Travel Guide10 Reasons You Should Drop What You're Doing and Go to Joshua Tree, California
A secret taco spot. A groovy, spartan aesthetic. And one of America's most recognizable and jaw-dropping national parks. If one small town can embody everything that's cool in 2016, it's Joshua Tree. This is the insider's guide to doing it right.
1. Joshua Tree National Park
If you’ve scrolled through Instagram in the past three years, you’re probably familiar with the look of this otherworldly landscape inhabited by wild-limbed trees, ancient stacked boulders, and vision questers who come here to rock climb and mushroom trip. More than 2 million people visited the park last year, but don’t worry about crowds—the place is bigger than Rhode Island and offers endless expanses. Make sure to bring plenty of water, and mind the rattlesnakes.
2. Kasa Carniceria Y Taqueria
Tucked in the back room of a grocery store, this locals’ secret serves up tacos al pastor that rival those of L.A.’s food-truck scene. Grab a bottle of Jarritos or a Mexican Coke next to the carnicería counter before placing your order and go heavy on the jalapeños and pickled carrots at the salsa bar.
Said to be situated on a powerful magnetic vortex, the Integratron was constructed in the mid-1950s by UFOlogist George Van Tassel according to instructions laid out for him by extraterrestrials. It was originally intended as a space to conduct time travel and rejuvenate the human body. These days, the perfectly domed 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter wood building is home to popular sound baths. Lie down while the host rubs crystal bowls that tune your brain in to those good high-desert vibrations.
4. Smith’s Ranch Drive-In
This is not a nostalgia-soaked revival of a drive-in movie theater; this is the real deal. Starting at sundown, five bucks gets you a double feature. The balmy desert nights allow for outdoor seating about ten months of the year, so tune in to the FM radio station, sprawl out on the hood of your car with some Milk Duds, and enjoy the show.
5. Sky Village Outdoor Marketplace
Originally built as a drive-in and later turned into an art space, Sky Village is now home to the local weekend swap meet (as well as the High Desert Test Sites HQ). Entry is free, parking is easy, and the scene is a weathered western version of the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Wade through the variety of desert trash and treasures—here you can buy a cactus just as easily as you could a crystal collection or an old country record.
6. Mojave Sands Motel
Post up for the night at this beautifully restored and re-imagined roadside motel on the outskirts of downtown Joshua Tree. This laid-back little compound contains a row of rooms situated beside a reflecting pool, cactus gardens, and outdoor fireplaces. The five distinct units have been painstakingly decorated, with unique details by local artists and craftspeople. Just checking in here sets the right tone for your trip.
7. Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace
Pappy’s is the roadhouse that high-desert dreams are made of, a watering hole filled with a motley mix of bikers, local artists, cowboys, tourists, and drop-ins from the cast of the Wild West re-enactment show up the block. The stage is small, the floorboards are worn, and the live music ranges from beloved local bands to I-can’t-believe-they’re-playing-here names. Nothing tastes better on a Saturday night than a Mason-jar margarita with a rack of ribs from the backyard barbecue pit.
8. Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
Celebrated assemblage sculptor Noah Purifoy spent the last 15 years of his life living in the Joshua Tree desert, constructing this ten-acre outdoor museum out of found materials. The sculptures, intended by Purifoy to be left exposed to the elements, are a sun-scorched testament to the harsh and unforgiving nature of the desert.
9. Gram Parsons Shrine at the Joshua Tree Inn
Joshua Tree’s popularity among artistic types seeking respite from the city isn't a recent thing. Back in the 1960s and ’70s musicians like Donovan, Keith Richards, and Gram Parsons made frequent trips here. One of those trips back in 1973 was Parsons’ last: He overdosed and died in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn. Now Gram fans make pilgrimages to the inn to stay in the room and visit his shrine. RIP to the fallen angel.
10. A-Z West / High Desert Test Sites
This inspiring 50-acre compound is the home and working studio to acclaimed artist Andrea Zittel. For nearly 16 years, it has served as her experimental testing grounds for explorations of “A-Z designs for living.” At certain times of year, you can tour the private residence or go deep and stay in one of her futuristically simple Wagon Stations for a week. Just be prepared to contribute to the “hour of power” in exchange for room and board.