The beaches and palm trees are great, but there’s a lot more to California than just that. In fact, a lot more of Southern California is desert than is coast. It’s a pity, then, that the desert is so often overlooked in favor of the seaside cities and retreats, when inland SoCal has some of the most stunning vistas and unique experiences in the nation. Need convincing? Just take a look at these desert adventures.
Reconnect With Nature in Joshua Tree
California’s Mojave Desert is home to the strange and striking Joshua Tree, a spindly, evergreen looking variant of the yucca. It’s also home to Joshua Tree National Park, a protected space running along the Little San Bernardino Mountains and into San Bernardino County.
Joshua Tree represents a type of natural beauty that’s it’s hard to find anywhere else. Yucca forests, massive rocks rising out from the earth like spires toward the sky, and some of the most vivid reds, yellows, greens, sunset purples, and sky blues you’ll ever see. It’s the perfect place to get out and reconnect with nature. Go dirt bike riding, rock climbing, camping, or just rent a cabin and soak in the beauty of it all, because there’s no more strange and stunning a place in the state.
Live Like A Star In Palm Springs
If it was good enough for Sinatra…
Palm Springs has long been California’s desert playground for the famous or otherwise well-to-do. If teeing up is your thing, golf courses in the area are legendary and cater to all skill sets. If you’re more of a models-and-bottles persuasion, Palm Springs is a desert oasis for those who like to lounge by the pool during the day, and go out on the town at night.
The city’s Uptown Design District has notably good names when it comes to fashion and furniture, and new hotels, clubs, restaurants, and galleries are turning up in the town every day, right next to some of the best original mid-century modern architecture and design in the country. It’s a desert resort renaissance, and it’s worth getting in on the ground floor while you still can.
Party Like A Wild Child At Coachella
Just 10 miles down the road form Palm Springs is the annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival. If you’re unfamiliar, Coachella is a massive music festival that’s known to feature acts from across genres and interesting assortments of food and vendors that aren’t often highlighted at other large arts festivals.
It’s also a madhouse – in the best way possible. Coachella attracts thousands out into the desert every year, bringing them together in crop tops and flower head wreaths and leveling the playing field. Celebrities are just as likely as the standard goer to camp out on the festival grounds and jump and scream at shows. Everyone is there to have fun, feel free, and enjoy some killer music. It’s the festival of festivals – a three day non-stop party out in the desert that offers a little music, a little inhibition, and a lot of fun.
Take In The Sites of Route 66
Running from Chicago at it’s easternmost point to Santa Monica at its westernmost point, Route 66 is the great American Highway. Much has been absorbed by the Interstate system, but get far enough out into the California deserts, and you can see some of the roadside wonders built by the highway.
The Route’s instantly recognizable Wigwam Village #7, the cabin complex made to look like teepees and the inspiration for The Cozy Cone Motel in Disney’s Cars, sits on the highway right outside Rialto, while the art installation Elemer’s Bottle Tree Ranch has visitors wandering around a forest of bottle trees, refracting light and painting the desert around them.
Spectacular ghost towns line the Route, too, offering a history lesson with a side of chills. It’s a stretch of road filled with the kinds of attractions you just don’t see on the Interstate, and it’s worth every mile.
See The Sea At Bombay Beach
If you really don’t want to miss out on the coastal action, you can always check out Southern California’s inland sea – the Salton Sea. This saltwater lake was created by accident, and for a time was a popular resort destination, until the salinity of the sea became too much, killing off wildlife and driving tourists away.
Today, the area is home to a series of abandoned or almost-abandoned towns like Bombay Beach – former resort settlements turned post-apocalyptic desert scapes. Not too far away, snowbird campsite Slab City offers a glimpse into living unregulated and off the grid. Another feature of the Sea, Salvation Mountain, took the idea of a painted desert literally as an adobe straw piece of painted art unlike anything else on earth.
It’s a strange and desolate place, but it’s home to some of the most hearty and creative survivors in the state, and it’s worth a place on any must-see list.