Ever wonder what a roadrunner and coyote really look like? At The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, you can meet the real life inspiration for these desert-dwelling "Looney Tunes" characters. This Palm Desert zoo focuses on educating visitors about animals from deserts in North America and Africa, including giraffes, warthogs, jaguars and bighorn sheep, to name a few. The Living Desert also has a number of gardens showcasing the various cacti and other plants native to the desert. Hikers, be sure to bring your gear. The Living Desert has 1,080 acres of undisturbed desert land and a number of nature trails through the preserve are open seasonally to the public.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The Living Desert is an outdoor zoo where visitors can see native desert dwellers like giraffes and jaguars, and nature trails are also available.
Marissa's expert tip: Arrive early in the day, if possible. Not only will temperatures be cooler and the wildlife more active, but you can also watch animals undergo annual exams and surgery at the Marilyn and Bill Tennity Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center.
The prestigious PGA West Golf Club in La Quinta boasts six golf courses designed by some of the best names in the industry, including Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Pete Dye's Stadium course was ranked one of the top 100 courses to play in the U.S. by Golf Magazine, and it's also one of the club's more challenging courses – after all, the 17th hole is more commonly known as "Alcatraz." And if you manage to escape Alcatraz, you'll still have to navigate the water-lined 18th hole stands between you an victory. For a shorter and easier round, the 9-hole Greg Norman course is a popular choice.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: PGA West Golf Club offers outdoor courses designed by some of the industry's top architects, including Pete Dye and Arnold Palmer.
Marissa's expert tip: Only three of the courses – the Greg Norman course, the Arnold Nicklaus Tournament course and the Stadium course – are open to the public, so plan accordingly.
The Coachella Valley is a beautiful, peaceful sight from the air, and the picturesque landscape as seen from above is filled with vineyards, polo fields, golf courses, and orchards. Older kids can enjoy the views on a family-friendly ride. Perks of each trip include an in-flight champagne toast for parents and complimentary shuttle service from major desert resorts. You can also arrange for in-flight photos and commemorative flight certificates so the kids can have a souvenir to hang onto for years to come. Special events to celebrate birthdays and graduations can also be arranged. Host Clotaire Castanier has been flying balloons professionally since 1967.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Balloon Above the Desert offers an outdoor escape high above the desert with unparalleled views of the Coachella Valley.
Marissa's expert tip: Get in touch early to arrange a special event, such as a celebration for a birthday or graduation.
Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument provides the picturesque background for the Coachella Valley. The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains line the desert, and in the winter months, these peaks are snowcapped for the ultimate photo opportunity. These mountains are more than just something to look at, though. Trails abound along the desert to let you explore the monument firsthand. Some trailheads, like those atop the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, require a fee to access, but most are free to explore. You can try a short trail like the 2.4-mile Randall Henderson Trail at the visitor's center or try a more strenuous hike like the Bear Creek Oasis Trail at the top of the La Quinta cove.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument boasts some of the desert's most popular hiking trails.
Marissa's expert tip: Try the popular Bump and Grind trail in Palm Desert for a cardio workout with expansive views of the east end of the valley.
Sparkling springs set amid 20,000 acres of lush greenery provide a haven for a myriad desert creatures, just five miles outside of Palm Springs. In the center is a 1000-acre, idyllic palm oasis that served as the backdrop for Cecil De Mille's epic film, King of Kings. Self-guided nature trails, horse trails, and picnic facilities are available. You can also opt for a guided tour along McCallum Trail, one of the flattest and easiest trails in the preserve. Experienced hikers may want to try their hand at the Herman's Hike Loop, Pushwalla Trail or Hidden Palms Trail, some of the more difficult trails at the Coachella Valley Preserve.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The Coachella Valley Preserve is home to a series of hiking trails along a protected desert area that includes the San Andreas fault line.
Marissa's expert tip: Opt for a guided hike along McCallum Trail with one of the preserve's naturalists for a deeper understanding of the desert's ecology.
