Not just for retirees, this desert oasis proves that it can be a playground for families, too.
Originally known as “The Playground of the Stars,” the Palm Springs/Palm Desert offers plenty of family fun. Yes, there are lots of retirees living here, but with an average of 350 days of sunny weather each year, there’s more than enough sunshine to go around.
What to do?
Hands down, our favorite activity in Palm Springs is riding ATVs (all-terrain vehicles). Since we’re novices, the closed course at Off Road Rentals is a perfect place to learn. To drive, you need to be at least 6-years old; smaller kid-sized ATVs are available. Upon arrival, everyone watches a safety video and is outfitted with helmets and goggles. The not-so-friendly attendant then explains the shifting procedure. Don’t worry if you don’t get it at first; we didn’t either. But soon your family will be out on the course, testing your skills and nerve on a variety of terrains. The ride lasts about 45 minutes, longer if no one is waiting. Cost: Rider $40.
KidTripster Tip: Go early in the day before it gets too hot.
Looking to get a bird’s eye view of the Coachella Valley? Board the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the world’s largest rotating tram car, and ride two miles up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park. From the observation deck, you can take photos of the thousands of windmills that dot the landscape below. There are over 50 miles of hiking here, if you feel like working up a sweat. Otherwise, bring a light jacket; the temperature is considerably cooler than the valley floor. Cost: Youth (3-12) $17; Adult $25.
KidTripster Tip: Skip the restaurants here. They’re overpriced and not that great.
Joshua Tree National Park is about a hour drive from Palm Springs and makes a great day trip. My sons, ages 12 and 15, like scrambling over boulders at Jumbo Rocks. I enjoy the short walk at Cholla Cactus Garden, where vibrant cactus flowers bloom in the spring. And of course, you can see the oddly-shaped trees that give the park its name. Cost: Car $20.
With all this time in the desert, you’re going to need to cool down. Head over to Wet ’n Wild Palm Springs. The water park has two, seven-stories-tall Tidal Wave Tower speed slides, an 800,000-gallon Riptide Reef wave pool, and a FlowRider surf simulator. There are also pint-sized slides and a splash pool for the little ones. Cost at the gate: Youth (3-11) $28; Adult $39; Parking $10; discounted tickets available online; also look for online promotional coupon codes.
KidTripster Tip: Short on time? Go after 3 p.m. for the discounted rate of $21.
Where to eat?
If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, Las Casuelas Terraza (222 S. Palm Canyon ) delivers. The restaurant has an outdoor patio with a live band, dance floor, and bar. It’s great for people watching, but it can be rather loud. No kids’ menu here, but the portions are big enough to share with your child. The margaritas are even bigger. You can have those all to yourself.
Ruby’s Diner (155 S. Palm Canyon) is a Palm Springs family favorite. The 50s-style diner serves a wide variety of salads, mouth-watering burgers, and to-die-for milkshakes. Have the super-friendly staff escort you to the outdoor seating area, complete with water misters. Breakfast is served all day long, too.
Where to stay?
If you're traveling in an RV, consider Emerald Desert RV Resort. It's really more of a resort than an RV park with amenities like two pools, tennis courts, putting green, and pickleball courts. Never played pickle ball? Just head to the courts in the morning when the full-time residents are playing; they’ll teach you the rules. Then return in the evening when you’ll have the courts to yourself. The resort has full hookups, cable, and Wi-Fi. Rates start at $50/night.
KidTripster Tip: While the resort welcomes families, the full-time community here is mostly retirees. A few got their feathers ruffled by kids doing some low-key, roughhousing at the pool. Go in the morning, and you’ll find the pool empty.
If you're looking for more a full-service resort experience, head to the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort and Spa. Uber kid-friendly, this resort features three family pools, two golf courses, and a world-class tennis facility. The expansive property is also an Audubon-certified bird sanctuary with many imported species like flamingos, swans, and macaws.
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Palm Springs and Palm Desert are about a 2-hour drive from Los Angeles or San Diego. The cities are serviced by Palm Springs International Airport.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels with her husband and two sons. She’s logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family’s RV.