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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!