Whether exploring the golf courses in Indian Wells, the zoo in Palm Desert or the aeriel tramway in Coachella Valley you’re sure to find adventure in Palm Springs with kids of all ages. With a toddler, 6-year old and two teens in our family, finding activities that interest all of them can be a challenge. Occasionally when we’re on a family vacation, my husband and I have to divide up so that the big kids can do activities just for them. It’s worth it for some activities, as you’ll read. I’ve also included a list of activities that are family friendly and that young kids and adults alike will enjoy together!
Visit Greater Palm Springs arranged complimentary admission to several of these activities (Living Desert, Children’s Discovery Museum, Wet n’ Wild Water Park & Red Jeep Tour). Renaissance Esmeralda provided lodging and dining credit. All opinions are my own.
Palm Springs With Kids
While my family of six has taken California road trips in the past, we’d never explored Palm Springs together. Palm Springs takes approximately 2.5 hours to drive from San Diego, though we did run into some traffic that extended the drive on a Friday afternoon. We stopped for healthy snacks at a convenience store along the way. I’m sharing tips on where to stay and advice for lots of family activities when taking on Palm Springs with kids.
Where to Stay in Palm Springs – Renaissance Esmeralda
If you’re looking for a Palm Springs kid friendly resort that’s also classy and high in family-friendly amenities, the Renaissance Esmeralda is perfect all-around. We’ve had two separate visits to the Renaissance Esmeralda and both have been stellar. From the moment we arrive, the staff makes us feel welcome, telling us about the resort amenities (including complimentary bikes for touring the resort).
The Renaissance Esmeralda has recently undergone a dramatic renovation with all newly redesigned bedrooms. The modern and luxurious touches are still uniquely “California” with a laid-back feel that makes you feel right at home.
On our family trip, my group of six was placed into a 1 bedroom Executive suite, with a connecting two Queen bed room. Each room had a private balcony with an incredible pool and mountain view. Seriously, it was gorgeous waking up to this view! The spaciousness of the rooms and the ability to close doors between the spaces was ideal. While my big kids slept and my husband watched television, I was able to sit with the toddler in the quiet living space until she fell asleep. I highly recommend the upgrade to the Executive suite if you have a larger family.
When my husband and I recently returned to the resort post-renovation, we shared the standard queen room, which was still large and roomy. A sitting room sofa (that converts to a pull out bed), small table and chairs as well as additional seating make this room work for smaller families. And look at this pretty sunrise view from the balcony!
What’s for Families at the Renaissance Esmeralda?
The large and beautiful pool at the Renaissance Esmeralda is a big draw for families. After my 6-year old got over the disappointment that the resort pool didn’t have a water slide, he consoled himself on the sandy beach and in one of the two hot tubs! The pool area does get extremely crowded during the day and it’s easy to lose track of the kids. Also there aren’t any lifeguards on duty, so keep a close eye. There are towels available poolside, but bring your own flotation device for non-swimmers. I had to do a Target run for our toddler to purchase one.
The pool area is open very late which means if you have a pool view, you’re probably going to hear the noise. On one of the nights of our visit, there was an extremely loud “dive in movie” at the pool going on until nearly 10 pm. I recommend bringing ear plugs if you’re an early sleeper. A sleep mask is another good thing to pack as there were no blackout curtains in our room and the shutters didn’t fully block all the light.
Fun for Grown-Ups in Palm Springs, Too!
There’s plenty to do at the Renaissance Esmeralda in Indian Wells without the kids too. Check the young ones (ages 4-13) into Camp Esmeralda for the morning or evening session (reservations are recommended).
Then adults can enjoy the resort spa, Spa Esmeralda with a variety of pampering services and treatments. My husband and I loved the spa treatments and soaking in the co-ed outdoor tub together afterwards.
The fitness center is large and fully stocked with the best equipment for a workout on vacation. Check the hotel calendar upon check-in for additional activities. “Adult Storytime” is a fun evening event that happens weekly, with complimentary signature cocktails.
You know I travel frequently and have eaten at a lot of great restaurants. But I’ve never had such amazingly delicious food as I have on my visit to Renaissance Esmeralda!
