“I think what I’ve taken from it is we need to do a lot more trips.” For this family, this realization happened at the top of the boulders in Joshua Tree during their trip to Palm Springs, CA.
“Shh. Listen,” says Jill Bryman, who is sitting by the pool of the house she is staying in with her family in Palm Springs, California, a mug of hot coffee steaming on the table in front of her. It’s early morning, the fog is still draped over the San Bernardino mountains behind us, to the north, and all is oddly, almost disconcertingly, quiet. Through the wall of glass that defines this mid-century home and lends it its name, “The Fishbowl,” her husband Gary, can be seen inside, at the counter; Piper who at 9 is her eldest child is reading on a white period Eames lounger in the living room; Riley, 6, is sitting in her bathing suit on the pool steps—half in, half out—earnestly adjusting her pink goggles. “That is the sound of being on vacation,” Jill says, with a satisfied smile. “We’re all together, not really doing anything. Just being a family. Honestly, I think there’s something weirdly magical about this place.”
She has a point. Palm Springs is a compelling oasis in the monochromatic expanse of the Coachella Valley. It feels both old and new, classic and futuristic. The landscape seems flattened as if by human intervention; the iconic wind turbines that channel the energy of the valley spin languidly on and on.
Jill and Gary live just a two-hour drive away (on a good day) with their children in a house in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles. But despite the proximity of the destination, taking a family vacation still presents challenges: corralling the children, taking time off work, packing all the toys, books, art supplies. “Getting ready for any trip, no matter what, is stressful,” Jill says. “But then you get here, and you’re in a home, all together and not in separate rooms, and you realize it was all worthwhile.”
Jill, a nutrition counsellor and proud full-time mom, is usually the parent who organizes her family’s vacations. “Planning anything for children is a delicate balance between what you want them to see and what you want them to show you,” Jill says. As if on cue, Riley comes over wrapped in a towel and starts to draw. “At home, you see them playing the same games over and over again, drawing the same pictures. You see where they get stuck in their creativity, their visions, their imagination.” But, she says, one of the most powerful parts of a vacation for her is seeing her kids reinvigorated. “You just know that wherever they go, something there will inspire them to see things just a little bit different and it will be with them going forward, in the future,” she says.
Of course, when the “showing them” and the “showing you” worlds collide, beautiful things can happen. Such is the case at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, near Joshua Tree, which the Brymans visit one afternoon. Noah Purifoy was an assemblage artist and sculptor, who created work from any junk he could get his hands on over ten acres of the Mojave, where he died in 2004. It’s an art playground that offers challenging and wonderful “environmental sculpture,” everywhere you look. Riley, found staring at a pile of perhaps 50 porcelain toilets, has this to say: “Art like this helps me feel like I can do anything. I always wanted to collect trash because once I made a robot out of trash. I always wished I could do this.” Do what, exactly? “Collect trash and make something out of it.”
Later, in the house, which was designed by the architect Donald Wexler in 1950 with an open floor plan and walls of glass that were a deliberate (and successful) attempt to blur the boundaries of out- and indoors, Riley does indeed create a robot costume with the help of her parents (Piper is preoccupied with her own sculpture, which she christens Galaxy Cat). Watching the family, lit by the lights inside the house and a dramatic gas fire by the pool, it’s evident that, as fun as all of this is, they’re all more excited by their very proximity to one another than by the arts and crafts session.
When Jill Bryman was growing up, she would camp in Joshua Tree National Park, which is about an hour outside Palm Springs, with her parents and three sisters on and off between the ages of 5 and 18. “We’d stay all around here,” she says, as she stands on top of a particularly large rock outcrop in the park at dusk one evening. “We’d climb all over these rocks.” Piper is standing beside her, having just scaled what is a relatively difficult rock face for an adult, let alone a third-grader. “I do a lot of trips on my own. But to watch my daughters running over the rocks here and exploring like I used to is really an indescribable feeling—it’s so much more. Just being here makes me realize we really need to do this a lot more as a family, the four of us.” All around us, boulders dot the landscape, looking, as the author Karen Russell has written, “like dead rockets awaiting repair.” Darkness is encroaching so quickly it almost seems to be enveloping us in real time. Jill looks out, past her daughter, past the boulders shaped like citrus fruits, at the horizon: “You know, coming to a place like this, doing things like this, together, that’s as good as being a parent gets.”
