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The Ultimate Joshua Tree Getaway Guide

By / September 27, 2016

This is Southern California, so you want your weekend getaway destinations to have a bit of everything: UFO cults, hippie thrift stores, vegan food, weird Hollywood/music history and the opportunity to hike (in case you’re not too hungover). Joshua Tree ticks all these boxes.

Musicians and artists from LA have always been attracted to Joshua Tree, but in recent years there’s been a boom in local food, art, and fashion. Of course, this is great news for LA residents. Now we can experience the wild Californian desert while still having access to organic smoothies and light-filled yoga studios.

Where to Stay

Pioneer Town Motel

Nestled in the hills above the town of Joshua Tree, this is the perfect place to escape into a desert fantasy—mostly because it used to be a movie set. Over 200 westerns were filmed on location right here, and despite its weathered old-west appearance it’s been converted into a comfortable motel. The other bonus is that it’s right next to Pappy and Harriets, should cocktails in the desert be a prime concern. (They obviously will be.)


Joshua Tree Inn

This is it—the legendary motel that was a favorite of so many musicians in the 60s, and where Gram Parsons of the Byrds tragically overdosed. It still has a lot of its original kitsch 50s charm. If you’re a little sick in the head and have a morbid obsession, go ahead and ask for room 8, where Parsons died.


Dome in the Desert

A lot of people buy geodesic dome kits and build their own houses out on remote plots of land way out in the desert. Many of them are in disrepair, but an enterprising LA couple have bought one and turned it into a yoga guru’s Airbnb fantasy, complete with mid-century modern furniture and dream catchers.


Tile House

If your aesthetic is more ‘outsider art’ than ‘new age burnout’ you might want to stay at the Tile Palace. It’s a bit further down the road at Twentynine Palms, but for those who love the eccentric and eclectic, this is the spot. Bonus: It has a hot tub…

Hicksville Trailer Palace

Airbnb has a number of stand alone Airstream rentals (see what I did there?), But if you want an eccentric trailer park experience that’s a little more social, this is the place to go. Hicksville also has a pool, a bar and table tennis—in case you’re just looking for somewhere to lie around all day.


Moonlight Mesa Retreats

This is where you come if you want the full “hot tub in the mountains” experience. Which is obviously a thing.

Camping in the National Park

Looking to camp inside Joshua Tree National Park? There are plenty of campsites with scenic views and access to hikes.  Your best bets are probably Indian Cove and Hidden Valley if you want access to hiking trails, Jumbo Rocks for the view, and Joshua Tree Lake if you have an RV. Note that camping costs between $15-$20 per night and you may need to bring water with you.


Where to Eat & Drink

Pappy & Harriet’s

Is there anything better than pulling into Pappy and Harriet’s after a long drive, ordering a margarita and taking a seat outside to watch the sun set behind the giant boulders? I think not. Like Pioneertown next door, this bar was used as a set for numerous movies—most often as the façade for “cantinas” in Westerns or outlaw biker bars. Check the roster as well, because it’s a favorite spot for indie bands on tour.


Crossroads Café

If you’re here for a few days or more, this is your go-to breakfast place. The staff is friendly, the coffee’s good and the menu’s packed with the delicious grease you need to cure the inevitable hangover. They also have plenty of vegetarian/vegan options.


Natural Sisters Café

If you’re out here for some kind of detox/health kick, then this is your food haven. Plenty of smoothies and vegan foods, and they also run a farmers market in downtown Joshua Tree every Saturday—perfect for stocking up.


Joshua Tree Saloon


If Pappy and Harriet’s is your indie-fantasy Hollywood bar, Joshua Tree Saloon is its divey cousin. Complete with local psychedelic country acts, a no-frills interior and colorful locals, this joint is definitely a worth checking out, even if the drinks can be a little pricey.

Country Kitchen

Anthony Bourdain visited this place, and it’s truly a must-see for those looking for authentic down-home desert cooking. If you’re here for breakfast you can’t go wrong with the blueberry pancakes or the eggs and hash browns.


