Are you searching for things to do with kids in SoCal apart from Disney? Try the Desert Town of Palm Springs! There are plenty of indoor as well as outdoor family-friendly activities and lots of amazing things to do in Palm Springs with kids. Read our post for the ultimate Palm Springs with kids travel guide. We visited Palm Springs as part of our California Road Trip, you can check out our itinerary here.
Palm Springs is Los Angeles’s favorite weekend getaway. The desert city, located in the Sonoran desert, is just two hours drive away from LA’s chaos and offers plenty of shopping, relaxation at spa resorts, nature trails and hiking, adrenaline rush activities, and gourmet cuisine. Palm Springs is popular for romance or for Valentine’s Day, as a babymoon destination as well as for family vacations. Palm Springs has quite a few kid-friendly attractions – basically, everything from dinosaurs, camels, giraffes, miniature trains, water parks, candies, pretend play markets, and go karts! If you are looking to do something in SoCal with the kids apart from Disney, Palm Springs is a great alternative.
Also Read: Palm Springs Babymoon Guide
Dotted Globe contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full Disclosure here. Thank you!
Palm Springs 101
If you are planning to take the kids on a family vacation to Palm Springs, then here are a few cool things to know and share with them during your trip!
In spite of its location in the desert, Palm Springs has been inhabited for about two thousand years. The Cahuilla Native people were the original inhabitants and called the city, Se-Khi (meaning boiling water) due to the presence of hot springs in the area.
In the early 20th century, Palm Springs gained popularity as a wellness destination due to its unique desert location, mild climate, and hot springs. Then it became famous as an urban retreat for Hollywood movie stars and other celebrities, many preferred building homes in the desert city. With the wealthy clients, came reputed architects and as a result, mid-modern architecture flourished in Palm Springs.
Today, Palm Springs caters to all types of tourists including families with kids. It is especially popular as a spring break destination for families with preteens, teens, and even college kids. Palm Springs has lots of attractions for toddlers as well and is a great weekend or holiday destination in SoCal.
When to visit Palm Springs
Winter is peak travel season in Palm Springs. The weather in Palm Springs from November to February is mild, cool, and sort of perfect while the rest of the country and especially the north are covered in ice. Consequently, Canadians and tourists from the Northern States flock to Palm Springs and the town’s population swells to more than triple its size. If you plan to travel during winter, especially around the holidays, then be prepared for crowds and high prices. Advance reservations are also recommended during this time.
For great weather but low prices, try the shoulder season of late fall or around spring break. We visited Palm Springs in April and loved it. Summer in Palm Springs is quite hot. The weather is not great for hiking and other outdoor activities. But if you plan to spend lots of time in the pool and exploring indoor attractions then even summer vacations are a good time to visit.
Indoor things to do in Palm Springs with kids
Palm Springs has many indoor kid-friendly attractions which are great to visit during the summer months when the temperatures are unbearable. Apart from the usual fun destinations like children’s museums and waterparks, there are also many cultural attractions in the area. Consequently, Palm Springs is a great town to introduce pre-teens or teenagers to culture, art, and architecture. Here are the best indoor things to do with kids in Palm Springs:
Have fun at the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert in Rancho Mirage
Located in the greater Palm Springs area, the museum offers great fun and educational experience. Children can explore and learn from activities like brain teasers, tying different types of knots, do crafts, play dress up, shop in pretend markets, building with Legos, climbing rock wall, etc. There are lots of activities for kids of all ages including babies and toddlers. They also have seasonal classes and events for kids. Here’s a tip to make the most of your money: save the receipt and you can re-enter after having lunch or a nap for the littles. There are lots of things to do and the museum will easily keep the kids happy for hours.
See legendary fighter planes at the Palm Springs Air Museum
If your kids like planes and aviation history, they will love the Palm Springs Air Museum, located near the Palm Springs Airport. The museum ranks among top aviation museums in the world and is worth the entry price of $18 per person. The museum has 4 hangars and many World War II planes including a restored Boeing bomber plane on display. The planes formed a majority of US Air force units during the WWII, Vietnam War, and the Korean War. Most of the planes in the museum collection are in good condition and can still fly today. A lot of information about the planes is available on plaques or by asking the helpful museum docents. For an added price, visitors can even sit inside a simulator and imagine how it would be to fly a bomber plane during wartimes. The museum is a great educational experience for older kids.
