One Perfect Day in Morongo Basin, CA
A less-traveled nook of the Inland Empire becomes a quirky desert oasis for day hikers and treasure hunters
Palm Springs has midcentury glamour, and Indio lures the cool kids with festivals like Coachella. But the tiny towns in nearby Morongo Basin—just north of Joshua Tree National Park—have afforded free spirits a place to take refuge for decades. They might still have their hideaways to themselves if Paul McCartney hadn’t stopped by in 2016 for an impromptu gig in Pioneertown. Once a Western film set, the area’s cultural headquarters is now home to boutiques, artist studios, and one of the best little honkytonks in SoCal. Go on a weekend—you won’t find regular weekday hours here—and explore the desert’s weird and wild side.
8 A.M. Snowmelt from nearby peaks pools underneath the flat, mountain-ringed Morongo Basin and emerges at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve (bigmorongo.org). Follow elevated boardwalks past springs and willows, keeping an eye out for small purple-throated Costa’s hummingbirds.
9:45 A.M. Stop at the airy Frontier Café (cafefrontier.com) in Yucca Valley for a legit cappuccino and a fresh breakfast salad of mesclun, quinoa, avocado, and egg.
11 A.M. Drive 4.5 miles to Pioneertown, a former movie stage erected in the 1940s. These days, the weathered timber storefronts house real businesses. At MazAmar (mazamar.com), Thomas and Amara Alban throw earthy mugs, pitchers, and vases. Pioneertown General Store (pioneertowngeneralstore.com) stocks vintage denim, turquoise jewelry, and apothecary goods like emu oil muscle rub.
12:30 P.M. Head northeast to the Integratron (integratron.com) in Landers. The white dome with a kooky extraterrestrial-themed origin story now proffers “sound baths.” Reserve online, then recline while quartz crystal bowls echo through the soaring wood interior—it’s incredibly relaxing, whether or not you believe in chakras.
2:45 P.M. Time for a late lunch. At Yucca Valley’s La Copine (lacopinekitchen.com), former Angelenos Nikki Hill and Claire Wadsworth serve unexpectedly chic dishes like coconut rice pudding layered with raspberry compote, Cara Cara oranges, and fennel-spiced pepitas. Outside, hit Teocali (teocalibrand.com), which sells hand-woven totes and textiles from Mexico out of a vintage trailer.
5 P.M. Can’t resist a jaunt into Joshua Tree? First, find Park Boulevard in the national park’s namesake town. Thirty minutes from the park entrance, Keys View (nps.gov/jotr) offers a panorama stretching all the way from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea.
8 P.M. Back in Pioneertown, find Pappy & Harriet’s (pappyandharriets.com), a groovy roadhouse that lures A-list musical acts, down-to-earth locals, and L.A. 20-somethings in floppy hats and gauzy tunics. Order a margarita and a plate of barbecued ribs to tide you over till showtime.
PERFECT NIGHT Between the rustic lodge, 1940s cabins, a cozy Airstream, and the stunning, modern Hatch House, Rimrock Ranch is the ultimate desert escape. From $130; rimrockranchpioneertown.com.