STOP 1: Explore Pasadena’s Past
The quiet, historic charm of Pasadena lured me, my husband, and two daughters over the mountains from Los Angeles for a break from big city life. Just minutes from the regional Burbank Airport, Langham Huntington (from $275) is a destination unto itself, with its sprawling grounds, sun-soaked pool, and oversize guest rooms. We used the hotel as our base for exploring the 120-acre Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens and Old Town Pasadena, where we stopped at Pie ‘n Burger for their juicy beef patties and ordered a peach pie for the road.
STOP 2: Pool it in Palm Springs
I’m a California native, and Palm Springs has long been my favorite getaway for its oasis-like feel. For families, the Hyatt Regency (from $269) is the hotel to beat: my kids spent hours exploring the revamped HyTides Plunge Waterpark, with its two 30-foot waterslides and lazy river. Next time, if we manage to escape sans children, adults-only L’Horizon Resort & Spa (from $490) is at the top of our list. Designed as a private residence in the ‘50s by renowned architect William F. Cody, the property has reopened as a boutique hotel with 25 custom designed bungalows and a daybed-lined pool.
STOP 3: Go from bottom to top at Joshua Tree
From Palm Springs, we drove into the famous park through the southern Cottonwood Gate, which took us past sprawling desert landscapes to the Cholla Cactus Garden, with its furry and round namesake cactuses straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. Our first chance for a hike was at Arch Rock, with its enormous boulders ideal for scrambling little feet. From that point, it’s all Joshua trees and picturesque rock formations, which we explored at our leisure all the way to Pioneer Town, where we stocked up on cowboy swag and provisions like local honey at the general store.
STOP 4: Take an ancient walk
The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has called the Palm Springs area home for centuries, and their local reservation is home to Tahquitz Canyon. We hiked to a stunning, seasonal 60-foot waterfall, where the kids took off their shoes and splashed around. The rock art, which dates back 1,600 years, along with ancient irrigation systems, serve as reminders of the original stewards of this land. The visitor center at the start of the hike contains found artifacts and a 15-minute video that explains the heritage of the Cahuilla people.
STOP 5: See the snow (yes, snow)
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway takes passengers over the vertiginous cliffs of Chino Canyon and into the forested Mt. San Jacinto State Park. My kids remained glued to the windows the whole trip, and since the car rotates, there’s no fighting over the best view. The cool breezes and views of snowy peaks from Mountain Station at the top—elevation 8,516 feet—are an exhilarating contrast to the desert heat. The two restaurants and natural history museum are all welcome attractions, but the real draw is the more than 50 miles of hiking trails, including the 2.5 mile Round Valley, a perfect moderate option for our multi-age group of four.