Step back into time at the Ruddy’s General Store
Ruddy’s 1930s General Store and Museum is exactly what it sounds like – a grocery and general store frozen in time! It looks exactly how a store in that time period will look complete with interesting posters, adverts, signs, photographs and a wide variety of Depression Era products. Everything in the museum has been made before WWII and in America. At less than a dollar admission price per person, the store/museum is an amazing place to visit with the kids and look at items like ink pens, cigarettes, coke bottles, tootsie rolls, and even baby bottle nipples. You will spot familiar brands like Coke, Bayer’s, as well as others that disappeared with time. My son loved looking at the chess set and other recreation items.
Develop an appreciation for the arts at Palm Springs Art Museum
The Palm Springs Art Museum has a premier art collection and includes works of Picasso, Native American artists among other artists. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum also has beautiful temporary exhibits. The collections include a lot of modern, contemporary sculptures including a giant one of Snoopy, the Dog, which is much loved by the kids. If you don’t want to spend on the tickets but still teach the kids to appreciate art, then try visiting on the free Thursday afternoons. Other museum artwork includes ceramics, glass sculptures, furniture, and digital/film media. We also recommend taking a walk through the outdoor premises and checking out the sculptures there.
Understand Native American culture at the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum
The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians were the first settlers in this area. The Agua Caliente reservation and thousands of acres of Native American land is located next to Palm Springs. A great way to understand their culture is by visiting the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum. The museum has pottery exhibits, baskets woven by Indian artists, and information on medicinal uses of desert plants, etc. The gift store sells books about the native culture, Native American jewelry, and other artifacts. (Note: The existing museum was small hence a larger museum is currently under construction and the museum next to Ruddy’s General Stores Museum is currently closed for 2019.)
Visit 19th century pioneer homes
The Village Green Heritage Center on palm Canyon Drive has 4 amazing museums, 2 of which are the Ruddy’s General Store and Museum and the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum discussed above. The other 2 historical sites include 19th century pioneer homes: McCallum Adobe and Miss Cornelia White’s Little House. These are the two oldest buildings in palm Springs and have been converted into museums by the Palm Springs Historical Society. Adobe house museum has vintage photographs, letters, and paintings about life in 19th century Palm Springs. The Little House is preserved in 19th-century furnishings and great to walk through. Admission to both the museums is free and they provide a great learning experience into the city’s history.
See the handmade Cabot’s Pueblo
The Pueblo Museum was built by hand by Cabot Yerxa, one of the founders of the city of Desert Hot Springs in the 1950s. The Pueblo resembles the Hopi Native Pueblos. Cabot used lumber from abandoned cabins in the Coachella Valley and created sun-dried bricks for his house. The completed building is 4 stories and has 35 rooms. Inside you can see Cabot’s vast collection of Native American paintings and artwork. Seeing the Pueblo and imagining the labor that went into its building is an amazing experience.
Visit Robolights in December
If you happen to be visiting Palm Springs during the holiday season in December, then you should absolutely visit Robolights. Kids love this unique and strange attraction. Robolights is a sci-fi themed, residential lights display with artwork made from recycled items. Made by Palm Springs artist, Kenny Irwin, Robolights can be visited from Thanksgiving to New Year every year at the artist’s home. You can see the art pieces without lights for the rest of the year by appointment. At Robolights, you will find aliens and robots mingling with reindeers and Santa Claus in an arresting display of thousands of lights. You will see everyday objects including cycles, television sets, arcade machines, dishes, pipes, and even toilet seat converted into art and decked in string lights and light bulbs – totally must visit!
Outdoor things to do in Palm Springs with kids
Palm Springs and the surrounding desert area of Coachella Valley have a number of outdoor attractions which are perfect for kids to burn their energy. We especially love hiking or biking with our toddler and baby – start them young is our motto!
