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  • Writer's pictureMary Cook

Our (sort of) annual trip to Palm Springs - 'our paradise'

Updated: May 16, 2023

We made it. We finally made it back to Palm Springs this year with the boys! The last time we visited was just before the world shut down in 2020 and Jack was just one. I vividly remember being out and about visiting our usual spots with no social distancing rules or masks. Then when we flew back to MI and about 10 days later, we were in lockdown and living within the four walls of our house.

I’m so glad we were able to visit Palm Springs this year. And our Will got to enjoy it for the first time too. He climbed his first mountain and then for the rest of the trip he said, “no climb mountain” in his low baby voice. Apparently he wasn’t too thrilled about slipping on a rock. Jack loved showing his brother around and of course, had his little notepad and markers and drew one too many pictures of palm trees that I am still figuring out how to slowly recycle.

Having the entire family back in Palm Springs was very refreshing. The eerie desert, the warm, hot sun resting against your face until it hurts, the serene mountain views, the palm trees, the heated pools, the mid-mod vibes, the beautiful architecture on every corner, and even the eccentric crowds (ha)!

It’s our ‘paradise.’ We absolutely love it there.

Having been to Palm Springs prior to having kids and now with two toddlers in tow, the experience is quite different – hello naptime! I want to always relish all the great places and memories that we have of this place from over the years so this post is just for that.

Our memories and favorite spots in Palm Springs

If you’re heading to Palm Springs or planning to - here are some top tips from one family to another.

As you are driving into Palm Springs, you absolutely must stop at the ‘In and Out Burger’ right off the highway. It’s a nice break from the drive in for the kiddos (and for you) ;). Make sure you familiarize yourself with their secret menu– mustard grilled patties and animal well-done fries. YUM. And don’t forget about the shakes!

It is also conveniently located next to the Desert Hills Premium Outlet Mall. Score yourself some good deals on Lululemon attire or snatch yourself a YSL handbag. It’s a must-stop! Shopping in the desert is a magical experience. You have ice-capped mountains to your right and palm trees on your left. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Wind Turbines

The wind turbines as you drive into Palm Springs are HUGE, pretty fascinating, and definitely worth a photo stop. Though they don’t look like it from afar, they are enormous once you’re up close!

Wind turbines are very meaningful to me. After my parents emigrated from Vietnam, they wanted to give my siblings and I a life in America and one of the first places that became 'home' was in Modesto, CA. I remember the wind turbines everywhere in Modesto. As a young girl who left CA at the age of 5 after my parents passed away, it’s one of the things that I have a clear memory of seeing. Every time I see them it reminds me of my life with them.

Where to eat in Palm Springs

Now for the part that you all came here to discover, let’s talk about the food in Palm Springs…

The best sandwiches in Palm Springs

I am confident in the belief that everyone loves a good deli sandwich. Well, Shermans Deli is your place. Plus you can’t go wrong with their matzo ball soup! Put it on your list, right now. It’s like NY deli meets the desert. Always busy but never too long of a wait. (Plus they have a case full of cakes and pastries that you won’t be able to say no to).

The best pizza / Italian in Palm Springs

Pizza is always a good idea, especially on vacation. Personally, Ryan and I are into thin and crispy pizza– NY style. If you share the same love, Bill’s Pizza is all you need to know. Their pizzas are so good and their ingredients are super fresh. They are always busy so if you are in a jam, grab a slide to go!

This year it was our first time visiting Il Giardino Ristorante Italiano and definitely won’t be our last. They make one of the best lasagnas that I have ever had. The boys loved their alfredo pasta. The restaurant looks like a hole in the wall from the outside, but the food is amazing. I highly recommend snatching a reservation at this place if you can.

The best Vietnamese food in Palm Springs

Of course I have to get my Vietnamese fix while on vacay. Rooster and the Pig is always a MUST stop for us. Yes, it’s trendy, but the flavors and dishes are so true to authentic Vietnamese cuisine. They also give you complimentary chao (Vietnamese congee) as soon as you are seated.

Pro tip for families with young kids: get there about 15 minutes before they open. There will be a line in the parking lot, but you’ll at least get seated in their first wave. Bring something to entertain the kids. We brought a ring toss game for the boys to play with and it was just enough as we waited for 15-20 minutes.

The best dessert places in Palm Springs

When in the desert, you have to have ice cream or some form of cold treat, every day. There are many great options and you can’t just visit one. Kreem is one of our favorites. It’s a very small place with limited ice cream selections, but all so very good. The flavors they offer are unique like lavender mint or rose petal, but they do offer some of your traditional flavors like cookies and cream, vanilla, chocolate, etc. Ice Cream & Shoppe is another go-to for us. There is a cute little gift shop attached too! Lastly, if you are strolling downtown, stop at Lolli & Pops. We found that their gelato is not only delicious, but it’s the perfect size (and a steal of a price - $3) for toddlers. Warning -- you will probably walk out with more than just ice cream, but hey, you are on vacation! :)

For fresh acai bowls and juice, I highly recommend Fresh Juice Bar. It’s not the best location as it’s off the main downtown strip and in a plaza with a grocery store, but their bowls won’t disappoint. One other favorite that we enjoy is Fruit Wonders and this is located right downtown.

