Plotting your next adventure? Consider Joshua Tree, a Southern California escape that’ll leave you feeling like you stepped into an issue of National Geographic (or perhaps a Dr. Seuss book). Only two hours from Los Angeles and less than an hour from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree makes for a most magical respite for Angelenos and road trippers alike.
In addition to the rare and renowned trees lining the open road (the town’s namesake), Joshua Tree and the surrounding High Desert offer a wild and weird world of art, eats, and natural beauty to explore. Read on for the top to-dos while spending two days in California’s High Desert.
8 AM TO 2 PM
Bump elbows with locals and hipsters alike at Crossroads Cafe. This cabin-y cool breakfast spot serves up all the classics, plus tofu scrambles and locally roasted coffee from Joshua Tree Coffee Company. Next stop: Joshua Tree National Park. You can’t plan a trip to JT and not pay a visit to this stunning natural treasure. Park entry is $30 per car—it’s worth noting that an annual pass is $55, so it’s worth springing for if you think you’ll go twice over the course of your trip (or the year). Lace up your hiking boots and fire up your camera phone for the park’s photo-worthy trails and hikes. Don’t miss the Cholla cactus garden for an otherworldly photo op.
Traveler’s tip: Bring sunscreen and plenty of water (more than you think you’ll need) for a morning at Joshua Tree National Park. It’s the desert, after all, so expect temps of 100°+ during the summer months.
2 PM TO 5 PM
Cool off at The Natural Sisters Cafe. Located at the entrance of the national park, this is an easy spot to kick back with some post-hike snacks. This cafe specializes in healthy eats—think fresh salads, quinoa burgers, and smoothies. Next, discover Noah Purifoy Foundation, a wonderfully weird outdoor art museum. Lead your own exploration or take a docent-guided tour (check their website for scheduling).
Traveler’s tip: Noah Purifoy Foundation is free, but donations are accepted onsite.
5 PM TO 10 PM
End your day in Pioneertown, a defunct movie set originally founded by Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Take a stroll down Mane Street (nope, that’s not a typo) before kicking off your hiking boots and checking into the Pioneertown Motel. This 19-room boutique motel offers comfy beds, stellar night sky views, and great design to boot. Bonus: it’s a 30 second walk from Pappy & Harriet’s, a local favorite restaurant, watering hole, and music venue. Feeling famished? Peep their menu for desert delicacies like chili nachos, steak sammies, and chicken quesadillas.
Traveler’s tip: Pappy & Harriet’s sometimes brings in big name acts that draw a crowd, so check their calendar ahead of time if you’re planning a more low key visit. Want to hang with the locals? Stop by on a Sunday night to get down to the house band.
8 AM TO NOON
Embark on day two in the desert with a short drive to Yucca Valley and Landers, two neighboring Mojave Desert communities. Start your day at Frontier Cafe for old school eats with a twist, like their breakfast BLT or vegan egg sandwich. Next, make your way 17 miles north for a sound bath at Integratron. Described on their website as a “resonant tabernacle and energy machine,” visitors swear by the meditative benefits of ambient sound made from quartz crystal bowls.
Traveler’s tip: Sound baths are open February-June and September-December and can be booked online ahead of time. The experience will run you $35 per person during the week and $40 on the weekend.
NOON TO 4 PM
Pick up a bottle (or three) at Wine & Rock Shop. This ultra hip bottle shop serves up the obvious (interesting wines and crystals) as well as a killer selection of kitchenware, cookbooks, and giftable tchotchkes. Forgot to pack Grateful Dead-inspired body oil or an astrology guidebook for your trip the desert? Wine & Rock Shop’s got you covered.
If the last stop sparked some shop-spiration, spend a few hours checking out Yucca Valley’s vintage selection. Discover a seriously eclectic mix of thrifted treasure at Black Luck Vintage, Funky & Darn Near New, and Cactus Wren Book Exchange.
Traveler’s tip: Many businesses in the High Desert keep untraditional hours that change by the day or season, so make sure to check online ahead of time.
4 PM TO 10 PM
Catch an early dinner at La Copine. Opened by a wife-wife team in 2015, La Copine serves up outstanding, low frills fare in a renovated roadside diner. They don’t take reservations and there’s almost always a wait, so arrive on the early side to put your name on the list. After dinner, sneak in a nightcap at Joshua Tree Saloon. Better yet, head back to the hotel to crack open a bottle you picked up during the day to sip with a side of stargazing.
Traveler’s tip: Take advantage of your wait time at La Copine with their simple bar set up on their patio. They’ll pour you a beer or glass of wine to enjoy while you roam the grounds or kick back to take in the view.
Follow this bookmark collection of all the businesses mentioned in this article (plus a few extras). And when you’re finally in the High Desert, use Yelp to find more great nearby businesses.