini bar, free high-speed internet, a large flat-screen TV with cable/satellite, bathrobes, iron and ironing board, hair dryer, small fridge, and an in-room safe. The spacious bathroom included a tub with shower, a vanity table and Spa Las Palmas bath products. We also had a lovely patio with a charming table where we could sit in the morning, drinking coffee and eating pancakes. Pack-n’-Plays are available at no charge, and there are a limited number of suites for families who need space.
Splashtopia was as fun for me as it was for my son. We floated on the lazy river (the most crowded one I’ve ever been in, but fun nonetheless), went up and down the two 100-foot water slides over and over again, and threw a bouncy ball in the big Splash Pool nearby. There is also a small beach for young kids and a Jacuzzi for everyone in the pool area, as well as a water-play area with fountains and sprinklers. The hotel hosts an adult only pool closer to the main entrance of the hotel called the Tranquility Pool where you can drink cocktails and read quietly (Splashtopia is not the place for that).
I also took advantage of Spa Las Palmas, the hotel’s spa that offers everything from massages, facials, scrubs and other offerings. The spa is for 18 years and up so my son had to wait in the lobby for me, and I wish I had more time to experience the beautiful Jacuzzi and sauna located in the locker room (he was waiting for me to go to Splashtopia). I had a 50-minute Therapeutic Massage which was absolutely heavenly and a real stress reliever. My therapist used desert botanical oils that not only smelled good but felt divine.
We had breakfast in their restaurant, blueEmber, but for other meals we wandered off the property. The beauty of the location is that there are a lot of restaurants in walking distance of the hotel. The River is across the street – a duplex full of restaurants and shops. More on food below.
WHAT TO DO:
Our first stop on our itinerary: the Living Desert, a zoo and botanical spread over 1,200 acres. We got there in the early morning, just before the heat broke, and started our walk around. My son was thrilled to come across various kind of cacti, some of which we accidentally bumped into (I told him we got “prickled”).
When we got tired and realized we didn’t have enough time to walk the park, we jumped on a tram, which took us all over. We came across animals from Africa to North America including giraffes, birds, tortoises, lizards, warhogs, zebras, goats, meerkats and cheetahs.
We nipped into the Animal Hospital for a demo, which was also a cool break from the heat, and strolled around their G-Scale Model Train Exhibit, complete with miniature desert trains. My son’s glee took me back to a time when life was all about trains. A lot has changed since then, but fortunately not everything. Find hours, directions and entrance fee info here.
Convinced that the Living Desert would be the best stop on our trip, my son we shocked to find just as much fun at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. We got on a tram to ride to climb the 8,516 feet to the top of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. It was our second experience in a rotating tramcar (our 1st on the London Wheel). The floor of the car actually rotated so we could get a glimpse of every nook and cranny of the Coachella Valley, a complete 360 degrees.
At the top, we had the option to go hiking or walk around the station. The top station includes overlooks, restaurants, a bar, a gift shop, and photo kiosk as well as restrooms and other amenities (including a very expensive bottle of water). The panoramic views from the top are stunning – Joshua Tree National Park to the left, Palm Springs and its nearby towns below, some of the many wind generators that line the Coachella Valley at the bottom of the mountain, and the Salton Sea to the right.
There were also views of the San Andreas Fault, where we would be later in the trip. There was no question that the tram would be a highlight of our trip and it may have topped the list. Ticket prices and admission info can be found here.
Admittedly, we were pooped when we got to the Palm Springs Air Museum, but I was anxious to see it. The Palm Springs Air Museum is a non-profit educational institution and home to one of the world’s largest collections of flyable WWII Airplanes.
In addition to flying aircraft, related artifacts, artwork and library sources are used to perpetuate American history. In addition to the planes and artifacts, there are real veterans who act as docents ready to educate and inform all guests about WWII’s history and talk about their experiences. We saw Warbirds, vintage cars, went inside a real B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber, and tested our flight skills on simulators in the library (my son’s favorite part of the day, much to my surprise). Pricing and hours can be found here.
Without a doubt, my son’s favorite part of our visit to Palm Springs was our Red Jeep tour in the San Andreas Fault. Bob, our tour guide, skillfully drove us through the desert, educating us about geology, earthquakes, Cahuilla Indians and the vast landscape created by the collision of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.
