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Paradise in Palm Springs: Kid Sized Fun in the Sun

You know you live in LA if the temperature drops below 70 degrees and you reach for your Ugg boots and mittens. And don’t even get us started on the kids…winter gear for tinies is just so darn cute. But if you’ve had enough of the “chill” and prefer to bring the thermostat up a notch, just hop in the car and head to Palm Springs. A short drive to the desert will cure those winter blues, and you may even come back with a tan in time for Christmas. Some of the newer hotels are catering to families with bigger rooms, water facilities and family-friendly dining options. In other words – the perfect mini get-away!

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Palm Springs Staying
Palm Springs isn’t just for college co-eds and avid golfers – there are plenty of resorts that welcome families, with an array of entertainment for kids. But the best bit is that they also cater to tired Mommies and Daddies who may need some well-earned R&R. It’s the best of both worlds. These are our favorite spots that cater to the whole fam. (Room rates are highly variable depending on occupancy and season; make sure to call ahead.)

La Quinta Resort & Club
Located just south of Indian Wells, this is one of the biggest and most family-friendly resorts around, with a children’s playground adjacent to the main pool, as well as cabanas and poolside food and beverage service. Adults will love the 41 pools and 53 hot spas, as well as the 5 resort golf courses designed by PGA biggies like Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, and Greg Norman. This secluded resort is not only family-friendly, with a Kids Kamp in the day-time and nightly child-care available, but it’s also pet-friendly, and even has activities to enhance your pet’s stay as well.

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The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa
Come for the mountain views or the fantastic golf courses, or just to unwind with your family.  Enjoy the 3 pools, including a 60-foot water slide, play some tennis (they offer kids lessons), rent a bike or de-stress with a relaxing spa treatment while the kids are looked after. The Westin Kids Club Discovery Room offers daily drop-off activities for kids aged 4-12 like build-your-bear, pottery and arts & crafts, so you can explore the resort knowing your kids are having a blast too. They even have a dedicated Director of Fun (we need one of them at home!).  Plus, it’s close to the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, in case you fancy a trip off site.

The Riviera
Stylish and chic, this hotel will make you feel like a million bucks. Rent a poolside float and drift your worries away. If you fancy a cocktail break without the wild ones, take advantage of the Kids Club, which offers two 3-hour time slots daily, and gives your kids a chance to catch up on their favorite Wii or Xbox games while you catch up on those sun rays. Once you’re bronzed, pick up the kids and take them on a trolley ride (departing from the hotel) and check out the Indian Canyon Trails for some picturesque beauty. Or rent a bike and pedal around the local neighborhood.

Desert Springs JW Marriott in Palm Desert
This is a stunning, sprawling resort with fantastic amenities, including a decadent spa and two championship 18-hold golf courses. This is the kind of luxurious place that has thought of everything, including how tired your feet must be….why walk when you can float on a gondola to various destinations around the resort?  And just minutes from the El Paseo Shopping District, this is the place to be if you want to freshen up your wardrobe before heading back to LA. But keep Fido at home, as this is a pet-free resort.

Rancho Las Palmas Resort in Rancho Mirage
One word: Splashtopia. Sounds awesome, right? And it is. This knock-your-socks-off water feature, nearly 2 acres big, has two 100-foot water slides, a 425-foot lazy river, a Jacuzzi with cliff views and a sandy beach. You can spend all day, every day here, just order food from Splash Grill and you’re good to go. But if little eaters would prefer a taste from home, check out the River complex across the street. It has familiar restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s. Also, there’s a movie theater in case you want to catch a flick after a day of sun.

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If you’re looking for something ultra hip, try the ACE Hotel & Swim Club in Palm Springs. It’s both bohemian and kid-friendly, in that artsy relaxed chic sort of way. Bring some marshmallows to roast on the outdoor fireplaces, play with your pooch in the dog park out back, or take the kids for a short bike ride downtown for some vintage clothes shopping and return to rock your retro finds. This is definitely the place be cool, in more ways than one.

If you’d prefer a home away from home, check out this “Villa Del Sol vacation rental, a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house with all the amenities you need to feel extra comfy. Fully walled and gated, you can relax knowing the kiddos are safe while they run around. Enjoy the saline pool and gorgeous palm tree views.

Palm Springs Playing
If your baby divers have had enough sunny splash time, try a midday break with a change of scenery and climate. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will soar you and yours 2.5 miles above the desert floor into the San Jacinto mountains and the snowy wilderness awaiting at the top. Kids will love the rotating tram, which ensures spectacular views no matter where you’re seated.

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Once at the top, you can have a snowball fight, go sledding, snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing before descending back to the balmy poolside oasis of your hotel. (Check out our detailed aerial tram guide for the tricks of a perfect trip.)

