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Why Visit Borrego Springs with Kids

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Have you heard of Borrego Springs, California? It's this funky area inhabited by about 3,500 residents in the middle of the desert. Although located within San Diego County, you'll feel worlds away from the beachy vibe of SoCal in this desert village. Here are four reasons to visit Borrego Springs with kids.

Why Borrego Springs with Kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Why Borrego Springs with Kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

1. Anza-Borrego State Desert Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the largest desert park in the US, is the main draw for visitors to Borrego Springs. Although I have lived in Southern California and Arizona for a combined total of 28 years and I am quite familiar with the desert landscapes of both, I found Borrego Springs to have an other worldly feel I have not found anywhere else. As we drove into the area, I exclaimed, “It looks like we're driving along the bottom of the ocean.” And we were. Borrego Springs was covered by ocean millions of years ago. It almost looked like a real-life version of a scene out of a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon.

Before setting out to hike a portion of the 110 miles of trails within the park, stop by the Visitor Center. Here you can get advice from rangers on which trails will suit your family's hiking style and needs and pick up a map. Be sure to watch the informational video in the center to learn all about the land's transformation over the millennia from ocean, to valleys filled with grazing animals, to the desert it is today.

Sunscreen, a hat with a brim, and drinking water are a must during an Anza-Borrego hike, especially during warmer months when temperatures soar past 100 degrees Farenheit. If you forgot to bring these items with you (like we did), you can (and should) purchase them in the Visitors Center. If visiting in the summer, you will want to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crazy heat of the day. The park opens at dawn and closes at dusk.

Two of the many sculptures by Artist Ricardo Breceda that you'll find sprinkled through the Borrego Springs desert landscape (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Two of the many sculptures by Artist Ricardo Breceda that you'll find sprinkled through the Borrego Springs desert landscape (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Bighorn Sheep

Borrego Springs is named for its resident bighorn sheep. (Borrego means sheep or lamb in Spanish.) So, of course, you will want to try spot some borrego during your stay!

During our visit to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, my family chose the popular Palm Canyon Trail, an easy 3-mile round trip hike that leads to a grove of palm trees, called the Palm Oasis. Since we got a later start than we wanted during our October visit (during which temperatures hovered around 100 midday), we decided we would just hike for 20 minutes or so and then turn back around. Returning hikers, however, kept convincing us to venture a little farther and a little farther with their tales of bighorn sheep seen along the trail.

Eventually my 6-year-old son's legs and attention span called it quits, so my husband turned around to head back to the trail head with him. I wanted to find those bighorn sheep, even if it meant hiking the rest of the way solo. I asked my 9-year-old if she would continue with me to the Palm Oasis in search of the sheep. My tween tends to avoid most things that require a lot of effort, especially things her parents would like her to do. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised when she said yes.

We rationed our small bottle of water, stopping to take sips in what little shade we could find along the way. When we reached the Oasis, we were saddened to find no bighorn sheep anywhere. After a few minutes of searching, I suggested we head back to the cool air conditioning of the car and get some lunch. But my determined little girl insisted we keep searching.

We heard some rocks tumble down the mountains above and my daughter whispered, “Look! Up there! It's a baby bighorn!” Sure enough, wandering along the edge of a cliff was a baby sheep and its mama. There is something so exhilarating about spotting wildlife where they belong – in nature. We both beamed at each other, quietly pointing out other members of the bighorn family as they walked along the ridge.

All told, the hike took us nearly two hours to complete, a length of time that would typically illicit groans and whines from my tween about sore feet, aching legs, thirst and heat. Not this time. My daughter smiled the whole way back, even when I momentarily lost the trail. When we could see our minivan in the distance, we broke into a run. We were so eager to tell the boys about our adventure and the treasure of bighorn sheep found at the end of trail.

Can you spy with your little eye the bighorn sheep? (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Can you spy with your little eye the bighorn sheep? (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. A Place to Play in the Desert

I make no secret of my love for hotel pools. La Casa Del Zorro, a historic Borrego Springs resort that first opened in 1937, is home to 23 pools and hot tubs. Book one of the 19 private casitas to get your very own private pool in the desert. Our favorite memories at the hotel were spent swimming in our casita's backyard pool. The hotel provides beach balls and inner tubes at no extra charge to make pool time even more fun.

