Great For: People looking to get away from it all without actually going very far from civilization. Couples who love to be outdoors, but don’t want to rough it on their honeymoon. Folks who want to feel off the grid without actually being off the grid.
Not so great for: People who think a vacation isn’t a vacation without the ocean. Those that are easily bored. Anyone who hates dust. (Seriously don’t bring nice shoes. All you need are motorcycle boots that you can do some light hiking in.)
My husband and I found ourselves headed to Joshua Tree earlier this year for a wedding, and, given that he’d been wanting to go ever since watching a documentary on Rancho de la Luna, and I’d never been despite living in Los Angeles for six years, we decided to make a week long trip of it.
First, a little geography. What is commonly referred to as Joshua Tree is actually a group of small communities in the California High Desert along Highway 62, which runs north of Joshua Tree National Park (and Palm Springs, which lies south and southwest of the park).
- Furthest west, there’s Yucca Valley (pronounced like “yuck” not like “uke”): This has the most usual trappings of civilization from Walmart to Starbucks (as well as cute hipster coffee shops and thrift stores).
- Northeast of Yucca Valley is Pioneertown, home to Pappy and Harriet’s, actual Pioneertown itself (which started as a live-in Old West motion-picture set, built in the 1940s).
- Due north of Yucca Valley is Landers, which includes Flamingo Heights (home to a gas station with a butcher and a market and the area’s most popular brunch, La Copine) the famous Integratron and Gubler Orchids Farm.
- Further to the east along Highway 62 is the town of Joshua Tree itself, which includes a small strip of restaurants, stores, and galleries; the Joshua Tree National Park Visitor’s Center; and the park entrance.
- Even further east is the larger Twentynine Palms, which has another park entrance. (Pro-tip: This entrance is much less heavily trafficked than the Joshua Tree one.)
Every neighborhood has its pros and cons, and all of them are both near—and far—from things, depending on your sense of distance. How much or how little you want to do on your honeymoon has a lot to do with whether or not Joshua Tree is a good choice for you.
Everything you need to know for your Joshua Tree Honeymoon
- You can truly chill. The desert is the perfect place to just breathe and decompress. Maybe it has something to do with all the space you have there? (That and the woo-woo out there tend to believe Joshua Tree is a vortex of really good energy.)
- Privacy, privacy, privacy. All I’m going to say is that you’ll probably be staying somewhere (like a super cool Airbnb) isolated enough that you can walk around naked with zero fear the neighbors will see.
- There are only so many things to do. This is a pro for me. Instead of feeling like you’re going to miss out if you’re not squeezing every moment out of the day, you can pretty much see everything AND have plenty of downtime to relax and hang out together.
- Joshua Tree National Park admission is for a week. I mean, they could charge $25 a day (and they probably should to #saveourparks), but it’s $25 for a week of unlimited admission.
- The weather can be perfect. The desert is a place of extremes, but if you’re there in spring or fall, it can be extremely perfect. Think 80°F during the day, 50°F at night, no humidity, and no rain. Ever.
- It’s not the beach. Or a city. This con can be easily solved by tacking on a couple of days in Los Angeles or San Diego to get beach-y and tourist-y pursuits on.
- There are only so many things to do. If you are a person who loves activities 24/7, particularly, uh, bars and restaurants and nightlife, this is probably not the place for you.
- You will have to drive… a lot. Your trip will probably start with a drive to get there. The towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms are about forty-five minutes from Palm Springs and its airport, and around three hours from a ton of other major airports, like LAX, Burbank, Long Beach, John Wayne in Orange County, San Diego, and Las Vegas. That three-hour estimate is traffic dependent, and with Southern California traffic, that means anywhere from around two hours in the dead of night, to probably five-plus hours in a nightmare scenario.
Once you make it to the desert, you will probably have to drive anywhere from ten to twenty minutes to the nearest place to get… anything. And depending on your Airbnb, possibly several miles will be on dirt roads. Before you book anything, check to make sure the car you’re driving and the place you’re staying are compatible. Also, be aware that oftentimes you will want to get to your accommodations before dark, so that you don’t run into issues like getting a rental Prius stuck in soft sand at midnight.
