Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Your guide to Palm Springs with the kids

A desert oasis you don't want to miss

You might consider Palm Springs a destination for adults. Given its high population of retirees, celebrity culture (they have a Hollywood Walk of Fame here!), and fantastic golf courses, who wouldn’t? But don’t underestimate the wealth of activities families can enjoy in this relaxing desert oasis. Whether exploring breathtaking palm groves or discovering exotic animals at the local zoo, there’s no shortage of fun. It’s the getaway you’ve been waiting for, and here are all the activities you don’t want to miss in Palm Springs with the kids. 

An enormous statue of Marilyn Monroe in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum. Other art pieces are displayed in this area, making for a nice art walk with the kids.

Travel details: When, where and what to pack

The ideal time to visit Palm Springs is October through May. Daytime temperatures reach the low to mid-70s and 80s. Avoid travel in the summer months (late June-September). The weather is scorching and hovers in the triple digits. Evenings cool to just seventy degrees.

Packing for Palm Springs can be tricky and depends on your activity level. My kids are 10 and 12, and we packed extra swimsuits, comfortable walking shoes, layers for hiking, hats, and sunscreen. Boots and hiking sticks were also helpful and fit snugly into our carry-on.

Direct flights (about 2.5 hours) from SeaTac to Palm Springs International Airport were the most economical for our 4-night stay. During peak season (holidays and school breaks), tickets can range from $300-$400/pp. Off-peak travel or booking 30+ days before your departure date can bring those prices down to $225-$250/pp.

To rent or not to rent…a car

At the heart of Palm Springs is a walkable city with many glitzy hotels and restaurants. The city’s also dotted with high-rise apartments and sweeping views of desert landscapes and mountains. You’ll need a car for transportation for more family-friendly exploration outside of the metropolis. Parking around the city was inexpensive or free and fairly easy to find.

Where to stay: Your city escape, close to it all

Nestled at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains and downtown Palm Springs, Palm Mountain Resort and Spa offers a space for serenity after a full day of adventure with the kids. Located at the edge of town, the resort is a short walk to the Palm Springs Art Museum and a few blocks from various restaurants, shops, Insta-worthy sculptures and street art. The city lights up at night and is bustling with music, outdoor dining and the hustle and bustle of tourists and locals.

Take an evening dip in the resort’s large pool, which is heated in the fall, winter, and spring and chilled in the summer. Hang out in the lounge chairs under orange-colored umbrellas or warm up around the fire pits with a snack and beverage purchased at Marketplace, located inside the hotel’s spacious lobby. Be sure to pick a grapefruit from the basket in the welcome area from the property’s grove.

The rooms at Palm Mountain Resort are spacious for a family of four and have a refrigerator (great for storing leftovers), television, and Wi-Fi access. However, they don’t have an on-site restaurant. Steps away from the hotel, though, you can choose from a variety of kid-friendly cuisines, including pizza, burgers, Chinese food, Mexican food, and more.

The walk-out patio offers a pleasant early morning respite for kids. My kids loved sitting in the brightly colored leaf-shaped chairs, reading books or playing games. We admired the green spaces between buildings and the grapefruit trees growing steps away from the room. Both kids had plenty of space to romp outside, pulling on the bundles of fruit from the trees to whiff its refreshing citrus smell. Complimentary bikes are offered to visitors who want to explore or meander the area on wheels.

Where to stay: Beach vibes

If your family is looking to lounge poolside with little chance of venturing into the city’s main street, then Margaritaville Resort and Spa is just the place to stay. With its beach flair and colorful decor, this resort comprises six dining options, two heated pools, and a gift shop. There really is no reason to leave. The rooms are spacious, with double doors leading to a soaking tub and a separate stand-up shower.

Head to the pool deck to play cornhole or laze around the large property until it’s time for your next meal.

Up, up and tram(a)way!

Brave the heights and get aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s the world’s largest rotating tram car and travels through Chino Canyon. Climbing up 8,516 feet, the tram reaches the Mountain Station at Mt. San Jacinto State Park in less than 10 minutes. Note: If you’re afraid of heights or get motion sickness easily, this excursion may not be for you.

Getting ready to hike Mt. San Jacinto State Park. Take note of the large pine cone in hand.

Once off the tram, go through the building to the small museum on the bottom floor. Here, you can learn a bit about the landscape and wildlife on this pristine mountaintop.

A steep path down to the mountain floor.

Head outside for a hike through the wilderness. There are four short, easy-to-moderate hikes, all connecting and crossing paths. Take the Long Valley Discovery Trail, a short and easy 3/4 mile loop that gives a nice introduction to plant and animal life. Watch for placards along the way describing the trees and landscape. We took some detours and climbed rocks, crossed over streams, collected the largest pine cones we’d ever seen, and sat on logs to take in the views of the Coachella Valley below. It was so cold at the top that we found ice in the streams.

Giant boulders were all around the park, many too big to climb over.

Bring your lunch to enjoy at the top or make reservations at one of the two restaurants. Peaks is a fine dining restaurant, while Pine’s Cafe offers a cafeteria-style dining experience.

Note: The weather at the top of the mountain is 20-30 degrees cooler than the desert floor. Bring layers for warmth.

Animal encounters at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

A zoo in the desert seems impossible, but it’s here! The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens has over 500 animals like giraffes, rhinoceros,  mountain lions, and cheetahs. Even more spectacular are the 50 immersive gardens with various native plants and cacti. Some plants spanned the length of our outstretched arms and stood taller than 6 feet.

Our most exciting experience at the zoo was an encounter with the giraffes. Hungry for lettuce leaves, they stood at railings, taking food from our hands. Their purple, rolled-up, sticky tongues unraveled and grabbed each leaf. We were smitten with these lovely creatures and stayed a while admiring their grandeur.

