Known for its hot springs, desert landscape, attractions, and as the “Golf Capital of the World,” Palm Springs has been an alluring place for people to escape to for decades. In fact, its popularity grew in the 1930s when movie stars who needed a break from life in Los Angeles started to flock here. Raquet clubs, tennis clubs, and nightclubs all started popping up as well as places to gamble. Plenty of neighborhoods featuring mid-century modern architecture and luxury resorts were built in the following decades and it’s remained a popular place among the rich and famous.
Palm Springs is located in Southern California’s Sonoran Desert in the Coachella Valley, so it’s hot. Quite hot. And coming from living in Arizona, that’s saying a lot. In fact, Palm Springs can be even hotter than the Phoenix area on many days throughout the year with average summer temperatures over 100°F.
I wanted to take my kids somewhere over a long holiday weekend, so we chose Palm Springs which is only four hours by car. Doing research ahead of time, we learned that there were quite a few kid-friendly attractions in the area. Now, I have been to Palm Springs before, but it was so long ago and before I had children. I’ve always liked this desert oasis and wanted to come back. Luckily, it has numerous kid-friendly options. Here are three of the top Palm Spring attractions we tried and highly recommend:
1. Cabazon Dinosaurs:
Located just west of Palm Springs off the I-10 freeway, you’ll find the Cabazon Dinosaurs towering above the desert in all their colorful glory! It’s the perfect spot to take kids and best of all, it’s free just so long if you just stick to the two dinosaurs outside and don’t go to the museum.
There are two massive dinosaurs here – a 65-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex known as “Mr. Rex” and a 150-foot long Apatosaurus called “Dinny.” They are bright, they are colorful, and they make for some great photo ops!
One of the coolest things about Dinny the Apatosaurus is that you can go inside. Climb up a set of stairs with old dinosaur props encased in glass on either side. Once you get to the top of the staircase, you’ll be inside a large gift shop with plenty of dinosaur souvenirs to choose from. You can also purchase your museum tickets here.
On the weekends from 11:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., the Wafflesaurus Truck will be parked near Mr. Rex. Choose an ice cream flavor and either a regular or churro dinosaur-shaped waffle along with two toppings. I was pleasantly surprised how delicious the Wafflesaurus ice cream was considering it was on the pricey side at around $8 and at what many consider to be a “tourist trap.” But purchasing the ice cream ended up being well worth it!
2. Palm Springs Windmill Tours
If you’ve ever driven along the I-10 through Palm Springs, you can’t help but notice the hundreds upon hundreds of windmills scattered through the desert landscape. Providing an alternate energy source, it’s worth taking the tour to learn about how these tall structures work and see them up close.
The Palm Springs Windmill Tour starts out in an unassuming trailer where you check-in and pay the admission or show your Groupon code (which is how I even found out about the windmill tour in the first place – thanks, Groupon!) The staff are very passionate about wind energy and give a good overview before you sit and watch a video that explains how these tall structures turn wind into energy. You are also given a map before you head out on the tour.
After the video ends, you get in your car and start the drive. The first leg is pretty short but there’s a lot to see in that amount of time. There’s also an audio tour you can download before you head out on the journey. You’ll first see some windmills from past decades that were considered failures. There are interpretive signs on each one showing how long each one was in operation before being discontinued.
Afterward, you’ll exit the parking lot where the trailer is located and head down the dead-end Karen Street to have a look at additional windmills up close After that, you’ll drive down the street to a dirt road where you’ll find the massive windmill that’s the height of the Statue of Liberty! It’s an impressive sight.
3. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
If you want to experience the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world, and some spectacular views, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is a must!
I highly suggest you get your timed tickets online ahead of time. We purchased them on arrival on a busy weekend day and had to wait 1.5 hours for our tram. There’s not a heck of a lot of seating inside the building either so waiting was a bit of a drag.
While waiting, there’s at least a cafe, a gift shop, and a museum where you can learn some of the fascinating histories behind the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to pass the time. About 10-15 minutes before your tram’s departure, your ticket time will be called over the loudspeaker.
Once you board the tram with about 40-50 other people, you pick a spot, either by one of the windows or in the middle. It’s standing room only but there are rails to hold onto everywhere. If you’re afraid of heights, like my son, it’s best to stick to the middle. If you don’t mind the heights, then a spot by one of the windows is perfect.
It doesn’t matter what window you stand by because about a minute into the trip, the tram’s floor will start to rotate and you’ll get panoramic views as you climb 2.5 miles up the cliffs of Chino Canyon.
Once the tram reaches the top, you’ll reach Moutain Station at an 8,516-foot elevation. Up here, the air is about 30°F cooler than the desert below and the views are breathtaking!
Up top, you’ll get to see the pine forest of Mt. San Jacinto State Park. If the park’s not closed, as it was on our visit, you can hike one of the many backcountry trails.
It’s rather fascinating to see how different the landscape up top is compared to the landscape below. This picture captures the desert landscape of the valley and the treetops on the cliff.
If you’re hungry up at the top, there’s a cafe plus a bar if you choose to drink.
If you grab a drink, as I did, you can take it outside as you enjoy the views!
When you’re ready to go, just hop in line downstairs at Mountain Station. Catching a tram back down the cliffs is a bit more casual than coming up. Trams come about every 10 minutes or so and the line moves quickly. Be sure to enjoy the views on the way down on one of the most unique experiences you can have in Palm Springs!
These top Palm Springs attractions certainly did not disappoint! The kids and I had so much fun.
If you’re looking for a great hotel to stay at with kids, my children and I highly recommend The Westin Mission Hills Resort Villas, Palm Springs. Here you will get a room with a full kitchen, a living room with a pullout couch, a large bedroom, and a large bathroom plus a washer and dryer. Not only are the rooms perfect for families, but the resort has two pools, one of which has a DJ at times, a waterslide, and a hot tub. And then there’s the foosball table, ping pong table, and corn hole to play.
As you can see, there’s plenty to do with children over a long weekend in and around Palm Springs!
If you’re on the east coast, here are the best things to do in Provincetown on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
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