RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Lounging by the heated pool at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa, I overheard another parent gushing over the beautiful weather and the hordes of happy children splashing in the water.
"It's like vacationland," she said.
I can stop writing this article now. She pretty much summed up the Coachella Valley in one succinct observation.
When the weather turns ugly everywhere else -- even across the mountains in southern California -- the sun never sets on the stylish resort lifestyle of greater Palm Springs. Winter brings ideal 70- to 80-degree days every day, even in El Nino years like this one.
Golf courses are tucked into every community and resort in the valley. Only a few golf resorts, however, are really family friendly. The Omni Rancho Las Palmas -- one of the five golf resorts Omni acquired from KSL Capital Partners, LLC in 2013 -- helps break the stereotype that the California desert is only for snowbirds with silver hair.
The luxurious but not-too-stuffy Omni vibe attracts a stylish, slightly younger crowd. I still like to think I belong in this demographic. I love my golf, but I'm still young enough to enjoy an adventure or two during a long weekend getaway with my wife and two children. Who knew you could play golf one day and hike through snow the next? The Coachella Valley is more diverse than I imagined.
Rancho Las Palmas: The resort
The Omni offers 444 rooms and suites, all spacious with modern amenities such as flat-screen TVs and an outdoor balcony or patio. Its signature restaurant, bluEmber, is especially popular at breakfast, thanks to a great buffet with an omelet station. Colorful flower arraignments splash the resort's outdoor areas with color. As the heat of the day fades to nightfall, guests gather around the resort fire pits at bluEmber and those lighting up an outdoor courtyard just off the lobby.
By day, guests seek solace at the adult-only pool near the restaurant, or join in the fun at the larger children's pool adjacent to Splashtopia. This outdoor water park costs extra, but getting the kids to burn off some energy in the lazy river, splash zone, sandy beach and two 100-foot waterslides is totally worth it. We spent so much time at the pool that we forgot all about the 20,000-square-foot Spa Las Palmas spa or the 25 courts at the valley's largest tennis center.
Rancho Las Palmas Country Club
Rancho Las Palmas Country Club, about a five-minute shuttle ride from the resort, suffers from the biggest complaint about golf in the valley -- the holes are encased by homes, condos and hotel rooms. One swing can put the ball in somebody's backyard, but it's generally wide enough that my foursome only had a couple of close encounters.
The 27-hole Ted Robinson design underwent a renovation about five years ago to add some much needed length. The result is a fun resort course that will intrigue but won't beat you up. None of the nines (North, South or West) are longer than 3,218 yards.
I played Rancho Las Palmas' North and West combination. The North nine boasts the best rolling topography, good for downhill tee shots and demanding uphill approaches to elevated greens on four holes. The West gets a little quirkier and tighter. That's especially true on the short fifth hole, a 285-yard par 4, and the 129-yard sixth hole that have greens located in the heart of the resort. Design flaws aside, playing these holes is actually kind of fun when guests are watching from their balconies or the patio at bluEmber. You won't get bored playing Rancho Las Palmas, that's for sure.
A few adventures away from the resort made the trip extra special.
This may sound strange, but seeing snow might have been the highlight of our weekend. Snow in Palm Springs? The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway rises 8,500 feet to the top of Mount San Jacinto, a California state park loaded with 54 miles of hiking trails and backcountry camping.
The ride up a 40-person tramcar that rotates to showcase the scenery takes roughly 10 minutes. We wore pants and sweatshirts in preparation for brisk weather, but 50 degrees and sunny felt balmy. The snow was thick enough in spots that a few families brought sleds. We explored the trails around the Mountain Center, climbing up massive boulders for jaw-dropping views of the valley below. Many people come up to dine in the Peaks Restaurant, but we were still full from breakfast. If you're looking for a half- or full-day adventure, don't miss the tram. It costs $5 to park and roughly $25 per adult and $16.95 for children ages 3-12.
Another night we explored The River, an outdoor dining and shopping hub across the street from the Omni. After dinner at Babes, an excellent BBQ joint, we strolled through a few boutique shops and walked along the cool water features, streams and fountains that attract a crowd. We stumbled upon a live band jamming in a courtyard. A free outdoor concert? I must say: Well played. The Coachella Valley certainly knows how to entertain.