In the California desert, two hours from Los Angeles lies Palm Springs, a destination for people from around the world. They flock here for the architecture, culture, festivals, and outdoor activities. This little oasis has been our home for the past six years. And while there are many adult-centric attractions from golf to nightlife and beyond, it’s also a family-friendly place. That’s why I’ve put together a list of things to do for families with young kids. I highlight spots which provide a great experience with a baby or toddler in tow: places where staff doesn’t just tolerate kids, but goes out of their way to make them welcome. This is a local mom’s guide to the best things to do in Palm Springs with kids.
Palm Springs is known for its mid-century modern architecture. I love to take it in on foot, or biking with my 2-year old riding in a bike trailer. My favorite neighborhoods for scoping architecture include the Old Las Palmas, Deepwell, and Mesquite neighborhoods.
For some fresh air and mountain views, head to Ruth Hardy Park (in the Movie Colony neighborhood), which offers a playground with an adjoining expanse of grass on which to run around. At the northern end of the park, enjoy a tree-framed view of Mt. San Jacinto.
Ironwood Park. Located in Palm Desert, this serene park is worth the 30 minute drive from Palm Springs. After a short jag on Route 74, you find yourself elevated, with a panoramic view of the surrounding desert foothills. You can enjoy the peace and the view as your kids play.
For toddler-friendly hiking, head to Tahquitz Canyon. This is a figure of 8 loop, about 0.9 miles each way, with a pretty waterfall at the apex of the loop. I usually carry my 2 year old in in a hiking carrier, and let him walk the return trip from the waterfall. It’s a gorgeous hike.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is another vehicle to get you outdoors, especially when the valley is hot. Head up the tram to a higher elevation, where you’ll enjoy some fresh mountain air and a sweeping view of the valley.
The Palm Springs Art Museum & The PS Design Center. Amble up the steps of the museum, or use the stroller/ wheelchair accessible entrances on either side. The museum is pretty kid-friendly, from its outdoor sculpture gardens, to its rotating exhibits. I’ve never been shushed or received any scorn when bringing my baby/ toddler for a visit. Just be aware of their backpack policy (backpacks and bags over 11 x 14 inches are not allowed; you can check them at the front desk). Enjoy a few exhibits at your own pace, then glance in the gift shop.
Get a sugar rush at Brandini Toffee. Sometimes they sample chunks of chocolate-covered toffee from the sidewalk. Started by a couple of local kids, you’ll see why the business has grown a loyal following. I recommend the toffee popcorn or an ice-cream bar.
Hang out in the outdoor mall between The Rowan Hotel and Starbucks. This hip, refreshed outdoor space features plenty of room to scamper about between the palms and sculptures. Sip a cappuccino or a glass of wine while your little one toddles around. Listen to a local busker sharing classical tunes on the guitar. Some nights, there is live music on the patio at the Juniper Table.
Strolling and window shopping in the Uptown Design District is entertaining for everyone in the family. Check out the Shag and Nat Reed galleries for their punchy retro art. Take home an image of mid-century party revelers, to remember what life was like before kids.
Thursday night Villagefest is not only family-friendly, it’s dog friendly too. The main drag, Palm Canyon Drive is closed to vehicular traffic during this weekly event, which begins around sun-down. You can stroll along several blocks of street vendors, browsing handicrafts, feeding your appetite, enjoying live music… even feeding a Clydesdale!
Robolights is a famous/ notorious dystopian Christmas-themed nightmare, made out of reclaimed junkyard treasures. Residing in the ritzy Movie Colony neighborhood for years since its inception, it is moving up the road to Desert Hot Springs in the near future.
Salvation Mountain and caves: located at the northeast shore of the Salton Sea, about 90 minutes from Palm Springs
The Backstreet Art District art walk takes place Wednesday evenings in nearby Cathedral City. This is a friendly event for hip parents, and kids who party past 7.
Grand Central in La Plaza, downtown Palm Springs
Sherman’s or Manhattan in the Desert
La Perlita, Felipe’s
Bubba’s Bones & Brews in Cathedral City
The Window Bar is the lobby bar at the Rowan Hotel. Sit by the fireplace, lounging in mid-century style.
Johannes is exquisite, and just too posh for meltdowns.
Azucar: kids aren’t welcome at this too-cool poolside restaurant.
Stroll down East Arenas for a glimpse of Palm Springs’ gay culture. From Hunter’s to Black Book, everyone (of age) is welcome.
Several celebrations, including the annual White Party and the 4th of July are also celebrated with fireworks, which you can view from many vantage points in town.
The Rancho Mirage Library has a great children’s library, with a surprising display of homemade robots, created by a former library director. Both my son and I have marveled at his creations. This is a great place to spend a morning or afternoon. There’s even a cafe featuring food from Aspen Mills in case you need a snack.
The Living Desert is a sprawling zoo and garden, best enjoyed October through April. You can help support their mission by feeding and learning about their giraffes! My little guy loved the carousel, which was decorated for the holidays, and nearby Gecko Gulch, an outdoor play area for kids ranging from baby to climber.
Find your own pace to enjoy the stark beauty of Joshua Tree and its otherworldly rock formations. Consider starting at the Visitor’s Center to get a recommendation from a ranger. There is an amble or activity fit for any brood. For a personalized experience, hire a knowledgable local guide.
This little backwater is a former movie set for Gene Autry’s cowboy movies. The town now serves as a watering hole for eccentric millionaires and hipsters from L.A. This makes for some truly great people watching! Stroll through the old western town while it’s daylight. Settle in with some chili cheese fries at Pappy & Harriet’s, and stay for the house band (most Saturdays 5-7:30 pm).
There you have it! A local mom’s list of things to do in Palm Springs with kids. Thanks to my husband, who encouraged me to write this post. I hope you love a few things from my list, and most of all, I hope you get some rest & relaxation in our beautiful desert.
The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.