The best coffee in Palm Springs

But first, coffee, kind of person? Ryan definitely is a morning coffee person and I might add a coffee snob. He won’t take Starbucks unless he absolutely has to. There are two places I’d highly recommend for all you coffee snobs like my husband. Ernest Coffee and Cartel Roasting. These are two fantastic choices with great people that really take their coffee making seriously. They both have delicious croissants as well – Jack’s favorite.

The best breakfast in Palm Springs

If you’re like us and struggle with wrangling your kids in the morning because all they want to do is jump in the pool; breakfast is a really easy meal to have in the comfort of your AirBnB or hotel. We try to go grocery shopping when we get to Palm Springs and buy essentials like fruit, yogurt, eggs, sausages and will make breakfast ‘at home.’ However, if you have the time there are plenty of great breakfast choices. One that is easy and consistent is Ace Hotel King’s Highway, conveniently connected to the Ace Hotel. They will have your usual bacon, eggs, toast and pancake offering. One place that I’d love to eventually make it to for breakfast, but haven’t been able to successfully get a reservation (not because I am not planful and organized, but because we never know what to expect in the morning with the boys), is Norma’s at the Parker Palm Springs. The place looks lovely and super cute inside—like IG cute. If you’ve ever been, I’d love to hear about your experience. I hope to make it there during our next trip.

The best evening spots in Palm Springs

If you need a drink, the Amigo Room at the Ace is a good spot in the evening. It’s dark and grungy if that’s your style.

Bootlegger’s Tiki is also one of the best evening spots but they don’t allow kids. Ryan and I frequented Bootlegger’s Tiki before life with kids - and the drinks are fun, unique, and taste delicious. Even the alcohol-free drinks don’t disappoint. The place has very limited seating so get there early or be prepared to wait.

Hiking in Palm Springs

You can’t go to Palm Springs without going for a hike…Make sure you set off early as it gets HOT. Like, really hot.

There are loads of mountains close to downtown that are easy to get to. Tahquitz Canyon is conveniently located about 5 minutes from downtown. It’s not the most toddler-friendly hikes, but worth a visit for older kids.

Joshua Tree is also a beautiful place to hike and not too far. The Joshua Trees themselves are super cool and wonderfully photogenic - we took our maternity photos back here and revealed to the world that I was pregnant with Jack back in 2018. Super kid friendly!

Another manageable hike is Twentynine Palms. It’s easy and not too long. At the end of the hike, you’ll find yourself looking at waterfalls in the middle of the desert! Absolute bliss…

Entertainment in Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Art Museum is a great place for a wander before or after dinner, and it’s free! It does need a refresh though. They still had some of the same art featured back in 2020.

Downtown Palm Springs has a Village Fest on Thursday nights and it’s free. It’s a street fair that features live music, food, local artists, and creators. When Jack was one, he spent most of the time entertaining all the oldies with his dance moves the last time we were there.

If you want to venture out, check out the Living Desert Zoo. This is a MUST stop if you or your kids are into animals. We would have never found or even thought to look for this place if it wasn’t for Jack and his love for animals. Without a doubt, it’s the prettiest and most serene zoo we’ve ever been to.

The giraffes are so beautiful in their enclosure nestled amongst palm trees. It’s a really beautiful sight. Just remember to pack a lot of water! It gets hot and there are very few shaded spots for sitting. Oh, and don’t forget about the carousel ride. The kids will probably want to go more than once, be prepared!

Lastly, Cabazon Dinosaurs. If your kids are not into dinosaurs, you probably won’t think this place is great, but if your kids are obsessed like mine, they will certainly appreciate this place. It’s an interesting, strange, out-of-nowhere experience. It’s one of those places that you’re like, ‘why is this here?’. There are a number of different life-size dinosaurs along a short path that leads you to a large T-Rex that you’re able to climb inside. Everything is very strange, but worth an experience if your kids are into dinos.

Where to stay in Palm Springs

There are many great Airbnb’s - you can’t go wrong if you take some time to read the reviews

One of our favorites was the Amato. We loved the decor, the general vibe, and the pool - it’s also a great spot for IG photos.

The Ace Hotel is also a great spot in a great location if you don’t want an AirBnB. Everything is conveniently close by.

Final tips for your family trip to Palm Springs

The entire city is just waiting to be photographed. Seize every photo opportunity that you can. Even if it’s just to have a rotation of beautiful palms to use as your phone background as a reminder of warmer summer days.

Palm Springs is very special to us. It’s a place where both Ryan and I feel like we can unwind, relax, and shut off from work. It feels exactly how a vacation should feel whenever we make our long-awaited trips out west and we are already itching to go back!

If you are a Palm Springs fan, what did I miss that you recommend checking out?

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