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For an up-close look at some real desert critters, The Living Desert is like a zoo/botanical garden, laid out geographically. You can tour exhibits like a replica of a Northeast African village, complete with an African goods market. The kids will loves seeing camels and hyenas, and other not-often-seen creatures. There’s also a model train exhibit, a discovery center, a cactus slide, a gold paning trough, a sand dune play area and more.  You might want to arrive early, when it’s still cool out and you’re likely to catch more animals in action (they prefer to lounge around when the sun’s high in the sky)…except for nocturnal animals like the big cats, who tend to come out closer to sunset.

The twisty tree shapes, Cholla cactus forests, and blobby boulders in Joshua Tree make wonderful Dr. Suess-style memories for your kiddos. For a quick day trip, stick to exhibitions along the main roads, and the one-mile loop trail through Hidden Valley is a good introduction for little ones. Start your adventure at the West entrance, then work your way along the road exiting the park at the South. The most scenic sections will be located close to the road at the beginning of the trip.

If you’ve got a mini “Top Gun” fan in your house, take them to the Palm Springs Air Museum, where they can ooooh and awww over flyable WWII aircraft. You can walk through a B17G “Flying Fortress” bomber, watch flight demos, and talk to a volunteer, some of whom served in WWII themselves. And kids under 5 are admitted free.

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Lest you feel homesick, there’s even a bit of Hollywood in the desert.  Palm Springs has long been known as a hideaway for Hollywood-ites, and as such, it has its own unique tribute to A-listers with its own Walk of the Stars. In the heart of downtown Palm Springs, with loads of restaurants and shops surrounding, this is a fun stop for the family.

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In town on a Thursday? Every Thursday night year round, the downtown area transforms into Village Fest, a street fair featuring arts, crafts, food and entertainment. Listen to live music while the kids have a pony ride, marvel at a girl shimmying in a fiery hula-hoop, buy a hand-made piece of jewelry, and pick up some fresh produce all in one fun, never dull evening. Be sure to check out the local organic honey vendors, since the kiddos will dig the cool beehive display, as well as samples of their sweet goods.

Ruth Hardy Park and Playground also offers a great place to take a break with kids both big and small. Check out the two large play areas, one of which is designed for toddlers, as well the crowd-pleasing water spouting turtles. There are also public tennis and basketball courts, so pack your rackets and b-balls.

Step back in time and check out the World’s Biggest Dinosaur Museum, a unique roadside attraction located along I-10 in Cabazon. Giant robotic dinosaurs will delight the kids (don’t worry, they’re more kitchy than terrifying). Your little ones will love climbing into the mouth of a huge model T-Rex, riding the animatronic Brontosaurus, and then searching through the sand at the Dino Dig to win a prize.

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Eats in the Heat
Desert dining offers lots of options for all taste buds. Big breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, both kosher and non (bacon, anyone?), can be found at both Sherman’s Deli locations. Try the hot corned beef (it’s famous for a reason).

A simple burger might be the best bet for picky eaters, so try Tyler’s Burger stand. It’s popular- be prepared for lines at lunch time. Grab a seat on the patio and enjoy some people watching as you munch your tasty burger and fries. (Take note: it’s cash only, and they’re closed Sundays).

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Cheeky’s is a great place to stop for brunch before you head back to the City of Angels. The menu changes weekly to adjust to whatever is freshest and in season, and they strive to use locally grown, organic ingredients. Thirsty Moms & Pops might like to try the unusual brunch cocktails, like a vodka green tea limeade or the pluot mimosa. Oh, and they even have a “Master Cleanse” beverage, which might cancel out those salty caramel waffles…

If dining al fresco strikes your fancy, check out the patio at La Casuelas in downtown Palm Springs. Order up a combination platter, or one of the house specials like Camarones Diablo or Chimichangas. There are several vegetarian options on the menu, and they will also serve up a traditional American-style hamburger if the kids aren’t feeling adventurous. (You may want to check out their sister restaurants in Palm Desert and La Quinta, if that’s more convenient.)

The Best Dessert in the Desert
If the sunshine has you hankering to feed your sweet tooth, do it the healthy way at Shield’s Date Garden in Indio. Try one of their famous date shakes at the café (sweetened with dates, not processed sugar) and home-made bread and date butter too.

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We hope you have a dynamite time in the desert. Enjoy your weekend get-away and let us know what your favorite go-to spots are in Palm Springs.

-Elena Wurlitzer

Photo Credits: Yatmandu via Creative Commons, D. Sharon Pruitt via Creative Commons, Tim Pierce via Creative Commons, Tony Fischer via Creative Commons, Ann Larie Valentine via Creative Commons, Corey Taratuta via Creative Commons, Edward O’Connor via Creative Commons, Bonnie A. via Yelp, Adam P. via Yelp, Luke W. via Yelp, Erlinda R. via Yelp and Christine A. via Yelp

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