Fun Things to Do in Palm Springs and Palm Desert for Families

Mimi Slawoff Avatar

thing to do in palm springs
The JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa is ideal for families, friends and couples. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Palm Springs is a scenic desert town on the western edge of the Coachella Valley in Riverside County. Stylish hotels, swimming pools and a range of activities make Palm Springs a popular getaway for Southern California residents and visitors alike.

The writer was hosted.

Like many SoCal residents, I’ve been visiting Palm Springs since I was a child. Situated in California’s Colorado Desert, Palm Springs has grown a lot since then, and today encompasses nine diverse cities that make up the Greater Palm Springs Area. These include Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indio,  Desert Hot Springs, La Quinta, Indian Wells and Coachella.

About a two-hour drive from Los Angeles and San Diego, Palm Springs is an ideal weekend getaway; consider it for an April vacation when temps are mild. Although, the best deals are offered in summer when temperatures are sizzling.

Read More: The 7 best Palm Springs hotels for families

things to do in Palm Springs
The San Jacinto Mountains are a scenic backdrop to Palm Springs. Photo credit: Visit Greater Palm Springs

Offering a wide range of accommodations and activities, Palm Springs attracts families, couples, friends and celebrities. In fact, in the 1930s, celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope and Lucille Ball put Palm Springs on the map.

And although it’s famous for an abundance of swimming pools and golf courses, Palm Springs offers much more than that. Outdoor enthusiasts will find hiking, off-road adventures, golf courses, tennis and more. In addition, there are many indoor and outdoor family-friendly attractions. Museums, shopping and dining round out things to do in Palm Springs.

Before your visit, be sure to check out the Visit Greater Palm Springs site.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Palm Springs is a good home base for visiting Joshua Tree National Park. It’s about an hour drive. Also, stop for a date shake at the famous Hadley Fruit Orchards in Cabazon

1. Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

things to do in palm springs
Enjoy panoramic views of the Coachella Valley on the rotating Palm Springs Tramway. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

On our December visit to Palm Springs, my daughter Christina and I stopped at the tramway on our way in. While it was sunny on the desert floor, we bundled up for the winter wonderland at the top – a good 20 -30 degrees cooler. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car and travels over 2.5 miles up the cliffs of Chino Canyon to the pristine wilderness of the Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area.

During the 10-minute journey, tram cars rotate slowly, offering spectacular vistas of the valley below. The Mountain Station is at 8,516 feet elevation and has two restaurants and a visitor center. But the best part are the views and 50-plus miles of trails.

We decided to hike before lunch, and carefully made our way down a paved path through a snowy landscape. There was quite a bit of snow, and we watched locals kids sledding. After our hike, we had lunch at The Peaks restaurant, which has floor to ceiling windows and an outdoor deck that show off snow and desert views.

2. Off-Roading with Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours

things to do in palm springs
Red Jeep Tours offers exciting off-roading excursions with several stops along the way. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

This jeep tour is among my favorite things to do in Palm Springs. I’ve done this three times and each excursion is unique because guides customize it to their passengers ages and interests. Christina and I took the three-hour San Andreas Fault “Bones of the Earth” Jeep Tour. This tour travels to the fault line, which is recognizable by a grove of palm trees and shrubs that mark the junction between the Pacific and North American Plates.

Along the way, Neil, our friendly guide and an environmental conservationist, shared information about earthquakes, geology and local history. We made several stops to examine plants and bushes, and taste their seeds and powder. These were vital sources with many uses for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians (who own nearly half of Palm Springs). For example, the creosote bush was useful for birth control, among its many other benefits. And honey mesquite, which the Cahuillas ground into flour, has thorns that served as tattoo needles. We also walked to a thin stream of water, referred to as a fault gurgle, that runs year-round.

Afterwards, we hiked, climbing ladders secured into boulders and scrambling up rocks for hilltop views of the Coachella Valley. Back in the jeep, we drove back to town just as the sun was setting. A perfect ending to an outstanding excursion.

