Five Things Every Family Should Do in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park

Check out these family friendly attractions and things to do in Palm Springs and Joshua tree, without spending like an A-lister!

From Sinatra and Elvis to today's Hollywood A-listers, show biz folk have long favored sunny Palm Springs, California, as a desert escape from the glare of megawatt superstardom. Just a few hours' drive east of LAX, or a flight into Palm Springs International Airport, you'll arrive in a resort town where, contrary to popular belief, you won't need a movie star's bankroll to have a blast.

Sure spa treatments and golf greens fees can run north of $150, yet a mere $20 grants you access to one of the state's most beguiling desert playgrounds: nearby Joshua Tree National Park, located a short one-hour car ride away from Palm Springs.

You'll have a ton of family vacation fun in sunny Palm Springs. From kid-friendly activities to art gallery hopping, it's all here under the Coachella Valley sun.

Must-See Attractions

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Ride the world's largest rotating aerial tramway, whisking you from the desert floor to near the top of piney San Jacinto Peak in 10 minutes. Walk the web of mountain hiking trails (in winter you can rent snowshoes and cross-country skis), snap selfies at the scenic overlooks, then grab a bite at the Mountain Station building, which houses a restaurant, cafe and a lounge that boast sweeping views of the starkly beautiful valley. Money saving tip: After 4 p.m., the Ride 'n' Dine package gets you a tram ticket and dinner at the cafeteria-style Pines Cafe for $36 for those ages 13 and up and $23.50 for children ages 3 to 12.

Aerial Tramway

Living Desert Zoo & Gardens

Drive 30 minutes to Palm Desert, where you can feed a giraffe, ride a camel or simply admire a colorful riot of spring wildflowers at the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens. Kiddos, young and old, will go wild for everything from spry cheetahs to drowsy desert tortoises. Toddlers love the Gecko Gulch playground, especially the slide shaped like a saguaro cactus. Get up close with some of the smaller critters such as hedgehogs and owls at the Animal Encounters. Tip: In blazing summer heat, visit early in the day.

Indian Canyons

Palm Springs' most popular hiking areas — Andreas, Murray and Palm canyons, collectively, the Indian Canyons — get your blood pumping with trails to palm groves, streams and waterfalls on land once inhabited by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The tribe charges a small fee for hiking access, offers ranger-led tours and also manages nearby Tahquitz Canyon, where a 2-mile loop trail meets 60-foot Tahquitz Falls. No matter which canyon you choose, it's a great way to get the kids to stop texting and blow off some steam the old-fashioned way.

See it Like a Local

Palm Canyon Drive

Palm Canyon Drive is the city's main drag, and it’s where you'll find shopping galore — everything from designer boutiques to mom-and-pop antiques dealers. On Thursday evenings, locals and tourists rub elbows during VillageFest, a street fair with handmade crafts and produce vendors, food booths and live entertainment.

Many of the city's best restaurants and nightlife spots also line Palm Canyon Drive. For a sure-fire dinner, many locals will steer you to Miro's, a cozy, family-run restaurant serving dishes like pot roast and Hungarian schnitzel. If tender ribs and brisket are more your speed, try Smoke Tree BBQ Bar and Grill. After dark, downtown buzzes with couples strolling hand in hand and families in search of dessert. Grab a banana split or a scoop of rocky road at Lappert's, the best ice cream joint in town.

Plan a Day Trip

Joshua Tree National Park

Roughly a one-hour drive northeast of Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park’s wonderland of desert rocks and dense stands of its namesake yucca trees make for a superb day trip. Since summer temps often soar past 100 degrees, autumn through early spring is the ideal time to visit.

Drop by the visitor center for a flora and geology lesson. Armed with a free brochure detailing a geology-focused driving tour of the park, start at the intersection of the main park road and Geology Tour Road to head to the 16 turnouts and nature trails on the tour. Don't miss the short walks to famed Skull Rock and Arch Rock. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as bighorn sheep. Another worthy stop is the Cholla Cactus Garden.

Has hiking worked up your hunger? Grab a juicy cheeseburger and a slice of pie at Crossroads Cafe in the nearby town of Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tree National Park

Every Kid in a Park

From late 2015 and throughout 2016, in celebration of the National Park Service's 100th birthday, you can take part in the Every Kid in a Park program. Exclusive to fourth graders, it offers a free National Park admission pass and encourages students to write about their experiences in the great outdoors.

About the Author

Eli Ellison is a travel writer whose area of expertise is the American Southwest. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, and