La Quinta, CA
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The Ultimate Family Desert Escape

Fun, culture and adventure in La Quinta, California

By Nancy Harlow

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Two parents hold shopping bags and hold hands with their two young children as they walk down a brick shopping district road in La Quinta, CA

We’ve been traveling to the desert for our annual family vacation for years. My in-laws, Beth and George, are avid golfers and our family loves to hike, so La Quinta, California is the ideal destination to spend some quality family time. My husband Tim, our children and I have been to the area several times before and always loved the mix of the soaring mountain range with the vast valleys of palm trees and blue skies. Not to mention, our 5-year-old son Ethan and 9-year-old daughter Anna are happiest when they have their grandparents’ pool to indulge in and plenty of space to run free.

Once we arrived, we took a deep breath and took in the golden light, bounty of bougainvillea and breathtaking landscape provided by the Santa Rosa Mountains. I love how the city of La Quinta is situated at the base of the mountain range, and how the roads and buildings organically wind around the foothills.

Morning 1: Kid-friendly hiking

Morning 1: Kid-friendly hiking

Our first morning in La Quinta, the kids were up bright and early and couldn’t wait to do some exploring. It was the perfect chance to do a short hike in the gorgeous red morning light at the Bear Creek Trail. The trail is easily accessed from town but offers desert solitude and a beautiful ascent into the Santa Rosa Mountains in minutes. Anna and Ethan charged ahead, marveling at the desert plants and running back to stop for water breaks and take in the panoramic views. We headed back down after about an hour, but Tim and I noted that it can be a 5+ hour hike with a gorgeous palm oasis as a reward at the halfway point. We’ll have to try it again when the kids have more stamina—Beth and George can’t wait for that!

Afternoon 1: Great golfing with grandparents

Afternoon 1: Great golfing with grandparents

After lunch, it was time for a new-to-them activity for the kids. Now that they’re a little older, they can finally hit the golf course with their grandparents. I don’t think they realized how lucky they were to be teeing up their first swings on one of the country’s top-ranked and PGA-rated golf courses, but I’m sure they’ll look back one day and realize what a fabulous first experience they had! 

La Quinta Resort & Club is a stunning property, right in the heart of La Quinta. Originally built in 1926, the resort quickly gained a reputation as the ultimate hideaway for Hollywood’s elite. The sprawling estate features individual casitas, restaurants, wellness programs, tennis, and of course, golf. We couldn’t wait to check out the La Quinta Express program designed especially for kids, and it didn’t disappoint. The kids had the best time learning how to play, and Beth and George were thrilled to pass along their love for the game. A delicious dinner capped off a fantastic first day.

Morning 2: Pastries and a plan

Morning 2: Pastries and a plan

The next morning, we started our day at the Old Town Coffee Company on Main Street. Tim and I agreed with my in-laws that it should be part of our morning routine for as long as we were in La Quinta. A cozy and stylish cafe, it was the perfect place for the kids to indulge in fresh pastries, which allowed the adults to plan another full-filled day with expert local recommendations from the grandparents.

After checking out the local shops and picking up a few treasures on Main Street, we decided to head over to the La Quinta Museum. The museum is housed in a beautiful Spanish hacienda and showcases local history with artifacts on two floors. The kids checked out the Cahuilla Indian village diorama and got up close and personal with the diorama’s snake (yikes!) and we learned more about the rich history of this desert retreat through artifacts, photography and storytelling.

Afternoon 2: Art appreciation

Afternoon 2: Art appreciation

Before leaving the museum, the staff recommended we pick up a copy of the ARTMAP produced by the Art in Public Places council for the city of La Quinta. There are dozens of art installations in and around La Quinta, since each year the La Quinta Arts Festival purchases new pieces to enhance the community and round out their collection. We went across the street to an amazing covered playground to let Anna and Ethan run around a little, and the adults created a public art scavenger hunt for the kids. We reviewed the ARTMAP and chose three pieces for the kids to find. Beth and George spend a lot of time at the La Quinta Library and wanted to start there, knowing that there’d be several pieces nearby. Our final list was:

• Sun and Moonbeam    • Reading Rex    • Portal of Poppies

As we headed over to the library, we found Sun and Moonbeam, just to the side of the building overlooking the expansive Civic Center Park. The kids were excited to have found the first piece from their list, and happily took Beth’s sly suggestion to head inside “for some shade.” Of course, the adults knew that they would quickly discover the next piece on our list, the T-Rex. It didn’t take long to see the giant metal beast, aptly named Reading Rex. The town’s children voted on the name and it couldn’t be more perfect for a dino housed within a library! Lastly, a quick stroll down the street led us to the Portal of Poppies, brilliantly painted on a soaring white arch leading to a small water feature. It was the perfect backdrop for some family photos after they got high fives from Grandpa George for completing their scavenger hunt. Then we were off to find some celebratory ice cream.

Evening 2: Dining with a view

Evening 2: Dining with a view

On our final night in the desert, we decided to savor a family dinner at a restaurant overlooking the mountains. As the sun set and the sky turned a brilliant pink, I noticed everyone around the table looked happy. We’ve never felt more relaxed, connected and rejuvenated from a family vacation and I knew that my in-laws had loved spending so much time with Anna and Ethan and showing them how special La Quinta is. There’s nothing like spending time in the desert and our memories of family time here were priceless.

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