Credit: Kasidee Karsten

How to Spend a Cool 48 Hours in Joshua Tree

All the Best Hangs, Must-Sees and Must-Dos in This Magical High Desert Town

Located where the Mojave and Sonoran deserts meet, the town of Joshua Tree has long been a magnet for dreamers and adventurers. While its namesake national park spans almost 800,000 acres, Joshua Tree and its neighboring communities—Yucca Valley, Pioneertown, Flamingo Heights and Twentynine Palms—each boast a growing community of makers, creatives and musicians. These newcomers have brought a wave of cool concepts and businesses to the region. From hiking and stargazing to live music and stellar shopping—not to mention seriously cool dining destinations—here’s how to spend two days in Joshua Tree.

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STAY

Joshua Tree isn’t the place for swanky resorts and five-star hotels, yet there are some old and new places to stay that fit the high desert vibe. Mojave Sands Motel has been around for over a decade (with an original structure that was built in the 1950s) and features a communal courtyard with an outdoor barbecue area and reflecting koi pond. There are only ten rooms, including two suites, and rates start at $200 a night. If an Airstream trailer with mod cons or a luxe canvas tent—with access to a pool, clubhouse, kitchen and general store, of course—is more appealing, then head to Autocamp Joshua Tree. Founded by film tycoons in 1946, the Pioneertown Motel makes an atmospheric base that is a horse shoe’s toss from the Old West movie set and its famous Mane Street, which is stumbling distance from Pappy + Harriet’s and the Red Dog Saloon. 

 

DAY 1

5:30 p.m.: Visit the World Famous Crochet Museum 

Crochet Museum
Credit: Kathy Drasky

Because who doesn’t love a quirky roadside attraction? A testament to the artistic and offbeat character of Joshua Tree, The World Famous Crochet Museum is housed in a tiny, retrofitted former photo-processing booth and packed with an eclectic collection of crochet art and animals, including museum curator Bunny, a crochet alligator. Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, “tours” are self-guided: simply step inside the “crochet vortex” and behold all the whimsical pieces and unconventional creations.

 

7 p.m.: Cocktails at Más o Menos

What To Do In Joshua Tree
Credit: Más o Menos

Look for the white adobe with a turquoise door on Twentynine Palms Highway, and you’ll find Más o Menos. This cute bar and coffee shop is a relatively new addition to the high desert whose beverage program features small-batch spirits, natural wine and beer. The Michelada and El Compañero are two top-selling cocktails, but non-drinkers won’t feel left out thanks to a trio of mocktails, including a virgin margarita. Sip fancy beside the patio fire pit after snapping a keepsake pic in their new photobooth.

 

9 p.m.: Catch a show at Pappy + Harriet’s

Beloved music venue Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace has hosted everyone from Lizzo to Lorde—they even featured a surprise set by Paul McCartney in 2016. Catching a show here is a must when in the Mojave! Indie and big-name bands play on weekends, and sometimes mid-week, too, so definitely check the calendar. And if Santa Maria-style barbecue and stiff cocktails (sorry, designated drivers) sound enticing, then come for a late meal. Last dinner seating is at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday through Monday.

 

DAY 2

8 a.m.: Early Morning Hike at Fortynine Palms Oasis Trail

Credit: Al Case

This moderately challenging 3-mile circuit hike should take an average of 90 minutes to complete and leads to a pristine oasis of fan palms with rewarding views along the way. Fed by a spring, this area is a popular watering hole for bighorn sheep, and the trail is closed during summer months to allow undisturbed access. Although the trailhead is outside the park, you’ll still need to display your park pass or entry receipt on the dashboard.

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10:30 a.m.: Late Breakfast at Crossroads Cafe

Just minutes from the northwestern entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, this longstanding local favorite serves breakfast until 1:30 p.m. daily, making it the perfect place to refuel after a hike. Choose from buttermilk pancakes, eggs Benedicts and burritos, or consider one of the Roadside Specials, including a ‘SoyRizo’ Hash that can be made vegan by subbing tofu for eggs. The Polenta and Eggs is a lighter option from the Border Crossing section. 

 

Noon: Explore Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum

Credit: Noah Purifoy Foundation

Hop back in the car and head to this open-air desert museum that features an offbeat collection of over 100 assemblage sculptures made from discarded objects, like old TVs and bicycles by African American artist, Noah Purifoy. Free to enter (although donations are appreciated) the cultural landmark was created in the 1980s and draws art enthusiasts and environmentalists. If you’re fascinated by the concept of turning discarded items into thought-provoking art pieces, then here’s your chance to experience them up close in a desert landscape.

 

1 p.m.: Get Souvenirs at The Station

Credit: Glen Steigelman

Shop everything from Mexican blankets and cacti to knickknacks, vintage magazines and vinyl at this famous former gas station turned artsy boutique and social hub. The graphic crewnecks and t-shirts by Boss Dog & Friends are also cool Joshua Tree souvenirs to pick up here,  but if nothing else, at least snap a photo of the 20-foot cowboy Big Josh before you leave. Beyond being a commercial space, The Station also supports local artists and often hosts events, workshops and live music.