Explore more family-friendly homes in Palm Springs here.
Jill Bryman’s Family-Friendly Guide to Palm Springs
We have two extremely curious, high-energy daughters—Piper and Riley—with huge imaginations, and I find their interpretations of places and things on vacation are almost always a lot more exciting and a lot more fun that we could have hoped for. With that said, here’s a list (in no particular order) of our top five favorite places to see, feel, eat, and enjoy when we’re in Palm Springs.
Hiking, bouldering, and rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park
This was one of my all-time favorite activities to do as a child and as an adult, and surprisingly it’s even better now that I can go with my kids. The massive rocks and boulders are textured and easy to climb and afford mind-blowing views of the vast, flat desert. The sheer beauty of the Dr. Seuss-looking Joshua trees and how the colors of the landscape change with the movement of the sun is hard to fully comprehend. Experiencing Joshua Tree National Park with your child is, in my opinion, one of the most memorable things you can do.
The Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum: Noah Purifoy Foundation: Noah Purifoy, who died in 2004, is a well-known installation and assemblage artist with pieces in the Whitney and Guggenheim collections, and in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The largest collection of his work, however, is just outside of Palm Springs, in Joshua Tree. Friends and family of Noah Purifoy have preserved 10 acres of his installations, and they’re pretty mind-blowing for both children and adults. Some pieces care carefree and light while others feel darker and more ominous. They all inspire fantastic conversations with the kids, and they resonate long after the visit.
The Living Desert Zoo: Full of wildlife in unique and natural settings, your kids can see and learn about different species of animals and plants from various corners of the earth in this fun, child-friendly outdoor museum/zoo. It’s really a beautiful, educational day that the entire family will enjoy, but I highly recommend going early during the hotter months, and take hats and plenty of sunscreen.
The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert: This is a place that’s on the list of every parent I’ve talked to about must-dos with your kids while in the desert (it’s in nearby Rancho Mirage). The museum has ever-changing exhibits and activities for kids under 10, and is known for their very good air-conditioning, which is always a nice luxury after days in the sun.
Palm Springs Aerial Tram: Open year-round, the tram will take you to the top of Mt. San Jacinto where you can enjoy a whole different perspective on Palm Springs and the surrounding area. The top of the mountain offers snowshoe tours and lots of snow to play with during the winter, as well as a children’s museum and good food options year-round. Be sure to check to be sure it’s open before going (weather permitting) and certain activities require reservations and permits beforehand, so check those. Dress in layers!
The World’s Biggest Dinosaur Museum: Because kids love dinosaurs and we all grew up with Pee-wee Herman. There’s plenty to see and do here, including climbing inside a giant T-Rex.
Aqua Caliente Tahquitz Canyon Hikes and Visitor Center: The hike to the Tahquitz Canyon waterfall isn’t for very young or inexperienced hikers, but if you feel like your kids are up for it, the views are definitely worth it. And check out the Visitor’s Center to learn about the legendary shaman, Tahquitz. (Note there is no shade or restrooms on the hike. It’s about two miles roundtrip to the falls, and is rocky and steep in places.)
Cheeky’s: Every family stops at Cheeky’s on their way to or from Palm Springs. Local and organic with seasonally changing menus that mother’s love and gooey sticky waffles that the kids go wild over. And: cocktails!
Johnny Costa’s Ristorante: Family owned and popular amongst the locals, this place has great pasta and pizza. Every family needs a good place to go for pizza while on vacation, and this place has gluten-free options!
Smoke Tree BBQ: Because yum, and it’s child friendly.
Shields Date Garden: This is a fun activity coupled with a good breakfast or lunch. The garden/museum is an interesting insight into all things date-related, and the cafe has lots of date- (as opposed to cane sugar) sweetened treats.