California Desert Archives - 2 Dads with Baggage
Read Next

Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips to our Kids

Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips to our Kids

I’ve been visiting Palm Springs since I was 14 years old, and I never tire of its dry heat, swimming pools and desert beauty. Those first few visits set in concrete a love affair with the Coachella Valley that has endured throughout my lifetime. Passing on a lifetime of Palm Springs road trips to our kids, our family continues to add to those memories.

There is just something about road trips that bonds a family with lifelong remembrances. Songs sung, snacks consumed, roadside pit stops visited. A zillion choruses of “are we there yet?” will reverberate in our memory banks forever. There is just something so powerful about introducing our kids to a place we love so dearly.

2018 White Kia Cadenza

The 2018 Kia Cadenza is a smooth ride with plenty of room for our family of four and all of our stuff.

Passing On a Lifetime of Palm Springs Road Trips

It’s only a two-and-a-half hour drive from our house to Palm Springs, and yet it seems a lifetime away. As we packed up the Kia Cadenza for our latest trip to the desert, I reflected on some of those memory-creating occasions. Maybe some of these will resonate with you too.

Since the kids were super little, we’ve buckled them into their car seats for the drive to Palm Springs. As parents are wont to do, we over-planned for what might lay ahead. Snacks were bundled, sippy cups filled and video entertainment secured in mass quantities as though we were schlepping to the Far East.

date shakes in Palm Springs

When it’s hot out, a date shake in Palm Springs is just the ticket!

Overpack on Snacks

To this day, the first thing our girls ask when we get settled into the car is “Did you bring any snacks?” These days it’s bottles of water, fresh fruit, protein bars and maybe some popcorn that keeps them sated for the drive.

In my younger years, I was the one that would cause friends and loved ones to pack a candy bar on trips. If my blood sugar ran low, the hangry-ness was legendary for its speed and depth. Now we know better and prepare accordingly, so the kids aren’t the only ones that need snacks for the road!

In Palm Springs, my favorite snack place may be gone forever. Does anyone remember Fun in the Sun Candies? They made these caramel covered marshmallows that were THE BEST THING EVER.

Road Trip Tip #1: However your family defines snacks, bring them in quantity. Whether the drive is long or short, somehow a road trip will trigger hunger pangs like no other. If you don’t consume everything, at least you will be stocked up for the hotel room or Airbnb. (Even if it’s not Fun in the Sun marshmallows).

Supply Entertainment Choices

When the girls were little, it was a library of DVDs we would play on the car’s entertainment system. It’s an odd memory for us because we only ever heard the soundtrack. Sitting in the front seats, we couldn’t see the movie but have by now memorized every single word of all the Disney classics. The Little Mermaid, A Bug’s Life, Sleeping Beauty, Toy Story, High School Musical – they have all been engrained in our parent brains.

Palms to Pines Highway from above

The Palms to Pines Highway winds down from the mountain tops to the Palm Springs desert floor.

Now the girls stare at their phone screens with earphones affixed, occasionally looking up to see how far we’ve traveled. We’re considered strict parents for limited their time on devices, but relax our rules for traveling. Still, we do have some road trip limits.

Back in the day, my entertainment on those trips to Palm Springs was looking out the window of an Air California jet from San Francisco. Remember Air Cal? Groovy flower-pattern seats and “stewardesses” with bucket hats and hot pants. I was enthralled.

Road Trip Tip #2: Intersperse entertainment addiction with real life experiences. We know our kids feel like car prisoners, and yet we do make them aware of the journey along the way. We give them time periods to spend on entertainment, and then a break to look out the window. Whether they enjoy the passing scenery or stare into the void, they can learn to enjoy the nothingness. Sometimes a blank mind can bring the most powerful observations, and road trips are perfect for those moments.

The scenery can be pretty spectacular, both horizontally and vertically. The Kia Cadenza sports a ridiculously large sunroof, perfect for watching clouds form the shapes of animals and other objects. We used to play this game for hours while staring at the sky, and even today it can draw their attention for at least a minute or two.

