Frommer'sFrommer's

    Day Itinerary

    7 Activities
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    Day 1

    164 mi0.2 mi

    Roadside Dinosaurs, Joshua Trees, and a BBQ Roadhouse

    Ease yourself into the desert lifestyle by retracing the steps of early tourists. By the end of the day, you'll be in one of America's most remote national parks, worlds away from the city.
    Photo credit: Courtesy Mission Inn Hotel & Spa
    08:305 min

    Los Angeles

    City Centre
    Open Details
    55.9 mi1 hr
    The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa
    10:001 hr 30 min

    The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa

    Lodging
    Open Details
    In the years before speedy freeways, driving from Los Angeles to the desert could take all day. It only takes an hour to reach the Mission Inn now, but back when dusty, bumpy roads had to cross farmland, those tourism pioneers would break their tiresome journeys here with long lunches. The inn began as a modest hotel in 1876, but subsequent embellishments turned it into a rambling, castle-like icon that takes up an entire city block. Ten U.S. presidents have signed the guest book; one of them—Richard Nixon—was even married here. So was movie star Bette Davis to husband number three. Other notable guests have included Albert Einstein, Booker T. Washington, Will Rogers, Amelia Earhart, and Helen Keller. A favorite of ghost hunters and wedding parties alike, the hotel is stuffed with art and curiosities collected from around the world a century ago.
    There are several restaurants, including the casual Las Campanas, which opens for lunch in the tree-shaded courtyard daily at 10:00 a.m.
    37.7 mi40 min
    Cabazon Dinosaurs
    12:1015 min

    Cabazon Dinosaurs

    Outdoor Sculpture
    Open Details
    Is there anything that screams “all-American road trip” more than this? Construction on these two massive steel-and-concrete dinosaurs began in 1964 as a roadside attraction to promote the long-gone Wheel Inn restaurant next door. Standing closest to the highway, Dinny has a dinosaur exhibit in his belly, while Rex used to have a slide that went through his tail. If you’d like to see the life-size reptiles in their heyday, watch the 1985 movie “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” in which the statues, as well as the Wheel Inn, make prominent cameos (the restaurant is part of the Large Marge sequence). The dinosaurs also pop up in the video for Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World," and they're even referenced in Pixar's “Inside Out.” These days, the dinosaurs are repainted to mark various holidays. If you need fuel, drive 2 miles west on Seminole Drive to the Morongo Travel Center. Because this is Native-owned land, taxes are lower and gas is markedly cheaper than at other nearby stations. You can rejoin I-10 East from there.
    41.9 mi1 hr
    Joshua Tree National Park, West Entrance Station
    13:253 hrs

    Joshua Tree National Park, West Entrance Station

    National Park
    Open Details
    Joshua Tree is ideal for driving tours to see changing views of the park's flora and jumbled rock formations. Upon your entry, rangers will give you a free map that points out a few easy walks. Try the Hidden Valley loop through a compact, bowl-shaped area ringed by rocks. Blasted open for foot traffic in the 1930s, the trail presents a good mix of the microhabitats the park is famous for, including pinyon-juniper woodlands and staggered Joshua trees. Hidden Valley’s marked trail, a loop of about a mile, has a few easy rock stairs but is generally flat and appropriate for all ages. Make sure you have plenty of water, sunscreen, and protection from the wind. Afterward, make your way across the preserve on Park Boulevard, stopping as you wish, until you’re ready to exit via the North Entrance Station. As you depart the higher portions of the park, the last 15 miles will slope gently downhill so that you’ll barely need to tap your accelerator. Don’t expect mobile phone service inside the national park boundaries.
    17.2 mi30 min
    The Station
    17:0015 min

    The Station

    Souvenir Shop
    Open Details
    The Station, a disused 1949 Richfield gas station that has been repurposed as an eclectic and irreverent boutique, is emblematic of the changes and gentrification that the Joshua Tree area has undergone in recent years. The Covid-19 pandemic and a general shift toward outdoor lifestyles encouraged hardy city dwellers to move to the desert to start over, as the couple behind this fun shop has done. You'll find bespoke incense and candles, local pottery, cold real-sugar Cokes, guides to local quirks, and other one-of-a-kind finds. As you pull up, look for the towering fiberglass cowboy, Big Josh. The owners found him at a swap meet; he used to stand at a pawn shop in Mecca, a town you'll pass on the final day of this road trip. If there's a holiday coming up, Big Josh might be decorated to celebrate the event—in October, for example, he's covered with fake spiders.
    11.9 mi20 min
    Pappy & Harriet’s
    18:001 hr 30 min

    Pappy & Harriet’s

    BBQ Joint
    Open Details
    The tiny settlement of Pioneertown, hidden among the rocks 4 miles northwest of Yucca Valley, was built in the late 1940s to serve as a film set for Hollywood Westerns by day and a fun place to unwind by night. Production of Westerns fizzled out, but the fun is still booming. At dinnertime, the wait to get into this roadhouse-like barbecue-and-music joint can top an hour, so come close to opening or buy a ticket to one of the live performances, which take place almost every night. The rough wood and license plate decorations can make the place feel like a dive bar, but the agave-based craft cocktails served in jam jars and the fine mesquite-smoked meats bearing barbecue sauce with a spicy kick draw fans from as far afield as L.A.—and from Liverpool. Paul McCartney played a last-minute gig on the tiny dining area stage in 2017.
    0.2 mi5 min
    20:0010 hrs

    Pioneertown Motel

    Lodging
    Open Details
    The Pioneertown Motel has simple ranch-style rooms with elevated bath products. Don’t miss the chance to sack out on one of the hammocks—the stargazing is clear and bright in these parts. There are cheaper motels down the road in Yucca Valley, but none of them are this suffused with desert style. Plus, the Pioneertown property is super-close to our recommended dinner spot.
    Day 2
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    Frommer's

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