Joshua Tree is a town, a national park, and a state of mind. It's in the High Desert of California, but there are some amenities including cool places to stay, good bars and restaurants, and it can be a day trip out of Los Angeles—about two and a half hours drive each way. If it's your first time, I suggest staying in one of the funky motels or high-end rentals for a longer, more relaxed trip. Mind you, the town is small, so you may be heading to neighboring towns for food and antique shopping. One of the great pleasures of being there—the state of mind part—is slowing down and letting go of your monkey mind. Quite a few people moved out here during the pandemic—driving up real estate prices, unfortunately, but causing a growth spurt of bars and restaurants with cute names, like Awe Bar, The Dez, and Tiny Pony.
What to See
Joshua Tree National Park
There’s much to see in this place where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts meet. You might want to prepay for a pass to save time—the basic 7-day fee for a car is $30 and the annual pass is $55. Go early, bring plenty of water, and pick up a map from the ranger station as you head in as reception may be spotty in some areas. Do drive on the roads and stop in designated scenic points—yes, people have gotten lost. There are, of course, lots of Joshua Trees, those strange furry trees with spiky branches that reach up and out. Before you go check out the National Park Service’s guide to visiting Joshua Tree National Park.
On one end of the town is a small cluster of funky shops and the World Famous Crochet Museum. When the gate is open, walk down the path to Shari Elf’s store and the hot lime green museum next to it, which is a repurposed Fotomat booth from the days of actual photo processing. Crammed inside are a couple hundred crocheted items, such as poodles, corn cobs, dolls wearing berets, etc. It's a giddy delight to see what people have crocheted. Admission is free, though a donation is always appreciated. Meanwhile Elf's store has an assortment of recycled T-shirts printed with wry phrases like "What would Cher do?" as well as her own sign-board and assemblage art.
HWY 62 Art Tours
For three weekends starting October 8, some 130 art studios across the Morongo Basin, which includes Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, 29 Palms, and others, are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for your viewing pleasure. There's a variety of painters, sculptors, ceramic artists and more, with a group show at the Joshua Tree Art Gallery.
Where to Eat
This is a new bar and restaurant in the Old Town neighborhood of nearby Yucca Valley. There’s good food, like the burger with the caramelized onion bacon jam, and nice outdoor seating. Separately, there’s also a cocktail lounge and a live music venue, with a raised stage and a wavy wooden ceiling. Check its schedule for upcoming performances.
Natural Sisters Cafe
For a good, healthy breakfast or food to take into the park, stop by Natural Sisters Cafe, which is situated near one of the park's entrances. Organic, plant-based baked goods and wraps, as well as locally sourced juices are its specialties. The cafe was founded by two sisters in 2009, and remains a favorite among visitors and locals alike. The walls are also decorated with work by local artists.
Where to Stay
Andrea Zittel is one of the leading figures on the art scene here, having moved out to the desert two decades ago to create an art out of living-literally. Now you can stay in the house or the guest house she built, with the quietly elegant furnishings and handmade ceramics that she has developed, flavored with Zen and Bauhaus inspirations. The guest house is ideal for one or two people, as it's a furnished one bedroom with a full bath and kitchen, and gorgeous views from the living room of the vast expanse of desert and mountains. If you want more space, check out the house, which is rented through Homestead Modern. Even better, time your visit for when the working studio is open for tours—they do weaving and ceramics there, which are available for purchase. Right now, that's about two Saturdays a month, but book in advance, as tours often sell out.
The Joshua Tree Inn
This is a rambling motel with a swimming pool set on an acre of land with Joshua Trees. The style is part Spanish hacienda, part desert funk. Rock and roll luminaries have stayed here, including Gram Parsons and Donovan—memba them?