Characterized by its washed-out color palette, bare roads, and open sky, it's no surprise that Joshua Tree has become a welcome respite for any city dweller. The vast land gives the feeling that, in its infinite space, a number of hidden treasures are waiting to be discovered. Surprisingly, this hot spot is an ideal destination to experience on a budget—there's plenty of fun to be had without paying a dime.
Take a Scenic Road Trip
If you can, the best way to make your way to Joshua Tree is via car. Drive slowly, 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.
Scope Out the Architecture
One of the best things to do in Joshua Tree is to hunt out the many architectural wonders surrounding. Contemporary, minimal, deconstructed—the architectural landscape of the area is unlike any other place in the U.S. The Marmol Radziner Desert House, located in Desert Hot Springs, is about 30 miles out from Joshua Tree.
Window Shop at the Vintage Stores
A trip to Joshua Tree would be incomplete without combing through the many wonderful vintage and antique shops sprinkled throughout the area. To head up your list, The End offers a curated selection of unique clothing, jewelry, and textiles/art. Desert staples like cowboy boots, distressed denim, and oversized leather jackets are plentiful in this eclectic, vibrant shop. Make your way to Ricochet, a vintage hot spot with a generous selection of accessories and jewelry, along with clothing that runs from the 1940s to the '80s.
Experience a Quaint Homestead Cabin
When it comes to accommodations, Joshua Tree has some of the most tranquil and unique options you can experience in California. This character-filled cabin is only 5 minutes from the main entrance to the Joshua Tree National Park and features an outdoor tub for relaxation. Prices start at $115 per night, and it accommodates up to four guests.
Scout Out the Natural Landscape
Joshua Tree boasts a 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 are also worth searching out. See a complete list of species in Joshua Tree at the national park's official site.
Tour the (Free!) Outdoor Museum
In the middle of Joshua Tree lies the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Art, a free museum open from sunup 'til sundown. The Noah Purifoy is located entirely outdoors and features surreal sculptures composed of everyday objects crafted into something fantastic.
Indulge in Local BBQ
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 with live music. Also, vegetarians, fear not. I can personally vouch for the restaurant's flavorful (and food coma-inducing) veggie burger.
Hike the Skull Rock and Jumbo Rocks Loop
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 a half, making it doable for beginners.
The desert can be particularly dehydrating and your skin can get very dry, so pack a good moisturizer, lip balm, and sunscreen!
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 equipment is necessary.
Stay the Night at an Old Western 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 the property aren't available. The Wi-Fi comes through loud and clear, however.
Get a Boost at the Local Joshua Tree Coffee Company
Locals will surely vouch for grabbing your morning java at Joshua Tree Coffee Company. They serve 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.