 

 

3. Stroll in Downtown Palm Springs

things to do in Palm Springs
Downtown Palm Springs is home to museums, shops and restaurants. Photo credit: Visit Greater Palm Springs

Situated at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains, downtown Palm Springs is a walkable area with restaurants, shops and attractions. Explore the Walk of Stars, Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs Air Museum, sculpture gardens and a performing arts theater. There’s even a weekly night market, VillageFest, with stalls featuring art, vinyl, gourmet foods and crafts.

4. Explore Indian Canyons

Things to do in Palm Springs
Visit the canyons where early Indian settlers lived. Photo credit: Visit Greater Palm Springs

Visit the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, comprised of Palm, Murray and Andreas Canyons with over 60 miles of hiking and walking trails. For a fun family outing, check out Taquitz Canyon where there’s a waterfall and rock art. First, be sure to stop by the Tahquitz Visitor Center to see cultural exhibits and get information about the area.

5. Discover Sunnyland Center & Gardens

things to do in palm springs
Sunnylands is a lesser known attraction but well worth the visit. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

A lesser known public attraction, Sunnyland Center & Gardens has an interesting history. Located in Rancho Mirage, the 25,000-square foot home was built in 1966 for Walter and Leonore Annenberg. In 2001, the Annenbergs signed a Declaration of Trust outlining their vision for the future use of Sunnylands. It served as a sanctuary for eight U.S. presidents and world leaders before opening to the public in 2012. The center has paved paths that meander among gardens with desert plants and lakes. In addition, the estate features a rotating art exhibition and cafe with views of the Coachella Valley.

6. Feed Giraffes at the Living Desert and Zoo

things to do in Palm Springs
Feed giraffes at the Living Desert & Zoo. Photo credit: Greater Palm Springs

Spanning more than 360 acres, The Living Desert opened a new Rhino Savanna recently. The zoo and botanical garden represent the deserts of North America and Africa. Animals like giraffes, bighorn sheep and goats have room to roam in natural habitats. Visitors can feed giraffes and walk among hopping Bennett’s wallabies in the Australian Adventures habitat. They’re so cute!

7. Explore the Children’s Discovery Museum

The museum makes learning fun and interactive for kids of all ages with multiple galleries and interactive exhibits. Children’s Discovery Museum has something for everyone, ranging from interactive pizza kitchens to painting and dress-up for younger children.

Note that the museum will be closed until at least December 2022.

8. Take a Palm Springs Windmill Tour

things to do in Palm Springs
Windmill tours are a unique family activity. Photo credit: Visit Greater Palm Springs

Tours begin in the Tour Center where you can view historical displays, discover how wind turbines work, and learn how they deliver electricity to the power grid. Then get in your car for a self-driving tour with a map and marked destinations with 10 stops and two additional stops. If you have time, get out of the car and take photos along the way.

9. Play at Boomers

things to do in Palm Springs
Boomers features games and rides for all ages. Photo credit: Boomers

A list of family fun things to do in Palm Springs wouldn’t be complete without Boomers. The family attraction features go karts, three 18-hole miniature golf courses, bumper boats and batting cages. In addition, there’s a rock wall and a state-of-the art game room containing over 100 of the hottest video games. Come meal time, gather the family for pizza, hotdogs, chicken and more at Boomers Cafe. You can also book birthday parties at Boomers.

10. Family Fun at the JW Entertainment Zone

things to do in palm springs
The JW Entertainment Zone is located at the JW Marriott Desert Springs. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

The new 12,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art arcade is the largest in California. From classic games like PacMan and Skee Ball to high-tech simulators, motocross racing games and duckpin bowling, the JW Entertainment Zone offers hours of fun for kids and adults.

11. Splash Into the Palm Desert Aquatic Center

things to do in Palm Springs
The Palm Springs Aquatic Center is open year-round. Photo credit: Visit Greater Palm Springs

What better way to cool off than at the Palm Desert Aquatic Center. The eight-acre facility features three pools, multiple slides and diving boards. In addition, there’s a variety of play features for water lovers of all ages.