Palm Springs wind farm

The windmills in Palm Springs are massive, and passing them is a sure sign we are close to our destination.

Plan Interesting Stops Along the Way

Depending on what part of the Coachella Valley we are visiting, our lifetime of roadtrips to Palm Springs brings us through different routes. If we are headed towards La Quinta or Palm Desert, we typically take the Palms to Pines Highway (Highway 74). This curvy wonder tracks from the back reaches of Temecula through the high desert, tipping over the rim high above the desert floor. Winding down that road you pass by pine trees, and in the winter sometimes even snow. When you reach the desert floor, your view switches to cactus and palm trees. This, Palms to Pines Highway. There’s several great stops along this path, including a sketchy diner with the best greasy hamburgers.

If we are staying in Palm Springs proper, it’s better to take Highway 111 from Interstate 10. This winds us through the enormous wind farms with giant propellors spinning as far as the eye can see. Just before exiting Highway 10, the kitschy life-size dinosaurs come into view. A stand-out for as long as I can remember, the Cabazon Dinosaurs have become a tourist attraction. They’ve even been featured in many Hollywood movies including my favorite – “PeeWee’s Big Adventure”.

The first big stop on the way to Palm Springs that I remember was to get a burger and shake from Bob’s Big Boy. There was something so perfectly Southern California about the giant statue of a little boy with his hand in the air. So kitschy. So delicious. What ever happened to Bob’s?

Road Trip Tip #3: Take a moment before you get in the car and plan a couple of potential stops along your route. The kids will appreciate something to look forward to, and you will probably need a bathroom break long about that time anyway. Sometimes we let the kids pick where they want to stop, and sometimes that idea backfires horribly.

Build Family Traditions

Our family tradition nearly always includes a stop for date shakes on the way into town. Other folks prefer to stop at a farm stand and pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. Maybe you have a special favorite restaurant in the area, and it is your family tradition to go there each time you visit?

pool at Riviera Hotel Palm Springs

Sometimes the hotel pool is a perfect spot for watching the kids swim while we lay in the sun.

For us, that restaurant in Palm Springs in the Blue Coyote. Known for its delicious Mexican fare and strong margaritas, the Blue Coyote is a good solid favorite. For some reason, this place gets requested by our kids every time we are in town. It’s not earth shattering cuisine, but it’s memorable.

Another tradition is driving through the center of town  – at night – down Palm Canyon Drive, music blaring and the windows down. There’s just something about that warm desert air blowing into the car, and singing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ at the top of our lungs.

Road Trip Tip #4: Pick a tradition that is easy to uphold, and one the kids will love and look forward to. It does not have to be elaborate or difficult – it’s the small things that matter!

There are so many great things to do with kids in Palm Springs. Our family loves the Red Jeep Tours, the Living Desert Zoo, and just hanging out and walking around in Downtown Palm Springs. Hope you are able to build great family road trip traditions, regardless of where you choose to roam!

girls in hot tub

Ever since the girls were babies, we’ve been road tripping to Palm Springs.


Read Next

The Living Desert is a Zoo Like No Other

The Living Desert is a Zoo Like No Other

*Our visit to The Living Desert was graciously hosted by them as part of a great tour organized by Visit Palm Springs, and we are grateful for the experience.

When people think of the desert, they typically envision endless sand dunes, scrubby little plants, some cactus, a bunch of rocks and maybe a lizard or two. But a zoo in the desert? Yep, and it’s awesome – The Living Desert is a zoo like no other. Located in Palm Desert near Palm Springs, The Living Desert is an amazing destination right in the middle of the blazing sun and dry, dry, dry conditions.

The Living Desert entrance

We’ve been visiting The Living Desert since the girls were babies, and as they have grown so has the park.

The Living Desert serves up an oasis of sorts, a respite where animals that are accustomed to dry conditions can feel right at home. What started in 1970 as a nature trail and preserve has grown and evolved into a legit zoo that is fun and interesting for the whole family. We visited recently and thoroughly enjoyed our experience.