Explore Downtown Palm Springs and see the Walk of Stars
Downtown Palm Springs is a great place to people watch, shop, eat, and explore for the whole family. It even has its own Walk of Stars like the one in Los Angeles. It’s fun to walk and try to spot your favorite Hollywood icons. I’d suggest walking on Palm Canyon Drive, which is the main street of Palm Springs, and spotting as many stars as you can – Elvis, Frank Sinatra. You will also come across the statue of Sonny Bono, the famous entertainer and the former mayor of Palm Springs.
Other great things to do downtown include stopping at Balboa Candy for water taffies, Brandini Toffee for free samples and toffee shakes, Great Shakes for a date shake, and Lapperts for ice-cream and dole whip – yes the same one you get at Disneyland! Also, check out the souvenirs and collectibles at the Cocky Cactus store. For lunch we went to Bill’s Pizza – this is supposed to be one of the best pizzas in the country and it didn’t disappoint!
On Palm Canyon Drive, you will also find a Starbucks Reserve. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery is unlike regular Starbucks stores; it is huge with lots of seating and looks more like an upscale eatery. You can watch the baristas prepare your coffee over a low bar, sit by the counter to watch the brewing methods, order coffee flights, and drink your favorite cup from a special Reserve container.
On Thursday nights, enjoy Village Fest on Palm Canyon Drive. A section of the street becomes a walking plaza and you can see entertainers, buskers, vendors, and local farmers showing their skills and selling wares. Village Fest is lively and vibrant – a great hit with the kids!
Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto Mountains
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is easily #1 attraction for both kids and adults because of the ride itself and the birds-eye views from the top. The tram takes visitors from the desert floor in Palm Springs to the top of the mountains with an elevation of 8500 feet in about 10 minutes, hence it’s the popular name of Cactus to the Clouds. The cable cars have glass windows and rotate on the way up so you will have wonderful views of the area. The tram stops inside the visitor center with a restaurant. The visitor center has taxidermy animal exhibits as well as a movie based on the tramway engineering.
We also recommend taking the stairs to the upper deck of the restaurant to see the Grubbs View. Rangers at the visitor center can help you with choosing a trail plus give trail maps. The San Jacinto Wilderness Area has several hiking trails of varying difficulty levels. Our favorite is the moderate 2.5 miles long Desert View Trail which has great viewpoints over the desert and takes an hour to complete.
If you have older kids you can also hike to the top of the mountain peak. It gets quite cool at the top with average temperatures being 30 degrees cooler than the desert floor so we recommend dressing in extra layers (snow jacket is must during winter) and wearing good grip hiking shoes. There is a little cafe at the top but if you want to spend the day hiking, we would suggest bringing along some snacks and water in a daypack. A word of caution: the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is not great for those with a fear of heights.
Feed giraffes and go on camel rides at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is the #1 thing to do in Palm Spring with kids. There are so many things to do at the Zoo that you can easily spend an entire day here. The gardens are really beautiful with many desert plants and are great for a stroll. There is also a hummingbird and butterfly garden area. They also have many hiking trails – if you plan to do any of the hikes, bring sunscreen, hats, and lots of water, plus allot at least half a day for the activity.
The zoo has native desert animals plus many African animals including zebras and giraffes. The animals are mostly in their natural habitats and kids can feed giraffes and ride camels as a bonus. There are also many animal exhibits including the bighorn sheep exhibit and an area where you can watch cheetahs run. There is also a petting area with miniature goats and a wildlife presentation in the theatre.
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens also has a miniature/model train display area with 4 different trains and many villages set up around the train route. While the zoo requires a lot of walking, there are trams available to take you around the enclosures. If visiting in summer, we recommend going early to stay out of the heat.
Snowshoe, ski or build a snowman on the mountain top
If you take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in winter – especially around December or January, you will find lots of snow! Everything from the trails to the facilities is covered in snow and the area is perfect for a snow fight, building a snowman or just playing in the snow. Other snow activities include sledding, snowshoeing, etc. We visited Palm Springs in April and while there wasn’t snow at the top, many of the surrounding peaks were still covered in snow and looked beautiful!
