Looking for a fun and easy place for a family vacation? Palm Springs is your place. Blessed with palm trees and blue skies, Palm Springs is a small family-friendly city with a pleasant desert climate.
There’s plenty of great things to do in Palm Springs with kids and loads of family-friendly restaurants. Plus, most of the locals are active retirees, who simply love kids and will make yours feel welcome and special.
We visited the Palm Springs area for two weeks in February with our kids, aged 4 & 6. Here is what you need to know about traveling to Palm Springs with kids:
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Getting into Palm Springs with Kids
Unless you are simply visiting grandparents, most families visiting Palm Springs will need a rental car. Palm Springs is a small city, but it’s spread out and it takes a while to get from place-to-place.
There are nine car rental companies operating out of the Palm Springs International Airport. It pays to shop around for the best deal, so using a comparison service like Rentalcars.com is a good idea. We ended up getting a cool black Jeep through Budget.
We like the flexibility and freedom a rental car gives us, but we are not comfortable with the fact that most rental car companies will not guarantee the availability of a rental child seat. We also don’t like the risk of bringing our own heavy convertible child seats on airplanes, so we bought some high-back booster seats to use in our rental car.
If your kids need car seats and you are also not comfortable bringing your own, check out our Travelling with Car Seats post for more ideas.
If you don’t need a rental car or child seats, it’s super easy to grab a taxi, Uber or Lyft at the airport.
Where to Stay in Palm Springs
Due to a mix-up at our main hotel, we spent our first night in Palm Springs at the Renaissance Esmerelda Resort in Indian Wells. The Renaissance Esmerelda was a much fancier hotel and we made the most of it by having an amazing buffet breakfast in their Cava restaurant. It was quite possibly one of the best hotel buffet breakfasts we’d ever had!
We stayed the following four nights at the Courtyard by Mariott – Palm Desert. It was a perfectly good Palm Springs hotel at a reasonable price in a good location, but to be honest, it was hard not the think of the Renaissance – ha-ha.
Despite the mix-up on our first night, we enjoyed our stay the Courtyard. By our standards, it was a good Palm Springs hotel for kids, with a good à la carte breakfast and a heated outdoor pool and hot tub.
For more family-friendly Palm Springs hotels, check-out the Top Picks for Families on Booking.com.
We’ve started staying at hotels a bit more now that our kids are getting older; primarily because they love free hotel breakfasts. But typically, we stay in Airbnb rentals as we find them way better for families.
You can find places with separate bedrooms, a kitchen and laundry facilities. If you prefer a vacation rental, check out the available Palm Springs Airbnb rentals.
If you are new to Airbnb, you can sign up with our link and get a $35USD credit towards your first stay.
4 Day Palm Springs Itinerary with Kids
Palm Springs is a top vacation destination for so many reasons. There’s world class golfing, a vibrant arts scene, abundant outlet shopping and tons of fantastic restaurants.
We were drawn to Palm Springs for its beautiful mountain desert scenery, active, outdoor lifestyle and its many attractions that are kid friendly. Palm Springs for families is a great choice!
Here’s how we spent our four days in Palm Springs with kids:
Hiking the Cross Loop Trail
With impressive mountains all around and health-conscious residents, it’s no surprise there are an abundance of hiking trails around Palm Springs. We love urban hiking on our holidays and feel that hiking is one of the best things for kids to do in Palm Springs.
After checking out of the Renaissance Esmerelda Resort, we drove to the nearby mountains on the southwest edge of Palm Springs for a short hike. We had read about the Cross Loop Trail in our inflight magazine on the flight down and thought it sounded like a fun outing.
The Palm Desert Cross is a large Catholic Cross which sits on the top of a hill at the edge of Palm Springs. The hike up to the Palm Desert Cross is a very popular activity for locals and visitors alike who are looking for a scenic, family-friendly hike around Palm Springs.
The Cross Loop Trail is 3.4 miles (5.5km) long and has 775 feet (237m) of elevation gain. It took us 2 hours and 20 minutes of moving time to complete this hike.
For more details on the Palm Desert Cross Loop Trail, see our full blog post.
The Living Desert Zoo and the Wilderness Loop Trail
When we asked our friends what to do in Palm Springs with kids, they recommended the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. We don’t typically visit zoos when we travel, but once we read the Living Desert Zoo was named one of the 10 Best Zoos in the United States and that it has some of the best hiking in Palm Springs, we were in!
We began our visit to The Living Desert Zoo by exploring the African side. We were happy to see all the enclosures were large and efforts have been made to create natural habitats for the animals.
The giraffe exhibit has a viewing platform which provides a fun opportunity to see them at face level. Upon our arrival, there were at least seven giraffes at the viewing platform along with many kudu antelopes and ostriches. We were going to pay extra to give our kids the chance to feed the giraffes, but sadly the tower of giraffes had moved on and there were no giraffes to feed.
There were many other favorites in the African exhibits including warthogs, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, zebras, African wild dogs, meerkats and Oryx. We were pretty lucky with our sightings as most animals were awake and active. There’s also a fun little petting zoo where kids can use hand brushes to pet small goats.
The Wilderness Loop Trail begins at the transition point between the African and North American exhibits, so we took a break from the animals and went on a very enjoyable, highly scenic hike. See our Wilderness Loop Trail blog post (coming soon) for more details.
We finished our day with the North American side of the zoo. We rewarded the kids for their excellent hiking with a ride on the carousel before venturing off to see the animals. We saw bald and golden eagles, a mountain lion, bobcat, desert lynx, a huge badger and a Mexican wolf.
The Living Desert Zoo is filled with beautiful well labeled gardens and also has a huge outdoor model train section, which our son loved. Sadly, it was late in the day and no trains were operating.