Seriously, if you’re looking for great food, the dining options are top-notch. The Place is a colorful lounge spot and bar, located in the lower lobby near the pool exit. The breakfast buffet at CAVA was extensive with fresh made omelettes.
Return at night for tapas at CAVA Noche. We found this location to be upscale but still comfortable enough for kids. There’s also Japanese specialties at Glo Sushi or Italian dining at Sirocco Pizza Company. Read my travel dining hacks with kids.
Tips About Palm Springs with Kids
The Palm Springs area is quite easy to navigate. The Renaissance Esmeralda is in Indian Wells, located towards the southern end of the Palm Desert area. Driving on the 111, we were able to access many of the family activities around Palm Springs within 30 minutes or so. As California natives we’ve done a lot of exploring outdoors in San Diego.
Choose your vacation time wisely. During our first visit, we were there in early summer and the weather was already quite warm. Summer can bring some extreme heat. If you’re not used to the warmth of the desert you’ll definitely have a few extra considerations. Use sunscreen and reapply a lot. Drink plenty of water to maintain hydration. Aim to avoid the direct sun mid-day, seeking indoor activities when the weather is hottest.
Our second trip was in early December and the weather was perfection. We were able to take walks in the day wearing lightweight clothing. Jeans and a light jacket were appropriate for evening. If you’re able to visit during the spring, weather is also ideal.
1. Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert
While my husband and older kids took a guided tour on a jeep, my toddler and I explored at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert. We’ve done children’s museums in San Diego before but I was thrilled by the unique variety of things for my toddler to do here! We definitely could have spent the entire day playing here, my daughter was having a wonderful time.
The Children’s Discovery Museum offers over 80 hands-on exhibits, some of which are traveling for a limited time. My daughter is recently 2 years old and I was pleased that there was so much she was able to do here. She happily played “veterinarian” to stuffed puppy dogs, shopped for groceries, tested how balls and silks could “balance” on air jets and had a tea party in Toddlertown. I know that my six year old son would have enjoyed the museum and some of the more scientific experiments as well.
Children’s Discovery Museum in Palm Springs
There are both indoor playgrounds and grassy areas outside (with balls and toys). There are also shaded picnic benches. When you enter into the main building be sure to head outside to visit the other galleries. Each of the buildings is air conditioned but you’ll be in the sun when walking between the galleries. Seating is limited for adults inside the galleries but that’s only to encourage grown ups to play alongside their kids!
2. Palm Springs Golfing for All Ages
Palm Springs is known for their golf courses. But you might not think to take the kids! The Indian Wells Golf Resort is conveniently located right next door to the Renaissance Esmeralda resort. Guests of the Renaissance Esmeralda resort can practice putting or driving balls for free after noon! You don’t even need your own clubs or reservations, just show up. A complimentary shuttle transports guests back and forth but the walk is a quick 5 minutes.
My older kids (and my husband!) were so excited to try “real” golfing for the first time. While my husband and older kids played, the toddler and I walked around the pretty resort, taking pictures of the landscaping. There is a grill and bar with food for purchase, and complimentary water to stay hydrated.
When my husband and I returned to the Renaissance Esmeralda, he had the chance to take in 18 holes of golf on the beautiful course. I went along to drive the golf cart and enjoy the stunning views. What an awesome way to start the day!
3. Palm Springs Ariel Tramway
I have to admit that I declined the offer to take the Palm Springs Ariel Tramway. My fear of heights got the best of me and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to take that ride! However if heights don’t bother you, I highly recommend taking the tramway and you can read more about it on this TravelingMom post.
4. Palm Springs Red Jeep Tours
If you’re looking for a desert adventure, here are many tour companies that will take you on a Jeep tour of Joshua Tree National Park, Indian Canyons or Mecca Hills. The San Andreas Fault Jeep tour is what my family took with Desert Adventure’s Red Jeep Tours. Complimentary hotel pickup is available for guests staying in Palm Desert or Indian Wells. I opted out of taking the toddler so my three older kids and husband took the Red Jeep Tour. Phil was their tour guide. He picked them up directly in front of our hotel, which was extremely convenient. If your child rides in a booster seat, you’ll need to install it into the Jeep.