Check out the vast collection of cacti at the Moorten Botanical Gardens
Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs is dedicated to desert plants and has a vast variety of cacti of various shapes and sizes as well as other succulents. They also have many rare varieties of cacti in a greenhouse. You can easily spend an hour or two walking the trails and at $5 admission per person, it is definitely worth a visit. If you go in spring as we went, you will find a lot of the species blooming with beautiful flowers. Inside the garden, you will also find pigeons, hummingbirds and desert turtles. My son especially as fascinated by the turtles and kept taking their photo with his camera. While you visit Moorten’s, eat the famous German pancake at nearby Elmers.
Check out the fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market
There are several farms near Coachella Valley in southern California and you can buy their produce at the Palm Springs Farmers Market on Saturday. Kids will love seeing the fresh and ripe produce including grapes, citrus fruits, mangos, avocados, carrots, etc. You will also find baked products, cheeses, local honey, pastries. The Farmers Market is very family friendly and you will also find interesting demonstrations and live music to keep the children occupied.
Tour celebrity homes including the house where Elvis honeymooned
Because of its proximity to Los Angeles, Palm Springs has always been a popular choice for vacation homes for Hollywood celebrities. Their homes have made Palm Springs famous – some of the houses are architectural beauties while others have been associated with historic events. You can either search for them and do a DIY driving tour or better yet – see them all on one convenient celebrity homes tour! This is a fun activity for the whole family and will keep teens obsessed with movies super happy. On the tour, you can see the splendid Kauffman house, Frank Sinatra’s house in Rancho Mirage, etc.
Beat the heat by indulging in some water fun at a water park
Palm Springs can get unbearably hot in the summer and the kids can get cranky – that’s when you go to one of the area’s water parks and splash the afternoon away. Palm Desert Aquatic Center has a great splash park area which is awesome even for toddlers and preschoolers who can’t swim and a dive and slides for the older kids. Another great option is the Wet ‘n’ Wild Amusement Park. (Note: Wet n Wild will be closed for 2019 due to renovations) Alternatively, you can also stay in a pool resort hotel and lounge by the poolside all noon.
Have a fun day at Boomers theme park
Boomers Palm Springs is a great theme park for the family and has plenty of kid-friendly attractions like go-karts, rock wall, miniature golf, and arcade games like air hockey and basketball. If you go mid-week it’s not too busy and you can enjoy most attractions without a fee. The tickets are not very expensive and the theme park often has large group discounts as well as Groupon deals, making it worth the cost.
See the famous windmills and learn about wind energy
You cannot visit Palm Springs without seeing the famous windmills. The Palm Springs windmill farm covers a huge area and harnesses the high wind energy in the desert to generate electricity. The windmills are everywhere along the I-10 starting a little before Cabazon and continue along the road – they look beautiful with the San Bernardino mountains in the backdrop. The windmills were featured in the movie Mission Impossible III. My son loved seeing all the windmills with their rotating blades. You can even go on a tour of the windmill farm and get to learn more about how wind energy is harnessed.
Play ‘where are the mountains’ game!
Most places in Palm Springs always have a great view of the San Jacinto mountain ranges and we enjoy quizzing our toddler on the mountain’s directions, whether we are doing outdoor activities or just stepping out from an indoor attraction. This is a great game for toddler and preschoolers and we find ourselves playing variations of this game wherever we go because it improves our toddler’s (as well as our) map/orientation skills. Our toddler is always super happy when he guesses the direction of the main mountain peak properly!
