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How to Plan the Perfect Weekend—in the Desert

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Head to Joshua Tree for unexpected delights. 

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It makes total sense that Palm Springs, that celebrity-sprinkled mecca of Ace Hotel vibes and midcentury modern architecture, gets all the love. But the desert beyond, from Joshua Tree proper to Wonder Valley, has way more to offer than just Joshua trees and sound baths (hello, Integratron). Here’s one way to string together a unexpected desert weekend without sacrificing all the glam.

1. Sleep in the most reclaimed hotel in all the land.

Staying at the Mojave Sands motel is like a night in the found-objects-art museum. Driftwood doubles as bedside lamp stands; brass plumbing as a shower setup. Service is helpful but limited—no room service or breakfast muffins here—but the in-room vinyl collection, typewriters, and front yard wonders (like the patio above) more than make up for the minimalism.

2. Step out of the art bubble. 

There’s this wonderful anything-goes quality to art out here, from the massive metal sculptures planted at irregular intervals along the highway to Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum. Two musts: Shari Elf’s Art Queen (where, among other things, you can covet the silkscreened What Would Cher Do tees and tour the world-famous Crochet Museum) and the wildly diverse Glass Outhouse.

3. Where the wild kids play. 

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The journey to the Palms feels a little post-apolcalyptic in a Mad Max-ish way: Miles and miles of rusted-out cars and every possible shade of brown earth and blue sky. But then, suddenly, there’s this sprawl of bar and concert venue, filled with telephone booths and wonky wood signs and, on a Saturday night, local and L.A. youth drinking Pabst and moving to bands from far-flung places (like, say, Portland). Brunch the next day is the second-best reason to come.

4. Seek out desert olive oil. 

Ok, it’s not actually made here, but the creatives behind the just-released Wonder Valley Olive Oil (Jay and Alison Carroll) do live here. So keep an eye out for this fantastic grassy-yet-fruity oil—check their site for details about where to find it.

5. Do the Joshua Tree drive.

One brilliant way to see all of the desert towns along Twentynine Palms Highway and Joshua Tree National Park (and get back to Palm Springs before sunset) is to drive past the town of Joshua Tree and into Twentynine Palms. Grab lunch at the Twentynine Palms Inn, then drop into the park loop, which winds back towards Palm Springs, with plenty of options for hiking and desert woo-woo along the way.

6. Slough off the desert dust in Palm Springs.

Drink, swim, and be merry late into the night at the Ace, then rev the system with bruléed banana-peanut waffles and a date shake before hopping on your flight home.

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