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SoCal: A Weekend in Palm Desert with Kids

Palm Desert with kids

SoCal: A Weekend in Palm Desert with Kids

How to spend a weekend in Palm Desert with kids

Are you itching for a little break from the speed and sprawl of life in LA? The great news is that you can escape it all with just a few hours (ok, it depends on traffic) on the 10E heading toward the desert cities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indio and more! This area is great for your kids and has different options in every season. We’ve gone twice with kids, once before kids and I even went a few times in college. Read on for more tips and ideas for things to do for a weekend in Palm Desert with kids!

When to go to Palm Desert and the desert cities

You can find fun activities to do year-round. Summer is my least favorite season due to the heat, but we did it before the kids were born and basically lived in the pool. The rest of the year has (mostly) beautiful weather so get out there and enjoy! If you visit in a wet year, flowers will open up in March and April – and if you’ve never seen the desert in bloom, get ready to be awed.

Where to stay near Palm Desert with kids

The choices are plentiful! The desert cities are a haven for retired snowbirds, so there are are hotels and vacation rentals everywhere. If you’re visiting in the winter, try to book early. That said, when our New Year’s plans changed at the last minute we were able to book a wonderful house at a reasonable price on less than one day’s notice. Our group included four adults and three little kids, so having tons of space and a place for grown-up time after the kids went down really made it a vacation, not just another trip. Want a great rental house? Try Airbnb and save $40 on your first booking!

Previously we stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites, which offers family-sized suites at bargain rates and includes free breakfast. If you’re feeling more luxurious, there are fancy resorts around every corner.

We like to stay in Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage or Indian Wells. Those areas have easy access to great restaurants and they’re close to some of our favorite activities like Joshua Tree and The Living Desert. Check out the map below with some of our favorite activities to help you choose where to stay.

What to do near Palm Desert and Palm Springs with kids

Joshua Tree National Park

There is so much to do at Joshua Tree with kids that it always gets a full day when we visit the area. Check out our complete kid-friendly Joshua Tree rundown!

Joshua Tree with kids

Joshua Tree is a great place for kids! Check out our full trip report.

The Living Desert Zoo

This zoo is a fun stop for all ages and it’s small enough that you can see everything in just a few hours – no marathon trekking here! When you first enter, you and your kids will all be mesmerized by the huge train set chugging around (including everyone’s favorite little blue engine). If Jacob had his way, we would have stayed put all afternoon, animals be damned. Shoshana’s favorite area is the petting zoo set inside the (African?) village – they have a herd of Pygmy goats for the kids to pet and brush. Check the schedule when you arrive to find interesting zoo keeper talks too!

Pro tip: Bring your membership card from your local zoo! We got half off admission tickets thanks to a reciprocity agreement.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Just because you’re spending the weekend in the desert, that doesn’t mean you can’t see a wide range of nature’s offerings. Head west to Palm Springs and allow most of the day for your ride up the mountain. The 2.5 mile tram ride takes you up Mt. San Jacinto (8500 ft elevation). The coolest part? The tram car rotates, so anywhere near a window provides a great view.

Once you reach the top, you can hit up some hiking trails or just enjoy the beautiful views. We went in the winter so we got to throw a few snowballs before heading into the lodge for some hot cocoa and a snack. If you’re going up in winter bring warm clothes. We were lulled into complacency by the moderate temperatures at the base, so we didn’t have enough layers on Jacob to keep him happy for long. If you have a little one this is a great time to pop them into a carrier, as there are many steps and uneven areas.

Pro tip: How to get tickets for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway? If you’re going any time when any kids anywhere might have a school break, buy your tickets online in advance. During our most recent trip we sadly weren’t able to go up, as everything was sold out. I guess we’ll just have to go back!

Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert

We haven’t visited this children’s museum yet, but many friends have recommended it. The museum is located in Rancho Mirage, equidistant between Palm Springs and Palm Desert. They are zones for learning how things work, exploring the senses, working on an archeological dig and engaging in imaginative play. There’s even a whole area for different types of physical activity! We’ll definitely stop by on our next visit to Palm Desert with the kids.

Pro tip: If you’re a member of another children’s museum, bring your card for half price admission! In Los Angeles, that includes Skirball Cultural Center, Zimmer Children’s Museum and KidSpace.

Outlet Malls

Sometimes us parents need a little fun too! There are actually two outlet malls side-by-side; we prefer the larger selection of stores at Desert Hills Premium Outlets rather than the smaller Cabazon Outlets. Stop by the office on your way in to grab a coupon book (I usually get the AAA one, but always ask if they have something more generous). We take turns playing with the kids around the big fountain in the courtyard and popping into stores. Sometimes if we want to go to the same store AND live dangerously, we’ll bring the kids in with us. No need to pay a lot for activities with our kids – they’re always really happy playing hide and seek behind, under and in clothing displays. Jacob has been known to do the mannequin challenge to entertain people walking by. Thankfully they haven’t destroyed a store yet. Cabazon is just west of Palm Springs, so it’s a great stop at the beginning or the end of your weekend in Palm Desert with kids.

There’s also a McDonald’s in the parking lot of Desert Hills (on the far west side), which might be a good stop before you really hit the road back to LA (and as a “carrot” for any unwilling family members).