Kid-friendly things to do near Palm Springs
Along with the amazing things to do in Palm Springs, there are many other kid-friendly attractions in the neighboring area. Palm Springs serves as a perfect getaway to explore Coachella Valley Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, and the surrounding desert landscape. Here are our top favorite things to do near Palm Springs for kids:
See the T-Rex at the Cabazon Dinosaur Museum
The Cabazon Dinosaur Museum is located on the road from Los Angeles to Palm Springs but this out of town attraction is popular because, well, it has dinosaurs! Seriously, is there any kid alive who doesn’t like dinosaurs? Our son is crazy about them and the Cabazon dinosaurs are a great place for such kids. The huge dinosaur sculptures were built over 30 years ago. The most famous of Cabazon Dinosaurs is undoubtedly the T-Rex – kids can climb into its head for an extra fee. Cabazon apatosaurus is the biggest dino sculpture in the world. You can see the apatosaurus and T=Rex, lovingly called Mr. Rex for free but need to pay the entry fee to see other dinosaurs and interactive exhibits. The museum is open air and has a lot of plastic dinosaurs, toys, and lots of dinosaur sculptures including velociraptors, stegosaurus, etc.
Drink a date shake at Hadley Fruit Orchards
Just before the Cabazon dinosaurs, you will see the large store of Hadley Fruit Orchards. Hadley’s has been a roadside icon since the Depression era. Their date shake is very famous and one of the musts when visiting Palm Springs. Till recently, Hadley’s was housed in the original store – rustic but small. Since then it has moved into a modern grocery store with an eatery section. You can order both the original date shake or a blended banana date shake. We also ate the cheese pizza here and it wasn’t bad. Another great place to drink the date shake is at Shields Date Garden, which is much further down the road from Palm Springs.
Go hiking at Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua tree makes the perfect day trip from Palm Springs; you can read our guide on One day in Joshua Tree Itinerary here. The National Park is famous for the odd-shaped Joshua trees that dot the landscape for miles. The park also has other unique vegetation including the desert smoke tree, fan palm oases, cholla cactus, ocotillo cactus, etc. Joshua tree is also known for its unique shaped boulders and rock formations including Skull Rock, Arch Rock, etc. The scenic Hidden Valley trail is a short trail that is great for kids. Our son also enjoyed hiking to the fan palm oasis near the Cottonwood Visitor Center. You can learn about the stars and planets on a stargazing trip to the park. Joshua Tree National Park is said to have some of the darkest night skies and is honored with the Dark Sky Park status.
Discover a lush palm oasis in the middle of the desert and search for petroglyphs in the Indian Canyons
Indian Canyons is a group of three canyons: Palm Canyon, Murray Canyon, and Andreas Canyon. The canyons are in Indian owned land and that’s how the area got its name. There are many scenic hiking trails with beautiful views in the Indian Canyons. We recommend the 1 mile long Andreas Canyon loop trail for first-time visitors. The walk is through sandy soil with lots of rocks, so hiking shoes are a must. The trail will take to a lush green oasis of Palm trees. We loved seeing an oasis after having read of it in books. A spring runs along the trail and is very scenic. In spring the entire area is blooming with wildflowers. Another great option is the 3 mile Palm Canyon trail. The Cahuilla Indians, who originally inhabited the area around Palm Springs, carved several petroglyphs into the rocks inside the canyon walls. These petroglyphs can be observed along guided trails in the area. Several other trails are also easy to explore for families, you can talk to rangers for trail recommendations.
Climb the ladders and see the beautiful colors in Painted Canyon
Preteens and teenagers will love hiking in Painted Canyon. This moderately strenuous trail has everything from tall ladders, a little bit of rock climbing, walking through a slot canyon, gorgeous views from the top, and beautiful colors of surrounding rocks. The hike takes about 3 hours round-trip and will delight kids of all ages. The road to the car park is sandy and we recommend parking a good way behind the car park so as not to get stuck in the sand. Initially, the Ladder Canyon Trail will take you up narrow passages and through multiple ladders to the top from where you will have great views of the Salton Sea. On the way down, you will descend into Painted Canyon and see beautiful colors of the canyon walls. We recommend printing online trail maps, following the rock arrows on the trail, and carrying plenty of water for this hike.
Visit the beautiful Coachella Valley Preserve to learn about the desert ecology
Coachella Valley Preserve and the Thousand Palms Oasis are a great place to learn about the area’s desert ecology and geology. The preserve is located just 20 minutes away from Palm Springs and is free to visit. This is a great alternative if you don’t want to pay the entry fee for the Indian Canyons area. Visitors can hike to the sand dunes and back, the trail meanders through palm oasis, small creeks, and a small pond.
