Lifestyle · Travel · Willow & Wonder

Palm Springs & Joshua Tree Family vacation activity guide!!!




Okay.  I think you get the idea.  This gallery represents four years of family trips to the desert and each time we come back with a wealth of knowledge about how to make it a fun family experience.  Just note that this is not a guide for 30 year olds, that are single; this is for sure a slow-paced family guide!  LOL.

Now I’m not gonna lie but Palm Springs is a little tough with kids.  The vast majority of tourists want to dress in mod clothing and drink fancy cocktails poolside.  I am with them all the way.  Someday that will be me minus the anti-kid vibe.  So every time we put our little toes in the pool water, by golly there was someone frowning at us.  People don’t want to have their adult time tainted with family laughter.  Just be aware that even in semi-family friendly zones there always seemed to be a bit of this going on.  This can all be avoided at the Knotts Soak City, however!

Favorite Attractions for Kids:

The living Desert

This was by far my favorite attraction for the whole fam damly.  I absolutely loved it!  I wanted to move there just so I could become a member.  The children’s playground was insane.  It had a cactus slide, snakes to climb on, spider webs, water tables, and the best thing of all…the wild animal carousel.  Hands down the best carousel I have ever seen.  See the gallery above for pictures of this playground and ride.  It was beautiful.  Willow is on the hummingbird!

Then there’s camels to ride, giraffes to feed, you can pet and feed goats, see live animal shows, and the animals are out in the wild for the most part.  It doesn’t feel like a cooped up zoo does; they have space to roam.  I even saw teepees for some overnight event; again if you’re a member this could be the coolest thing since French bread!

Pack snacks, lots of water (we were cookin’ and my daughter’s face was red, definitely make sure to go early in the morning and take a long cool lunch break).  Buy a desert book for kids.  I became quite enamored with the Palm Desert area when we drove around to find this place.  I like that Palm Desert is more normal living verse Palm Springs.  It’s less touristy and so many of the buildings are brand new and beautiful with so much space between them.  I was amazed by how well kept everything was.

The Children’s Museum

This was one of those buildings (well all 3 of them were) that knocked my socks off.  Three huge buildings all full of children’s learning activities and play areas with a parking lot empty and all brand new.  I wanted to pinch myself walking into it.  This is what is amazing about being out there.  Time slows down and people are more relaxed.  This museum is in between Palm Springs and Palm Desert.

They have this grocery store and pizzeria pretend play area that is so adorable.  Willow wanted to play in those most of the time.  They have everything from physics labs, to building blocks, reading nooks and electric mini car building areas.  It was impressive.  The first year we went we were able to color a Volkswagen bus painted with chalk paint that was outside for drawing on.  We did it until it was too hot.

Joshua Tree National Park

Hiking in the desert is amazing.  Taking little ones is a bit more nerve wracking but can be done with care.   Starting early in the morning is essential and don’t go much later than the month of May.  We went in May and in April on different occasions and April had perfect weather.  It was in the mid 80s which was decent enough for hiking and didn’t take everything we had.  In May we struggled with the heat and fatigue and went through water fast.

Plan your day from when the park opens so that you can hike for several hours before noon.  Be sure to have gallons of water for your family and for your car incase you overheat.  Have a cooler with a picnic lunch, some umbrellas or available shade for your lunchtime and lots of snacks.  Always hike with a bottle of water!  Make sure your hands are free so you can climb comfortably with tennis shoes or hiking shoes and a backpack.

When we were there this last trip I saw many artists all set-up with aisles and umbrellas painting the desert landscape.  It inspired me that I should have brought watercolors for us to do as an activity.  So, I encourage you to paint the desert in a shady spot as a nice way to take a break and have sentimental paintings to take home with you.  There are lots of picnic tables at different sites, one good one was Hidden Valley lunch area.  Also, get a junior ranger book at the visiting center to do while you’re out there; perhaps to do after you’ve done a lot of hiking so you can take advantage of the cooler air while exercising.

Our favorite hiking spots

Follow this hiking link to help devise your perfect day

Hemingway – a simple stroll and nice way to start the day.

Hidden Valley – a very popular site with a nice variety of hikes.

Ryan Mountain – bighorn sheep pass through supposedly – this was uphill a bit with a rock pathway.  I loved that it was a regular hiking trail that was more scenic than climbing in all the boulders.  Sometimes with little ones the boulders can be intimidating.  It requires strength, patience and hovering.  A straight path was a good way to just enjoy the scenery.  We had a rule that mommy and daddy must look in the crevasses and caves before our little one could go in to explore since rattle snakes want to be in the shade.

The Hall of Horrors – lots of boulders, some caves and beautiful Joshua Trees close together.

Jumbo Rocks (is on the bucket list for best campsites to hit)  Absolutely, gorgeous with huge rocks!!

The visitor center was a fun stop.  Lots to see and learn about.  The old west store across the street is a must see too.  Don’t speed in the park, not even one mile per hour over.  You will pay for it.  Definitely checkout the desert books for kids.  They have wonderful stories and coloring books!

Take your kids here, they will love it.  It is a must do!!!  Use the entrance to the park that connects to the 62, going through Yucca Valley instead of the Cottonwood on the 10 E.  The Yucca Valley entrance is only about a mile from the gorgeous rock formations and sites, the other entrance is a good 45 minute drive through vast barren desert to get you to the sites.  I don’t recommend it.

