October 21, 2012

Weekend in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree

We spent last weekend in Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, a relaxing and fascinating getaway just two and a half hours east of Los Angeles. I love the desert and since we moved back to Los Angeles I've been planning to visit by gathering magazine articles and pinning blog posts.

Here is my suggested weekend (one night) itinerary which works well if you are starting with a three hours or less drive to get there.

DAY 1:

Get up early and drive to Joshua Tree National Park. If you make it a really early morning, you may have time to visit Pioneertown or make an appointment to experience the Integraton, which we haven't done but I understand is worth it. Stop at Ma Rouge in Yucca Valley for the yummiest breakfast/lunch in the area before heading to Joshua Tree's west entrance at Joshua Tree Village. Bring snacks or a light picnic lunch too.

Delicious quiche at Ma Rouge
A few hours in Joshua Tree is a good start. For a longer visit, there's camping (the park has plenty of beautifully situated areas), or stay in one of these hotels nearby:

Sacred Sands - Contemporary B&B just outside the park entrance
Spin and Margie's Desert Hide-A-Way - Charming and kitschy
Mojave Sands - Desert hip

Inside the park there is so much to see and do. This is my recommended route for a 3-4 hour experience:

Begin by heading to Hidden Valley and walking the super easy one mile trail.

Then, drive to Keys View to look into the Mojave Desert toward Palm Springs and see the San Andreas fault line.

If you have the time, head to the trailhead for the four mile loop Lost Horse Mine hike, or continue east towards the center of the park. Along this stretch you'll see some of the largest Joshua trees, some over 100 years old.

At the T, turn right and head south to the Cholla Cactus Garden to walk among the colorful cacti.

Head north to exit at 29 Palms park gate and stop at the Oasis of Mara.

Now it's time for a date milkshake! The desert is a great climate for date trees and the moist, sweet, pulpy fruits (?) can be found for sale all over the place. The town of Desert Hot Springs lies between Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. The Windmill Market is known for its date shakes. I think they are made with a bit too much vanilla ice cream and not enough dates, but its still worth a stop.

Windmill Market, photo via Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swigart/375147792/
Also worth a visit in Desert Hot Springs is Mariscal Cactus and Succulents, where you can buy your own little piece of the desert to take home with you.

Note there are a few good hotel options in Desert Hot Springs:

Hotel Lautner - Pricey desert hipster
Miracle Manor - Simple and well-priced
Hope Springs - Ditto

Now it will be about 3:00 pm or 4:00 pm which is a perfect time to head into Palm Springs and check into your hotel. There are so many hotel options here, from the big and super-swanky (Parker, Viceroy) to painfully hip (Ace), to really cheap motels. Here are my favorites:

Del Marcos Hotel - Favorite hotel in Palm Springs
Alcazar - Modern spanish in a great location
Orbit Inn - "The Ultimate Palm Springs Modern Experience"
Movie Colony Hotel - Very Hollywood

Since the above hotels were booked for our spur-of-the-moment trip we stayed at the new Saguaro for a cheap $115 a night. It has a nice pool (with an awesome deep deep-end) and apart from the somewhat fratty clientele, was just fine for a quick stay.

The Saguaro in Palm Springs
For a longer visit to the area, renting a mid-century house is definitely the way to go! We've done this a few times- one place we adored and is really well-priced can be found here.

Day 1 winds up with poolside cocktails and dinner at one of the many great options in the area:

Jiao - Thai/Vietnamese Fusion in the Back Street Art District
Copley's - Old school California elegance in Cary Grant's former home
The Tropicale - Palm Springs 60s style
Piero's Pizza Vino - Newish pizza place in nearby Palm Desert
Birba - Another great pizza place in the Arts District

Piero's Pizza Vino (photo by Sandra Spalding)
DAY 2:

Breakfast/brunch at Cheeky's is highly recommended. Plan to wait in line! For a more traditional option, try Keedy's in Palm Desert.

Eggs benedict on cheddar scones at Cheeky's
One day in the Palm Springs area is not nearly enough since options are plenty:

Adventures in the Living Desert zoo and botanical garden
Vintage and new-retro shopping in the Backstreet Art District
Getting goodies at a Farmer's Market
Inspiring views from the top of the Ariel Tramway
Buy a $5 map at the visitor's center for a fantastic self-drive tour of mid-century architectural gems
Take a guided walking tour
Sample local dates at Shields Date Garden
Rent bikes to cruise the town
The Palm Springs Art Museum is pretty nice
Palm Springs Follies features an all over-50 cast!
Hiking in Tahquitz Canyon

... or just cocktails by the pool.

At the Living Desert

View from the top of the Ariel Tram

Comfy clothes for arduous vintage shopping
It was such a nice weekend. I hope my tips are helpful- enjoy!


  1. I came across your blog on tripadvisor (i think)... love reading about all your travels!

  2. Thanks for this blog post! We're heading to Joshua Tree for a few days, and this has helped me plan the time. :)

  3. What an interesting and wonderful blog. Thanks !