Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley are located in San Bernadino County, California in the Mojave Desert, the driest desert in North America. The area is outrageously beautiful, with the San Bernadino mountains in the background and open expanses that stretch for miles. Winding through the roads, among the sand and shrubs, you might start to feel like you're on some sort of movie set. And if you make your way to Pioneertown–as I did—you'll *definitely* feel that way (because it once was one). At night, the sight of the stars and the cool air will make you stop and take it all in. It's a must-see in the U.S. and can be done in a short amount of time if planning strategically. (We know you don't have all the vacation days in the world.) So here, your guide to the area.
You will want to have a car (you really can't do anything without one—honestly), and you can drive in from any of the major airports in the area—LAX is about a 3-hour drive and a perfect commute to start your journey (The mountains! The wind turbines! Plus, you know, In-N-Out.) You can also drive from Palm Springs International, which is about an hour drive. I highly recommend getting a wi-fi enabled car with a navigation system if you can—you'll be in the mountains and service will be *spotttty*, so even your Google Maps can't help you.
Thankfully, I got to drive the Chevy Cruze Hatchback, which has pretty much everything you need for the most pleasant drive—tons of space for your luggage, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (so you can link your tunes/not miss a call), plus turn-by-turn navigation (so even if you screw up, it'll get you back on track.) No more turning off at the next exit/trying to figure it out yourself! Hoorah! Plus, it's pretty sleek looking, if I do say so myself. (I do. I didn't design it, but I can acknowledge that fact, right? Right.)
Where to Stay
I stayed in Pioneertown, which is a community in Yucca Valley. It was built in the 1940s as a Old West movie set, where actors could live and work. Now, it's a relic of days past that provide an idyllic place to stay, drink some beers, and watch the sun set. Pioneertown Motel, a 20-room "motel" with newly renovated rooms, was the perfect place to stay while in town—it's small lodging house serves as the main meet-up, while a restored tent/meeting area in the back provides some escape from your room, should you want some.
There are also plenty of Airbnb options in the area—so make sure to check that out as well.
What to Do
So. Many. Things. Obviously, first and foremost, you have to make the trek to Joshua Tree National Park. Rugged rocks line hiking trails where visitors can walk to their hearts' content. (FWIW, you can also camp here! There are over 300 campsites within the park boundaries.) There are a ton of tours you can sign up for, and if you're daring, you can even boulder and rock climb. Or you can just take photos and take it all in.
Nearby, you can make a trip to the Integratron in Landers, a structure designed by Ufologist and Contactee George Van Tassel. Now owned by three sisters, the structure is used primarily for sound baths—meditation-like sessions where you lie while taking in the soothing sounds of crystal bowls. (Thanks to its round structure, the acoustics are fantastic.) You must make an appointment—it's not open to walk-ins, and it's closed on Tuesdays.
You can also go thrifting, search for antiques, and—obviously—go stargazing.
Where to Eat
Pappy & Harriet's is a must—it's one of the last original structures in Pioneertown, and features amazing live music. Go. Go. Go.
La Copine is absolutely delicious, and is only open for brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Everything is fresh, perfectly made, and just, ugh, so good. (I recommend the Smoke & Hash or The Royal Crumpet.) I mean...
Frontier Café is a great place to grab a sandwich, breakfast, or coffee, and 29 Palms Inn is a great spot to grab dinner and a cocktail (with a walk around the fab grounds afterwards).
1. Pappy & Harriet's is HUGELY popular, so make sure to make a reservation if you plan on eating there and staying for some live music. Just looking to drink and dance? You can use the side door—no reservation needed.
2. It's the desert—meaning hot during the day, cold temps at night. Make sure to pack layers, bring a beanie or hat, some fleece, as well as some trusty closed-toe shoes (like boots or booties). Your body will thank you.
3. Did I mention service is spotty? Make sure to have all your important phone numbers and directions planned out before you head out on your journey and screenshot or print them. (Yes, like in the good ol' days. REMEMBER WHEN WE HAD REAL MAPS?)
4. Make it a true vaca and head to Los Angeles for a couple of days to make the most of the time. (Slash to really get a true country/city experience.) Our rec? The iconic Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Stay in one of the Cabana rooms for easy access to the historic Tropicana Pool or stay in The Tower, which recently underwent a 25-million-dollar renovation with interiors by Yabu Pushelberg. (Fun fact: both the hotel and pool have been designated as Historical-Cultural Monuments by the City's Cultural Heritage Commission). Drink some tropical drinks, hang out in the daybeds, and relax before cruising around L.A. (Musts: The Griffin Observatory, LACMA, and a stop at a taco truck, please. I beg you.) Vacation = complete.