I once had an old uncle named George. He was a bachelor and a total curmudgeon. Once, at a family Christmas party, my toddler nieces were chasing each other and one knocked over George’s eggnog. “Damn it,” he muttered, “Christmas would be fine if people didn’t bring their children.” We now use this misanthropic maxim to toast George’s memory at every Christmas dinner.
The fact is, there’s a good chance if you’re reading this you’ve arrived in the valley for the holidays with a few ankle-biters in tow. And, if we’re not talking about a matching pair of Pekingese, then you need to start getting creative about alternatives to your hotel’s swimming pool. The kids are going to dry off at some point … and you need to be ready.
WILDLIGHTS AT THE LIVING DESERT ZOO & GARDENS
One of the great holiday traditions in the valley is when the pathways of the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens are lit with over a million twinkling lights starting on Nov. 22 and continuing to Dec. 24. With the walkways all aglow, strolling through the zoo is an extraordinary experience, though not every animal shares the wonder. However, enough can be seen to blow your child’s mind. And, bonus, Santa makes an appearance. 47900 Portola Avenue, Palm Desert. 760-820-2710; livingdesert.org
SKY PARK AT SANTA'S VILLAGE
When Santa’s Village first opened in 1955 near Lake Arrowhead, the 220-acre village of bobsled rides, reindeer, gingerbread bakery, and toy shop (Not to mention Santa’s actual house!!) was the first franchised amusement park in the U.S., opening a month before Disneyland in nearby Anaheim. Despite the fact that there was rarely a flake of snow before Christmas, the village was packed with SoCal kids in November and December. However, the short, seasonal nature of the village combined with dwindling attendance doomed the park in the ’80s. By 1998, it was shuttered and dilapidated. Two years ago, local developers refurbished the park and turned it into a year-round amusement park with mountain biking trails, zip lines, climbing walls, and archery. The village has been restored, too, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus are on hand to greet visitors. The smell of fresh gingerbread once again wafts through the village in Sky Forest. 28950 Highway 18, Sky Forest. 909-744-9373; skyparksantasvillage.com
PHOTO BY THINKSTOCKPHOTOS.COM
CHILDREN'S DISCOVERY MUSEUM OF THE DESERT
Take it from the father of a toddler: The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert is a full eight hours of engagement. First, in Toddlertown, there are programs every day of the week, from Science and Nature Tuesdays to Music Movement Fridays. The rest of the museum has activities ranging from physical activities such as rock climbing and a rope maze to the fascinating games in Hidden Treasures. Seriously, take an Uber because you’re both going to have to nap on the way home. During the holidays, members of the museum are invited in mid-December to a special event where participants decorate gingerbread houses. Other parents tell me that it is worth becoming a member just for this one holiday activity. However, nonmembers are invited to bring their kids on Saturday, Dec. 19, from 10:30 to 11:15 a.m. to build their own wreaths. 71701 Gerald Ford Drive, Rancho Mirage. 760-321-0602; cdmod.org