Looking for a quick weekend trip with the family? Palm Springs has plenty of physically distanced things to do with kids—from a visit to The Living Zoo and Desert Gardens to a driving tour of the area’s iconic windmills—plus awesome deals on hotels and rentals to take advantage of. Read on for our complete guide to what’s open during the pandemic, plus all the best places to eat, play and stay.

What to Do in Palm Springs

 

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The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

For an up-close look at some real desert critters, this zoo plus botanical garden focuses on wildlife from North America and Africa. You can tour exhibits like a replica of a Northeast African village and get personal with some Nigerian dwarf goats.

Catch some knowledgeable animal chats, feed the giraffes, ride the endangered animal carousel, and explore the vast array of trails that loop through the Sonoran Desert (FYI: the trails are closed in the summer). And finally, plan to spend at least 30 minutes checking out one of the best outdoor G-scale model train exhibits we've ever seen.

Good to Know: Arrive early, when it’s still cool out, 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. When it gets hot, head to the air-conditioned Discovery Center.

Covid-19 Update: The zoo is open with limited admission and masks and physical distancing required. Read the safety guidelines here.

Cost: Adults $20, Children $10, Children under 3 are free

47900 Portola Ave.
Palm Desert, CA
Online: livingdesert.org

Indian Canyons

If you don't want to drive to Joshua Tree (it's an hour drive from downtown), you can hike right in the heart of Palm Springs. The Indian Canyon Trails encompasses 60 miles of hiking paths through the mountains that range from easy enough for toddlers to challenging trails for grown-ups. Expect to see spectacular vistas, maybe some big horned sheep and even, if we've had some rain, a waterfall.

Good to Know: There is a fee to enter the hiking trails, which you pay for at the ranger station (visit Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians counter at the Palm Springs Visitor Center located in the old Albert Frey gas station when you first enter town). You can also arrange your visit to coincide with a ranger-led hike. Don't forget your water! They won't let you hike without it.

Hours: Fri.-Sun. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (last car in at 4 p.m.)

2901 North Palm Canyon
Palm Springs, CA
Online: indian-canyons.com

 

Palm Springs Air Museum

If you have an aviator junkie in your house, take them to the Palm Springs Air Museum where they can ooooh and awww over flyable WWII aircraft, walk through a B17G “Flying Fortress” bomber, watch flight demos, and talk to a volunteer, some of whom served in WWII themselves.

Covid-19 Update: The museum is open with these safety guidelines in place.

Cost: Kids 5 & under plus active military duty are free; 6-12 $10.50; 13-17 $15.50; 18-65 $17.50; 65 & over and retired military $15.50

Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

745 North Gene Autry Trail
Palm Springs, CA
Online: palmspringsairmuseum.org

 

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Cabazon Dinosaur Museum

This roadside attraction is impossible to miss on your way into Palm Springs, but we recommend reserving this stop for when you are on your way out of town, headed back to Los Angeles. Touted as the world’s biggest dinosaur museum, you can check out giant robotic dinosaurs (don’t worry, they’re more kitschy than terrifying) for a fee. Let the little ones climb into the mouth of a huge model T-Rex, ride the animatronic Brontosaurus, and then searching through the sand at the Dino Dig to win a prize.

Covide-19 Update: As of Aug. 2, the outdoor dino trail is open. Click here for details.

Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9a.m.-7p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 9a.m.-7:30p.m.
Cost: Adults, $13; children, 3-12 $11; under 2 are free

50770 Seminole Dr.
Cabazon, CA
Online: cabazondinosaurs.com

Joshua Tree National Park

The twisty tree shapes, Cholla cactus forests, and blobby boulders in Joshua Tree make wonderful Dr. Suess-style memories for your kids. For a quick day trip, stick to the exhibitions along the main roads. Don't want to hike it alone? Join one of their guided hike tours.

Good to Know: There are a couple entrances into the park, but if you are looking for the easiest hike with the kids (.25 mile loop), head to the southernmost entry point near Cottonwood Visitor Center. Check the weather, bring hats, sunblock and more water and food and snacks then you'll think you'll need.

Check the calendar before you go and catch a "Ranger Chat" for an in-depth expert view of what happens in this national park.

Joshua Tree Visitor Center
6554 Park Blvd.
Joshua Tree, CA
Online: nps.org/joshuatree

Windmill Tour

You've seen that giant windmill farm en route to Palm Springs plenty of times, but how much do you really know about the iconic site? Take a self-guided driving tour and learn how windmills work, why there are so many in the desert, and how much electricity they produce. The tour consists of 10 stops, with two additional optional stops off property.

