7 Stops You Can't Miss In Joshua Tree, CA
Sometimes you just have to get in the car and GO. When we're feeling like getting away from the city and enjoying the great outdoors, Joshua Tree is a common destination for us. It's just a 2-3 hour drive from San Diego and Los Angeles so whether you're visiting Southern California and can spare a day or two or living locally, this is an inherently "do-able" destination. Joshua Tree and the surrounding area are full of mystery. There are definitely secrets you'll have to discover for yourself, but here are a few of our favorite sights and activities when we venture up to the High Desert.
1. Cholla Cactus Garden
The Cholla (CHAW-ya) Cactus Garden is always beautiful, but if you make the trek to this spot at sunrise or sunset you're in for a real treat. The thin translucent spines of the Cholla Cactus absolutely light up with the sun at those angles. The garden is fairly small and has a boardwalk to keep visitors safely out of reach of the "jumping" Chollas. Sometimes called "Teddy Bear Cactus" the Cholla is a member of a cactus family known for it's uncanny stickiness and readiness to break into small pieces that attach to unsuspecting passers-by seemingly out of nowhere (hence the "jumping"). The garden is on a far edge of the Joshua Tree National Park off of Pinto Basin Road headed toward Cottonwood Springs.
2. Keys View
Your spot in the National Park for fantastic sunsets! Keys view is marked on all of the park maps and is popular for it's sweeping vista over the San Bernadino Valley. Get there a bit before sunset to stake out your spot. Keys can get crowded since it is fully reachable by car. Also check the air conditions because the lookout point can seem hazy if the valley is having a particularly smoggy day. Even if you find the overlook crowded and hazy, the setting sun still puts on a show!
3. Pioneertown, USA
This old-timey western "town" springs up out of the desert about 20 minutes outside the town of Joshua Tree and was built as a movie set. You can still go watch a staged gun fight there or maybe just wander the streets pretending to be Wyatt Earp or Doc Holiday. The crown jewel of Pioneertown, however, is Pappy & Harriett's Pioneertown Palace. This is one of the coolest BBQ joints/Honkey-Tonks you'll find anywhere! They are open Thursday through Sunday and often have live music in the restaurant or on their outdoor stage. Their pork ribs, tri-tip, and bison burgers are all made with natural and organic ingredients and the portions are generous. If you want to sit in front of the dining room stage for the live show, you've got to make a reservation 3-5 weeks in advance and we highly recommend it! If we haven't made it clear, there's no shortage of good food or friendly people, but there is also great craft beer from San Diego, LA, and the nearby Coachella Valley on draft and in bottles.
4. Hiking & Climbing (on and off the beaten path)
We mean it when we say that Joshua Tree National Park has something for everyone. There are beautiful short hikes and nature walks that are completely family friendly and have really favorable difficulty/payoff ratios. There are over 8,000 charted rock climbing routes including bouldering problems and top-rope climbs. There are also miles and miles of backcountry filled with, jack rabbits, plenty of cactus and desert flowers, UFO sightings, Native American petroglyphs and sweeping vistas. Set a course, pack about 3x as much water as you'll need and get out there! Some of our personal favorites include Barker Dam, Ryan Mountain, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Hidden Valley.
5. Crossroads Cafe & Joshua Tree Saloon
This diner and watering hole make a great combo after day on the dusty trail! Both of these sit (just about 200 yards from one another) on the main drag in the town of Joshua Tree. Crossroads Cafe feels like an original Route 66 diner with a sort of funky desert vibe. To be fair, I think everything has a "funky desert vibe" because Joshua Tree is a funky desert town. Breakfast is great at Crossroads as well (get the Zydeco Breakfast), but if we're there in the afternoon, go for the L.A. Reuben (turkey, sauerkraut, cheese, rye), Thai Salad or Quesadilla. If you want to score some fresh craft beer (or just a Miller or PBR) or other adult beverages and have another chance to catch some live tunes, walk over to the Joshua Tree Saloon. The backyard is open on weekends and leaves you with plenty of room to spread out. Otherwise, grab a pool stick or pull up to the bar. Service is direct, but friendly. It's a saloon.
6. Noah Purifoy's Art Site
This is the first entry outside of the Joshua Tree National Park and a major source of man-made surreality, creeps, and shoulder shrugs. This free and interactive (in an exploratory sort of way) art collection is like a Mad Max/Dystopian carnival village. The artist has created a network of structures using everything from tires to baby doll heads to a broken down carousel. Really, you just need to go see it.
7. Star Gazing
As our cities stretch further and further and our lights get brighter, finding a good place to stare into open space becomes a tougher order to fill. Joshua Tree National Park is famous for frequent shooting stars and brilliant exposures of the arms of our own Milky Way galaxy. There is a lot of weird space lore in the high desert... so who knows what you'll see up there. It is a stellar (har har) place just to get out, feel small, and wonder.
I think we're going to add a list of place we want to go, but haven't been yet in and around Joshua Tree. Feel free to let us know some of your favorite spots or about your experiences in Joshua Tree on social media or over email at firstname.lastname@example.org !