The Living Desert is a Zoo Like No Other

flowers in bloom at The Living Desert

When visiting in springtime, you can catch the desert flowers in bloom at The Living Desert

The Birds and Bees

Across some 1,800 acres of parched land, The Living Desert thrives by showcasing the flora and fauna natural to this climate. The Living Desert’s gardens are vast and lush with plants indigenous to the area, including cacti like Cholla, Agave and Barrel Cactus.

We were lucky enough to visit in the Spring, during the short window when everything is in bloom. Cactus, wildflowers and other kinds of flowering plants were all just beginning to peak, so the area was rich in color and variety. With all these flowers in bloom, there were tons of birds and bees jetting about and adding energy to the mix. We even spied a Road Runner (the real kind, not the character from the old cartoons with Wile E. Coyote).

The Living Desert cactus gardens

Gardens at The Living Desert are artful displays of local plants that can withstand the intense sun and heat.

The Living Desert has several zones planted specifically to nurture species native from the immediate area as well as North American frontiers.  The kids loved the vivid colors of the California Fuschia, Desert Mallow and Indigo Bush along with many others blooming bright pink, yellow, deep blue, red and more.

Animals Adapt

Those desert critters are a resourceful bunch. In order to withstand the intense heat and drought conditions of desert living, they learned to avoid heat and retain water. It’s amazing to see how they reserve energy, keep themselves cool when it’s more than 100 degrees outside, and still thrive.

One of the things we loved witnessing while at the Living Desert was the Cheetah Run. Three cheetahs, sisters who have been inseparable since birth, are housed in a spacious enclosure planted with grasses and heavily shaded with trees.

cheetahs relax at The Living Desert

The three cheetah sisters at The Living Desert conserve their energy while relaxing in the cool shade.

Once a day, their keepers encourage them to get exercise by running from one side of the very long enclosure to the other. And boy can these girls run – it was breathtaking to see how fast they are, and how cool they stay despite the hot sun. When their run was finished, they went back to relaxing in the grass just as comfortable as before.

Feeding Time

In several places throughout the park, guests can participate in feeding the animals. In the colorful lorakeet exhibit, guests are invited to entire the aviary carrying a small cup of nectar. Lorakeets are so attracted to this nectar that they fly right over to the guests and land on their heads, shoulders, arms and hands – trying to get a delicious sip. If you like birds, this is an incredible experience. If you don’t like birds, this is your worst nightmare. Good thing we like birds!

giraffe feeding time at The Living Desert

Giraffe feeding time at The Living Desert is fun for the whole family.

Over at the giraffe area, the Living Desert has built a special viewing platform so guests can be eye-level with this stately creatures. At certain times, guests can feed the giraffes a special cracker they seem to love very much. The kids had a blast watching the giraffes’ long black tongues reach out of their mouths and grab the cracker like a hand. Evidently, their 20-inch tongues are prehensile just like a monkey’s tail – they can move them far more independently than we humans. We were all fascinated and could have watched for hours!

The Model Train Display

The Living Desert model train exhibit

The model train exhibit at The Living Desert is massive and fascinating, with more than 3,300 feet of tracks.

Not really a desert-specific exhibit and certainly not an animal, the working model train sets on display in the center of The Living Desert are nothing short of fantastic. Their sets are miniature versions of towns, lumber yards, stations and even a scaled version of Mount Rushmore. With more then 3,300 feet of track laid, they criss-cross and wind around each other in constant motion. Kids and adults alike are fascinated at the intricacies of this display.

How to Visit The Living Desert

For all of these reasons and many more, The Living Desert is a zoo like no other. There is plenty of parking, and lots of shade but it’s always a good idea to bring a hat and sunscreen.

The park is open every day October 1 to May 31 from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and in the summer months every day June 1 to September 30 from 8:00am to 1:30pm.

Entrance fees are $19.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids 3-12, and kids under 3 are free.