Other interesting exhibits were the clinic for sick animals, the wallaby/kangaroo exhibit (you are free to roam with these animals), and the model train exhibit (a delight for all aspiring little engineers).

Note: All gardens are open to walk through with no guardrails or netting around the vegetation. Young children will need supervision around prickly plants.

Desert hiking

Grab your hats and sunscreen, and head off on a hike through the Indian Canyons. These hikes are best led by a knowledgeable tour guide…preferably in a Red Jeep. We were fortunate to take a hiking tour with Red Jeep Tours and learned so many things about indigenous people and their culture as we traversed the hot, dry trails. We shielded ourselves from the sun underneath the shade of dozens of California fan palms. The California palms grow abundantly throughout the canyons and feed off the water that touches their roots.

Climbing up and over rock stairways and scaling small boulders, our guide showed us a variety of rock formations chiseled into the mountain from years of erosion. He also identified plants and their medicinal purposes, which the Agua Caliente Band of Cahulia Indians (California’s native tribe) used. One smelled and tasted like mint chewing gum. We spotted barrel cacti jutting out the crevices of the rock, hanging perpendicularly to the mountain’s edge, and visited a water cave where the stream of water flows most of the year.

Palm oasis in Indian Canyon.

It was an exhilarating and educational journey; this was a hike that we wouldn’t forget.

Note: Hikes are mild to moderate. Bring plenty of water and snacks. Children should be at least five years old to participate. Families may choose to hike independently, and a guide is not necessary,but half the fun was riding in an open-air jeep with the wind blowing through your hair.

Day trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Located an hour from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is an amazing excursion when on vacation in Palm Springs with kids. The Joshua Tree National Park landscape represents two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado. Both ecosystems are a mecca of various plants and animals.

Can you see the skull that’s formed in the rock?

Grab a map at the entrance and visit each viewpoint or hiking destination. The park is easily drivable, and viewing locations and hiking trails are easily marked with signage. While we didn’t do all the hikes in the park, our favorite stops were Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, and Skull Rock.

More than anything, my kids loved the enormous boulders around the park. They climbed and scaled the large rocks while we took pictures of their harrowing jumps from one stone to another. We managed to stay until sunset, and it was amazing to see the sky changing from yellow to pink as the clouds rolled in.

Note: Bring plenty of food and water. Hiking during the summer months is discouraged. There is no gas station, grocery store, hotel, or restaurant inside the park. All food/drink must be brought in and taken out. Evenings are cooler in the fall and spring months. Purchase your park pass ahead of your visit.

 

Jettsetter: Palm Springs Air Museum

I’ve got a child who hopes to be a pilot someday, and his love for planes is intense. The Palm Springs Air Museum did not disappoint with its engaging experience and variety of aircraft. Visitors could touch the planes, walk around them in the hangars, and get their questions answered by volunteer docents, many of whom had flown a particular plane on display at one time.

Pay $5 for the family and enter a plane through its belly. See where machine guns hung tightly to the window, red to aim and fire. Take a peek into the cockpit and get some perspective about the cramped space. Exit out the side door for fresh air and a view of the plane from the outside.

Housing one of the world’s largest collections of flyable WWII aircraft, you’ll want to add this to your list of kid-friendly things to do in Palm Springs.

A pretty breakfast of blueberry french toast at Grand Central Palm Springs.

Palm Springs with the kids: good eats

During our stay in Palm Springs, we tried various restaurants. Most places offered a kid’s menu or had options suitable for children on the adult menu.

Here are some of our favorites.

Bill’s Pizza: A good ol’ family-run pizza joint that serves full pies and pizza by the slice. We enjoyed the Caesar salad here and our pizza – meat lovers.

Juniper Table: Located at the Kimpton Rowan, steps away from Palm Mountain Resort, this restaurant offers healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner options with a Mediterranean influence. We tried the only thing on the menu with a delicious Spanish flair. Go for the breakfast tostada, and you’ll be the envy of the table. Craving something sweet? Have a slice of decadent coffeecake or a plump blueberry muffin. Coffee is strong here, with great cold-pressed juice options.

LULU California Bistro: Fancy a delicious cocktail with dinner? Head to LULU’s for their lovely drinks and tasty food. My kids enjoyed their creamy pasta and the homemade cotton candy as a treat.

The Sandwich Spot: Recommended by a Park Ranger, these sandwiches hit the spot on our trip to Joshua Tree. Order from the menu or make your own creation- just don’t forget to put it all on the Dutch Crunch bread- delicious!

Townie Bagels: For a good bagel, go where the locals go…and go early. Lines were out the door when we arrived at this small bagel shop. With limited seating inside, plan on taking your New York-style bagel to go. Have a seat outside to take your first bites.

Palm Springs with the kids: additional activities for young children

If you’re looking for additional activities for young children, check out these recommendations from the locals:

Cabazon Dinosaurs: Go for the roadside attraction and appeal. You’ll see gigantic dinosaurs made by local artists. It’s worth at least a photo snap.

Boomer Palm Springs: Offers bumper boats, go-karts, game rooms, and mini-golf—the perfect play space for kids of all ages.

Read more:

Monterey, California, is calling your name–add this destination to your bucket list

Kid-friendly things to do in the Tri-Cities

Wonderful staycations around the Seattle-area

About the Author

Jasmin Thankachen

Jasmin is the Associate Publisher at Seattle's Child and an Eastside mom of two boys. She enjoys parenting with lots of love and laughter. Co-Founder of PopUp StoryWalk, she also loves children's picture books, essay writing, and community stories.