Things I wanted to see and didn’t:

The Cholla Cactus Garden looks amazing!   We needed more gasoline to  pull it off.  That’s another tip, go in with a full  tank of gas so you can explore at your leisure.

The Willow Hole

The Fortynine Palms Oasis

Mara Oasis

It’s always good to have things to go back for!  Let me know in the comments some of your favorite hikes there or secret gems!

Cabazon Dinosaurs

This is a fun stop for the kids on the way into Palm Springs, about 20 miles away.  These huge dinosaurs hovering in the sky are easy to spot and instantly make your kid long to see them up close.  Be sure to get the right exit since you will have to travel ten miles or so to backtrack.  There is a darling little dinosaur museum at about $13 per adult and like $11 for kids.  It is worth it though.  I even thought of just having one parent go through it while the other shops in the dinosaur museum by the T Rex, (if you wanted to save a little money).  It’s a small museum and really only takes about a half hour to make your way through it.  It is perfect for children but kind of expensive for what it is.

The kids can pan for gold, dig for dinosaurs names, see displays of dinosaur sculptures with fun facts and climb up into the huge T Rex that is the main photo op attraction at the front.  It is kitschy and fun and great way to start off the wacky Palm Springs desert adventure.  Don’t forget to get your family pictures in front of the T Rex outside the museum before you leave.

I also recommend bringing dinosaur books on your trip so you can keep learning about them afterwards since they are a hot topic.  We also always get a excavation dinosaur kit for like $7 and she chips away at it with these included little tools.

Miniature Golf Palm Springs

We made the mistake of doing this in the afternoon.  No, no, no.  It was in late May too.  EEK.  Definitely plan this for dusk.  It would be so much fun with all the lights and the desert sun sleeping and a nice breezy evening.  It feels like a must do in the desert.  There were a few miniature houses that needed some TLC but again if you go in the evening, it won’t be so noticeable.  Still a note worthy family event!  I’m a huge miniature golf fan so I don’t mind saying this is perfect in the desert!

Knott’s Soak City

I have not done this but wanted to so badly this last trip and we couldn’t get to everything on our list.  They have some fun wading areas for kids with slides.  These look so fun.  And the inner-tube float would be great with little ones as long as they have vests and you’re right there with them.  Anyways, in desert heat, you can’t beat it.

Palm Springs Ariel Tramway

Another one I have not tried yet but plan to.  Plan it just right and you could ascend up into snowy mountains to escape the heat.  Supposedly it has an insane view of the valley and having the landscape and temperature change so drastically would be really fun to experience.

Front Door Tour

It’s really a thing.  You can take doortraits while in the desert for fun!  Wacky colors, modern doors, lion statues, etc.  Could be a fun photo op!

Cactus Mart – complete with a Mother’s Day terrarium building workshop!  seriously, why do I live so far away?!  There is also a really sweet “Dig your own” cactus section with tiny cactus’ and little pots and tongs for your tot.  Willow loved picking her own and planting it!  This place had free range chickens and fat cats running a muck.  Too fun.  It had all kinds of interesting desert life to explore.


The End

A vintage boutique in Yucca Valley.  This place was an experience.  I recommend hitting this and all the antique shops on this whole block.  Hidden gems for sure.  We did this on our way back to Palm Springs from hiking Joshua Tree and then hit the Cactus Mart afterwards.  I went in and was noting: the hand painted rocks with geometric patterns in the flowerbed; the huge whimsical crystal necklaces in the display case; the women in desert attire lounging in the fitting room area like we were at a hip party; the overflowing racks of ornate maxi dresses and vintage flair; the mural on the wall outside and cement floors.  I went away in awe of this place in the desolate wonder.  I was disappointed I didn’t capture even the name of it.  Then sure enough, I was reading a local magazine later on and there was a 2 page spread all about it and I felt it was serendipitous to have found it again!!!

Moorten Botanical Garden

Another must see for fun desert beauty!  If you love cactus and cactus blossoms these are your places to hit!

Angel View Thrift Store

I go here almost every time.  It is not fancy, or overpriced.  It’s just like a Goodwill store BUT it is full of desert findings.  I always find vintage shoes, vintage bags, leftover bridesmaid dresses from some wacky Palm Springs wedding, kurtas, desert costumes, and gaudy jewelry and even retro teapots.  It is a must hit for sure for a cheap fun vintage momento!

That is it! Bon Voyage!

I would go into hotels and food but that is another huge post waiting to happen!  I will end now before I completely lose your attention.  I will briefly say there are some amazing boutique hotels out there in Palm Springs, some incredible Air bnbs in Joshua Tree (trailers -air-streams or cottages) and the golf course resorts are nice with great pools and golf courses (some of these are dated aesthetically but are nice still with good amenities.  If you want hip, so the boutique hotels).  Just check to make sure it is kid friendly since some will openly state that a rager will be in the pool all weekend!

There are lots of ice cream shops and hip stores in downtown Palm Springs.  We loved an Italian restaurant next to Ooh La La kids shop, it was wonderful.  And Elmer’s is fun for Minnie pancakes.  I always love a visit to Trina Turk boutique as well and the Palm Springs General Store for some souvenirs!  

Have fun and be sure to comment below about your experience or list some of your own favorites.  Have a lovely vacation!






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