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Palm Springs Family Travel Guide: What You Need to Know to Plan Your Next Trip to the Greater Palm Desert Area!

Palm Springs Family Travel Guide: What You Need to Know to Plan Your Next Trip to the Greater Palm Desert Area!

Thinking of taking a trip to Palm Springs for the first time?  Use this family travel guide to find out the best time to visit, how to get there, where to stay and all the things to see, do and experience in this Southern California oasis. 

Located just two hours east of Los Angeles, Palm Springs is among Southern California’s most prized destinations.  While the city of Palm Springs may get most of the attention, the region is actually better known as Greater Palm Desert in my opinion, with nine cities each offering its own blend of experiences.  

These nine cities include - Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella, each with their own distinct personalities and histories.  Personally, we've enjoyed staying in Palm Desert or Rancho Mirage, but all of these regions offer great options to stay.   

Photo Courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs  

If you're planning a trip to Palm Springs, here is what you need to know, including my top recommendations on where to stay and things you need to do on your next visit to this great destination. 

Palm Desert Overview

The Greater Palm Desert region boasts an incomparable collection of luxury hotels, resorts and spas; world-class music and film festivals; nine different cities, each with their own neighborhood feel; natural hot mineral springs, lush palm groves and more than 300 days of sunshine annually.

Palm Springs is sheltered by the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains on the south, and the San Jacinto Mountains to the west with its towering 10,831 foot Mt. San Jacinto, site of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.  

Geography and location gives Palm Springs its warm, dry climate and over 300 days of sunshine annually.  Winter temperatures average in the 70s with nights in the mid-40s. The dry desert heat of summer pushes daytime temperatures well into the triple digits.

In addition to being a destination on its own, Greater Palm Springs serves as the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park and offers a unique combination of escape, inspiration, recreation and relaxation.

When to Visit

There is no bad time to visit Palm Springs, but if you've never felt dry Summer heat before or can't bear it, avoid the Summer months of July and August at all costs!  Traveling here during the Fall, Winter and Spring will be much more pleasant during the day.  During the evenings and nights, it can be a little little chilly, so make sure to plan accordingly to pack a layers and a variety of clothing options to account for the variations in weather.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs  

We've visited during the Summer months before and daily temperatures topped out between 115-119 Degrees F, with morning and evening temps averaging 85-90 Degrees F.  If that sounds unbearable, I would try to avoid the extreme desert heat during Summer months if possible, even if hotel pricing is super low. 

How to Get Here

If you plan on driving, the Greater Palm Desert region is a quick getaway from major Southern California cities with drive times around 2 hours from Los Angeles or San Diego.  

We've driven to Palm Springs after trips to Disneyland (in Anaheim) and as long as you don't hit major traffic, it'll be a little under two hours of travel time.  When driving in from the Los Angeles area, you'll be greeted by the iconic windmills on Interstate 10 and the Cabazon Dinosaurs.

If you're planning on flying in to Palm Springs, the airport, Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), features new and increased air service.  The airport is is located minutes from downtown Palm Springs and 15-20 minutes from other area cities like Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert.

Thanks to new airlines servicing Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) and new nonstop destinations, you have many more options for flying into Palm Springs.  PSP now offers thirteen airlines flying nonstop to PSP from 30 destinations, and connecting from more than 500 destinations worldwide.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Greater Palm Springs

New non-stop service from Sacramento on Southwest airlines works out perfect for us and offers great ticket prices, as well as a short flight down to Palm Springs.  As an added bonus, the PSP airport is so convenient and unlike many other airports you'll see.  It features unique architecture, compact size that takes only a few minutes from plane to baggage to rental car and outdoor dining and seating, perfect for lounging around while you wait to board your next flight.

Where to Stay

In Palm Springs, you will find accommodations for every lifestyle and budget ranging from luxury resorts to great iconic hotels and more.  

Depending on the region of Palm Springs you want to be in, here are some my picks for great places to consider for your next trip:   

The Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage: If you're looking for a luxurious stay in the greater Palm Springs area, The Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage checks all of the boxes including a stunning location with picturesque views, firepit terrace rooms and all of the amenities one would expect when staying at a luxury hotel.

JW Marriot Desert Springs Resort & Spa: Great hotel option in Palm Desert and if you need more space, check out the Marriott Desert Spring Villas I and Villas II next door for larger 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom villas.

Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs: Located in downtown Palm Springs and the best option if you want to be in the city near restaurants and nightlife.  The area around the hotel features amazing art installations and is within walking distance to the Palm Springs Art Museum and lots of shopping as well.

Other popular spots in Palm Springs (great "Instagrammable Hotels"):

Parker Palm Springs: One of the best boutique hotel options in Palm Springs, popular photo spot known for its entrance with white facade and bright door.