If you're an outdoorsy type, you'll be delighted by this high-altitude park's 54 miles of hiking trails, camping and picnic areas, and guided wilderness mule rides during snow-free months. Nestled between the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and the mountain town of Idyllwild, this state park often sees snow in the winter, making it a surprising escape just above the desert. Cross-country ski equipment rentals can be arranged during the winter months, though many just like to build snowmen or have a snowball fight. The state park is only accessible by hiking or by taking the Palm Springs Tramway. Permits are required for overnight camping.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Mount San Jacinto State Park is home to hiking trails and camping areas high above the desert floor, offering cooler weather for an outdoor adventure.
Marissa's expert tip: If you're a hiker, you can enjoy a 10-mile trek from Idyllwild to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, where you'll pass sights like Tahquitz Peak.
Once a community center for the native Cahuilla people, the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons are a recreational oasis for hikers, horseback riders and nature lovers. Protected by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the area's hiking trails include Andreas Canyon, Murray Canyon and the popular Palm Canyon. Stop by the Trading Post near the entrance for a trail recommendation, a hiking map and water, if you forgot to bring it. For a relaxing experience in the canyons, pack a picnic and make a day of exploring Palm Springs in its natural state. Streams, natural palm oases and canyon formations are just a few of the natural wonders awaiting canyon visitors.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Indian Canyons offers easy-to-intermediate hiking trails along waterfalls, streams and palm oases against the San Jacinto Mountains.
Marissa's expert tip: Opt for a guided hike. While visitors are welcome to explore the trails on their own, a guided hike with a park ranger offers trailblazers a much richer experience. Not only will your guide be able to teach you about the plants and wildlife found in the canyons, but rangers also share the folk tales and lore of the native Cahuilla people who once inhabited the land.
Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert offers two of the area's best courses for those looking to tee off in the desert. The pristinely kept greens of both the Firecliff and Mountain View courses are well-manicured with desert flowers, bushes and trees. Combined with the courses' water features, natural hazards, sand beds and pristine views of the San Jacinto Mountains, both courses are easy favorites with visiting golfers. The Mountain View course offers 18 tranquil holes on a smooth course, while the Firecliff course is an 18-hole course that challenges players with large lakes and more than 100 bunkers throughout.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Desert Willow Golf Resort is one of the desert's premier outdoor golf courses.
Marissa's expert tip: Opt for a round at the Mountain View course if you're looking for an easy morning of golfing or if you're new to the sport. The Firecliff course isn't for the weak of heart.
Discover the outdoors from the open bed of a red jeep on a Desert Adventures tour. The tour company specializes in eco tours of the Coachella Valley, including tours of Joshua Tree National Park, the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons, Mecca Hills and the San Andreas Fault Line. Many of the guides have been with the company for years and know the desert's wildlife, environment and history better than most locals. The fault line tours are always a popular choice for visitors, offering a rare glimpse into the heart of the San Andreas Fault. Desert Adventures has exclusive access to parts of the fault line through Metate Ranch, a 840-acre site that includes a recreated Cahuilla village and mining camp.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Desert Adventures offers guided, open-air jeep tours of local outdoor attractions like the Indian Canyons and San Andreas Fault.
Marissa's expert tip: For a little variety, opt for one of Desert Adventure's night tours. As the sun sets, you'll be treated to a tour of a natural palm oasis and the fault's slotted canyons. After dark, your tour guide will lead you through a stargazing session at Metate Ranch's recreated mining town.
Joshua Tree National Park is about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, but it feels like a world away. Filled with hiking trails, scenic vistas and larger-than-life rock formations, Joshua Tree is the perfect destination for those looking to get back to nature. The alien-like boulders and twisted joshua trees make for popular photo ops, whether you decide to hike the trails or drive through the park. The preserve is actually the result of two great deserts, the low Colorado and the high Mojave, which come together at Joshua Tree to create a 794,000-acre geological and floral wonderland. A Visitor's Center, art gallery, and cafe-deli welcome you at the park's entrance.
Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Joshua Tree National Park offers hiking, rock climbing, camping and other outdoor activities.
Marissa's expert tip: Bring plenty of food and water. Desert temperatures can lead to dehydration.