Palm Springs may evoke thoughts of old-time Hollywood, Bugs Bunny cartoons and retirees golfing more than it screams family vacation but in actuality, it is a fantastic destination. The proximity to other SoCal destinations is perk– take 2 hours to drive to LA or San Diego and satisfy your kids’ theme park addiction. However, there is plenty of fun to be hand for all ages without ever leaving this vibrant community. When you’re looking for a great new vacation spot, you’ll have fantastic family exploits in Palm Springs, where adventure, art and history collide!
For the Aviation buffs
Palm Springs Air Museum
Like many great endeavors, the Palm Springs Air Museum was born of a single question. In 1993 during an airport commission meeting one of the originators looked out at the desert and thought, “Why not an air museum with WWII Warbirds right here in Palm Springs?” The thought became reality when construction began in February 1996 with the Museum opening, appropriately, on November 11, 1996.
The museum consists of 3 hangers each containing a different theme; one includes the aircraft used by the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, another houses planes used by the Army in Europe & a third smaller hanger incorporates a B-17 Flying Fortress and interactive exhibits, plus the museum has an extensive research library and Education center. A new hanger is planned for 2016 to house Korean and Vietnam era machines.
Nothing brings a museum to life as much as living history, so the fact that many of the guides and volunteers are veterans who served and flew on these aircraft is an amazing bonus, like having your own personal fighter pilot! Kids (and many grown up plane geeks) will especially enjoy the computer flight simulators and visiting in the winter is a treat because from November through May there are flight exhibitions (on most Saturdays) so you can see some of the airplanes in action!
With 28 flyable planes like Corsairs, Catalinas, Thunderbolts, training jets, bombers and more, aerospace aficionados have a lot to get excited about at the Palm Springs Air Museum!
Snakes eye view of the desert
Desert Adventures with Red Jeep Tours
Although I reside on the west coast, I’ve never stopped to think about what it actually means to live in an earthquake zone. Yet as I stood in a pocket canyon with one hand on the North American Plate, the other hand on the Pacific plate, the realization that I was straddling an active earthquake fault, 800 miles below my feet left me feeling awed by our earth.
If this sounds like something your adventurous family needs to cross off the list, you must take desert tour. Red Jeep Tours offers a variety of area tours including the San Andreas Fault, Palm Springs Indian Canyons, the Painted Canyon in the Mecca Hills Wilderness Area and going as far as Joshua Tree National Park.
You’ll ride in an open-air jeep, getting up close and personal with the rocks, the palms and even some desert creepy crawlies! The San Andreas tour stops at an oasis where you’ll learn that palms will grow where there is water 10 feet below the surface, about the medicinal properties of desert plants, and when walking near the spring you may just see a few (hopefully) sleepy rattlesnakes! The tour also stops at a model native village depicting the life of the Cahuilla people, ending with a ride through canyons so stunning and surreal that I fully expected Captain Kirk to pop out and fight the Gorn.
These tours are not for those prone to motion sickness! Assuming your inner ear can handle it, you’ll get a lesson in history, geology and anthropology from the incredibly passionate and informative guides as they weave the jeep through the desert hills. Educational adventuring? Bonus!
Eagle eye view of the Desert
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
If you want to beat the heat in Palm Springs, don’t head for the air conditioning, head for the hills! In this case, up through the Chino hills to Mount San Jacinto. If you sit back and look WAAAYYY up, you will notice what a young electrical engineer name Francis Crocker saw in 1935; a refreshing looking (sometimes) snow tipped mountain where he could get away from the 100+-degree heat on the desert floor. But how does one get up there?
These days it’s easy; you ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway into the sky. While Crocker’s idea took some time to come to fruition, the engineering marvel lifted its first visitors to the top on September 12, 1963. After 25 years of service, the Tramway undertook an extensive modernization, including the installation of innovative new rotating trams. The interior slowly turns in circles as they rise, allowing guests to appreciate the best 360-degree views from any spot in the vehicle. Unsurprisingly, the sights are astonishing.
In 10-minutes you will travel 2.5-miles, going through five distinct ecosystems as you rise from a Sonoran desert zone (at the Valley station the starting elevation is about 2,643 feet above sea level) to alpine forest zone at the Mountain Station where you’re at a towering 8,516 feet.
Once you reach the top, there is an interpretive center with videos, numerous viewpoints, a gift shop and café. The more intrepid tourist can use the Mountain station as their starting point for hiking and rock climbing. There are over 50 miles of trails and the first mile is an easy wide paved pathway, accessible for those with mobility issues or small children.
The weird and wonderful
The Home of Artist Kenny Irwin
One of the quirkiest things I saw in Palm Springs was the home of artist Kenny Irwin. Kenny has transformed the grounds surrounding his Movie Colony home to a constantly changing exhibit of his found object work in this case sculptures from recycled and reclaimed objects such as steering wheels, dog crates, wires and old ducting. Artistically inclined children will be entranced!
If you’re really lucky during a winter visit, this eccentric artist will be running Robolights, one of the largest (if not THE largest) residential light display in the USA with more than seven million lights. According to the Facebook website, Robolights is not strictly a Christmas display but an enormous, whimsical, yet futuristic winter dreamland set in the North Pole. Kenny started sculpting robots at age 12; “I wanted to create a physical wonderland of lights combined with fantasy of imaginary other worldly north pole themes run by robots”.
Even if Robolights isn’t on, it’s worth a drive by the property at 1077 E Granvia Valmonte.
Need help finding more great things to do when you’re in Palm Springs? The friendly folks at the Palm Springs Visitor Centre are happy to help. Visit them at 2901 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. For Travel info: www.visitpalmsprings.com or call 1-800-347-7746