Hiking Palm Canyon to the Victor Loop
The Agua Caliente Indian Reservation is a beautiful place just south of the Palm Springs Airport. The reserve is open to the public, allowing us to enjoy the natural beauty of their lands with our kids.
The Palm Canyon hike in the Agua Caliente Reservation is one of the best Palm Springs family activities. The Palm Canyon hike is an easy walk which follows a lazy stream through one of the largest palm oasis’ in the world.
As the name suggests, the towering palm trees rest in the valley of a canyon, providing a wonderful amount of midday shade on a hot day.
We hiked along the beautiful Palm Canyon trail for 1.6 miles (2.5km) and we could have continued onwards, but we elected to go back to the Agua Caliente Trading Post via the Victor Loop, which climbs up one of the canyon walls.
It doesn’t take much climbing to get a beautiful view of the palm oasis below, along with the towering snowcapped mountains in the distance.
Learn more about the Palm Canyon Trail and the Victor Trail (coming soon).
Hiking Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Trail
The Mecca Hills Wilderness is home to the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Trail; one of the best hikes around Palm Springs. The Mecca Hills Wilderness is about a 50-minute drive south-east from Palm Desert, but it’s worth the effort.
The Ladder Canyon is a hike up a towering, narrow slot canyon. There are several spots where you need to climb a metal ladder to continue along the path. Our kids loved getting to climb ladders on a hike and ran at top speed running through the tight, winding path of the slot canyon.
After a couple of miles, you ascend to the top of the canyon and walk atop the canyon wall looking down on the Painted Canyon Trail. The views of the surrounding canyons and distant mountains are pretty epic too.
The walk back to the trailhead takes you through the Painted Canyon Trail. As you’d imagine the canyon is filled with colorful rocks; pinks, greens, purple and lots of black and white marble. It’s a beautiful sight, especially when the sun is able to reach down into the Painted Canyon to shine on the colorful rocks.
The canyon walls are massive, and despite the canyon being quite narrow, it never becomes a slot canyon like Ladder Canyon. There are a couple of ladders to climb down on this leg of the hike as well.
This was certainly the most unique Palm Springs kids activities we did during our trip! Learn more in our full blog post on Hiking the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Trail near Palm Springs.
Ideas to Extend Your Palm Springs Family Vacation
Our Palm Springs family vacation didn’t end after 4 days. We spent the next 4 days enjoying unique landscapes and hiking in Joshua Tree National Park with kids.
And of course, no visit to Palm Springs with kids would be complete without visiting Disneyland and Legoland, both of which are so close and so good, it’d be a shame to not take advantage.
Family-Friendly Restaurants in Palm Springs
We try to seek out highly rated, family friendly restaurants when we travel. Here are the kid-friendly Palm Springs restaurants we visited. We list them in order of our favorites first.
Grill-A-Burger: According to all the awards framed on the wall, this local institution has won the “Best Burger” in Palm Springs about a bazillion times. It has also been featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. We got there a little before 5:00 and we’re glad we did because it was lined up out the door shortly afterwards.
I got the Mexican themed Pancho Villa burger, while Celine had the blue-cheese themed “Code Blue Orgasmic Burger”. We had garlic fries and onion rings on the side. The kids each had a humongous hot dog and fries. The service was fast, the food was fresh and hot and best of all, it was all very delicious.
We came back a second time on our final night in Palm Springs. The kids earned a good meal after hiking the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Trail, so when they asked for hot dogs again, we were happy to oblige.
Island Boka Sushi Poke: Our daughter was bugging us to go for sushi since we arrived in Palm Springs. We love sushi so we easily gave in to her demands. Island Boka Sushi Poke was a 5-minute drive from our Palm Desert hotel and had decent reviews, so we gave it a try.
The restaurant is pretty casual and the staff are very friendly. The sushi and tempura we ordered were very good and our kids ate their fill, even our picky 4-year-old!
We enjoyed the Mango Tango rolls and the Philadelphia rolls the best. We liked everything about our visit, except the bill – it was very expensive. We didn’t eat a ton, but it was the most expensive meal of our whole trip.
Maracas Mexican Cantina & Grill: We love Mexican food, so whenever we are in the southern USA near the border, we always look for a good Mexican feast. As a bonus, it’s also one of the foods we can count on our kids eating when we eat out.
Maracas Mexican Cantina was well reviewed and near our hotel, so we gave it a shot. It was a nice, but simple Palm Springs Mexican restaurant with fun Latin music playing for ambience. We were served a huge plate of tortilla chips and a large bowl of salsa as a complimentary appetizer – which we loved. The salsa was a bit spicy, but the kids didn’t mind.
The food was prepared very fast and within minutes of our order the food was on the table. We appreciate such fast service when we eat out with our kids.
The food was good, but admittedly, not great. It was Tex-Mex (not Mexican), which is fine, but there just wasn’t anything special about it. We all enjoyed our meals, but none of us raved about them either.
Decent food, lots of tortilla chips and fast service – overall, not a bad experience.
Palm Springs Smoothies and Acai Bowls
After one of our hikes, we stopped for a mid-afternoon treat and got smoothies at Fresh Juice Bar. We got Desert Delight smoothies made from Coachella Valley Dates, while the kids split an Acai Smoothie (they got hooked on Acai during our recent trip to Colombia). The smoothies were very good and a great treat on a hot California afternoon.
Our last meal before hopping on our flight back to Canada was a simple, refreshing one. It was a hot day, but we were wearing our warmer clothes for our flight, so none of us wanted a hot meal. While window shopping in downtown Palm Springs, we stopped into Fruit Wonders for some Acai bowls.
It was a perfect choice; so refreshing and delicious. With a wide variety of additional toppings such as chia seeds and fresh fruit, it was surprisingly filling.