It's Official: The Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree Are Completely Free

Updated 02/25/18

With Joshua Tree's social media–ready backdrop, it's no surprise that the city's become an increasingly popular getaway. Characterized by its washed-out color palette, bare roads, and open sky (stars included!), it's a welcome respite for any city dweller. Joshua Tree gives the feeling that, in its infinite space, a number of hidden treasures are waiting to be discovered. Whether you're an L.A. local looking for a weekend trip or an East Coaster in search of a desert getaway, read on for 13 of the best things to do in Joshua Tree.

Joshua Tree Road Trip
Egg Canvas

If you can, the best way to make your way to Joshua Tree is via car. Drive slow, take in the energy of the desert, and watch as its vastness surrounds you. I made my way over in a Chevrolet Traverse, a vehicle with ample cargo space that was perfect for road tripping. Pack in all of your essentials, and hit the road.

marmol radziner desert house
Egg Canvas

One of the best things to do in Joshua Tree is to hunt out the many architectural wonders that make up the city. Contemporary, minimal, deconstructed—the architectural landscape of Joshua Tree is unlike any other city in the States. The building pictured here is the Marmol Radziner Desert House, located in Desert Hot Springs about 30 miles out from Joshua Tree.

Promised Land
Promised Land

A trip to Joshua Tree would be incomplete without combing through the many wonderful vintage and antique shops sprinkled throughout the city. To head up your list, Promised Land offers a curated selection of unique vintage pieces. Desert staples like cowboy boots, distressed denim, and oversize leather jackets fill the racks without seeming cluttered or overwhelming in this bright, airy space.

Joshua Tree Casita
New Darlings

When it comes to accommodations, Joshua Tree has some of the most tranquil options you can experience. The Joshua Tree Casita, an Airbnb located about 12 minutes out of downtown, is a beautifully styled home that hosts up to four guests. The house is located very close to Joshua Tree National Park for easy access to hiking.

joshua tree hike
Egg Canvas

One of the primary points of interest in Joshua Tree is its magnificent natural landscape. Perhaps the most quintessential plant here is the cholla cactus, which can be seen en masse at the Cholla Cactus Gardens in Joshua Tree National Park. Other unique species like the desert agave, datura, and the Mojave yucca (pictured here) are also worth searching out. See a complete list of species in Joshua Tree at the national park's official site.

Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum

In the middle of Joshua Tree lies the the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Art, a free museum open from sunup till sundown. The Noah Purifoy is located entirely outdoors and features surreal sculptures composed of everyday objects that have been crafted into something fantastic.

Pappy & Harriet's
Sarah Prikryl Photography

Let's get down to the necessities. If you're on the lookout for barbecue, the famous Pappy and Harriet's is a foodie haven located in Pioneertown. The establishment's well-known association with the music scene has had acts like Paul McCartney, Arctic Monkeys, and Lorde grace the stage, which has live music playing every night. Also, vegetarians, fear not. I can personally vouch for the restaurant's flavorful (and food coma–inducing) veggie burger.

Ricochet Vintage
Rae & Ella

Here's another shopping destination to your list. Ricochet is a vintage hot spot with a generous selection of accessories and jewelry, along with clothing. Most of the vintage here runs from the 1940s to the '80s. As a plus, the pricing is very fair.

Skull Rock Trail

If you take any one hike in Joshua Tree, walk the Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks loop. Named after, well, a rock that resembles a skull, the trail includes a host of sweeping rock formations. The loop is only about a mile and half, making it doable for beginners. As a note, I found that after long periods of being outdoors, my skin got dry—and I'm not typically prone to dryness—so pack a good moisturizer and sunscreen for your trip. I kept Girl Undiscovered's Face Elixir Oil ($65) to pat onto my face, hands, and hair as needed.

the end joshua tree
The End

Rounding out the very best shopping excursions in Joshua Tree is The End, a bold, colorful vintage oasis. The clothing here is funky and eclectic, skewing more toward higher-end vintage than thrift. Clothing, shoes, accessories, and even homeware can be found here.

Joshua Tree Stars
Renden Yoder/Unsplash

If there was one thing I was struck by the most about coming out to Joshua Tree, it was that you could see the stars so clearly. Take the time to stargaze; it really is such a meditative experience. You can view full constellations that aren't obscured, and no tools or equipment are necessary.

Pioneertown Motel
Pioneertown Motel

For accommodations outside of an Airbnb that still bring you a one-of-a-kind experience, try the Pioneertown Motel located right behind Pappy and Harriet's. I can honestly say this is one of the most unique hotels I've ever stayed at. The façade looks like the set of an old spaghetti western, so I was surprised to walk in and see such a modern room. Keep in mind that it's fairly bare bones, so amenities like TV or a way to grab food on property aren't available. Worry not, however—the Wi-Fi comes through loud and clear.

Joshua Tree Coffee Co.
New Darlings

Before you arrive at any new town, it's important to know where to grab a good cup of coffee. Joshua Tree Coffee Company serves up organic, fair-trade coffee in every form, whether you favor pour-overs, drips, or cold brews. Located right next to Joshua Tree National Park, this is a great place to duck into for a lift before or after a hike.

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