Two and a half hours from Los Angeles, the desert oasis of Joshua Tree has long been an outpost on the artist/musician/explorer trail. Named after its distinct native yucca, Joshua Trees unique landscape is the result of the merging of two deserts—the Mojave and the Colorado—each with their own unique ecosystems.
Joshua Tree’s archaic landscapes have been favored by generations of musicians. These days, it’s almost synonymous with attending Coachella, which takes place on the southern edge of the park in Indio. But long before that, Gram Parsons famously OD’d here in the 60’s; other notorious musicians such as Keith Richards, Donovan, Jim Morrison and Irish rockers U2 were also fond of the occasional desert trip.
Besides its musical connection, part of the allure of Joshua Tree is the journey itself—which is is mostly through empty desert, and much of it along Old Route 66. But potential visitors should be advised that Joshua Tree is very much a city—with big box stores and strip malls galore. (It’s definitely represented a little differently, so be prepared for that.) All that aside, once you’re off the main drag, magical dusty dirt roads abound—and so does the scenery.
Where To Stay: Wilder Cabin, A 1950’s Homestead in the Desert
Joshua Tree has a seemingly endless supply of cool hotels and Airbnbs. After lots of searching, we opted for a beautiful 1950’s homestead called the Wilder Cabin. Located in North Joshua Tree, the cabin lies at the end of a dirt road just fifteen minutes outside of town on five private acres. Being so far out, the Wilder Cabin is super private and boasts unobstructed views its surrounding desert landscape.
The cabin is quintessential “desert modern,” with cement floors, large windows, wood stove, and a modern kitchen. With its large windows, and a front dutch door, the cabin maximizes its location, making guests feel one with the sweeping desert landscape. The decor is a mix of modern and antiques, filled with cozy blankets (actually, one of the owners is behind Campover Blankets!) and desert plants. Amenities include a queen size bed, modern kitchen, beautiful bathroom, wifi, ac/heat and outdoor shower. Perhaps the best part is watching the sunrise, which visitors can catch while strolling the property in the morning—or from bed, if you’re lazy. (No judgement, but either way, it’s a must see.)
What To Do: Hike in Joshua Tree National Park, Visit Pioneertown, or Undergo Sound Purification
If you’re looking to nature for inspiration, you’ll surely find it at Joshua Tree National Park. Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together here. Hiking abounds, with trails ranging from ridiculously easy to very difficult. Visitors looking to make the most of their time should plan on doing several of the shorter hikes, or nature trails, such as Cap Rock (said to be the site of Gram Parsons’ ashes), Skull Rock, Keys View, and the Cholla Cactus Garden. If you’re looking for a longer trail, try the Lost Horse Mine, about a 2.5 hour round-trip through desert terrain. The up-and-back trail leads to a mine dating back to the 1880’s California Gold Rush. It’s one of 300 mines that were once located in Joshua Tree National Park, and its heydey saw cowboys, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, and sticky-fingered miners from dawn to dusk. Today, the structure still stands, and is preserved by the National Park System.
Even in cold months, spending too much time in the desert can be dangerous, so make sure to plan your days with equal parts desert and city. And there’s plenty to do! Take the 20 minute drive to Pioneertown, a movie set built in 1946 for a film that took place in the 1880’s. From the outside, fake frontier-style stables, saloons, jails and shops now house bowling alleys, motels, shops and the like. Spend an afternoon popping into the shops, then head over to Pappy & Harietts for a meal or to catch some live music. Shows sell out fast, so check the schedule and grab tickets before your trip. If you miss a show there, be sure to stop into Joshua Tree Saloon, another super cool venue in Joshua Tree proper.
One of the most popular attractions in Joshua Tree is the Integration Sound Bath. The 60-minute sonic healing session consists of 25 minutes of crystal bowls played live, and the balance of the hour to integrate the sound, and relax in the sound chamber to recorded music. A second totally indoor activity: shopping. Being vintage enthusiasts, we really enjoyed the shopping in Joshua Tree, at stores like The End, and Promised Land, both of which had amazing womenswear collections. Ricochet Vintage is another good one, combination coffee cafe and vintage shop.
Art lovers—and appreciators of the weird—should check out the Noah Purifoy Foundation, an outdoor sculpture park about fifteen minutes from town. The 10 acre outdoor museum is full of assemblage art made from reclaimed materials—think castoff metals, burnt wood, blown-out tires, and even old stoves. It’s free, but bring a few bucks to donate to its preservation and pick up a souvenir map.
Where to Eat & Drink in Joshua Tree: Bars in the Desert, Date Shakes, and Brunching
For breakfast or lunch, check out Crossroads Cafe right on the main strip in Joshua Tree. Their far-reaching menu includes everything from burgers to vegan options, and everything is fresh with awesome service. For something along the lines of diner/greasy spoon, head to JT Country Kitchen, mostly known for their big breakfasts. (Pro tip: get the “date shake” here!) Last, if you’re willing to travel, La Copine in Yucca Valley has an excellent brunch from 9 am to 3 pm Thursday through Sunday.
For dinner, aforementioned Pappy & Hariett’s in Pioneertown or Joshua Tree Saloon are a must. Both have decent food, but the live music at night makes these two real gems. For great food in town, Pie for the People is awesome, but on weekends call in advance for a reservation or takeout; wait times can be up to an hour at this popular spot.
For drinks, adventure seekers should check out a few places off the beaten path. The Palms Restaurant & Saloon is one of those places, and its bar is a real blast from the past. (Plus, you can pick up some cheap vintage clothes while you’re there.) It’s about twenty five minutes from town, in the middle of nowhere, so best to hit it on your way in or out of Joshua Tree. Another great spot is Landers Brew, which is only fifteen minutes from the Joshua Tree Cabin, but 25 minutes from town. Expect a divey atmosphere, low-key crowd, a stellar outdoor area and on occasion, live music.