Joshua Tree Coffee Company

If you’re a coffee snob who needs your nitro cold brew or whatever-the-hell, here it is.


What to Do


This is California, so of course someone moved out into the desert, started a UFO cult, and built a shrine to the coming alien invasion. Unsurprisingly, the aliens never arrived, so now this place is open to the public. It’s in Landers, which is a little down the road from Joshua Tree, but totally worth the drive. Just crank up Jimmy Sullivan’s UFO, hit the road and make sure you book a sound bath.


Noah Purifoy Art Museum

Noah Purifoy was a Los Angeles artist famous for founding the Watts Arts Center. As an artist, he made sculptures and assemblages from the debris of the Watts Riots in 1965. In the 80s he moved out to the desert and built this incredible museum, which is hard to find, but is a must-see. It’s not staffed, so you just walk onto the property, which is a bizarre feeling, like you’ve just wandered into a de Chirico landscape.


Take a Hike

If you’re just going for a day hike, your best options are the Hidden Valley Hike (a one-mile loop that takes you through a small valley surrounded by boulders), 49 Palms Oasis Hike (a three-mile hike to a small oasis and amazing views), or the Ryan Mountain Hike (a three-mile hike with amazing views of the desert from 5,000 feet).

World Famous Crochet Museum

This is an old photomat that’s been to turned into a shrine to the art of crochet. I’m not sure what else to say.


Institute of Mentalphysics

In case UFO cults aren’t enough for you, there’s also the Institute of Mentalphysics. As someone with a suspicion of gurus (spiritual or not), I can’t tell you what it’s about. The architecture is pretty amazing though…


Hi Desert Test Sites

This desert art collective manage a number of art sites around the Joshua Tree area, most notably Andrea Zittel’s A-Z West and KRBLIN JIHN KABIN. They also run regular social events. Check their website for a full list of projects.

Noah Purifoy MuseumChannone Arif, Noah Purifoy Museum (CC BY 2.0)

Desert Christ Park

In the 50s, Reverend Eddie Garver moved out here and created a number of religious sculptures from plaster and steel in this 5-acre sculpture park. These days the figures are decaying, giving the place an eerie feel sure to appeal to believers and heathens alike.


Rhythms of Life Earthworks Sculpture

This 50-meter piece of land art is worth a look if you have the time.


Where to Shop

The End

If you love the kind of psychedelic vintage clothing and knick knacks you find in stores around Echo Park, you’ll love this place.


Ricochet Vintage

This vintage store is right next to Crossroads Café, so you can take a look when you stop for breakfast. It’s tiny but worth the squeeze, especially if you’re on the hunt for a pair of cowboy boots.


Trailer Trash

This vintage store sells furniture, records, and musical equipment—and it has a gallery attached where local artists have exhibitions.


Funky and Darn Near New

More psychedelic fashions and cowboy boots here.


Route 62

This place mostly stocks secondhand furniture and homewares. If you’re lucky, you might find a bargain on something that might be a lot more expensive in LA.


Sky Village Swap Meet

This Yucca Valley local flea market only operates on the weekend, and you’ll find different sellers here every week hawking their wares.



This is a surprisingly good record shop located just down the street from The End. They also stock comic books and tiki wares.


The Trip Back

Grab a Date Shake at Hadley Fruit Orchard

It’s a tradition to stop at Hadley’s Fruit Orchard off the 10 near Morongo and grab a date shake. True, they recently renovated so it looks like Whole Foods, but they still use the same delicious recipe for their shakes.


Matthew O’Shannessy is a writer living in Los Angeles. He grew up in Tasmania, Australia and moved to LA via Melbourne where he joined an art collective and worked for the Melbourne International Film Festival. His work has been published in various magazines and he’s currently co-editing an arts anthology. He lives in Echo Park, but you can often find him scouting out the San Fernando Valley.

More articles by Matthew O'Shannessy



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