Less than 150 miles away from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree is close enough to go for just the weekend, but its massive rock formations and desert wildlife can make it feel like a whole other planet. From swap meets to alien monuments, there’s plenty of under-the-radar spots to make the trek worth your while, even if you never step foot in the National Park. Here are our ten favorite ways to spend a weekend in the High Desert.
California-born artist Andrea Zittel creates sculptures and installations that blur the lines between art and its natural surroundings. She’s called Joshua Tree home for the last 15 years, and it’s here where she creates and tests her functional artwork at A–Z West, a studio and artist-in-residence program. The 50+ acres are frequently closed to visitors, but donation-based tours are offered multiple times a year to fundraise for High Desert Test Sites, a local arts non-profit. Visitors have access to Zittel’s studio and home in addition to projects like the shipping container apartments.
A desert oasis for vintage fiends, The End is a highly-curated designer resale shop that offers a better selection of clothes and shoes than most spots on Melrose Ave. Expect to find appropriately desert-inspired goods like crystal jewelry, cowboy boots, and vintage denim alongside a furniture selection.
Pappy & Harriet’s is the cornerstone of Joshua Tree nightlife, and for good reason. The restaurant and saloon has been serving mesquite barbecue alongside live music since 1982, hosting concerts for musicians ranging from Robert Plant and Vampire Weekend. Built in Pioneertown, a former Western movie set from the 1940s, there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Make a dinner reservation or get there early — the place is always packed.
This breakfast mainstay is just up the road from Joshua Tree National Park, making it an ideal place to fuel up on greasy eggs and bacon before a day of hiking. The menu includes diner classics like fluffy stacks of blueberry pancakes and a breakfast burrito with homemade salsa. Happy customers include Anthony Bourdain, who stopped by for breakfast on an episode of No Reservations.
Artist and musician Shari Elf’s shrine to all things crochet might not exactly be world famous, but it’s one of the most beloved attractions on Twentynine Palms Highway. The tiny, neon green museum is the anchor of Art Queen, Elf’s larger outdoor gallery space, and it houses an impressive amount of crocheted figurines. Spot everything from Oreo cookies to kangaroos, immortalized forever in yarn form.
One of Joshua Tree’s most iconic structures is also one of its most bizarre. If the giant white dome resembles something from outer space, it’s totally intentional: ufologist George Van Tassel famously claimed he was inspired to build the Integratron after he was contacted by aliens. Today, the site is best known for hosting sound baths, or meditations accompanied by quartz crystal vibrations. Whether you’re a mindfulness fanatic or a curious skeptic, it’s well worth the visit.
The Sky Village weekend swap meet is more than a little dusty and not always the easiest to navigate, but its local vendors are unique wares more than make up for it. The shanty-like market is home to piles of cowboy boots, crystals, animal bones, and desert junk. There’s no telling what you’ll find, which is exactly what makes it so great.
Bicycle seesaws, headless mannequins, and other found objects populate the extensive outdoor sculpture garden of artist Noah Purifoy. Established in 1989, the outdoor desert museum grew to hold over 100 works before Purifoy’s death in 2004. The non-profit Noah Purifoy Foundation maintains the museum, keeping it free and open to the public.
Located in Wonder Valley, about a 15-minute drive outside of Joshua Tree, The Palms is a dive bar with killer burgers, live music, and a pool table. The general décor is vaguely reminiscent of Mad Max, but the clientele are friendly and the drinks are cheap.
Joshua Tree Coffee Company, which offers wholesale beans and individual brews at the Farmers Market on Sundays and has a brick-and-mortar location on 29 Palms Highway, doles out quality coffee to caffeine addicts across the desert. Stop by on a hot day to enjoy a cup of nitro cold brew on the back patio.