07/22/2013 03:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Family Travel: Palm Springs and Palm Desert

The kids at Mt. San Jacinto State Park

Upon arriving in Los Angeles, I told a friend that I was staying in Palm Springs for five days. He said there was nothing there but retirees and gay men. Surprised, but undeterred -- the time share was already reserved -- I asked for the quickest route from Southern California's mild shores to the mountainous desert. A girlfriend raved about the natural beauty of the area and told us all about the hiking and camping in Joshua Tree National Park. What neither one of them mentioned though, was Palm Springs' rich, Hollywood history.

In the 1920s, Palm Springs became the playground of the Hollywood elite and it's evident in the city's naming conventions including the Sonny Bono Memorial Freeway, and streets named for Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, and Bob Hope among many others. Anyone who's a fan of film and old Hollywood will definitely appreciate the city's illustrious past and inventive mid-century modern architecture.

The two-hour drive from Los Angeles was scenic to say the least. Visiting from pancake-flat Dallas, my family and I were awestruck at the mountains and came to the conclusion that "America the Beautiful" was probably written about the state of California instead. In the five days we were there, I can honestly say we were never at a loss for anything to do. To add interest to the mix, I wasn't traveling with toddlers -- my mother, 11-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter were in-tow for this desert adventure. As any parent knows, entertaining kids during the "I'm bored" years is far from easy. Fortunately, mom's well-researched itinerary kept us active, entertained and in touch with the beauty of the SOCAL desert.

In touch with nature

In 1935, electrical engineer Francis F. Crocker dreamt up the idea of a mechanical marvel that would whisk him into the snow-capped peaks of Mt. San Jacinto. By 1950, private funds were raised for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and engineers began the undertaking of designing and building a system to ascend the face of the Chino Canyon to an impressive 8,515 foot elevation.

Nearly crippled with acrophobia, yet in awe of the challenge ahead, we boarded the circular, Swiss-madetramcars and watched the vehicles in the parking lot grow smaller. The tramcars completed two 360 degree revolutions before we reached the aerial station that housed restaurants, a gift shop, and served as the starting point for hiking trails. A small taxidermy exhibit gave us an idea of the wildlife that inhabited Mt. San Jacinto State Park and though much of it consisted of small, rodent-like animals there were some pretty large and menacing birds in the mix. Signage warned of wild pigs, foxes, and mountain lions--needless to say I wondered why exactly people chose to camp out there but it was evidently a highly popular activity. Even if you don't do wilderness, like me, the vistas are both inspiring and humbling at the same time. My kids, both ex-scouts, were giddy the whole time.

Making it rain in the desert

My shopping instincts sprang to life as we approached the truly massive Desert Hills Premium Outlets. Brand names including Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo, Burberry, Versace, Jimmy Choo and a host of others brought prices within striking distance. And though it still would have been easy to blow two month's salary in the blink of an eye, I'd be able to stretch my dollars significantly. I spent more time looking but my daughter scored a few outfits at the Charlotte Russe store and my son was happy with a pair of very cool aviator shades. Comfortable shoes are a must when you consider the undertaking involved with exploring one of the country's biggest outlet malls. After two hours in the desert sun we were absolutely slain and headed back to the car. We thought we conquered it all, but once we were back on the 10 we saw that a separate property, the Cabazon Outlets, were next door to where we'd just been, offering even more stores than the dozens we'd seen. We yielded and vowed to return later in the week.

A few days later, we also ventured to the posh suburb of Rancho Mirage, home of the Frank Sinatra Compound, to explore the shops at the River at Rancho Mirage. My son was pleased with the decision to see "The Amazing Spiderman" in 3D and we stopped for ice cream at Ben & Jerry's as the sun set.

Read more about our Palm Springs vacation at

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Quia Querisma is a digital marketer by day, freelance writer by night, and a traveler by nature. Get her latest insights on travel and fashion on her blog,