A So Fun SoCal Family Tour in the Coachella Valley
Between the little San Bernardino Mountains, the San Jacinto Mountains, and the Santa Rosa Mountains, past the windmill farms, and about two hours east of Los Angeles sits the Coachella Valley, the home of Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indo, and Coachella. Although many Angelinos think of Palm Desert as a retirement oasis for golf addicts and their spa-forward spouses, the area offers a plethora of activities for busy families with kids young and old. Most of the fun is offered year-round, but things tend to be busier in the cooler months, generally October through May.
Many resorts in the area offer activities for kids, but at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort and Spa Camp Hyatt’s goal is for kids to enjoy the desert lifestyle. The Hyatt Regency’s 530 guest rooms, seven pools and a water slide, four restaurants and bars, Agua Serena Spa, golf courses, and tennis courts offer guests a complete vacation experience. While shooting some pictures by one of the fabulous pools I noticed several bikes of different sizes parked under a shaded palm. One of the wonderful pool staff people (just one of the several Hyatt employees who went above and beyond during my stay there) explained all guests could “borrow” a bike, free of charge. The little two-wheelers with training wheels were adorable. They just think of everything at this resort!
It is difficult to imagine a zoo in the middle of a desert, but at The Living Desert the focus is on animals and plants of North America and Africa. With more than 1,200 protected acres, 450 wild animals, live animal shows, a kids’ play park, tranquil gardens, a model train exhibit, hiking trails, and tram rides, visitors experience an oasis of family fun. Guests can stroll through the exhibits or take a guided tour. At the animal hospital guests can watch through glass as resident wild animals are examined and tended to during procedures. I got to see the snakes being fed and the giraffe family eating together. We visited with the camels, zebras, owls, and even the meerkats. Yes, they are as cute in person as they are on television. The Living Desert is a must-see for visitors to the area.
After a visit to the Living Desert, we took the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in Chino Canyon from the base up the sheer cliff almost 6,000 feet to Valley Station, an elevation of 8,516 feet. Not only was a 30-degree temperature difference welcome, but also the views were unbelievable. At the top, the Mount San Jacinto State Park Wilderness Area encompasses 14,000 acres of self-guided and guided nature walks, hiking, and camping. We saw a bunch of young people equipped to boulder, a form of rock climbing limited to short climbs and without a rope, carabineers, or chalks. A trip up or down the mountain generally takes 10 quick minutes and is a great activity for people of all ages. There are also dining and refreshment opportunities as well as shops to purchase equipment and souvenirs.
A true gem of the Coachella Valley is the Palm Springs Air Museum, home to one of the world’s largest collections of flyable World War II aircraft. With veterans as docents and librarians, visitors to the museum can learn about World War II through aircraft, exhibits, and activities. The museum has a very extensive DVD, book, and magazine collection as well as flight simulators children and adults can use to feel what it is like to take the controls of an airplane. There is also a wonderful interactive children’s area, and the planes are all available to touch, feel, and experience.
As the sun set we jumped into a seven-passenger jeep with a private guide to travel to the private 840-acre Metate Ranch on the San Andreas Fault to learn about desert plants, animals, history, geology, and earthquakes. Since 1987, Desert Adventures has provided these jeep-guided tours exploring geological cuts and canyons and even the actual San Andres fault line. Our adventures took us to a Western town, the creation of Desert Adventures, where we enjoyed a scrumptious dinner and stargazing. Because of the location and degree of darkness, we were able to view several planets and constellations.
Our final stop on the trip was at Shields Date Garden, off of Highway 111 in Indio. Since 1924, when Floyd Shields planted his first date palm, the gardens have been producing one of the most expensive crops to grow. During his film, “Romance and Sex Life of Dates,” I learned each time a date seed is planted a new type of fruit is created. Only offshoots from that plant can produce the same fruit. You might have to view the movie to see all the thorny details, but it is a labor of love to grow dates and now I know why they are so expensive. We had two date shakes on our trip and the date shake at Shields was my favorite. It is made with date crystals only available at the date garden. Guests can also eat at the café and shop at the store. Shields is a must-see when visiting the Palm Springs area. Make sure to grab a shake and some extra dates to take home!
The Coachella Valley is host to many venues and activities year-round. Offering an international film festival; several music, art, food, and wine festivals; farmers markets; spa tours; golf and tennis tournaments (at the 55-acre Indian Wells Tennis Garden); and museums, resorts, restaurants, and live theatre, the valley is a place the whole family can enjoy.
I was sad my Go! California trip had to come to an end. After traveling almost 500 miles; stopping at 16 destinations including five nice restaurants, a hotel, two resorts, an amusement park, an aquarium, three museums, and a zoo; going wine tasting, ballooning, shopping, olive oil and root beer tasting; taking a jeep tour of San Andreas Fault; watching a movie about the sex life of dates; and drinking two date shakes in four days—only 96 hours—I can honestly say California is an ideal destination for families traveling with kids. And anyone living in the Southern California area knows this trip only touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg; travelers and natives can spend weeks or months exploring the area without repeating any destination more than once. Although, if you ever do, you will want to come back and repeat some of your stops because many are worthy of multiple visits.
Thank you to Visit California, the California visitors bureau, for taking me along, introducing me to four other terrific travel writers, and helping me to explore my native Southern California. When you are planning a trip to this area, check out the Visit California website to help plan your vacation. Even if you are from Southern California, this site is a great tool to use when trying to discover new places to go!
Go “Behind the Insider’s Lens” to view footage from Chef Dawn’s trip to Coachella Valley, as well as her visits to Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Temecula: