By: Kate Durko
In need of a weekend road trip? Just two hours outside of Los Angeles is the mystical, elusive town of Joshua Tree. Recently dubbed a “hipsters oasis,” Joshua Tree is the perfect place to unwind, unplug and unleash yourself. I discovered the magic of this desert gem about 6 months ago and have found myself coming back every chance I can get. From the breathtaking landscapes to the authentic culture, here are my top picks for a getaway to remember.
Tucked away in the desert of Yucca Valley, a short drive from Joshua Tree, is the newly restored Pioneertown Motel. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the owner, Mike French, who answered all my questions about the motel that is currently trending on everyone’s Instagram feeds:
When did you decide you wanted to get into the hotel industry?
MF: My brother, Matt French, and I have always loved Pioneertown. It was less about the “hotel industry” and more about this one-of-a-kind destination. Matt discovered this place almost 8 years ago and becoming a part of its evolution has been a dream ever since.
What motivated you?
MF: I’m a natural host. I’ve always enjoyed hosting dinners, organizing parties and planning trips for friends. I take great satisfaction in bringing people together and creating experiences that they’ll remember forever. There is something very unique about this desert that I haven’t found anywhere else– so what better place to set up shop?
How did you come up with the concept behind Pioneertown Motel?
MF: The “concept” is simple– restore a beautiful property and celebrate its storied history. We are here because we love everything about Pioneertown and can help people better experience what is already here.
What is unique about your hotel’s location?
MF: Pioneertown was developed in 1946 as a movie set. It sits just 12 minutes up the hill from Joshua Tree, but feels like another planet. I liken it to driving along the coast of Big Sur– there’s a magic to it that can’t really be explained without experiencing it.
What authentic local experiences do guests have access to?
MF: The best kept secret, in my opinion, is the Pioneertown Mountain Preserve. Just up the road we have 30,000 acres of hikable land– our own mini Joshua Tree National Park. As for authentic, Pioneertown itself is the authentic experience. The town was the set for hundreds of Westerns, the first Brunswick bowling alley sits on Mane Street and one of California’s most iconic music venues jams on just next door. The motel was home base for all of the actors and today, the musicians.
What is the atmosphere of your hotel? What types of guests does it attract?
MF: It varies. We only have 20 rooms, so we get a lot of groups & events. We’ll have horseback riding parties on Tuesday and A-list celebrities on Wednesday– you just never know. The desert is a great platform for many things, so we aim provide the most comfortable & authentic spaces we can.
I love how the rooms are decorated, who helped you with the interior design?
MF: When we bought the property, it was in desperate need of love & restoration. Matt ran point on the revival with the help of interior designer, Casey Keasler, and 2 local craftsmen/heroes, Aaron Wood & Ryan Drobatz.
Do you plan to expand (similar to what Shelter Social Club has done)?
MF: We have a lot of big dreams for Pioneertown first. If things keep going the way they are now, you can expect some big announcements soon!
PAPPY & HARRIETS
A hop, skip and a jump from the Pioneertown Motel and quite possibly one of the best bars in SoCal is the famous Pappy & Harriets. Known for it’s star-studded stage, Pappy & Harriets has hosted musical acts such as Lucinda Williams, Jimmy Page, Arctic Monkeys, Beach House, Vampire Weekend, and Sean Lennon, just to name a few.
Pro tip: Check the schedule to see who’s playing if you come after 8pm, and if it’s a weekend night, be sure to make a reservation well in advance if you don’t want to wait forever.
This French style café has been a well-kept secret among the locals (until now). Only open on the weekends, this gem, located in Flamingo Heights, serves beignets that will make your mouth water for a week straight. Everything is made in house, even the condiments. The food is so well thought out, you can tell that Chef Nikki has a ton of heart and real love for what she does.
After a morning hike in the Joshua Tree National Park, this café is the perfect place to grab a bite and cool off. It’s Brooklyn vibe and friendly staff make it a staple on my to-do list every time I find myself on 29 Palms Highway. The breakfast burrito and buttermilk pancakes are a must-try for first timers. For those looking for more of a lunch vibe, order the burger or the chicken quesadilla!
JOSHUA TREE FARMERS MARKET
After you have had a bite to eat at Crossroads, mozy on over to the farmer’s market, where you will find fresh food, flowers and local artisan crafts. The market is only open on Saturdays, but is worth scheduling into your weekend itinerary.
CRAZY HORSE RANCH
If you are looking for a tranquil horseback riding experience near Joshua Tree, Crazy Horse Ranch is the place. The owner, Jackie, is extremely knowledgeable not only about horse riding but also about the land and educates you on the plants and their medicinal use along with the desert’s history. We felt very comfortable on our horses and the ride was gorgeous! I loved that her heard of white German shepherds came along for the tour.
FORTYNINE PALMS OASIS
A well paved, 3 mile hike located in the middle of Joshua Tree National Park. The 1.5 miles to the oasis takes you up a hill about 300 feet of elevation. Then, it’s all downhill until you hit the palms (and some shade!). The best part? You don’t have to pay to enter this part of the park, the trail is its own entrance.
Pro tip: Make the trek early. After 10am, the hike can feel a lot more strenuous due to the scorching sun.