More Family Fun Attractions

X-Park in La Quinta is a new 32,000-square-foot skatepark/BMX expected to open in March 2022. It features three bowls of varying depth and challenges, a pump track, stairs, a loading ramp, street lines, transitions and a pro shop.

Established in 1938, privately-owned Moorten Botanical Garden features desert trees, plants, and cacti come from around the world. The collection includes 3,000 varieties of plants. and range in size from miniature to giants.

Coming in 2022: The new 48,000-square-foot Agua Caliente Cultural Plaza will feature cultural artifacts, stories and history.

Where to Eat

things to do in palm springs
Mikado Japanese Steakhouse serves up entertainment and delicious cuisine. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Mikado Japanese Steakhouse: Knife-twirling teppanyaki chefs and delicious food prepared at your table make this a fun family restaurant. Meals include miso soup or salad, a main entree of steak or seafood or both, steamed or fried rice and desert. The restaurant is located at the JW Marriott Resort & Spa.

Cheeky’s: Kids can chow down on a crispy buttermilk waffle or cheesy scrambled eggs while adults enjoy the Bacon Flight. Try the chocolate waffle with banana, nutella and chopped bacon or the chilaquiles with homemade chorizo, tomatillo and queso fresco.

Lulu California Bistro: Macaroni and cheese, tomato soup or burgers please the kids, while the parents enjoy baked ziti, prime rib, and a variety of fresh fish. Palm Canyon Drive (reservations recommended).

Greater Palm Springs Hotels for Families

things to do in palm springs
Chilean Flamingos greet guests at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

From boutiques and inns to sprawling resorts, Palm Springs has a wide assortment of accommodations for all budgets. On our recent visit, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa.

Situated on 450 acres of desert gardens with mountain views, the laid-back luxury resort is large but easy to navigate. The resort has 884 guest rooms including 101 luxury suites. Our spacious room had a balcony with mountain and pool views. We explored the property on landscaped pathways, and on a guided, private electric boat ride available just for guests. The boat cruises along waterways and lakes, and under a bridge to the onsite Mikado Restaurant and The Spa at Desert Springs.

The resort’s amenities include five pools, two golf courses and several restaurants, most with lake views. In the evenings, we sipped cocktails and listened to live music in the Blue Star Lounge.

There’s also a new 12,000-square-foot arcade – the JW Entertainment Zone that has fun retro and modern games for all ages (even this middle-aged mom and her adult daughter). A cool add-on feature for families is the JW Family Passport, which offers nature walks, family yoga, flamingo feedings, scavenger hunts and trivia nights. Available on weekends, the package includes complimentary breakfast for two kids ages 12 and younger from the kid’s buffet in Rockwood Grill with the purchase of an adult entree. Cost: $30 per child, per day.

The Spa at Desert Springs

things to do in Palm Springs
The secluded saltwater pool is among the many amenities at The Spa at Desert Springs. Photo credit: JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa

While staying at the resort, my daughter and I enjoyed spa treatments at the 4,000-square-foot Spa at Desert Springs. We arrived about 40 minutes early to have time for the steam room before our treatments. My relaxing 90-minute Desert Journey massage included a creamy emulsion combined with a light brown sugar scrub, Swedish and hot stone massages and a foot paraffin. My daughter had the Desert Springs Custom Facial, which included a mini massage and foot paraffin. We both agreed these were among the best spa treatments we’ve had.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Allow time to enjoy the lovely spa’s outdoor saltwater pool, steam and sauna rooms, fitness center, bistro and other amenities.

More Hotel Options

Margaritaville Resort Palm Springs: The hotel, which originally opened in 1959, has been transformed from a swanky Rat Pack-era hotel to a Jimmy Buffett-inspired laid-back resort.

Omni Rancho Las Palmas is located on 240 lush acres and features a waterpark, three swimming pools and family movie nights.

Mimi Slawoff Avatar
Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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