We learned about how the tribe used the desert’s plants and other materials for survival and what life was like in the desert for early settlers and gold miners. The views and scenery were dazzling and I loved our tour guide’s vast knowledge of the area. He had been with the company for 25 or so years and really knew his stuff.
First our guide took us to an oasis in the middle of the desert with over 40 billion acres of water underground and gorgeous palm trees and foliage to boot up to 11,000 years old (see the image directly above). He also showed us different plants that the Indians used to use for medical purposes and also eat, and had us sample or smell them all. Some of them were delicious! He also took us into an Indian village where we saw their tools and weapons on display and he shared stories about their lives.
My son especially enjoyed the last part of the tour when we hiked through the actual fault where two tectonic plates collide, hoping to avoid rattlesnakes and an actual earthquake. We went rock scrambling, basically, walking over the fault line. For info and to book, head here.
Located in the heart of the downtown area, the Palm Springs Art Museum offers a taste of American, Western American, Native American and Mesoamerican art and artifacts.
The museum has 28 galleries, five art storage vaults, two sculpture gardens and resource centers. Its permanent collection houses more than 55,000 objects. The museum was a great stop for us during this trip as it’s very relaxed, educational and, of course, air-conditioned. Ticket details can be found here.
For classic Hollywood lovers like me, I was happy to find a bit of Hollywood in the desert. Palm Springs has long been known as a hideaway for Hollywood stars, and as a tribute it has its own Walk of the Stars (akin to the one in Los Angeles.
I was happy to introduce my son to big names such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and other great Hollywood greats as we walked through downtown Palm Springs. The stars are scattered around town, we bumped into some exploring the Uptown Design District, too. More info can be found here.
WHERE TO EAT:
We ate at a number of eateries around Palm Springs that were all family-friendly. Here’s a quick listing:
Acqua Pazza - Right in Rancho Village across the street from our hotel is this cozy pizzeria called Acqua Pazza, a California Bistro. They use fresh ingredients and have a really great, reasonable kid’s menu. My son was thankful for his simple bowl of mac n’ cheese while I tried their home made white pizza with figs.
Lulu California Palm Springs – The sister restaurant of Acqua Pazza, Lulu, has a similar menu but a very different style. Located downtown, it is more retro, old Hollywood style and full of very interesting people. There weren’t a lot of kids when we went there for lunch, but there are plenty of options for the young ones. My son had a bowl of baked ziti while I munched on a raw tuna wrap (in lettuce). I was grateful for the healthy choices.
TRIO - Our favorite meal in Palm Springs was at TRIO in the Design District. We took advantage of their lunch special ($19 prix fixe) and happily munched on hummus, cevice, shepherd’s pie, fish tacos, bread pudding and a home made brownie. I loved the art deco decor and their commitment to green. There were many ladies who lunch dining near us, and I lived in Palm Springs, I’d be one of them.
Wilma & Frieda’s Cafe - Located in the Gardens on El Paseo, less than 10 minutes from our hotel, Wilma & Frieda offers classic American comfort food. They offer a variety of melts, burgers, sandwiches and salads. The restaurant is a homage to the owner’s two grandmothers and has a bit of a comfy, throwback feeling.
Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza and Grill – Also located in the Gardens is Sammy’s, this rustic pizza house offers other options for non-pizza eaters. My son had a pizza, I munched on a kale salad and we shared edamame as a starter. This wasn’t my favorite place – a bit of an odd place with unpleasant service.
KOBE Japanese Steak House – By the end of our trip, I was eager for a healthy meal so was pleasantly surprised at KOBE where we waited nearly 45 minutes for a space at a table with a hibachi chef, but it was worth it. Located in a replica of a Japanese country inn, this restaurant gives hearty portions of Japanese fare. I ordered the vegetarian/tofu issue and the portion was more than generous.
What are your favorite child-friendly places to visit in Palm Springs? I’d love to know. Please put them in the comments and stay tuned for more of my coverage on our visit to Palm Springs in the other publications I contribute to!
Disclosure: Most of my trip was covered by the Greater Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau but all opinions are my own.