The Visitor Center has great information and pictures about the Palm Oasis, the desert landscape shaped by the San Andreas fault, and the rare desert wildlife. We saw quite a few animal tracks on the trails. The San Andreas fault passes through the preserve and from the trail you can get a good view of the faultline. The trails get very hot in the summer so plan to reach early in the morning and bring lots of water. You can even see Coachella Valley from a hot air balloon or a helicopter ride – this is a hit with the older kids!
Hike the trail to Tahquitz Falls
Located in lower Tahquitz Canyon, Tahquitz Falls is a waterfall on the Tahquitz River that plunges 60 feet from a granite slab and forms a deep pool below. Tahquitz Canyon and the surrounding area are on land owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The falls are on the national register of historic places. For an entry fee, visitors to Tahquitz Canyon can hike the trail to the waterfalls; trail map is included in the price. The trail map has 8 different viewpoints/places of interest and includes ancient Indian paintings on sacred rocks. The waterfall at the end of the hike is very beautiful. You can swim and wade in the pool at the bottom; the water is quite cold and feels wonderful in summer. The trail then loops behind the waterfall and returns to the Visitor Center. The round trip hike is 2 miles and can be easily done even by younger kids. However, the waterfall does dry out during severe summers and drought times so we recommend inquiring at the visitor center before you go.
See the famous San Andreas fault
The San Andreas Fault Line is the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate. It is one of the most popular fault lines in the world, mainly because it is easily visible and accessible. The 2015 movie San Andreas is based on the scenario that the fault line gives and a devastating earthquake occurs in California. Most kids know the fault only through books or in school and seeing it in person is a pretty cool experience! While it is not easy to simply drive a car and go see the fault, you can see it in a Hummer / Jeep Tour. The 4WD vehicles are designed to navigate the desert terrain and tour includes experienced tour guides who can explain the history and geology of the area. The tour often includes desert hikes and offer a similarly thrilling experience akin to the Middle Eastern desert safaris. These tours are not inexpensive but totally worth the unique and memorable experience of looking at an actual geological fault and driving over the rugged terrain of the Sonoran desert in an open vehicle.
See the desert sculptures in Anza Borrego
Located about an hour and a half away from Palm Springs, the Anza Borrego Desert Park is known for its fantastic metal sculptures. The sculptures are large, extremely vivid, painted a rust red color, and look surreal in the desert landscape. Created by artist and sculptor Ricardo Breceda, the sculptures are beautifully intricate and amazing works of art. Some of the sculptures include that of sea dragon, dinosaurs, scorpion and grasshopper, mammoths, giant sloths, etc. Kids of all ages are sure to love these huge sculptures.
See the war tanks at General Patton Museum
Located an hour away from Palm Springs on the I-10 towards Arizona, the General Patton Memorial Museum is a cool place to explore with children. The museum has about a dozen tanks on the premises while the indoor building has an old army car, wartime maps, guns, swords, saddles, and a replica of General Patton himself. The tanks are well-maintained and majestic, looking at them shining in the desert made me reimagine the times when they ruled the battlegrounds. There is also an amphibian duck vehicle – seeing it in its original setting is such a sharp contrast to it’s more popular use as land/water tour vehicle!
Explore the ruins of Salton Sea and Bombay Beach
While not strictly a kid-friendly activity, preteens and teens will enjoy exploring among the ruins of Bombay Beach. The Salton Sea is a saline lake located on the San Andreas fault in Southern California and was created by the flooding of the Colorado River in 1905. In the 1950s, Salton Sea was a very popular recreational area and resorts like Bombay Beach thrived on its shores. As the salinity increased and the water became polluted, the resorts were abandoned. Today you can see the remains by visiting the shores. Bombay Beach is a little over an hour away from Palm Springs and has the most photographic ruins.
Did you like our list of things to do in Palm Springs with kids? Let us know in comments!