 

2 p.m.: Shop at Sun of the Desert

You’ll find a well-curated assortment of original art, home decor, branded Sun of the Desert merch (think totes, ball caps, hemp rolling papers and more), vintage apparel (including Levi’s) and accessories at this stylish general store in downtown Joshua Tree. If you need a break from shopping—or if you end up waiting for friends while they try stuff on—there’s a sweet hangout spot in the back where visitors can chill with a cold drink from the fridge.

 

3 p.m.: Check out Wine + Rock Shop 

Next you’ll head a little farther down the road to this unique lady-led destination in Yucca Valley for an out-of-this-world selection of natural wines and enchanted rocks. Niche local snacks (treat yourself to some La Quinta-made Tutu’s Tortilla Chips or grab a bottle of Zab’s Hot Sauce), greeting cards and apothecary items are also sold here. Similar to The Station, there’s another fun roadside attraction photo op—this time with a little gray alien.

 

5 p.m.: Early Dinner at Kitchen in the Desert

Credit: Kitchen in the Desert

For Caribbean (specifically Trinidadian, thanks to Chef Everton Gordon) and New American dishes in a tropical-meets-desert oasis setting, this locally owned spot in Twentynine Palms is a no brainer. Lit by twinkling string lights and dotted with fire pits, the outdoor patio is a total vibe and a super chill place to share a few plates. We recommend the sweet plantains with tamarind sauce to start, followed by the vegan gumbo and lamb pops with Yukon mash.

 

6:30 p.m.: Skywatcher Star Tours

What To Do In Joshua Tree
Credit: Jessica Myers

As a designated International Dark Sky Park, Joshua Tree boasts some of the best stargazing in Southern California. Bundle up and make the half-hour drive to Hidden Valley (Google map links are shared after booking) to gaze at planets, constellations and star clusters on this guided two-hour tour inside the park. Pillows, chairs and blankets are provided, as well as snacks and bottled water, so you’ll be nice and comfy while peeking through a pair of binoculars or the telescope.

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DAY 3

9 a.m.: Get Caffeinated at Joshua Tree Coffee

What To Do In Joshua Tree
Credit: Joshua Tree Coffee

Lines can get long at peak times but the outdoor patio at Joshua Tree Coffee is perfect for relaxing while getting your morning caffeine fix. The Mellow Ethiopian roast and nitro cold brew are staples, but a chai latte is a good alternative. Beans are roasted on-site at the recently renovated indoor cafe (watch all the action through the window), which also features a small retail space where you can shop bags of beans, JTCoffeeCo mugs, water bottles and t-shirts. 

 

10 a.m.: Meditate at the Boulder Gardens Sanctuary

Credit: Victor Yuyang Luo

A transition zone between the Mojave Desert in the higher elevation and Colorado Desert in the lower plains, the landscapes in and around Joshua Tree are nothing short of otherworldly, perhaps nowhere more so than the Boulder Garden Sanctuary. Nestled in the foothills of Pioneertown, walking the trails or finding a moment of stillness in the meditation gardens at this 640-acre preservation site is a beautiful way to connect with nature. You’ll possibly see some desert wildlife, too. 

 

11:30 a.m.: Brunch at La Copine

What To Do In Joshua Tree
Credit: La Copine

La Copine is one of the most elevated dining experiences in the Greater Mojave Desert. This Flamingo Heights restaurant has received a slew of accolades, including a New York Times nod. Our winter menu picks include the steak sando with black hawk Wagyu and duck confit with creamy grits. Only open Thursday through Sunday (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), we recommend securing a reservation up to 28 days in advance by texting details (name, date and party size) to 760.289.8537.

 

1 p.m.: Check out Hi-Desert Daydream

It’s a thirty-minute drive from Flamingo Heights to this boutique in Twentynine Palms, but the eclectic array of chic high-desert goods—many from local vendors like pet toy maker Mojave Dog, small-batch pantry specialists by Golden Sage and artist OMe Haus Studio—make it worth the trip. You’ll also find gift-worthy coffee table books, home decor, clothing and accessories for kids, as well as apothecary items like the Joshua Tree fragrance by Nomad Design Co. They even sell roller skates here!

 

2 p.m.: Shop at Roaming Travelers 

What To Do In Joshua Tree
Credit: Roaming Travelers

Another brilliant place to shop for unique gifts and souvenirs, from handmade jewelry to desert-inspired artwork, this store is filled with locally made goods perfect for taking home as a reminder of your trip. They also have great festival season apparel. The Roaming Travelers’ line of American-made graphic t-shirts will make a coveted addition to any wardrobe. Open seven days a week from noon to 5 p.m., their roving mobile Airstream boutique regularly pops up around the High Desert, too.

 

3 p.m.: Pop into the Joshua Tree Bottle Shop

Cruise back down Twentynine Palms Highway to shop some unique adult beverages at this indie wine, beer and spirits store before heading home. All staff are Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) educated and the shelves are stocked with a solid selection of small-production wines, like the Madson Pet-Nat Rosé, and cool canned cocktails such as Grisly’s Cosmic Bourbon and Cola. Spirits are also sold here, including High-Rye Bourbon by Joshua Tree Distilling and petite-sized bottles of La Gritona reposado tequila from Jalisco, Mexico.

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Keri Bridgwater is a freelance writer covering travel and lifestyle. Her work has been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Marie Claire, Matador Network and InsideHook, among other outlets and publications.

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