We stayed in a three-bedroom La Casa Del Zorro casita with plenty of space to spread out and sleep well. Also fun for kids, you'll find ping-pong tables, tennis courts (with complimentary rackets and balls), and fire pits around which to warm up during chilly desert evenings. For parents, the on-site spa offers all sorts of treatments to help you relax after your desert hikes.

Private casita pool at La Casa Del Zorro (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Private casita pool at La Casa Del Zorro (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Peaceful Location

Located about a two-hour drive from both San Diego and Palm Springs, Borrego Springs makes a nice stopping point between the two destinations during a California road trip. It's also just 45 minutes northeast from Julian, a town renowned for its apple pie shops aplenty, making the journey even more enjoyable.

You won't find a Starbucks, McDonald's or any chain restaurants or stores in Borrego Springs. Locals abhor growth and chain anything. The tastiest restaurant we found was Carmelita's, which offers authentic Mexican cuisine and some particularly good salsa. Kendall's is a fine choice for diner fare. Although Carlee's looked like a good option with its pool tables for the kids and fully stocked bar for mom and dad, I suggest avoiding this place unless you like mushy under-cooked fried shrimp and chicken served ice-cold along with an attitude and slow service.

There are two restaurants at La Casa Del Zorro (the fancier version was closed during our visit just prior to peak season). Room service is the only on-site option for breakfast. A mini fridge and microwave in your La Casa Del Zorro casita can help avoid hefty price tags. You can pick up snacks and drinks at the small grocery store at The Mall in town. (Yes, it's actually named, “The Mall.”)

You don't come to Borrego Springs for the food, shopping or nightlife. You come to Borrego Springs to get away from your everyday worries and submerge yourself in stark desert beauty. There aren't even any stop lights in the area, so as to not distract from the stunning display of stars in the nighttime sky.

The Palm Oasis at the end of the Palm Canyon Trail in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

The Palm Oasis at the end of the Palm Canyon Trail in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

When we returned home, my always creative daughter wrote a song about our mother-daughter trek through the desert called, “What's a Hike without a Prize?” You come to Borrego Springs to search for connection with your kids and nature. And that's just what my family found.

Would you like to visit Borrego Springs with kids? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Thank you to La Casa Del Zorro for hosting my family's stay at your resort. All opinions are mine, as always.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. Although I usually find desert holidays to be boring, this sounds interesting and very peaceful. Might give it a try next year.

  2. Amy Carney says:

    I am so excited to check this spot out now! We live between Arizona and Orange County and I have never heard of this. We love to do family hikes and this looks just perfect for our family. Thank you for your fun review and for giving us another fun place to add to our family travel list!

  3. Private pool?! You don’t get that at every resort. I love unique places like this.

  4. Kristin says:

    We are here right now. Spent a lot of time here a decade ago pre kids. Now with 4 boys we couldn’t wait to show them this special spot. We too are staying in Casa Del Zorro and love it. My boys LOVE hiking “the slot” and climbing in Culp Valley. Ages 8, 8, 6, 3. We spent two nights here during our 9 day San Diego adventure. We stopped in Julian for pie and the train/gold mine tour too.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Kristin – How great that you brought your kids back to Borrego Springs so many years later. Sounds like you had a wonderful SoCal family holiday!

  5. Colleen , come back and visit and you may change your mind about dining in BS–We have Kesling’s for wood-fired pizza, Red Ocotillo for fantastic burgers and Carmelita’s for wonderful, family-style Mexican food ( and try the Skinny Margaritas if you need something after hanging with the kids). VRBO has a condo #23 at Villas Borrego , right on Palm Canyon Drive that is 2 suite. There are two pools and it is usually so quiet that you have a pool all to yourself!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Thanks for the heads-up about the food in Borrego Springs! We enjoyed Carmelita’s during our visit. Will need to check out the other options the next time we visit!

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