62950 20th Ave.
Palm Springs
Online: windmilltours.com

CLOSED: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Even pool-obsessed kids can sometimes have enough sunny splash time. Try a favorite, midday break with a change of scenery and climate. This tramway, built in the 60s, will take 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 guarantees spectacular views no matter where you’re seated. There are dining options at the top so don't worry if your brood gets hungry.

If there is snow, 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 aerial tram guide for the tricks of a perfect trip). Even when it's not snowy, it's a lot cooler at the top, and fun for kids to explore the hiking and walking trails, and take in the jaw-dropping views.

Good to Know: Altitude sickness can occur so pay attention to your body, drink lots of water and if you or your kids are afraid of heights, this may not be the experience for you. It's not for the faint of heart but totally worth it once you get to the top.

1 Tram Way
Palm Springs, CA
Online: pstramway.com

CLOSED: Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert

Too hot to stay outside? Then head indoors to this creative museum where absolutely everything is hands-on and in the (much-appreciated) air conditioning. This museum is filled with ever-changing exhibits, packed with activities and play spaces for kids of all ages.

Good to Know: Every third Wed. the museum runs a special STEM event called $5 after 5 which means the museum stays open till 8 p.m and admission is only $5. Every third Sat. the museum has creative classes like duct tape fashion and Days of Los Muertos cooking. Check out the events listed on their website, there is always something interesting happening here.

Cost: Ages 1 & up $9.95

Hours: 10 a.m to 5 p.m.

71-701 Gerald Ford Dr.
Rancho Mirage, CA
Online: cdmod.org

Where to Stay in Palm Springs

Earthy Modernist Rental

Want to avoid hotels? Palm Springs has plenty of short-term rentals and this is home one of favorites. The fully renovated 1960s pad has 4 bedrooms, 5 baths, and room enough for 10 guests. The decor is modern, yet warm with a whimsical bedroom featuring two twin beds for kids. There's also a pool and fire pit for outside fun.

Online: airbnb.com/rooms/plus/2368085

Airy Estate Rental

Another Airbnb option, this 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home is a bright and cheery retreat with a large pool, BBQ area and bocce ball court. Added bonus: There's an indoor rec room featuring a ping pong table and gaming console that kids will love.

Online: airbnb.com/rooms/plus/27507559

La Quinta Resort & Spa

Located just south of Indian Wells, this is one of the biggest and most family-friendly resorts around with cabanas, poolside food, and beverage service. Everyone 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 but it’s also pet-friendly with activities to enhance your pet’s stay as well. Want to know more? We've got the inside scoop on why kids and adults love this resort.

Covid-19 Update: Read what Hilton (owner of La Quinta) is doing to protect guests with its CleanStay program.

49-499 Eisenhower Dr.
La Quinta, CA
Online: laquintaresort.com

photo: Andie Huber

Renaissance Indian Wells

With the largest pool in the Palm Springs area, this resort has families in mind. The zero-entry pool and sandy beach is awesome for the little ones while the wide expanse of the rest of the pool means the bigger kids have the freedom to swim until they are exhausted.

Prepare for great eats at Sirocco Pizza Company, making fireside s'mores treats by the outdoor fire pits, lots of ping pong tournaments and of course, comfy and generously-sized accommodations. Plus there's a kid's club for some parental downtime. Check out more reasons to stay at this family-friendly resort.

Covid-19 Update: Marriott, owner of Renaissance, has updated its guest policies and cleaning protocols.

44-400 Indian Wells Ln.
Indian Wells, CA
Online: renhotels.com

Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort in Rancho Mirage

One word: Splashtopia. Sounds awesome, right? And it is. This knock-your-socks-off water feature, nearly two 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.

If little eaters would prefer something more familiar, check out the River complex shopping and dining complex across the street that has 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 fun in the sun.

Covid-19 Update: Read about the hotel's “Omni Safe & Clean" initiative, which includes updated cleaning guidelines and additional processes and procedures to ensure the health and safety of guests.

41000 Bob Hope Dr.
Rancho Mirage, CA
Online: rancholaspalmas.com

The Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa

Come for the mountain views or the fantastic golf courses, or just to unwind with your family (pets included!). Enjoy 3 pools, including a 75-foot water slide, play some tennis (they offer kids lessons), rent a bike or de-stress with a relaxing spa treatment. Plus, it’s close to the Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert, in case you fancy a trip off-site.

Covid-19 Update: See the Westin's updated guest policies and cleaning protocols from Marriott, owner of the hotel brand.

