All adventurers know: the best places to explore are those that feel hidden away from the world. We look for what’s secret, what’s special, and altogether new. The cities, small towns, and countries that surprise us with their magic—turning the experience of travel into something novel and unforeseen. It’s this common pursuit that’s elevated Joshua Tree to its recent destination-level status. If it’s on your must-visit list, consider this your ultimate guide of things to do in Joshua Tree, from a local herself.
The high California desert boasts breathtaking views and of course, the endangered beauty of the Joshua tree. This eponymous hero of the desert offers food and habitat for countless living things, making the area home to a diverse array of wildlife and flora. It’s the landscape’s natural allure that’s attracted so many creatives to the area. It’s a haven for beautiful homes that blend with the environment and entrepreneurs who find inspiration in every corner of the desert.
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How to Spend a Long Weekend in Joshua Tree
The latter case describes our resident Joshua tree expert perfectly. Alison Carroll, co-founder alongside her husband Jay of the popular olive oil and skincare brand, Wonder Valley, intentionally sought out somewhere to build a life that allows for endless creative expansion. In Joshua Tree, Alison has found a community that supports her intuitive approach to life. She leads with a curiosity-first mindset, exploring and highlighting ingredients’ full capacity in her recipes that feel all at once simple and fascinatingly complex. (A paradoxical feat only an artist-***-chef can achieve.)
Below, Alison takes us through all the must-see, must-do highlights of this wonderfully, wholly unique area of the country. Trust: this is so much more than a bucket list. Instead, expect to find under-the-radar, locals-only recommendations that’ll help you experience all the beauty Joshua Tree has to offer.
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When to Visit Joshua Tree
While some may seek out the breezy chill of autumn in New England or the Pacific Northwest, Alison loves October in the desert. If you want to experience all of Joshua Tree minus the heat, there isn’t a better time than mid-fall. “By then, the intense summer heat has faded,” Alison notes. “The days are warm and sunny, and the evenings cool.”
But don’t worry if you’ve already used up all of your PTO days by fall. Depending on the year, spring can also be ideal. If the winter’s been rainy, Alison calls spring “the season to visit.” Cactus blooms in April and May, and if there’s been enough rain, expect to see a superbloom. “The entire desert floor gets covered with tiny flowers and blanketed with color,” Alison notes. “Every cactus is bursting with new growth and vibrant flowers, and the Joshua trees get trumpet-shaped big white blooms.”
How to Get to Joshua Tree
Skip the hectic chaos that is LAX—Alison recommends flying into Palm Springs instead. “You get to wait outside under a palm tree until your flight boards, and there’s so much to explore in the area,” she says. If you have time to spare, extend your stay and explore the low desert as well.
Alternatively, if you can’t make Palm Springs happen (because it’s a smaller airport, flights may be more expensive), LAX or even Vegas both work in a pinch. The upside of the latter option? “The drive is more expansive, open desert and there’s less traffic,” Alison adds.
Her final note on transportation: if you’re wanting to book a trip to Joshua Tree, you’ll need a car to explore. Because of how remote the area is, you can’t rely on publication transportation or ride shares like Uber to get around.
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What to Pack for a Long Weekend in Joshua Tree
It’s the same as for any trip—check the weather before you go. But given how much the temperatures fluctuate in the desert, you’ll want to be all the more mindful of this tip when you’re headed to Joshua Tree.
“Look at the low and high temperatures of the time of year you’re coming,” says Alison. “We can shift up to 40 degrees from day to night.” For all the activity you’ll be doing while you’re in Joshua Tree, Alison suggests prioritizing comfort in your clothing and footwear choices, being sure to bring along a pair of sturdy hiking boots. In addition to that, you’ll also want to be mindful to keep yourself protected from the desert sun. A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are all essentials.
Alison’s final note? “Going out in Joshua Tree couldn’t be more casual… You’d be fine saddling up to the bar in your rock climbing gear. Come as you are!”
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Where to Stay in Joshua Tree
Branch + Brick Luxury Rental Cabins. If you’re looking for a dreamy desert retreat, look no further than Brandy Joy Smith’s impeccably designed Joshua Tree cabins. A longtime contributor to the site, Brandy has gorgeous taste and an endlessly creative spirit—all of which is expressed throughout every design element. For a drool-worthy scroll (filled with images we’ve all added to our desert-inspired Pinterest boards), be sure to give the interview a read. You can book Brandy’s Joshua Tree cabins here for your next stay.
Carroll Rock. Given Alison’s expertise in design and hosting, it only makes sense that her rental home would be stunning. “Taking an outdoor shower at night as the stars and moon come out is my single favorite thing about being in the high desert.” It’s a true desert oasis (with features in both Architectural Digest and Bon Appétit to confirm it). The Airbnb boasts a 360-view of boulders and mountains, giving the perfect perch for seeing all Joshua Tree has to offer.
29 Palms Inn. Alison can’t get enough of this elegant locale. (She’s included it in her recommended spots to eat in Joshua Tree—see below.) Close to Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Trails National Monument, this is also a great option if you’d rather stay in a hotel. The property is comprised of Adobe bungalows and wood-framed cabins. Expect a unique stay full of character and unexpected design details sprinkled throughout.
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Where to Eat in Joshua Tree
There’s no shortage of incredible food available in Joshua Tree—and Alison is the best person to ask for recommendations. Her favorite way to kick off a weekend morning in Joshua Tree? The Saturday farmer’s market. “We’re spoiled with year-round incredible produce here in California, and the desert is no exception.” If you’re eating out, Alison’s favorite spots for food include:
Mas o Menos. A new spot that’s great for a daytime hang for coffee or cocktails.
The Dez and Roadrunner. Both have easy, ready-to-go options. Alison recommends grabbing something for the road at either spot and taking it to the park.
Red Dog. A saloon that first opened in 1946, Alison calls Red Dog an “easy hang for tacos and strong drinks.”
Tiny Pony. Want to dine like the locals in Joshua Tree? Be sure to stop by Tiny Pony, where the tavern vibes and natural wines couldn’t be better. The pool table completes the look.
29 Palms Inn. If you’re craving an elegant poolside dinner, this is it. The 29 Palms Inn maintains the country-west vibes of the desert while also weaving in an elevated feel. (You can even pick up a picnic lunch if you’d prefer to take your meal with you hiking.)
La Copine. Alison calls this “roadside bistro” her favorite food in the desert. And while you don’t have to make a reservation, she says it’s best to secure your spot in advance.
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What to Do in Joshua Tree
The national park is, of course, your ultimate Joshua Tree destination. “We love exploring around the Wall Street Mill Trail in particular,” says Alison. Beyond that, Alison’s favorite things to do in Joshua Tree include:
A sound bath at the Integratron. You can’t visit Joshua Tree without booking a sound bath at this unforgettable design destination. If you’re headed out into the desert for relaxation, rejuvenation, and the opportunity to experience deep introspection, make the Integratron a priority on your itinerary. Sound bath sessions last 60 minutes.
A show at Pappy + Harriet’s. BBQ, mezcal, and some of the best live music are all on offer at this classic, American-western institution. The vibes are rustic, laid-back, and pure country. It’s not a trip to Joshua Tree without a night out at Pappy + Harriet’s.