Family trip: Greater Palm Springs a winning match

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Attending the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells has been on my husband Curt’s wish list for over a decade. The fact that it’s set in the sun-drenched valley of Coachella, affectionately known as “tennis heaven” and sponsored by Moët & Chandon, is all I needed to be its plus-one. Typically, the best tennis tournament in California takes place in early March; however, after canceling 2020 due to the pandemic, organizers postponed the 2021 event to October last year. With travel having just reopened, the rescheduled dates were to our advantage, so we seized the opportunity and embarked on our first international trip in nearly two years. Plus, the short, direct flight, mild fall pool weather, and multitude of outdoor sights and activities make Palm Springs an ideal, stress-free vacation for families.

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Center court at Stadium One of the BNP Paribas Open.  Courtesy, Curt Woodhall
Center court at Stadium One of the BNP Paribas Open. Courtesy, Curt Woodhall .jpg

We opted for a mid-week tournament package, which tends to be the most profitable. Due to current health and safety measures related to COVID-19, the BNP Paribas Open requires ticket holders to present valid proof of full vaccination and be at least 12 years of age to attend. Although slightly inconvenient, the new age restriction was not a major issue for us as although our daughter has attended matches before, watching live tennis loses its luster when the alternative is to swim in a resort swimming pool. Fortunately, our package included three nights at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, a fabulous property for families traveling with children. The HyTides Plunge Waterpark, a new three-story outdoor attraction with a pair of nine-meter waterslides, a 137-meter lazy river and a splash pool, is the resort’s signature feature for children. In addition to the water park, the Hyatt has seven outdoor pools, including an adults-only pool with cabana rentals. A free tournament shuttle gets you from the pool to the field in minutes, and professional babysitting services are available through the hotel concierge. Curt spent most of his time watching matches, and I joined him for big events, like dinner at Nobu in the Tennis Garden and grass matches in the Moët & Chandon tent. I also slipped into an anti-aging fruit enzyme facial at the Hyatt’s Agua Serena Spa between games and the water park to help counterbalance the UV rays of the desert.

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Giraffe encounter at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.  Courtesy, Curt Woodhall
Giraffe encounter at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. Courtesy, Curt Woodhall .jpg

After two days of tournament play, most of our family members were ready to explore greater Palm Springs, and the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens were first on the agenda. The sprawling, pristine grounds are stroller-friendly, and there are exhibits and activities for kids of all ages. We spent about three hours wandering the African Safari, Wild Americas, Australian Adventurers and three nature trail loops. Highlights of our tour include walking among free-roaming kangaroos, feeding giraffes and watching a sedated Cape porcupine get its teeth cleaned at Tennity Hospital and Conservation Center from the zoo. We also loved the Bighorn Railroad’s G-scale model train exhibit, with a mile of track winding through miniature scenes of the Coachella Valley, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountains. After working up an appetite exploring the zoo, we went to Eureka! to Indian Wells for an outdoor lunch. Bar snacks and homemade gourmet burgers make up the bulk of the restaurant’s menu, well-suited to family meals. Crispy Brussels sprouts, grilled cauliflower and Fresno fig burger were favorites on our table, as was the caramel pudding.

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Iconic public art in historic downtown Palm Springs.  Courtesy, Curt Woodhall
Iconic public art in historic downtown Palm Springs. Courtesy, Curt Woodhall .jpg

After lunch, we traveled to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in hopes of climbing a half mile up the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon. Considered one of Palm Springs’ top family attractions, the experience includes sweeping views of the valley from the upper mountain station, a network of wilderness trails to explore, and guided nature walks. Unfortunately, just as we arrived at the base, the tram temporarily closed due to mechanical issues. Rather than hanging around hoping for it to reopen, we spun around and drove 20 minutes to my personal paradise: Desert Hills Premium Outlets. California’s largest collection of luxury stores is a coveted couture juggernaut, with 180 stores ranging from Gucci to Gap. Unfortunately – for me – we only had an hour and a half to refuel before heading downtown, which means a follow-up trip is required.

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Craft cocktails and homemade American cuisine at Eureka!.  Courtesy, Curt Woodhall
Craft cocktails and homemade American cuisine at Eureka!. Courtesy, Curt Woodhall .jpg

Every Thursday night, historic downtown Palm Springs turns into a bustling pedestrian fairground for VillageFest along Palm Canyon Drive. We arrived early, around 4pm, to check out the shops, public art, galleries and the Palm Springs Walk of Stars before VillageFest kicked off at 6pm. The event is popular, attracting an eclectic and entertaining crowd, which we enjoyed watching from the street-side patio of Lulu California Bistro. The local dining hotspot offers an extensive menu, including all standard kid-friendly staples; however, it was the prime location and atmosphere that won our family over. After dinner, we spent our last night in Palm Springs strolling through VillageFest, shopping for trinkets, listening to live music, cheering on the buskers, and satisfying our sweet tooth with mini donuts fresh out of the fryer. .

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The BNP Paribas Open returns to its usual March dates for the 2022 tournament, which lines up well for a family getaway at the start of spring break. Hotel ticket packages are available at bnpparibasopen.com. We had to take a COVID antigen test before entering the United States and a PCR molecular test to return home. The COVID Clinic (covidclinic.org) has 75 drive-thru testing sites across California, including one near the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, and was easy to book online. Each accelerated PCR test costs $150 (USD) and we received our results within 24 hours. Rapid molecular tests are also available for $199, providing results in one to two hours. I also had to complete a health questionnaire on the ArriveCAN travel app for our family.

For more information on the destination, visit www.arrivalstravel.com.

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