- The desert is hot, y’all. If you hate the heat or the sun (or the dust), it might not be the right choice. That said, the friend whose wedding we were attending is one of the most sun- and heat-averse people I know, and is a regular visitor to the High Desert, so with the right combo of time of year, A/C, and avoiding being outside in the middle of the day, you might love it too.
- Cell phone service is not great. Can you tell I’m reaching here?
What To Do
Stay in an Airbnb
Picking an Airbnb in Joshua Tree is like being a kid in a candy store. There are midcentury cottages, Airstreams, yurts, geodesic domes, caravans—the options are nearly endless. Find one that speaks to you, but I recommend one with some kind of hot tub or “cowboy pool,” as the trend goes in the desert. Nothing is more awesome than this after a long day of hiking.
We stayed at two Airbnbs during our trip, and both were amazing for different reasons:
Echo Ranch House: Beyond gorgeous interior design and property, great easily accessible location, and walking distance to a hip breakfast spot. Tons of wildlife watching (hummingbirds and other birds everywhere, bunnies, chipmunks, kangaroo mice, and coyotes).
Shangri-La: Also beautiful, but a little bit harder to get to (down a dirt road that was annoying but fine with a rental car, further from groceries, etc.). More of the quintessential vast desert view. The perks were a swing set plus an outdoor cowboy tub with endless hot water.
There are a few hotels to stay in if Airbnbs aren’t your speed (there’s the Hicksville Trailer Palace and its themed vintage mobile homes, and the classic Twentynine Palms Inn), but in general if you’re diehard hotel person, Palm Springs is where your party’s at.
VISIT JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
This park is kind of the whole point of Joshua Tree and is not to be missed. It’s a great place for non-avid hikers, because you can drive to nearly everywhere and explore as much or as little as you need to on foot. Don’t forget to bring tons of water and snacks, because there is nothing in the park, and you might find yourselves starving with an hour’s drive back to the entrance. (Not that this, ahem, happened to us or anything.)
Recommended spots to check out:
- Barker Dam (above): This is maybe the most popular hike with older folks and kids, so I recommend going early morning or later in the day so it feels less like you’re following a line at a theme park.
- Ryan Ranch: Not to let the secret out, but this place was the best. It’s no more than a ten-minute flat walk to a really cool abandoned abode buildings.
- Cholla Cactus Garden: This is the place you see all over Instagram and for a good reason. Not to be missed.
DAY TRIP TO PALM SPRINGS
Dust the, er, dust off you, and take a day trip to Palm Springs. Go on a modernism architecture tour, grab drinks at The Parker Palm Springs or a day pass to the pool at the Ace, and just generally check out how the other half lives.
DO THE Touristy THINGS
Get your UFO believer on at Giant Rock, go for a sound bath at the Integratron. Visit Pioneertown and see a show at Pappy & Harriet’s. Go thrifting at The End. Take lots of pictures at the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum.
GET YOUR HAIR DONE
If you have plans to chop off your hair post-wedding, trust me and wait until you touch down in Joshua Tree to do it. (But maybe don’t make the same mistake I did and book a four-hour hair appointment the day after a six-hour flight plus three-hour drive!) The reason? You can get it done at Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum, an adorable place packed to the gills with beauty accoutrements that range from super weird to adorable and midcentury. I found stylist Emily on Instagram, and she gave me the most unbelievable mermaid hair, so if fun colors are your thing, she’s worth the trip.
CHILL AT YOUR AIRBNB
This is your honeymoon, right? Take time to just hang out at your Airbnb, relax and enjoy each other. Getting married is hard work; you deserve it. This was honestly our favorite part of the trip. Echo Ranch House had killer sunrise views and tons of wildlife that we just watched for hours, and Shangri-La had that cowboy tub and a sunset view swing set. So seriously, grab a bottle of wine, and catch up on your napping.
Have you been to Joshua Tree, or the Palm Springs Area? What are your best tips and secret spots?