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From Our Family to Yours — Love, Palm Springs

Family walking along North Palm Canyon

Take your family vacation to the next level in Palm Springs.

Palm Springs Kids Activities

By Barbara Beckley

It’s easy to do. From hiking and jeep adventures to dining out, most of Palm Springs top-rated attractions are family owned.  Why? Like just about everyone, the first generation fell in love with Palm Springs, decided to stay and became so passionate about the lifestyle they opened their own business!

Palm Springs Kids Activities – Adventure

Desert Adventures Red Jeep Tours – the biggest, best and No. 1 outdoor activity in the Coachella Valley — was started back in 1987 by Mary Dungans. Today her daughter, Kimberly Renee, owns and operates it.  “Mother was a pioneer in developing the outdoorsy offerings of Greater Palm Springs.  Like her, I love being able to introduce families to a side of the landscape they otherwise wouldn’t see. The desert is filled with so much life!”  Mom is still active in the business, however, overseeing group operations from her “retirement” home on Maui. Family favorite tours include the San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour, the Joshua Tree National Park Tour and the Painted Canyon/Mecca Hills Wilderness Area Jeep Tour.

red jeep tour

Palm Springs Botanical Gardens

At Moorten Botanical Garden the family history is as delightful as this private arboretum. Founded in 1938, around the Mediterranean-style family home, second-generation owner Clark Moorten follows in his father’s footsteps welcoming visitors to their Eden-like profusion of desert trees, flowers, cacti and succulents (each labeled) barely a mile from downtown Palm Springs.  And Clark’s Dad?  Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten left acting – he was one of the original Keystone Cops of early movie fame and a stand-in for Howard Hughes – to follow his passion for desert plants and open this public garden and cactarium, a word he coined.

Chester also designed the desert home landscaping for Frank Sinatra, Walt Disney and the original foliage for Frontierland in Disneyland. Fascinating facts to recall as you stroll amidst more than 3,000 varieties of popular and rare desert flora, plus fossil rocks, pioneer and gold-mind relics and often nesting hummingbirds – all on a single acre! If you love a particular plant, don’t worry you can buy it in the nursery.

moorten botanical garden

Palm Springs Kids Activities – Horseback Riding

Horseback riding has been a family affair since 1927 at Smoke Tree Stables , located at the base of Smoke Tree Mountain not far from downtown Palm Springs. All skill levels from age 7 on are invited to saddle up and enjoy guided Western-style rides along some 150 miles of trails through pristine hills with streams and magical natural oases. Rides can be arranged by the hour or the entire day.

smoke tree stables

Indian Canyons

The Indian Canyons have been in the family for thousands of years! As the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians these sacred canyons (on South Palm Canyon Drive five-minutes from downtown) are as pristine as ever, providing a scenic and educational family hike on your own or on regularly-scheduled (soon to resume) ranger-guided hikes from the Indian Canyons Visitor Center. Lush natural oasis shaded by native California fan palms, streams and waterfalls make the three canyons: Andreas Canyon, Murray Canyon and 15-mile-long Palm Canyon one of the Coachella Valley’s must-see attractions.

Take a Balloon Ride

Thanks to Steve and Cindy Wilkinson, who founded Fantasy Balloon Flights in 1981 “to share our passion for ballooning with everyone,” you can treat your family to high-flying thrills and a birds-eye view above the beautiful desert valley. Daily champagne flights take off September through May by FAA-certified pilots, for all ages and abilities.

off road rentals

Go as slow or fast as the kids prefer. Independently owned and operated Off Road Rentals has been providing self-guided Honda ATV tours for more than 20 years. Ages 6 and up. Hands-on instruction. Then rev up the family fun on safe and sandy hills in a large private desert area just west of downtown Palm Springs.

Palm Springs Kids Activities – Dining Together   

Most Palm Springs’ restaurants are independently owned. These family-run favorites take the cake (so to speak) for talent and teamwork in creating landmark eateries. We include them in our Palm Springs kids activities list because they are so family friendly.

Frank Sinatra’s favorite meals – it’s in the family at Johnny Costa’s Ristorante on South Palm Canyon Drive. Founded by “Old Hollywood” and former Sinatra chef, Johnny Costa in the 1970s – first in Desert Hot Springs, then Cathedral City and finally its current location – Costa’s son Vince Costa, along with Vince’s siblings and cousins, carry on Dad’s tradition of good-as-gold Old Italian and contemporary innovations. “Everything is cooked to order because that’s the way Dad did it,” says Vince. What did Sinatra prefer?  “Linguine with clams in white sauce,” confides Vince.

Johnny Costa’s Ristorante

Talk about two boys who listened to their parents!  When Palm Springs-area high school sophomores Brandon Weimer and his friend where invited on a class trip to Italy, their parents challenged them to earn half the trip cost on their own. They accepted and began making and selling toffee. Great toffee it turned out. They quickly surpassed their funding goal. In 2006, Brandon founded Brandini Toffee and opened the store on South Palm Canyon Drive. Now they are toffee titans! With three desert shops and national and world-wide distribution.

brandini toffee

Enjoy the recipes of matriarch Maria Fajardo at Las Casuelas fine Mexican restaurants. From its beginnings in 1958, when Fajardo’s son, Florencio, used his Mom’s recipes to open what’s now called Las Casuelas Original on North Palm Canyon Drive, the popularity of her cuisine enabled Florencio to open Las Casuelas Terraza in 1979 in the heart of the downtown action on South Palm Canyon Drive. And recently, under the continuing leadership of Florencio’s daughter, Patricia, and grandson, Patrick, Las Casuelas Nuevos in Rancho Mirage.

Las Casuelas

In the mood for deli? Make a bee-line to Sherman’s Deli & Bakery. Opened in 1963 on East Tahquitz Canyon Way by Sherman Harris (who came to Palm Springs a few years earlier and worked at a local steakhouse, where – who knew? — he invented the “early bird dinner” in 1954), “Sherm’s” (as the locals say) New York-style family menu has pleased everyone ever since — including celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. Today, his son, Sam Harris, and daughter, Janet Harris, continue his legacy here and at the Palm Desert location.

sherman's deli

Steak, pizza, pasta, seafood!

The Kaiser family makes it their business to serve it all with distinction.  When entrepreneur Kaiser Morcus retired to Palm Springs from Colorado around 1990, he thought he’d golf, enjoy the sun and eat steak.  But the steak houses weren’t to his likening. Morcus had been a butcher before his supermarket and hotel successes, so he knows prime cuts. What to do?  He and his son, Lee (also a Colorado via Chicago transplant), opened their own – the Kaiser Grille Palm Desert in 1992. Then the Kaiser Grille Palm Springs in 1998.  Along the way, they opened some 11 eateries in all and brought in Kaiser’s other son, Eric, and daughter, Sue, creating a powerhouse of restaurant ownership and management under the private, family-held Kaiser Restaurant Group, with Lee as CEO. Whichever restaurant you choose, be assured the cuisine is delicious and healthy – the way the Morcus family likes it.

Kaiser Grill dining room
Kaiser Grille Palm Springs

Welcome Home?

Who knows? Once you and your family experience Palm Springs’ family successes – perhaps you all, too, will be inspired to open a family business in Palm Springs.



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