The best things to do in Joshua Tree | rugged desert landscape by Ryan James Christopher
Photo by Ryan James Christopher

A guide to Joshua Tree, California’s desert destination

Words by Zoey Goto
Last updated: October 27, 2022

From hiking in the world-famous national park to live music, art galleries and Airstream caravans, live out your desert dreams in Joshua Tree, California

Joshua Tree’s otherworldly landscape has been attracting a heady mix of creatives, outlaws, hipsters and free spirits for years. A two-hour drive through epic scenery from Los Angeles, or a 45-minute one from Palm Springs, makes this high desert outpost the perfect southeast Californian weekend retreat. It combines the great outdoors with independent shops, bars and boutique hotels, abandoned Old West towns, buzzing live music venues, and restorative holistic retreats. Here are the best things to do on a sun-soaked weekend in Joshua Tree.

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | rugged desert landscape at dusk by Ben Karpinski
Photo by Ben Karpinski

Where to stay in Joshua Tree

Almost everyone in Joshua is a creative with an Airbnb side hustle, which is either a blessing or a curse, depending on your viewpoint. However, one thing’s for sure: with more than 2000 properties listed on Airbnb and Vrbo in Joshua Tree and the nearby Yucca Valley, the short-term rental market is jam-packed with options. But if you would prefer some service with your stay, these are the best hotels, motels, camps and trailer parks in and around Joshua Tree.

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | The bright, sun-bleached entrance to Sacred Sands hotel
The sitting room and a walkway at Sacred Sands, a small, two-room retreat in the desert

Sacred Sands

Best for: Getting away from it all
Location: 63155 Quail Springs Road, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Price: Rooms from 380 USD

Sometimes, all you need from a minibreak is to escape the world for a few delicious days and sleep out under the stars. Do this in style at the eco-friendly Sacred Sands retreat, hidden down a dusty dirt road close to the western entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. With just two rooms sleeping two people each, there’s no danger of jostling for space here. Instead, you’ll have an endless expanse of wilderness to roam. Rooms come with an alfresco cowboy bath and sumptuous meditation bed that’s unapologetically open to the elements. It’s where most guests choose to kip, although inside each guestroom there’s also a king-sized bed and Moroccan lamps to crank up the zen factor.

The entrance and a bedroom at the western-themed Pioneertown Motel

Pioneertown Motel

Best for: Living the cowgirl dream
Location: 5240 Curtis Road, Pioneertown, CA 92268
Price: Rooms from 195 USD

Embodying the spirit of the Old West, this funky motel stands at the entrance of Pioneertown, a remote western-themed community founded in the 1940s by Hollywood’s rhinestone cowboys, including Roy Rogers (although nowadays, you’re more likely to find photoshoots rather than shoot-em-ups in its saloon bars). Inside, the rustic motel stays true to the western theme, with Aztec throws and cowhide rugs, and rooms open up onto panoramic vistas of the desert. You’re also within a short trot of Pappy & Harriet’s for some smoking hot BBQ and live music.

Guests can stay in an Airstream trailer at Autocamp Joshua Tree

Autocamp Joshua Tree

Best for: Connecting to nature
Location: 62209 Verbena Road, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Price: from 200 USD

A mile from downtown Joshua Tree, on the fringes of the national park, is this most luxurious of all trailer parks. Forty-seven gleaming silver bullet Airstream caravans come with all the bells and whistles one might expect from a boutique hotel stay, including high thread count bedding, and a nearby pool and clubhouse restaurant that serves up wholesome comfort food. It’s an equally solid choice for a romantic, stargazing couple’s break as it is for a family holiday, with a schedule of activities for kids that includes herbal medicine-making workshops. As night falls, you’ll often find musicians out on the terrace, serenading guests under a blanket of twinkling stars.

The best restaurants and cafes in Joshua Tree

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | interior details at Cafe FrontierThe best things to do in Joshua Tree | a bowl of soup and a sandwich at Cafe Frontier
Records on display and soup served at Frontier Cafe

Frontier

Best for: Healthy eating and Joshua Tree’s best coffee
Location: 55844 Twentynine Palms Highway, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
Price: Lunch around 15 USD, drinks from 4.50 USD

Looking for a health-conscious bite to eat in Joshua Tree? Frontier is an all-day cafe in the Mojave Desert with a focus on colourful rainbow salads, vegan baking, and speciality drinks such as emerald green matcha tea or beetroot, honey and cinnamon latte. There’s tons of tables beneath its high ceiling, and local acts often perform live music on the small stage at the front of the cafe.
cafefrontier.square.site

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | La Copine restaurant at duskThe best things to do in Joshua Tree | A colourful dish at La Copine restaurant
La Copine is a much-lauded restaurant in Joshua Tree

La Copine

Best for: a destination restaurant in Joshua Tree
Location: 848 Old Woman Springs Road, Yucca Valley, CA 92284
Price: Plates from 10-29 USD