Hyatt Regency Indian Wells: This is a great family resort with a waterpark featuring slides and a lazy river, a golf course, spacious rooms and suites, and a prime location.

The Saguaro Hotel Palm Springs:  Not necessarily a family travel spot, but popular and well-known for its colorful exterior and hotel pool scene (you've probably seen this hotel all over Instagram) 

What to Do

You’ll find an endless amount of things to do in Palm Springs, especially with kids.  With near-perfect weather, mesmerizing mountain scenery, and year-round activities encompassing everything from art to the outdoors, there’s an experience for everyone in Greater Palm Springs.

Here are our top recommendations on things to you need to do and see:

The Living Desert

This family favorite has excellent exhibits showcasing plants and animals from desert environments worldwide and is home to over 500 animals representing over 150 species.

Fill your morning or afternoon here by feeding a giraffe, petting the goats, riding on the carousel, walking among the wallabies at the Australian Adventures exhibit or just taking in the beautiful scenery featured throughout.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Take a ride on the world’s largest rotating tramcar to the 8,516-foot Mountain Station at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.  

At the top you can enjoy miles of hiking trails, take in jaw-dropping views of the entire Coachella Valley, explore the history museum, and grab a bite to eat.  Back at the base, you can pick up souvenirs from the gift shop before you leave.   

Joshua Tree National Park

A scenic drive up Highway 62 to Twentynine Palms leads to the north entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. 

This is a must do item and I recommend planning one day for visiting iconic Joshua Tree Park, where you'll find yourself in the midst of thousands of otherworldly Joshua trees and landscapes that look like you're in a Dr. Seuss book.  

Depending on which entrance you start from, you can be sure of a scenic drive through the park and great hiking trails amongst the vast desert landscape and gigantic boulders.  

At night, you'll be able to see the amazing night sky lit up with bright stars, but be sure to pack a jacket as temperatures drop fast once the sun goes down.. 

Palm Springs Air Museum 

Find one of the world’s largest collections of vintage aircraft that date back to the WWII, Korea and Vietnam era at the Palm Springs Air Museum. The museum is a fun activity for the whole family to experience and kids under 12 are free. 

Indian Canyons

Located on Agua Caliente tribal land, the canyons are just minutes from downtown Palm Springs and a world away with undisturbed natural beauty from palm oases to waterfalls.

Moorten Botanical Garden

Known for its amazing display of native desert plants, trees, cacti and well-known for its Cactarium, a special exhibition of rare plants seen nowhere else.

Palm Springs Art Museum 

Located in the heart of Downtown Palm Springs, with the stunning San Jacinto mountains as its backdrop, the museum is home to modern and contemporary art and showcases examples of mid-century modern architecture throughout. 

Palm Springs is home to the largest concentration of midcentury modern architecture in the nation and you can also explore the surrounding community for examples of mid-century modern homes, nestled among backdrops of palm trees and the mountains.

Play a Round of Golf or Tennis

When you think of Greater Palm Springs you can’t help but also think of golf, which is a definite must-do activity when in the area. Altogether, the destination includes over 100 renowned golf courses through the Coachella Valley, making it a top sport to enjoy during your visit.  

For tennis, you'll find find top-notch instruction programs and courts, including the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, home of the annual BNP Paribas Open and the second-largest tennis stadium in the world.

Get Some Retail Therapy & Go Shopping

There is no shortage of shopping in downtown Palm Springs and throughout the Greater Palm Springs area.  

If outlet shopping is your thing, stop off at the Desert Hills Premium Outlets in Cabazon on the way to Palm Springs.  If you're in Rancho Mirage, The River at Rancho Mirage is a premier shopping and dining location.  

El Paseo, nicknamed the “Rodeo Drive of the Desert,” is home to high-end retailers and local boutiques and features more than a dozen restaurants from quick bites to fine dining located in between Palm Desert and La Quinta.

Grab a Bite to Eat 

Downtown Palm Springs features lots of great dining options.  We are by no means foodies or picky when it comes to restaurants, but some of our favorite spots we've tried in the downtown Palm Springs area include Lulu's and Farm.

If you're outside of downtown, there are lots of nice restaurant options throughout the Great Palm Desert region from local hot spots you can find near El Paseo and chain restaurants like The Cheesacake Factory and PF Changs.

Overall Summary
Palm Springs has been known as a Hollywood hot spot since the early 1920s, when the earliest tourist hotels were established.  Today the destination features an array of accommodations, from luxury resorts and chic hotels and experiences for everyone.  

Whether you’re planning on going on a couple’s retreat or a family get away, there is so much to do and explore throughout Palm Springs that you'll leave wanting to come back soon and experience it again.  

I hope this guide helps you plan out your next trip to Palm Springs and gives you a glimpse into the best places to stay and things to do and see here!