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Warm and Sunny Destinations Just One Short Flight From Seattle

Flee the rain and bask in the desert sun at three family-friendly locales

Published on: October 31, 2023

Warm and Sunny Destinations Just One Short Flight From Seattle

Girl climbing on rock formations at Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs best sunny destinations one nonstop flight from Seattle
Joshua Tree National Park is a boundless playground for kids.

3. Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs has long been a choice destination for Hollywood stars, but you don’t have to be a celebrity to enjoy this sunny city.

There are several nonstop flights a day from Seattle to Palm Springs; flight time is approximately three hours.

Joshua Tree National Park

The Dr. Seussian trees of Joshua Tree National Park are unmistakable, and they make for an unforgettable outing. Choose from many short and family-friendly hikes (some of which are good for strollers), and let the kids scramble over the enormous boulders and rock formations. Don’t miss Skull Rock, which wind and weather have carved into a perfectly climbable playground; and Barker Dam, where wildlife come for a drink of water.    

Pro tip: If you have a fourth-grader, you get into all national parks for free. Sign up for the Every Kid Outdoors pass before you arrive. 

Small cholla cactus bud in cholla cactus garden at Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs sunny destinations for Seattle families
A baby cholla cactus at Joshua Tree National Park is cute (but you can’t take it home). Credit: Nancy Chaney

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

If you’re heading to Palm Springs, you’re probably ready to soak up the desert sun. But who can resist riding an aerial tram 6,000 feet up to a winter wonderland? The 10-minute trip on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway climbs to the top of the cliffs of Chino Canyon. Sip hot cocoa at one of two restaurants, visit the natural history museum or even rent snowshoes to trek around the many trails near the tram stop. 

Pro tip: The gift shop sells sleds, so you don’t have to bring yours all the way from Washington.

Hiking at the top of the Palm Springs aerial tramway best sunny destinations for Seattle families with kids
It’s surprisingly cool at the top of the tramway, even when it’s hot-hot on the valley floor. Credit: Nancy Chaney

Indian Canyons

Mountain springs, waterfalls and roughly 60 miles of hiking trails are features of Indian Canyons, the ancestral lands of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. The bodies of water and towering fan palms offer a stark contrast to the dry, rocky desert surrounding the canyons. Many of the trails are gradual, well-graded inclines, ideal for hiking families. Watch for mule deer and, if you’re lucky, endangered bighorn sheep.

Pro tip: Download and print the Junior Ranger Activity Book, which includes a fun park-themed bingo game, before you fly to Palm Springs.

Remarkable hiking at Indian Canyons in Palm Springs right in town best sunny destinations for Seattle families
Hiking Palm Springs’ Indian Canyons. Credit: Nancy Chaney

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens

Budget about three hours to explore The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, where you’ll see cheetahs, a jaguar, African wild dogs and adorable fennec foxes (a crowd favorite!). Feed a giraffe for just $10 ($8 for members) — which is way cheaper than animal encounters at many other zoos. Once kids have had their fill of animals, check out the model trains that run past replicas of the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains. If you still have energy, take a short hike in the nature preserve along the Eisenhower Peak Trail (access is included with your zoo tickets).

Pro tip: If your kiddo has sensory processing needs, borrow a sensory bag. It includes fidgets, noise canceling headphones, weighted lap pads and other resources.

Finding the sun closer to home ...

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2021 and updated for 2023.

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