Joshua Tree sprawls across not one but two deserts – the cooler, higher altitude Mojave in the west, and the cactus-strewn solitude of the Colorado Desert in the east. The Mojave is one of the few places in the world where the Yucca brevifolia – the common name of which gives this place its namesake – flourishes. The lower altitude in the east gives way dramatically to long expanses covered in creosote bush, ocotillo, and gardens of cholla cactus that lure you in with their beauty and grab hold of unsuspecting visitors with their microscopically barbed spines. These alien-esque landscapes of otherworldly boulders, gnarled trees, and cactus gardens gives the whole place the feel of a planet straight out of science fiction.
But Joshua Tree isn't just a National Park – it's a community of artists, wanders, craftspeople, and adventurers who make their home in the rare shade. Like the flora and fauna found in the park proper, the people who call Joshua Tree home have found ways to not just eke out a living, but to thrive. And while crowds and traffic are as much a problem as they are in other beautiful, scenic, and authentic places, something about Joshua Tree keeps it feeling less congested. Maybe it's the solitude of endless expanses. Maybe it's the ever-present sun. Maybe – like the majesty of a setting desert sun and the cool promise of the night – it's something indescribable.
It’s like stepping back in time. This cozy, authentic breakfast and lunch spot is just outside the National Park and nestled right downtown. Their enormous pancakes come topped with delicious whipped butter and will keep you full for days. Expect hearty portions! Be sure to get one of the authentic noodle dishes, which are traditional recipes from the original Vietnamese owners.
If you saw this place, you would think you were in the Wild West. An old-school saloon inside and out, Joshua Tree Saloon is a staple. Quirky, full bar and darts. What more could you ask for?
Don’t let the slightly dodgy parking lot deter you from indulging in some delicious, authentic and cheap Mexican fare. Known for their tacos, Kasa Market and Taco Shop is situated just outside Joshua Tree. Opt for the shrimp or chicken tacos and don’t forget to pick up some salsa at their house-made salsa bar. The taco shop is in the back of the Mexican market, so you can even grab some necessities before heading out.
Funky toppings are fitting for this pizza joint in the middle of the desert. Low key and NY style.
This place bumps, literally. Always packed and always a good time, they boast live music nightly and slow-food that makes the entire experience enjoyable. Indoor and outdoor seating satisfies the masses. They have two dinner seatings, as well as space at the bar. Burgers galore, chili, tex-mex and meat cuts to make everyone in your party happy!
There are many different campgrounds in the National Park. The decision can be overwhelming, but the key point is to figure out where most of your daily activities will be taking place. Some of the campgrounds are reservation only (and they do fill up quick) and some are first-come-first-serve. Belle Campground is situated in the northeast section of Joshua Tree and serves as the perfect jumping off point for Skull Rock and Cholla Cactus Gardens. Each spot is unique and there is space for “larger” rigs.
Many National parks in the US are similar – dramatic mountain ranges, wooded hikes and some sort of water attraction (rivers, lakes, etc.) But, what makes Joshua Tree so special is that it is unlike any other National Park. Truly a desert, this barren land is spotted with large boulder rocks, cacti, and of course, the beloved Joshua Trees. Notable hikes include: Skull Rock, Hall of Horrors, Cholla Cactus Garden, Fortynine Palms Oasis.
Steve and Glen struck gold when they decided to renovate an old gas station to become what is now known as The Station. This eclectic shop, still modeled as a gas station, is choc full of sassy knick-knacks and paraphernalia that are quirky, fun and exactly what you might find in an artsy desert town. Don't forget to say hey to Big Josh, the giant-sized cowboy out front.
When you're done perusing the goods at The Station, stop into Wonder Valley's OIL SHOP next door (Editor's note: Wonder Valley has moved their physical location to Marfa, TX and plans to open in January 2021). In addition to their incredible olive oil and skincare products, Wonder Valley sells an addicting incense from Kyoto, Japan.
If you’re jealous of those who lived in 70s and 80s, then you’ll want to meet Robert Warner. Making leather beautiful since 1969, his wearable art has been custom created for rock and roll starts including Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Allman Brothers, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, and many more. He designs and produces all of his leather goods at his studio in Joshua Tree and you can stop by his shop downtown to get a glimpse of these leather masterpieces.
Joshua Tree is the quintessential artists town. Small shops line the streets and there are alleyways full of tiny art establishments. One in particular, the Sun Alley Shops, is a collection of artists and makers who produce goods indicative of the Joshua Tree area. Such items range from blankets (Joshua Tree Blanket Co.), candles (Joshua Tree Candle Co.), jewelry, and other textiles.
Like most National Parks, Joshua Tree does not allow dogs on the hiking trails. However, there are two unpaved roads that you may hike your dog (on leash, of course!): Covington Flats and Geology Tour Road.