Winter bonus: Ice Skating in the desert

Yes, ice skating! If you’re visiting from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, head to The River in Rancho Mirage. It’s not big, but it’s also not crowded – the perfect combination for kids who are learning. No need to bundle up too much, the day we went was a little cool off the ice but in the end we were comfortable skating without jackets. The adjacent skate shop provides basic rentals for little kids sizes on up. Don’t forget your shades!

ice skating in Palm Desert

Ready for action!

Spring/Summer bonus: Swimming

Naturally, almost every accommodation choice near Palm Desert has a pool. Whether you’re at a fancy resort or an Airbnb house, you’ll likely find a pool to enjoy with your kids within a five minute walk. So slap on that sunscreen and a hat and go for a dip!

Where to eat in Palm Desert with kids

We’ve gone to a number of places in the desert communities, but we think these are some of the best restaurants in Palm Desert.

Thai: Le Basil (760) 773-1112
You can get good Thai food in Palm Desert! We’ve gone to Le Basil a few times, and it’s always consistent: great food, friendly service, clean high chairs. The owners are so kind that when we visited on Christmas one year, they sent us away with a huge box of sweets! Jacob can eat a full order of the egg rolls, while Shoshana recently discovered the joy of their banana ice cream for dessert. Reservations are accepted, but not usually necessary.

Le Basil Palm Desert restaurant with kids

Le Basil: welcoming and delicious

Italian: Piero’s PizzaVino (760) 568-2525
Full disclosure: we didn’t actually eat in the restaurant. After a loooong day in Joshua Tree, all three kids needed to be at home so we decided on takeout (and we were so glad to have a rental house rather than hotel rooms!). The food from Piero’s was a real treat – great pizzas, delicate pastas, flavorful apps. The restaurant can get very busy on peak nights, so call ahead for a reservation if possible.

Links

Joshua Tree National Park – also see our complete guide to Joshua Tree with kids

The Living Desert

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert

Desert Hills Premium Outlets

Le Basil – Thai restaurant in Palm Desert

Piero’s PizzaVino – Italian restaurant in Palm Desert

Airbnb – $40 off your first booking!

 

Some links on this site may be affiliate links, for which I receive a small commission at no additional expense to you. Using these links helps support the site and keep our family traveling. Please see the full disclosure for more information.

Palm Desert with kids

Melissa

17 Comments

  • tamwarner

    What fun things to do! My children are grown, but they will be having babies soon so I will keep this in mind!

    April 19, 2017 at 4:08 pm
  • The Walking Map

    I like how you included the map. I’ve been wanting to see Joshua Tree for years.

    April 20, 2017 at 7:51 am
  • Firdaus Ysf

    Wow.It is really a good article.I have been to LA but never to Palm Desert.Anyway,how do you insert the map. Thats a cool way to show us where is the location.

    April 20, 2017 at 11:33 am
  • Kate Storm

    Very cute photos! I’ve always wanted to go to Joshua Tree.

    April 20, 2017 at 12:15 pm
    • Melissa

      You won’t regret a visit to Joshua Tree! It’s very unique and spring is the best time to go. Check out our Joshua Tree guide: thefamilyvoyage.com/joshua-tree-with-kids/

      April 20, 2017 at 2:49 pm
  • Traveling Well For Less

    This was a wonderful guide. We’ve never made it out to the Living Desert Zoo, will have to remember to stop by the next time we’re in the Palm Desert.

    April 20, 2017 at 3:12 pm
    • Melissa

      It’s a great little zoo! My kids always enjoy going there 🙂

      April 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm
  • Cat

    There’s so much to do in Palm Desert – from shopping, zoo, to outdoor fun! It is a great place to spend a weekend for family 🙂

    April 20, 2017 at 10:35 pm
  • Carmen's Luxury Trvl (@carmensluxtrvl)

    Your family photos are just precious! I miss my kids being that little but we still have a lot of fun traveling together 🙂 Great post, thanks for sharing. I love Palm Desert.

    April 21, 2017 at 8:21 am
    • Melissa

      Did you travel much when they were younger? Any favorite destinations to recommend?

      April 21, 2017 at 9:00 am
  • Francesca

    Ice skating in the desert?? What?! That’s awesome. We recently went to a farmstead where we could pet, brush, and feed baby goats. I think I was more excited than the kids!

    April 21, 2017 at 2:37 pm
    • Melissa

      I definitely enjoyed the goats at least as much of the kids 🙂

      April 21, 2017 at 3:22 pm
  • Only By Land

    My daughter would love the living desert zoo. These petting zoos are perfect for kids, I believe they should learn about animals by seeing them, not from pictures in books! It’s much more fun too!

    April 24, 2017 at 6:50 pm
    • Melissa

      It’s a great little zoo! They have a diverse range of “hot weather” animals in addition to the petting area 🙂

      April 24, 2017 at 6:59 pm
  • erinklema

    Joshua Tree! When I get back to Southern California, I need to make time for this area. Though my visit would be different from yours without kids in tow, I’d still follow some of your advice, especially where to find that tasty Thai food. So, thank you for that tidbit!

    April 24, 2017 at 10:00 pm
  • Melissa Olson Downham

    So glad you liked Palm Springs. It’s one of our favorite places and we were there for spring break too!

    April 26, 2017 at 2:08 pm
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