My husband and I recently returned from a three night trip to Joshua Tree, California. For ages I’ve heard about the desert town’s allure. We tacked our visit onto a work trip to San Diego, landing us in the oasis in mid-January: quite possibly the slowest, quietest time to visit this popular spot (slow, in a good way).
Warning: After reading helpful guides like this GQ one, I planned an exciting, action-packed itinerary for us... totally overestimating my energy levels as a 6.5 month pregnant lady. Factor in a three hour time difference for the lady who's in bed at 8pm, and let’s just say, we took it easy after all. Fortunately, Joshua Tree is great for just that: reading, leisurely walks, journaling, drawing. Simply being in the cool desert air was invigorating and inspiring.
We stayed at this spare but charming Air BnB in nearby Flamingo Heights, a small town just 20 minutes north of Joshua Tree National Park. There are dozens of great Air BnBs to choose from surrounding the park in the nearby towns of Yucca Valley and Flamingo Heights.
Next time, l’d love to stay in one of the design boutique hotels like Mojave Sands Hotels or Two Bunch Palms (especially during pool weather!).
Our AirBnB was down a dusty dirt road called Cherokee Trail, with a Joshua Tree smack in the center. The grounds looked like a movie set — dotted with cacti, pines, dilapidated farming equipment, empty flag poles and a shipping container. Each day we watched the sun and moon rise and fall in the distance overlooking the desert mountains, valleys and mesas.
EAT (we ate a lot)
Fuel up with a pre-hike breakfast at Country Kitchen, a classic little diner once blessed by Anthony Bourdain. In addition to heaping plates of biscuits and hashbrowns, this joint offer fresh Vietnamese dishes like cold noodle salads with tangy vinegar dressing. Homey and inviting. The servers wore white aprons and called us sweetheart as they refilled our coffee.
Natural Sisters Cafe — Crunchy. For the healthy Birkenstock babe craving a green smoothie or a vegan wrap. The vibe is grab’n’go. Not really a place to linger. But you'll hit your fruits'n'veggies quota for the day.
Las Palmas Mexican Cuisine - Inside this humble yet inviting place, the pork tacos were some of the best I’ve ever had in my life. My husband couldn’t help but scarf down his enchiladas in less than five minutes. According to our local server, he said that this THE SPOT where local Latinos eat Mexican food in town. A gem.
Kasa Tacquieria - Walk to the back of the Mexican grocery store and be greeted with upbeat traditional tunes and a sunny, albeit modest, dining area. Order at a window, and watch your tacos get whipped up behind a glass wall where the cooks watch international soccer while whipping up a flawless quesadilla. It’s your standard delicious Cali Mex. The salsa bar was colorful with crisp pickled carrots and onions and incredibly fresh homemade salsas.
Frontier Cafe - earthy, hippy cafe. Where you can spend an hour or two with a book or catching up with a friend.
La Copine - Unfortunately, this famous spot - written up in the New York Times and deemed a tres fancy-ish joyful oasis — was closed for some rejuvenation while we were there. But I have to mention it!
Pappy and Harriett’s - I loved this place. This spacious live music venue and BBQ restaurant in the middle of the desert is the stuff of legends. The original outpost was used a film set back in the 50s for famous western films shot in Pioneer Town (worth a visit in itself). Today it hosts indie rock bands like Band of Horses and Arctic Monkeys. Famously, Paul McCartney had a show there as well.
Joshua Tree Saloon is a dive bar with a strong local scene. While I would not recommend the food, this bar is a vibrant, cozy place to grab a beer after a long hike in nearby Joshua Tree National Park.
Drive in Movie Theater at 29 South. - Sad to admit that I couldnt' stay up late enough for an 8pm movie. Yes, that's pregnancy for you. But, I wanted to add it to the list!
Joshua Tree National Park is incredibly accessible and easy to explore (great for kids, I imagine). Park the car and hop out to scramble up boulders and meander down flat hiking trails that wind around giant rock formations and spindly anthropomorphic Joshua trees. One gloriously sunny afternoon, we spent an hour wandering around Hidden Valley to watch worldclass rock climbers flex their muscles.
For some cardio, we trekked the 3 mile out-and-back up the popular Ryan Mountain Trail, which rewarded us with 360 views of the desert and mountains. Beautiful wildflowers, cacti, animals.
Integratron - I was disappointed to see this was closed while we were in town. It's a dome-like structure built in 1954 to be “an electrostatic generator for the purpose of rejuvenation and time travel.” The founder was supposedly guided telepathically by UFOs. Today, it’s owned by three sisters who run wildly popular Sound Bath meditations inside. Book well in advance!