71333 Dinah Shore Dr.
Rancho Mirage, CA
Online: westinmissionhills.com

Desert Springs JW Marriott in Palm Desert

This stunning, sprawling resort with fantastic amenities, including a decadent spa and two championship 18-hole golf courses 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?

Covid-19 Update: See Marriott's updated its guest policies and cleaning protocols.

74-855 Country Club Dr.
Palm Desert, CA
Online: marriott.com/hotels/travel/ctdca-jw-marriott-desert-springs-resort-and-spa

ACE Hotel & Swim Club

For an ultra-hip stay, this resort is both boho-chic and kid-friendly, in that artsy, "I woke up like this" 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.

Covid-19 Update: Get information on ACE Hotel's latest cleaning procedures and safety measures.

701 E. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA
Online: acehotel.com/palmsprings

Modern Territory

If you’d prefer a homestay with a dose of that Palm Springs chic, check out this fully restored home, originally designed by Architect William Krisel. The desert-bohemian style 3/2 house and studio casita (with its own full kitchen and bathroom) has a pool and large, private yard. You know what that means? Vacation doesn't have to stop when the kids go to bed (i.e. No more hiding under the covers watching Netflix at 8 p.m with headphones)!

In addition to the pool, the yard features a gas BBQ, outdoor shower, hammock and (of course) lots of sunshine. Basically everything you need for the perfect desert vacation.

Online: airbnb.com/modernterritory

Where to Eat in Palm Springs

Elmer’s Restaurant

Go here first thing in the morning fo an authentic diner that delivers a fantastic breakfast. The coffee is strong and the pancakes are fluffy (the kid's Cub Cake is too cute!). Go early since lines can form out the door but lollipops are handed out with a smile for all. If you can stand the wait, get the German Pancake. There’s a reason everyone raves about them.

Covid-19 Update: Open for dine-in and takeout, with tables arranged according to social distancing guidelines.

1030 E. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs, CA
Online: eatatelmers.com

Sherman’s Deli

Big breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, both kosher (and not) can be found at both Sherman’s Deli locations. Try the hot corned beef (it's famous for a reason). And save room for one of the beautiful desserts in the display case.

Covid-19 Update: Open for patio dining and pickup, daily between 8a.m. and 9p.m. 

401 E Tahquitz Canyon Way
Palm Springs
Online: shermansdeli.com

Cheeky’s

A spot to see and be seen. The mouth-watering seasonal menu changes weekly as this restaurant strives to use locally grown, organic ingredients. FYI: Expect long waits if you get there late. Open Thurs.-Mon. Closed Tues. and Wed.

Good to Know: Cheeky's is on vacation Aug. 4-20. 

Covid-19 Update: Read the restaurant's new health-related practices and policies here.

622 N. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs
Online: cheekysps.com

Smoke Tree BBQ & Grill

If the desert heat leaves you hankering for some BBQ, head to this award-winning restaurant. Dive into brisket and beer. If you’ve got non-meat-eaters or just picky kids, the Mac-n-Cheese is stellar. Or grab a family platter for some twilight poolside dining back at your hotel or Airbnb.

Covid-19 Update: Closed for the summer at least until Sept. 30.

1775 E. Palm Canyon Dr #405
Palm Springs, CA
Online: smoketreebbq.com

Tyler's Burgers

A simple burger might be the best bet in the middle or at the end of a long day, so try Tyler’s Burger stand. It's popular, so go well before your crew gets hangry. FYI: It's cash only, and they’re closed most Sun.

Covid-19 Update: The restaurant reopened on Aug. 7. 

149 S. Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs
Online: tylersburgers.com

Shields Date Garden

For a uniquely Palm Springs experience, consider a stop at the gift shop at Shields Date Garden off Highway 111. (A a giant knight in shining armor will point you in the direction of your destination.) You can call ahead for curbside pickup or peruse the dates-galore offerings once you arrive. Choose from a wide selection of locally grown dates, date crystals (like sugar), date granola and the must-try date shakes. The patio at The Cafe at Shields is also open from 8a.m.-2p.m.

Covid-19 Update: The garden path (through 17 acres of the date orchard) is closed. 

80-225 US Hwy. 111
Indio, CA
800-414-2555

Online: shieldsdategarden.com

Brandini Toffee

A sweet treat in downtown Palm Springs, not only is it the best toffee you’ll ever taste—no joke—the whole business was started by two teen friends who wanted to make money for a class trip. Great life lesson for kids, unbelievable toffee for everyone: it’s a win-win. If you want, catch the factor tour in Rancho Mirage.

132 S. Palm Canyon Dr.
Palm Springs
Online: brandinitoffee.com

—Elena Wurlitzer-Fenegan, Andie Huber, Shannan Rouss

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