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Trip Report Joshua Tree, Anza Borrego, Palm Springs, San Diego with kids in 5 days

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Hi Fodorites,
I’ve always so enjoyed other people’s trip reports, so mine will bring someone something helpful! This is a report of a whirlwind trip of five days with my husband and two boys, in first and fourth grades (boys, not the husband). We went to Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs, Anza Borrego State Park, and San Diego in five touring days. It was, for us, a fun adventure and we would do it again in a heartbeat.
We flew into John Wayne Airport and arrived midday. Now, I knew about something called the Santa Ana winds, and I knew that's where the airport was, but I somehow never made the connection between the place known for wind and the place we were landing. Note to self (and you): windy landings are not as good as calm ones.
So, we got a rental car (did you know the major rental agencies won't guarantee a 4WD? I requested one, but we ended up getting a Tahoe from National at the airport when Alamo didn’t' have 4WD, and yes, I know they are part of the same company, so that makes no sense!) and drove to Palm Springs. We checked out the windmills and had lunch at an In N Out Burger (I totally get it. Tasty!).
Our first destination was the Coachella Valley Preserve. We wanted to walk on the San Andreas Fault and see an Oasis. The volunteers there were very helpful, and we enjoyed the nature walk after being cooped up all day.
We left there in the late afternoon to check into the Hyatt Regency Suites in Palm Springs. They didn't have our room ready at check in time, and told us we'd get the next available room and it would be just a few minutes. Well, 45 minutes later, after our kids were tired of hanging out at the bar (very nice bar, cool long fireplace, pleasant bartenders, and a lady of the evening having a drink before her "work" started. Odd combo.), I checked back. The woman at the front desk was a little snotty and let me know that she would have to bump someone else who had been waiting to get us into the room we had reserved. While I wasn't happy about that, I never did get why their failure to turn rooms over efficiently was something I should be particularly comfortable with. Any hoo, we finally got into our room and rested and grabbed dinner from street fair vendors right outside the hotel. The kids loved it!
The next morning, we took off for Joshua Tree National Park. It was snowy there and part of the park was closed to visitors in the morning (it opened up later that day). My kids took the Junior Ranger booklets, and we headed to the Cactus Garden to give the northern parts of the Park to clear the snow. We did the nature trails at the Cactus Garden and at the Arches, and the kids scampered all over the rocks. We also watched the rock climbers and were amazed at how quickly they scaled the large formations. My son wanted to join in, but I didn't have a helmet, equipment, or any knowledge of how to do it. He said "What kind of a mother are you!" Hmm, the kind that didn't anticipate my seven year old becoming a rock climber! :) We will have to go back and try to climb together. We also took many many photos and looked for wildlife.
On the way back, we took a detour to Pioneertown. I don't recommend that particular side trip- it didn't seem like very much there- just a couple of shops, and ice cream from the freezer.
We had another issue with the hotel when we arrived back for our date with the pool and the hot tub, and that’s two hours of our vacation we would’ve rather spent elsewhere. Still, it was no one’s fault- the lock froze up and they had to drill it out to get us into our room, and then we had to sit there while they replaced it.
We had a fun Mexican dinner in downtown Palm Springs, and left the next morning for Anza Borrego State Park. ABSP was the surprise of the trip! We had a ball there. We drove 4WD to Font's Point, and passed by the Salton Sea on the way. I loved the adventure of the ride to Font's Point, and was so excited to see it. Right until I looked down. Then vertigo hit. My kids thought it was funny, as I work in a high rise on a high floor and have never had any issue with heights. Still, we took great photos and the kids had a ball.
We also went into Borrego Springs for the Visitor's Center and recommend it. (Practical hint: Take advantage of every restroom you can find in ABSP. Compared to Joshua Tree, where there was a campground with bathrooms around every corner, there was nowhere to go in AB.) We liked the movie at the visitor’s center, and they had a nice little gift shop. The Rangers there gave us road conditions for Fish Creek Wash and told us about places where we might see bighorn sheep. (Though we didn’t spot any.)
The off road adventure to Fish Creek was one of the best things we did. The unpaved road looked like something straight out of western. I understand that one of the Indiana Jones movies filmed some scenes here. The Split Mountain Trail literally went between a tremendous split between two mountain ranges. After a bumpy ride, we stopped and looked for fossils in Oyster Creek Wash. We couldn’t have kept them if we found any, we know, but we didn’t find any. Had a ball trying, though!
We ran out of time or we would’ve gone up to the Wind Caves and the Amphitheater. Again, we have to come back here and spend more time! Borrego Springs is officially a dark skies community, so if we can come back, I will plan to do some stargazing.
We drove of the mountains through Julian, and again, wish we had time to linger. It looked like a very cool little place and had lots of people strolling around on a Saturday night in February! Still, we wanted to make it to the Interstate by nightfall since driving on unfamiliar mountain roads in the dark in a rental isn’t a recipe for vacation fun…
Here’s a fun fact- San Diego is really close to the mountains! I swear, we were coming down off a mountain and then we took our exit that was a couple of miles to our near ocean hotel. I always thought as San Diego as a coastal city, and therefore (being from Raleigh) a flat place. Our coasts are flat as a pancake for miles. I had never been to that part of California before, and loved the topography. We stayed at the Liberty Station Homewood Suites (Ideal for families and people with dirty dirty clothes- great laundry facilities and free parking, plus breakfast!). Departed for a late dinner at Point Loma at Johnny’s American and really enjoyed everything about it. We had a wonderful server, a nice view, and thought the food was tasty and well-priced.
The next day, we hit La Jolla to see the seals at the Children’s Pool. The people who against humans on that beach yelled at us with a megaphone even though we never went across the yellow line they have strung up in an effort to tell folks where to stop approaching the seals. My problem was that the seals seemed to want to see us, and moved closer to us than we did to them! They were wonderful- cute little pups, big males, and lots of wiggly seal action. Again, a hit with the kids.
Our afternoon activity was a whale watching tour with Adventure Rib Rides. Though the captain tried for us, we didn’t see any whales, but loved it anyway. For us, the novelty of being in a rib boat and wearing survival suits and being in the Pacific was enough to make it worthwhile, plus we saw sea lions, dolphin, and lots of other tour boats.
That night we were very tired, and just had dinner at Oggi’s near the hotel. Nice place and we enjoyed it for a quick pizza and a place to wind down.
Our last day was spent at the original San Diego Zoo. The kids loved everything about it, and I thought it was time and money well spent. The volunteer interpreters really added to our visit- they were so knowledgeable and kind to the kids, and made the artifacts (elephant tusks from pre-1960) come alive.
We headed out to Coronado to the Lowe’s resort there, where my husband had a conference to attend. The kids and I flew out the next morning, so our main activity there was walking around looking at the scenery and a very quick walk on the beach.
The trip home was uneventful and largely pleasant, other than National trying to charge us an extra fee for returning the car to San Diego instead of Santa Ana when that was not in our rental agreement. They fixed it, it was just a pain. I was glad I kept my small bag o’ treats full even at the end of the trip (I always take small packs of skittles, tootsie rolls, lifesavers, blow pops, etc. on long trips to pull out when things are especially grim- like when we are waiting to board or for a gate to open up, or to get into a hotel room). There was a three year old crying like crazy somewhere over Texas, and her mom let me give her a blow pop, and she was smiling until we go to Atlanta. A little sugar went a long way! 
The list of things we didn’t get to see in San Diego is long, but I’m hoping that just means we come back soon!
Thanks for reading,
Laura

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