Off the beaten track, even by Joshua Tree’s remote standards, La Copine is well worth making the 20-minute trek into the desert for its modest but perfectly executed menu. Highlights include the ‘royal crumpet’, which elevates the humble English staple to fine dining standards. Inside this former retro diner, the female owners put a big emphasis on sourcing locally from California’s neighbouring farms. Arrive early if you’re hoping for a lunchtime table at the weekend, when queues can snake across the porch.
lacopinekitchen

The best restaurants in Joshua Tree | interior details at J T Country KitchenThe best restaurants in Joshua Tree | tacos served at J T Country Kitchen
Tacos served at J T Country Kitchen, the oldest operating restaurant in Joshua Tree

J T Country Kitchen

Best for: Keeping it local
Location: 61768 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Price: Plates from 7.50-13 USD

After all that healthy dining, it’s probably time for a plate of home cooked indulgence. Head to this low-key diner for biscuits and gravy or a sky-high stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes. Loved by locals, this homely institution proudly boasts of being the longest continually running restaurant in Joshua Tree.
jtcountrykitchen.com

 

Where to see live music in Joshua Tree

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | the rustic exterior of Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace

Best for: Beats and BBQ
Location: 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown, CA 92268
Price: Drinks from 8 USD

This rootsy honky-tonk at the gateway to Pioneertown is the place to hear live music in Joshua Tree. Look beyond its spit-and-sawdust first appearances, as everyone from Paul McCartney to Peaches have performed here, joining the local talent who play here regularly throughout the week. Food is a fairly meaty affair, with pulled pork sandwiches and ranch-sized steaks, but there is a sprinkling of veggie options and a decent kid’s menu. The drinks either lean into American craft beers or take inspiration from the surrounding landscape, such as the cactus flower cocktail made with an outrageously long pour of tequila.
pappyandharriets.com

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | the rustic exterior of JT SaloonThe best things to do in Joshua Tree | JT Saloon lit up beneath the desert night sky
Joshua Tree Saloon is always buzzing at the evening with gigs and open mic nights

Joshua Tree Saloon

Best for: Dive bar lovers
Location: 61835 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Price: Plates from 8-40 USD

In keeping with the frontier theme, this dusty dive bar attracts a curious mix of hardy hikers from the nearby park and locals who are here for the gigs (check in with the bar staff to find out who’s gracing the stage that night). And for the fearless, there’s even an open mic night on Tuesdays. The food and drink menus are as laidback as the decor, with burgers and tacos eaten out on the terrace.
joshuatreesaloon.com

The best things to do in Joshua Tree

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | rugged desert landscape by Joseph Lee
Hiking the trails of Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by Joseph Lee

Hike the Joshua Tree National Park

The beauty of this iconic park is that it marries two distinct desert ecosystems: the Mojave and the Colorado, making it a diverse and fascinating landscape to delve into.

First-timers should drive from the visitor center to Lost Horse Valley in the beating heart of the park, where Cap Rock (made famous by cosmic cowboy Gram Parsons), Barker Dam and Hidden Valley trails make good hiking entry points for getting the lay of the land.

Among the impressive rock formations and flowering cacti, there are plenty of opportunities to spot the jewel in this park’s crown: the soaring, Dr Seuss-like yaccas known as Joshua trees. The park is open year-round and is accessed with a 30 USD per vehicle or 15 USD per hiker entry fee. Joshua Tree’s weather can reach tarmac-melting levels during the summer, so avoid the midday heat and visit later in the day for ringside seats to the fiery sunsets.

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | The domed facade of integration
The distinctive domed facade of holistic therapy spot Integration

Chill out with a sound bath at Integration

The spiritual vibe is strong in Joshua Tree, so it’s become a magnet for those seeking a dose of self-development. Integration is perhaps the most famous of Joshua Tree’s holistic therapy offerings: housed in a distinctive domed structure, Integration hosts group sound bath sessions that deeply resonate with the body’s chakras. They also host energy healing and full moon ceremonies at the Native American Spirituality Center.
.integratron.com

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | Salvation Mountain's colourful hillside artThe best things to do in Joshua Tree | Salvation Mountain's colourful hillside art
Salvation Mountain by Leonard Knight (adobe clay, straw and paint)

Visit Joshua Tree’s eclectic galleries and installations

Throw a stone in Joshua Tree and you’ll hit an artist. There’s an impressive choice of indie-owned galleries including La Matadora, a dinky space in downtown Joshua that hosts post-modern exhibitions and artist talks, all with a strong community ethos.

Taking advantage of the seemingly endless desert landscapes, you’ll also find public art sculptures dotted across the horizon including the recent arrival of South African artist Daniel Popper’s Transmission sculpture, which rises 30 feet above Joshua Tree’s sands. Be sure to also swing by at the slightly bizarre, but the highly photogenic, Salvation Mountain installation, a colourful hill-sized landmark by folk artist Leonard Knight.

The best things to do in Joshua Tree | rugged desert landscape at dusk
Photo by Erin Hervey

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