Family-Friendly Palm Springs

by The Traveling Canucks

Palm Springs is known as a snowbird getaway, but did you know it’s also great for family travel? With quick direct flights from Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto on Air Canada, it’s a fun vacation destination for the whole family. 

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The best time to visit is from December to April, when the temperature is perfect for enjoying outdoor activities – and it’s a nice break from the cold Canadian winter. During this time, you can expect temperatures ranging from 22°C to 31°C.

The area in and around Palm Springs is large. In fact, Palm Springs is one of nine cities – each with its own distinct vibe – that make up the Coachella Valley. Many of the family activities are located around the Coachella Valley and not always directly in Palm Springs, so you’ll want to rent a car so that you can properly explore. If you’re looking to save money on your trip, a good option is to redeem your Aeroplan Miles for the car rental. 

There’s a lot to do in the Palm Springs area, but we’ve narrowed our suggestions down to four family-friendly activities that we think you won’t want to miss if you decide to visit. Here are our favourites:

Spend an afternoon at the Air Museum

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This is not your typical museum. Full of history, information and fun games, this museum is entertaining for the whole family – our seven-year-old has proclaimed it “the best museum ever!” It was named as one of the top aviation museums in the world in 2014, and it’s easy to see why.

Plan to take at least three hours to explore the Air Museum, which features 59 flyable and static planes on display inside four climate-controlled hangars. What’s especially cool about this museum is that you can get very close to or, in some cases, inside a variety of airplanes. Our boys loved climbing into the cockpits where they could flick switches and move the steering. It’s really cool to think that these planes were once in the air. 

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Since opening in 1996, the Palm Springs Air Museum has maintained its status as a museum that flies its aircraft. For an additional cost, you can book a ride in their P-51D Mustang or the vintage Warbird C-47 Skytrain – which looked like a fun and unique experience!

Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

If you’re looking for a break from the heat in Palm Springs and you want incredible views of the Coachella Valley, we suggest you take a day to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. 

Traveling over two miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon for approximately 10 minutes, the Aerial Tramway is the world’s largest rotating tram car. As you make your way up, the tram slowly spins to give you a 360°viewing experience. When you reach the top at Mountain Station, you’ll be at a staggering elevation of 8,516 feet! 

Once at the top, the most popular family-friendly activity is hiking on one of the many trails that span 80 kilometers. Or, because you’re likely to find snow at the top, you can choose to play in the snow.

For the less adventurous, there are two restaurants you can enjoy. Peaks is a fine-dining experience with a breathtaking view of the Coachella Valley, and Pines Café is a less formal cafeteria-style restaurant. Both are open for lunch and dinner and we recommend you reserve in advance at Peaks.

Other activities include: observation decks, a small natural history museum, two documentary theaters showing state park and tram construction videos, and a gift shop.

Spend a day hiking and exploring Joshua Tree National Parks

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With nearly 800,000 acres of natural beauty, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the world’s most incredible desert landscapes. Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together there. To fully experience the park, you’ll want to dedicate a full day to exploring it. 

We suggest that you enter at the West Entrance, located five miles south of the junction at Highway 62 and Park Boulevard at Joshua Tree Village (about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs) and exit at the South Entrance near Cottonwood Spring along Interstate 10, 25 miles east of Indio (about an hour’s drive from Palm Springs). Following this route means you don’t need to backtrack.

The drive through the park is about an hour and a half, but plan for more because you’ll be stopping along the way. Keep in mind that since Joshua Tree is a National Park, there is a park fee of $30 per vehicle.

The park is filled with countless trails suitable for hikers of all abilities. For those wanting to stay in the park at night, there are campsites available. The park is at a higher altitude than Palm Springs, so it’s best to dress in layers: bring pants to wear over shorts, and a sweater or a coat. 

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If you don’t want to take your kids hiking or camping, then it’s easy to stop the car at various points to get out and explore the area. A few of our favourite stops were: Cholla Cactus Garden, Jumbo Rocks and Hidden Valley

There are no restaurants or grocery stores inside Joshua Tree National Park, but nearby communities do have restaurants. Depending on where you are in the park, those could be a long drive away, so we suggest you bring snacks and a lunch with you – the park is a great place for a picnic!

Spend a day at the Living Desert Zoo

Located a short drive from Palm Springs, the Living Desert Zoo and Garden aims to protect and conserve the local ecosystem through preservation, education and appreciation. 

The Living Desert is big (1,200 acres), but there is a surprising amount of shade and seating throughout the park. You can buy a pass for a shuttle that will drop you off and pick you up at various points around the park. We walked, but if it had been really hot, the shuttle would have been a good idea and we would have used it. 

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The Living Desert specializes in both North American and African deserts. The exhibits are very natural-looking and include over 1,600 species of plants and 140 species of animals. We saw giraffes, zebras and cheetahs in the African exhibits. We also saw animals native to North America like eagles, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes and rattlesnakes.