The tour takes place at the private Metate Ranch preserve on the San Andreas Fault. Phil tailored the private tour for my husband and kids. The tour visits an active earthquake fault system, which my teenagers thought was cool. My family learned about the Cahuilla Indians, about the plants and animals in the desert and saw a natural palm oasis with bubbling water from an underground aquifer. They also had time to explore in the deep canyons and take a brief hike. After panning for gold, my kids received a vial with some of the gold chips they’d discovered.
Kids Love This Palm Springs Jeep Tour
This is quote from my 6-year old about the Red Jeep Tour experience:
I liked panning for gold. I learned about a fire in the palm trees and heard stories about the Indian spirit words. Mine was called “Bright Spirit”. I like when I got the Indian arrowhead at the end.
This guided tour was my teenage son’s favorite part of our entire Palm Springs weekend:
It was a day to remember. I enjoyed the humor of our tour guide Phil and learning the history of Palm Springs. My favorite part was going to visit the reservoirs and see how they get water in the desert.
5. Palm Springs Air Museum
With one of the world’s largest collections of flyable WWII aircraft the Palm Springs Air Museum will appeal to aviation fans and history buffs alike. My friend (and self-professed “aviation geek”) Leslie of Trips with Tykes talks more about the Palm Springs Air Museum.
6. Cabazon Dinosaurs
The Cabazon Dinosaurs are one of the quirkiest roadside attractions! Located along the 10 fwy, you can’t miss this collection of dino statues while driving into the Palm Springs area. If you’re a fan of the movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure you’ll recognize this area from one of the scenes. If you want to climb inside Mr. Rex’s mouth like Pee-Wee did, there’s a additional fee. Otherwise you can view and take photos of the other dinosaurs without any charge.
7. Living Desert Zoo
As a San Diego native, I’m very familiar with our San Diego Zoo and didn’t know what to expect in Palm Springs. I was so pleased with our visit to the Living Desert Zoo! We visited early on Father’s Day and the crowds were very light, something I’m definitely not used to at the overly crowded San Diego Zoo. We were easily able to get close with the animals and linger as long as we wanted. I personally love the giraffes and it was incredible to be so close to them! You can even feed them for an additional fee.
My husband and teens were excited to point out some of the plants in the botanical gardens, recognizing them from the jeep tour the day prior. There are 1,400 different species of plants here, all beautifully maintained.
In addition to the gardens and animals, the Living Desert also has nature hiking trails in its preserve. Each of the three trails is varied in difficulty. The Living Desert Zoo itself is very walk-able. We didn’t even bring a stroller for the toddler, allowing her to walk freely on the paved paths and the dirt trails.
Palm Springs Living Desert
I do recommend wearing close toed shoes at the Living Desert in Palm Springs. I wore sandals and my feet were quite dusty after walking through the exhibits! If you want to minimize walking or enjoy more of a tour, there is an in-park shuttle service for a small additional fee.
Take time for the kids to admire the trains garden. This G-scale model train display is large and intricate with lots of fun interactive areas. Another can’t miss for young kids is Gecko Gulch. This play area offers plenty of shade and gives kids the chance to run around. The Saguaro cactus slide was a favorite!
Note that summer hours are abbreviated. On the day of our visit (mid-June) the park was only open from 8 am to 1:30 pm. Also some activities, like the carousel, camel rides, nature trails and lorikeet feedings aren’t available year-round so be sure to check the online calendar.
8. Wet n’ Wild Water Park
editor’s note: Wet n’ Wild Water Park Palm Springs has been closed. It is expected to be reopened late 2020 as the Palm Springs Surf Club with the addition of a new wave park as well as a restaurant and lounge. I have removed the review as a result of this news.
Fortunately if you’re staying at the Renaissance Esmeralda the amazing pool area more than makes up for the lack of a water park in Palm Springs!
What’s your favorite family-friendly activity in Palm Springs with kids?