joshua tree ca

California’s low desert, where both Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley are located, continues to enjoy a resurgence in popularity it hasn’t seen since the 1940s and ‘50s, when the area became the getaway destination for Hollywood’s elite. Today, the crowds drawn to Palm Springs are still of a glamorous, upscale nature, but there’s a new ‘it’ destination in the area drawing a hipster crowd away from the low desert and out to the high.

Joshua Tree, California, is the newest in arid wasteland-chic, with hordes of LA’s artists posting up for weekend jaunts, to live seasonally, or as full-time residents. Most are protective of their new home-away-from-home and are hesitant to share their desert secrets (given that Airbnb rates have doubled in the area in the last twelve months). We, on the other hand, think the world would be a better place if everyone had the chance to experience Joshua Tree’s special brand of magic, so we’re spilling all. We suggest you go quickly, however, as it’s only a matter of time before Joshua Tree is completely overtaken by outsiders (like us!).

Joshua Tree lounge chair

Where to Stay

Major hotel chains aren’t allowed to set up shop in Joshua Tree, which only adds to the small town’s charm; however, that doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of hotel lodging. The Mojave Sands Hotel is the most posh offering in town, though by no means should it be considered a luxury hotel in any traditional sense of the term. For something with a little more character, we suggest the newly-renovated Pioneertown Motel, where rooms are decorated in cowboy-centric themes, or Spin and Margie’s, which is oh-so-quaint but a bit of a trek from some of the main attractions.

If you’re a music buff — or just morbid — you may opt to stay at the Joshua Tree Inn instead, where cult musician Gram Parsons died back in 1973. As mentioned, Airbnb also has an incredible amount of unique listings such as this Dome in the Desert, and many come with lovely local hosts willing to show you the sights at no added charge. We have some friends who recently rented their Joshua Tree Airbnb out to none other than David Beckham!

 Joshua Tree … is the newest in arid wasteland-chic, with hordes of LA’s artists posting up for weekend jaunts, to live seasonally, or as full-time residents.

Where to Eat

Though nearby Yucca is home to many of the usual restaurant chains, Joshua Tree remains populated mainly by mom-and-pop shops. Crossroads Cafe is probably its most famous dining establishment, and it’s the place to be for breakfast (try the banana bread, and consider staying forever).

Across the street, The Country Kitchen is also great for a hearty, all-American breakfast, though if you get to know the owner, she may be convinced to cook you up some authentic Cambodian cuisine instead. The newest hotspot in town for your morning meal, however, is La Copine. This Flamingo Heights restaurant — not technically within JT’s borders, but close enough — would be right at home in Venice, CA which, as it turns out, is from where its proprietors hail. Another spot to hit up before the afternoon gets late, or en route to a hike in the park, is Natural Sisters, where fresh green juice and veggie dishes are the order of the day.

If you want to make a full night of it, on the other hand, head to the legendary Pappy and Harriet’s for some barbecue and live music (often, celebrity talent makes an appearance, particularly in the weeks between Coachella) or to The Joshua Tree Saloon, where occasional karaoke can be a treat. Whatever you do, however, do not skip town without trying a David Bowie slice at Pie for the People; it, much like the man himself, will change your life.

joshua tree shopping

Where to Explore

Joshua Tree National Park  is the most obvious attraction in the area; we suggest exploring various hikes at random during the day — one leads to a secret oasis — and posting up in its Hidden Valley for the best views of JT’s insane skyscape at night.

Noah Purifoy’s outdoor museum is a must-see when you’re in the area and an outstanding photo opp; it was fifteen years in the making and is comprised entirely of junked materials.

No visit to the Joshua Tree area is complete without a stop at The Integratron, either. The famed structure was built following the alleged instructions of aliens on an intersection of geomagnetic forces. Sign-up for one of the space’s Sound Baths to connect with your inner voice (and maybe aliens, too?). After, head to nearby Giant Rock, which is said to be the largest single boulder in the world. It is also purported to be the original point of contact with those aforementioned extraterrestrials. Read more about Giant Rock’s fascinating history here.

 Sign-up for one of the space’s Sound Baths to connect with your inner voice (and maybe aliens, too?).

Where to Shop

When we say that Joshua Tree is our go-to destination for treasure hunting, we mean it literally; someone recently discovered an Andy Warhol painting at The Angel View Thrift Store. Those willing to sort through lots of goods to find the buried gems (or who just want to pet baby bunnies) should make an early Saturday morning stop to The Sky Village Swap Meet. We also love The End, Ricochet, and Promised Land for some of the best vintage shopping in all of California.

If you’re interested in actually digging for buried treasure in the form of literal gold, you can sign up to go on a prospecting tour of the area, which has been scoured for this precious metal since the 1860’s. You might not strike it rich, but a little bit of luck can take you a long way in this sleepy desert town.

Are you up for the desert? Where are some of your favorite places?

Images via Mattea Perrotta

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