Palm Springs is a desert oasis, situated two hours east of Los Angeles. A resort area popular for its sunny skies and warm temperatures in winter, there's more to do in Palm Springs than relax by the pool. Kids can ride camels and feed a giraffe at Living Desert Zoo & Gardens, take the aerial tramway up Mount San Jacinto, and try the local treat, date shakes.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway - Ride the aerial tramway from the desert floor to forests on Mt. San Jacinto. The tram, which rotates 360 degrees around, goes right up over spectacular craggy peaks, with panoramas of the desert in the distance. At the top are two restaurants, Peaks Restaurant (fancier) and Pines Cafe (casual) for lunch or dinner.
From Mountain Station, in summer it's a short walk over to Long Valley where you'll find picnic tables (bring your picnic lunch) and the ranger station. Take the Long Valley Discovery Trail (.06 mile) to learn about the plants and animals or Desert View Trail - (1.5 mile loop) for panoramic views of the desert below. For a longer hike through the forest, take the Round Valley trail (stop into the ranger station first to get a free day hike permit for this trail).
In the winter months, it may be warm in the desert below, but the peak often has snow, and it's cold (it was 35 degrees when we visited), so bring hats, jackets, gloves and warm shoes. Kids will want to have snowball fights, make snow angels, go sledding and play in the snow. Sleds can be rented or purchased at the Ski Center in Long Valley.
Palm Springs Air Museum - The Air Museum is chock full of every major plane of World War II in perfect condition, helicopters from Korea and Vietnam, plus a diorama of the attack on Pearl Harbor and huge ship models. Take a tour to explore inside a real B-17 bomber. Volunteers in the museum know all about the planes, so ask questions (we met a guy who was a B-17 pilot in World War II).
Boomers - Activity center with bumper cars and bumper boats, go-karts, climbing wall, and everyone in the family will enjoy a round of mini-golf.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens (Palm Desert) - At Living Desert, discover desert animals and plants of North America and Africa. The Living Desert also has a large outdoor model train layout, play area, animal shows and feedings, plus seasonal events. This is one of our favorite things to do in the Palm Springs area, and it's a full-day activity.
In the Africa section, see warthogs, wild dogs, zebras, gazelles and cheetahs, pet the pygmy African goats at the petting Kraal. Don't miss the daily giraffe feeding where kids get to feed the giraffes – watch the giraffe curl its long purple tongue over the food and eat a carrot from your hand! Camel rides are also a big hit.
For North America there are chubby javelinas, golden eagles, Mexican wolves, jaguar, bobcats, bighorn sheep. Also, wander through amazing cactus gardens with different plant habitats and wide variety of cactus. Stop into the Discovery Center for exhibits about ancient animals (giant sloth), plants and wildlife of the Coachella Valley.
Little kids will have fun on the carousel, and next door is a super play area, Gecko Play Park, with saguaro slide, sand and water play area, chuckwalla to climb on, tunnel to burrow through, benches, picnic area and shade.
Across from the carousel is a nature trail loop. Go for a walk out into the desert - there are signs explaining desert plants and geology (it's easier to walk the trail if you're wearing closed toed shoes).
Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center (Palm Desert) – Stop into the visitor center to learn about hikes in the Palm Springs area, with maps, books, exhibits. Take the 1 mile Randall Henderson loop trail to get a first hand experience of the desert. Visitor Center is open October to April.
Day hikes -
Hikes are best in fall, winter, spring, do not hike in summer, it's too hot.
Indian Canyons - Palm Canyon Trail
popular hike, located on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. Hike up the Palm Canyon Trail, with creek in spring months and towering California fan palms. For a longer like, pick up the Victor Trail to make a loop.
Pick up cold drinks at the Trading Post at beginning of the hike. Download kids activity book
to find out more about wildlife and native plants you'll see on the hike.
Coachella Valley Preserve
Take McCallum Trail to a desert oasis!
McCallum Pond is surrounded by palm trees, with picnic tables. Trail is 2 miles round trip, fun for all ages.
Whitewater River Canyon Preserve
A good hike for wildflowers in February - April. At the parking lot, shaded picnic tables, nature trail along the river.
Take the Red Dome hike, 2 miles in, then drop down to the river.
Preserve is open daily, in spring months, may be closed, due to flash floods. More info
and trail description.
Big Marongo Canyon Preserve
There's a number of short trails and boardwalks to explore with little ones, with older kids get out and stretch your legs hiking down to Morongo Canyon, follow the stream up the canyon as far as you like. Here's a good trail map.
Horseback rides - Several ranches, Smoke Tree Stables, Crazy Horse Ranch, Coyote Ridge Stable, and Little Yellow Rose Ranch, offer one and two hour guided trail rides, moonlight rides through the desert and BBQs through the desert. For kids 7 and up.