Cool Kids’ Activities in Palm Springs
From snow in the desert to one of the best skate parks in California, this adult sanctuary also offers fun attractions for kids.
My mother moved to Palm Springs six years ago, and my sister and I have been taking our families there ever since. After lots of visits with my New York kids and their cousins from Los Angeles, we’ve left few stones unturned when it comes to finding things to do with kids on a Palm Springs family vacation in this more adult oasis.
For typical activities, there are malls galore as you head out of town toward Palm Desert. (The River is the best—an open-air mall in Rancho Mirage with its outdoor fountains and pools), movie theaters showing everything from independent films to blockbusters and kid-friendly restaurants like Ruby’s, KFC and California Pizza Kitchen. 71-800 U.S. Highway 111, Rancho Mirage. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. www.theriveratranchomirage.com
But outside of the ordinary, here are a few of our favorite places to entertain the younger set.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
My mother gave us tickets to take the Palm Springs tramway on our first visit, and I honestly wasn’t really looking forward to it. I’m not crazy about heights, and I’d come to Palm Springs to escape the cold. But I have to say it’s worth the trip just because it’s so weird.
Things begin with a hair-raising vertical trip up the mountain. You’re in a large, clear ski lift-type structure, hanging by what feels like a thread. After what seemed like a long time and probably wasn’t, we arrived at a snowy, rustic ski lodge that feels more like Vermont than California. My nieces from Los Angeles love it here because snow is a novelty to them. When we went, the snow was deep, and it was absolutely frigid. There’s a gift shop, a bar and a restaurant. Wear down-filled clothing and bring gloves—especially if you want to make a snowball.
1 Tramway Road. Tel. 888-515-8726. Tickets: $22.25 for adults, $15.35 for kids 3 to 12, free for children under 3. Hours: Cars leave every half hour starting at 10 a.m. Mon. to Fri., from 8 a.m. on weekends and holidays; the last car goes up at 8 p.m. and returns at 9:45 p.m. www.pstramway.com
Once you pass the famous windmill fields coming into Palm Springs from Los Angeles, you’ll see the vehicles buzzing by on the right side of the road. Whether you call them quads or ATVs, this place rents them by the hour. You and your kids can ride through the dunes while gazing at snow-capped mountains. The staff is friendly and it’s a whole lot of fun. Apparently, they’re pretty easy to drive. Riding ATVs has become a tradition with my husband and two sons each time we visit. It always was a boys-only excursion until this year when Alexandra, my dainty 13-year-old niece, joined the fun and loved it as much as the guys.
59511 U.S. Highway 111. Tel. 760-325-0376. Cost: $40 for a 30- to 45-minute ride (riders who follow safety rules are allowed extra time). Hours: Open every day of the year from 10 a.m. to sunset. www.offroadrentals.com
Palm Springs Skate Park
This skate park took years of planning on the part of the city of Palm Springs. According to my son Erik, an avid skateboarder, they got it just right. He especially loved the fact that it’s lit at night: Big high-pressure sodium lights are strung across the park on overhead cables. This innovative system eliminates shadows, casting a soothing amber glow at night that the skateboarders love. The park features a bowl modeled after the long-forgotten empty swimming pools which got skateboarding going in the early 1970s—plus lots of other street skating elements: hips, rails, pyramids, stairs, ramps and quarter pipes. There are even restrooms, on-site snacks and lockers. Palm Springs Skate Park is considered one of the best skate parks in California. And that’s really saying something.
401 S. Pavillion Way in Sunrise Plaza. Tel. 760-323-8272. Admission: $5 per day for nonresidents, $10 annually for residents. Open every day until 10 p.m. www.palmsprings-ca.gov
Many people have heard of Joshua Tree National Park, but the lesser-known Palm Canyon is just as spectacular when you’re in the market for nature. Palm Canyon is 15 miles long and is the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians. What a contrast to the surrounding desert. The path is pretty easy to negotiate for explorers of all ages. (My mother, who’s had a hip replacement, did just fine, as did my young nieces.) There’s a trading post for maps and trinkets, and streams lined with huge California fan palm trees are right out of a storybook. When the sun filters through, you’ll think you’re in heaven. Be sure to bring the camera.
38520 S. Canyon Drive. Tel. 760-323-6018. Admission: $8 for adults, $6 for senior 62 and over, $4 for children 6 to 12, $10 for equestrian entrance. A ranger-led hike is an additional $3 for adults, $2 for children. Hours: Open daily from October to July, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; open Fri. to Sun. from July to September, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.indian-canyons.com/Palm
Palm Springs Art Museum
Even if your kids aren’t big on art museums, the Palm Springs Art Museum might make the grade. For starters, it has steps out front for running up and down. Inside, there’s open space and intriguing three-dimensional things like a spectacular horse made of pieces of driftwood and colorful art glass that are mesmerizing to gaze upon. As in most of Palm Springs, the people who work at this museum are very friendly. And the gift shop on the first floor can either be your first stop or the reward at the end of the rainbow. It’s chock full of things you’ll like as much as your kids, so no matter how many souvenirs they want to grab, you’ll find just as many for yourself! Downstairs, there’s the Muse Café.
101 Museum Drive. Tel. 760-322-4800. Admission: $12.50 for adults, $10.50 for seniors 62 and over, free for kids 12 and under; admission is free from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thu. Hours: Tue., Wed. and Fri. to Sun., open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thu., 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Monday and major holidays. www.psmuseum.org
Destinations: Palm Springs
Themes: Family Travel
Great article. I have been to Palm Desert, and wasn't aware of all the things there were to to in Palm Sprngs with the kids.