Hotspots in Palm Springs, CA
Palm Springs may be a desert, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get wet and wild. Knott’s Soak City adds a colorful twist to water parks with rippin’ attractions. Kahuna’s Beach house delivers four stories of family fun, with 5 water slides, hose jets, curtains of water and a bucket that drops 1,000 gallons of water at one time. The Pacific Spin takes two or four people down a 132-foot tunnel that drops 60 feet and ends in a waterfall curtain. You can boogie board in the wave pool or slide down open or enclosed tubes. The Tidal Wave Tower gets adrenaline pumping with its 7-story-high speed slide. And if that’s too much for you, chill out on the 600-foot Lazy River. The park also features airbrush tattoos, midway games, beachnik basketball and a ducky game where everyone wins.
Experience the Coachella Valley Preserve like a pioneer (well, your covered wagon has better tires for a smoother ride) as two mules pull you through established desert trails. Seasoned muleskinners tell you all about the landscape, wildlife and history of the land as you watch the sunset over the San Jacinto Mountains. What’s a muleskinner? A genuine cowboy, blacksmith or teamster who navigates a team of mules across old desert trails. Once you arrive at “camp,” they’ll serve a chuck-wagon dinner. As the stars come out, relax to the sounds of guitar player John Malcolm Penn as he sings about the history of California and plays old-time Western and cowboy tunes.
What better way to learn about the world than through touch? This children’s museum offers more than 50 hands-on exhibits for kids to explore. The “Let’s Get Physical” section allows little ones to climb a rock wall, make their way through a giant maze by climbing over and under colorful ropes, lift themselves up with pulleys, and follow light and sound patterns. Kids learn about physics by creating their own roller coaster with balls, tubes and platforms; constructing three-dimensional buildings; and tying basic sailing knots. In the “Today I Want to Be” area, they step into the shoes of a veterinarian, a grocer, a cop on a motorcycle and into grandma’s attic. Even more discoveries await in exhibits like Hidden Treasures, the art world, Imagination Creation and the unique “Experience the World of One Who is Physically Challenged.”
Sky Watchers combines education with entertainment nightly. Their storytellers weave tales of mythology, legends and Native American accounts with astronomy to teach kids and adults about the night sky and the people who have gazed at it for centuries. You’ll hear about the romantic heroes of the sky, gods and monsters. You’ll also learn to navigate the solar system as you look through telescopes or sky binoculars. Before the tour, check out computer kiosks, which provide information on constellations, planets and the solar system. Then let your imagination wander as you munch on candy and listen to the stories of the night sky. At Sky Watchers, science and theatrics burst into a cosmically great time for all ages.
If you’re 6 years or older, you’re good to go — as a driver! And they provide ride-along trailers for younger kids. Safety is the No. 1 priority as your family motors through sand dunes on an ATV. After watching a safety video, guides demonstrate the rules — then explain them once more, just to make sure families stay intact. Once you hop on the quads, you’ll zoom past the Whitewater River, windmills and the badlands of the northern Coachella Valley. Motor over mini dunes until you’re ready to conquer the giant sand hill. As a bonus, they provide free refreshments and a special walk: guests get to stroll through junk art sculptures, a train caboose and funky underground structures.
Feel the warm breeze on your skin and hear the roar of the World War II engine biplane as you tour Palm Springs by air. Palm Springs Biplanes takes you up in authentic World War II planes — either a 1942 Vultee BT-13 warbird or a 1940 Stearman Biplane. The Stearmans, or PT-17s, were used as training planes in the war. Strap on a leather helmet and goggles and soar 1,000 feet above the valley, over the foothills and in and out of the canyons. The open cockpit ride lets you fly back into an adventure like no other. From the air, you’ll see hundreds of huge homes, each with its own pool, plus the lakes and desert landscape. And don’t forget to buy the video to recall your unique flight memories.
The Living Desert is your ticket to the deserts of the world. The 1,200-acre wildlife and botanical park showcases exotic animals, birds and plants. You’ll see badgers, bighorn sheep, bobcats, jaguars, tortoise, mountain lions, fox, reptiles, pronghorn and more. The gardens are dedicated to various flora and insects, including butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, yucca, cacti and palms. And that’s just North America. Venture into Africa, and you’ll see cheetah, ostrich, leopards, sand cats, warthogs, hyenas, Cape Rock hyrax, addax, gazelle and animals you’ve never heard of — not to mention the unusual birds and gardens. Village WaTuTu is an authentic replica of a northeast African village, complete with mud-walled huts and the rhythmic sounds and storytellers of Africa. Kids love Gecko Gulch, a playground with a cactus slide, climbable snake and lizard sculptures, gold panning and tunnels. And don’t miss the special exhibits, like the ant lab.
You can’t truly appreciate the desert until you’ve taken a Desert Adventures jeep tour. Guides go through rigorous training, ensuring they’re the most knowledgeable naturalists. During eco-tours, you can taste desert plants and learn about their medicinal qualities, and you might even (safely) see a rattlesnake. Once you learn survival secrets of the desert and see a re-created Indian village, the adventure revs up. The private jeep road winds to the center of the San Andreas Fault, which people actually get to walk into. During summer, the stargazing tour includes the hands-on geology and earthquake walk. It ends in a very cool gold mining town with a huge collection of artifacts — ranging from ivory piano keys to a bank safe and an iron — guides found in the area. After a tour of the old town, guides teach people to find the North Star, the Little Dipper and other enchanting constellations.
Floating above it all in a hot air balloon is an unforgettable experience. Fantasy Balloon Flights’ FAA-certified pilots loft passengers up to a bird’s-eye view of the desert’s mountain ranges, 125 golf courses, farms, cityscapes, palm trees and citrus groves. The baskets carry up to 10 guests, and though the idea of hanging from a balloon might sound scary, people actually feel very secure under the colorful aerostats, which measure more than 8 stories high. You’ll feel a sense of tranquility and exhilaration as you take in Palm Springs’ huge homes, multiple pools, mountain ranges and desert environment, while the WHOOSH of fire lofts the balloon skyward.
Joshua Tree National Park is about 30 miles outside of Palm Springs, and well worth the drive. The 800,000 acres hold a rich history; they’ve been inhabited for at least 5,000 years. The park maintains 501 archeological sites and 88 historic structures. Its museum showcases more than 120,000 artifacts. The park is most known for its tree, a prickly oddity with outstretched limbs and tough leaves. It’s also home to “jumping” cholla cactus, desert bighorn, six species of rattlesnakes and many migratory birds. The park also has the most fascination desert formations, including granite monoliths and rugged canyons. And it offers special programs for kids, including becoming a WebRanger to solve mysteries, play games and gather secret words and downloading a story about the park’s iconic tree, Lily.