10 stops on a kid-friendly Palm Springs road trip

Families can soak up the sun, revel in the hip art scene, and explore the natural beauty of this desert paradise and its surroundings

Palm Springs mural. | Photo: Amanda Adler

Palm Springs is known as a desert haven for sun-seekers yearning to lounge poolside with a cocktail and for golfers looking to hit the links on luxurious courses. Despite its reputation as a getaway spot for Los Angeles locals and retirees, the Palm Springs area also offers a treasure trove of fun experiences for families with kids of all ages. 

Here are 10 must-see spots on a road trip through the Coachella Valley, perfect for those traveling with younger visitors in tow.

Palm Springs Visitor Center
Palm Springs Visitors Center. | Photo: Amanda Adler

1. Palm Springs Visitors Center

A useful place to start on any road trip is always the local visitor center, but in Palm Springs this stop is more essential because of its iconic building. Housed in the Tramway Gas Station building, this landmark structure is considered a prime example of modernist architecture. 

Featuring a distinctive soaring roofline, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, making it the perfect destination to begin a tour of Palm Springs’ famous mid-century architecture. Gather information on areas of interest, including a guidebook of notable retro style homes to admire while in town.

Aerial tramway Palm Springs
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. | Photo courtesy Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

2. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Before heading into town, stop at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which is the world’s largest rotating tram car. Soaring more than 2.5 miles along the cliffs of Chino Canyon, the tram provides a bird’s-eye view of the picturesque valley below. Disembark at the Mountain Station, located at an elevation of 8,516 feet, where you’ll find two restaurants, scenic observation decks, a natural history museum, documentary theaters, a gift shop, and more than 50 miles of hiking trails. Bring layers for the entire family as the temperature at the top can be up to 40 degrees cooler than on the desert floor.

Outdoor exhibit of an upside down car at the Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Springs Art Museum. | Photo: Amanda Adler

3. Palm Springs Art Museum

The Palm Springs Art Museum is the largest cultural institution in the Coachella Valley, offering a collection of contemporary California art, classic Western and Native American art, glass studio art, mid-century architecture, photography, and more. Marvel at fascinating statues both inside and outside the architecturally-significant building. The area surrounding the museum is filled with public art installations, including a 26-foot-tall Marilyn Monroe statue that’s sure to catch everyone’s eye.

Dinah Shore star at Palm Springs
Walk of Stars. | Photo: Amanda Adler

4. Palm Springs Walk of Stars

Hollywood may be famous for its popular Walk of Fame, but the Palm Springs Walk of Stars offers a similar aesthetic in a more subdued setting. Stroll through downtown Palm Springs to view “Golden Palm Stars” that honor those who’ve played a significant role in shaping the greater Palm Springs area. 

While your children may not recognize the names of the show business personalities, literary figures, or civic leaders, it’s a great opportunity to share stories of a bygone era while exploring the vibrant heart of the city.

Giant gummy bear and candy selections at Lolli and Pops
Lolli and Pops. | Photo: Amanda Adler

5. Lolli & Pops 

Once you’re done dining at one of the city’s delicious restaurants, reward your little travelers with a sweet treat at Lolli & Pops. Kids will drool over the decadent displays of cotton candy, unusual sodas, gummies, jellybeans, and other sugary concoctions. Grown-ups are equally rewarded with an impressive selection of gelato and macarons at this cute boutique candy shop.

Store front of Shag store in Palm Springs.
SHAG Store. | Photo: Amanda Adler

6. SHAG Store

In the Palm Springs Uptown Design District you’ll find this store that blends art and nostalgia. SHAG is both a fine art gallery dedicated to the art of Josh Agle (who is commonly known as “SHAG”), as well as a store offering collectable merchandise that reflects SHAG’s uniquely playful style. Visitors of all ages will enjoy viewing the colorful pieces in the store, many of which depict a glorified version of life in Palm Springs.  

Giraffes at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. | Photo courtesy The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

7. The Living Desert

No visit to the Coachella Valley is complete without journeying into the desert. Located just 16 miles outside of Palm Springs, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is home to more than 500 animals representing 150 species. Visitors can feed a giraffe, observe black rhinos in a savannah setting, watch wallabies bounce, hear kookaburras sing, and admire reptiles basking in the desert sun. In the gardens, view native desert plants, including several varieties of cactus.

Joshua Tree National Park during a superbloom
Joshua Tree National Park. | Photo: Sanna Boman

8. Joshua Tree National Park

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. While the namesake Joshua tree is just one of the fascinating varieties of plants that flourish in this vast wilderness, the area also offers a rich cultural history, epic stargazing, and surreal geologic features that give the park an otherworldly appearance. Perhaps the biggest draw for families are the ample boulders and rock formations, which are perfect for climbing and scrambling. It’s a natural playground your little ones are sure to enjoy.  

Stacked burger at Grnd Sqrl in Palm Springs
Grnd Sqrl. | Photo: Amanda Adler

9. Grnd Sqrl

Bordering the northern edge of Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms is an unexpected place to find a hip gastropub—but Grnd Sqrl is a culinary oasis in this sleepy desert town. The eatery offers a scratch-made menu along with an impressive selection of craft beers, all in a quirky setting with colorful murals and family-friendly communal board games to enjoy after a day of exploration. 

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Air Museum
Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum. | Photo: Amanda Adler

10. Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum

The 10-acre Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, located near the town of Joshua Tree, contains more than 100 remarkable works of art. Wandering through the collection you may feel as though you’ve stepped into a salvage yard—the place is filled with tires, toilets, TVs and other abandoned items. But upon closer inspection you’ll see that the pieces have been reclaimed and assembled into larger-than-life art installations and sculptures. This innovative open-air museum was the brainchild of the late Black visual artist and sculptor Noah Purifoy, and the items on display here are sure to spark interesting conversations and a chance for historical reflection. 

Related High art in low places: At Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Museum, discarded objects get a new purpose