When you think of Palm Springs, you probably think of many things – classic Hollywood stars, mid-century mod décor, Coachella, hot weather, clubbing the night away. You might not think about things to do with the kids, but the fact is that this town and the towns surrounding it are super kid friendly. Whether you like to get outside or are looking for a place to play, whether your kids love dinosaurs or animals, rest assured this roasty toasty desert town has something for your family.
Here is my super duper thorough list of things to do in Palm Springs with kids!
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a hit with anyone of any age. What’s not to love about zipping your way from the desert up into an alpine escape over the course of about 10 minutes? The trams travel more than two and a half miles, and along the way the cars slowly rotate so you’ll get a nice view of Chino Canyon and Mt. San Jacinto State Park and the valley below. The top is at an elevation of 8,516 feet and feels a world away with pine trees and possibly even some snow. You can dine at restaurants, enjoy the view, visit the natural history museum, watch some documentaries about the area, or hike on more than 50 miles of trails.
Palm Desert Aquatic Center
Why hang out at the hotel pool when you could hang out by eight sheer acres of watery goodness? The Palm Desert Aquatic Center offers community perks like swim classes, but also serves up a swimming pool, a zero depth pool, a splash playground, diving boards, and water slides. Bonus, as well as being one of the best things to do with kids in town, this is also one of the most affordable!
Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert
With more than 80 hands-on exhibits spread through three buildings, the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert is perfect for kids of all ages. There’s an outdoors area as well, but if the weather is too hot, then you might want to skip it. This is one of the best places to take the kids if you’re in the Palm Springs area during the hot summer months. Your kids may well learn a few things at this museum, but the focus is all on fun and even adults will likely find themselves learning to tie new knots or trying to puzzle their way through a brain teaser or two!
Palm Springs Walk of Stars
I’m including the Walk of Stars on the list because it’s part of what makes Palm Springs quintessentially Palm Springs – a little glitzy, a little retro, and a whole lot of connection to the Hollywood jet set. Granted, if you bring your kids here, they likely won’t know anyone featured on the Walk of Stars (heck, you might not know most of these people either), but look for names you do know. James Earl Jones (hello, Darth Vader), Ronald Reagan, President Dwight Eisenhower, and Debbie Gibson are all among the more than 400 stars lining the streets of downtown Palm Springs. Plus, this helps you explore downtown Palm Springs, which is never a bad thing.
Shield’s Date Garden
Hands down, this is one of my favorite things to do in the Palm Springs area. Located in Indio, a few towns over from Palm Springs on Highway 111, Shield’s is the place to be if you enjoy a good date. Or lots of good dates. You will see more varieties of dates here than you have probably ever seen, and you can sample them in a round of speed dating (see what I did there?) to find your perfect match. Personally, I enjoy a good classic Deglet Noor date, but above all I love the packs of date confections they sell here – dates mashed up with coconut and topped with an almond? Yes, please! Dates stuffed with walnuts?? OKAY!!! There’s even a counter where you can order a date shake, and you can’t really go wrong with those, especially for kids as dates might ignite pickiness, but who doesn’t love a milkshake? The shop also sells all kinds of souvenirs and food items, from date sugar to salad dressing. Don’t miss ducking into the little theater off the store either where you can watch the engaging film with an equally engaging title: “The Romance & Sex Life of the Date” (because dates are manually pollinated, but the movie is in actuality not very sexy at all…it’s just about date farming and it’s pleasantly old timey). Stay for a meal in the gardens at The Café at Shields, or take a walk through the garden, which is a religious garden decorated with statues showing the life of Christ (which I did NOT know the first time I went, so that made the experience a little more interesting to figure out, but the gardens are beautiful to wander whether you’re religious or not).
The River at Rancho Mirage
Rancho Mirage is one of the towns near Palm Springs and it’s home to The River, which is an outdoor shopping center that’s really beautiful to walk around. There is an artificial river flowing through it, which might be enough to thrill young children. More importantly, your sweet tooth won’t be disappointed as there’s a Ben & Jerry’s, a Cheesecake Factory, and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to sugar up everyone in the family. This isn’t my favorite place to go on an afternoon in July when the temperatures are sizzling, but it’s a nice spot to catch a movie, grab a bite to eat, or keep an eye on for events (I’ve spotted an ice skating rink here around the holidays, for instance).
Westfield Palm Desert Mall
Yep. It’s just a mall. I’m including the Palm Desert Mall on this list in case you’re visiting in the summer and it’s a million degrees and you just need to get the kids out of the hotel or grandma’s house and go somewhere. You can go here and let the kids play at the PlaySpace or, if you have younger ones, there’s a Family Lounge in the upper level in the food court where you can nurse, play with a few toys, watch some kid-friendly TV, and generally just take a break.
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
Kids love zoos. And what’s not to love? The animals at the Living Desert are pleasantly varied. You’ll spot desert animals like sand cats and meerkats and camels, but also plenty of African animals like giraffes and zebras and warthogs. Fun bonus activities include feeding the giraffes, riding the carousel, and a huge G-scale model train.
Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve
There are all kinds of amazing places to go hiking in the area, but if you have smaller children and don’t want to trek out into the wilderness, then Thousand Palms Oasis is the place for you (though there are 30 miles of trails so if you want to get out in nature, you can certainly do that here, but I’ve always stuck relatively close in). Frankly, I enjoyed stopping by here for some serenity among the palm trees long before I had a child so it’s not limited to families by any means. Every time I’ve been here, it’s been pretty quiet with relatively few visitors walking the trails, probably because it’s not exactly a tourist draw. Stop by the visitor center first and chat with the staff if you want to learn more about the area and its history, but the fact I found most interesting was that most of this area burned in 1957, so just about all the palm trees here are younger than that…but they look ancient. They’re huge and towering and not like the well-manicured palm trees throughout the rest of the area. These are wild palm trees and they’re awesome. Another awesome point – the San Andreas fault line runs right through this place. You can walk right up to it and see where the earth has cracked open.
Palm Springs Air Museum
Growing up, my dad always took us to air museums. He was obsessed with planes. I can’t say I shared his enthusiasm, but if you have a kid who loves getting up close and personal with historical planes, then the Palm Springs Air Museum is an excellent place to do it. This museum is home to one of the world’s biggest collections of flyable World War II planes, as well as aircraft from Korea and Vietnam. You can even book flights in some of these WWII planes, but book in advance if you’re interested as it’s not included with museum admission and it’s not exactly a walk-up kind of dealio.
Moorten Botanical Garden
Okay, so most kids don’t wake up in the morning and ask if you can take them to see a bunch of plants, but tell them that the Moorten Botanical Garden is also a cactarium. What’s that, they ask? It’s where you see cactuses, of course. They agree, that’s pretty cool and agree to go. And then you hear them start calling each other cactarium as an insult, but at least they learned a new word, right?
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is a unique kind of place…a little bit alien, even, with all its strange, disjointed Joshua trees and giant boulders. Like most national parks, you can camp overnight or choose to explore by day. I’ve never stayed overnight, but enjoy the park as a day hike destination. For technical climbers, the boulders at this park provide a fun spot to break out the gear and climb. When I go, I’m looking for the exact opposite situation – boulders that are friendly enough to people who didn’t bring (or don’t own, let’s be honest) their rock climbing gear, but still want to scramble over some giant rocks. Both situations exist in good supply. With 300 miles of hiking trails, you can find a bit of everything. If you’ve got young kids in tow or are just not a hiker, this is an amazing place to merely drive through too. The landscape is a bit otherworldly.
There are several Indian Canyons to hike in the area. Provided you’re not visiting in the summer (unless you like hiking in 120 degree heat…and if you do, no joke, bring about a gallon of water per hour because you will literally fry out here), they all offer some stellar scenery, including petroglyphs and a 60-foot waterfall in Tahquitz Canyon. In fact, if you only have intent to visit one canyon, Tahquitz is the place to start as you’ll also find a visitor center where you can see artifacts and learn about the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians who lived in this area from ancient times forward. Other canyons to hike in the area include the 15-mile long Palm Canyon, lush Andreas Canyon, and more secluded Murray Canyon.
Pioneertown was founded in 1946 by old Hollywood greats like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry to be not only a movie set, but also a place people could visit. The town is built to look like an Old West town from the 1880s, and more than 50 movies were filmed here in the 1940s and ‘50s! Today, there are a few things you can do here. You can stay at the hotel, which puts you about 15 minutes away from Joshua Tree National Park. Make sure to stop in at Pappy + Harriet’s for lunch or dinner, or live music if your kids are older as this little desert hot spot is known for its quality live acts (and even lands some well-known names here and there). But perhaps the best thing to do is let the kids run free and explore the old storefronts and props and snap some really unique photos.
What started as a roadside attraction with a giant T-rex has grown to more than 50 huge dinosaurs, a dinosaur dig, fossil panning, and you can even climb up inside of the giant T-rex. What’s not to love? Well, the drive from Palm Springs to the Cabazon Dinosaurs isn’t exactly something to love if your kids don’t like being in the car, but promise them a whole bunch of dinosaurs and that should help. And for you, it will help that Cabazon is a huge outlet mall.
I will just warn you up front that you will likely not be impressed by the Salton Sea. It’s an odd sort of place. The last time I went, there had been a big fish die off and thousands of dead fish in various states of decay lined the shores (this happens periodically here). See what I mean? Not for everybody, and yet…kind of interesting. If you or someone you’re with enjoys geology, then dig on in as the Salton Sea has a long and fascinating history. In ancient times, the Salton Sea was part of a huge sea that later dried up. In the early 1900s, irrigation canals gone wrong created the lake as it is today and also buried the town of Salton and Native American land in the process. For a while in the 1950s, the Salton Sea became a resort area, but – how do I say this nicely – it’s kind of a nasty, salty, polluted lake so recreation didn’t last long. Swarms of dead fish washing up kind of put a damper on water skiing. You can visit the Salton Sea State Recreation Area and walk along the shore or have a picnic while you ponder how much of the sand is dead fish bones (let me solve your ponders – all of it. It’s all dead fish bones. Crunch crunch crunch!!). And I know I’m really selling it, but I’ve actually been out there a few times and it’s always an interesting place. Just make sure you bring your GPS and keep an eye on where you’re going because if you miss your turn, it’s not tough to end up in Mexico!