12 Weird Things to Do in Joshua Tree Besides Hiking

PHOTO: Jessie Eastland via Wikimedia Commons, [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Here are 12 suggestions to expand your vacation in Southern California's funkiest desert.

Any trip to Joshua Tree, CA, will obviously include a visit to the National Park. Known for its imposing rock formations, nature trails snaking through the desert, and world-renowned climbing, its nature’s majesty at its grandest. But for the less outdoorsy types, hipster eateries and new age offerings in the funky towns adjacent to the park offer plenty of activities for the less outdoorsy types who still want to venture into the high desert.

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The Integratron

The Integratron is a white wooden dome built by ufologist George Van Tassel in the 1950s. Tassel believed he was creating a machine that could reverse the effects of aging, but he died before the device’s completion. In 2000, two sisters bought the building and opened it to the public. Because of the dome’s perfect acoustics, it’s now primarily used for sound baths. Rose quartz bowls are played in the upper chamber of the dome while participants lie tucked underneath yoga blankets. Book well in advance, come dressed in comfortable clothing, and be prepared to enter another dimension (or fall asleep).

PHOTO: Courtesy Noah Purifoy Foundation
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Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Sculpture Park

Down a dusty desert road north of the town of Joshua Tree is Noah Purifoy’s quirky outdoor sculpture park. The late artist’s open-air exhibit is comprised of imposing structures of found objects, including old bicycles, cafeteria trays, and toilets. Purifoy, who’s best known for his work following the Watts riots in LA, uses discarded objects and trash to explore themes of social change. The desert exhibition is self-guided, but tours are available upon request in advance.

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Smith’s Ranch

Catch a double-bill under the stars at Smith’s Ranch drive-in movie theatre in Twentynine Palms. For only $5, bask in the nostalgia of a real drive-in, complete with classic snacks like refill sodas, hot dogs and heavily buttered popcorn. The lot is angled for optimum viewing, and you can tune your radio in for sound. The drive-in is open Thursday to Sunday, with new movies every Friday.

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Visitors to Joshua Tree often talk about the high desert’s otherworldliness, but nothing quite captures its magic like its starry canopy. The best place to see the stars is of course in the National Park, but on a clear night, any place around it free from light pollution will offer fantastic stargazing opportunities. If you can stay up ’til 3 a.m., you’ll get the best sights. Check with the park’s visitors’ center for best places to see the stars, as well as organized telescope sessions.

PHOTO: Hicksville Trailer Palace and Artists Retreat
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Hicksville Trailer Palace and Artists Retreat

The Hicksville Trailer Palace and Artists Retreat is an eclectic trailer park in the middle of the high desert. Guests can stay in one of eight lodgings, which include an alien-themed trailer, a Western one, and an Airstream. The resort boasts a swimming pool, a rooftop hot-tub and a mini-golf course. The location of the retreat is a closely guarded secret, only revealed to guests after making a booking.

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The Institute of Mentalphysics

The Institute of Mentalphysics, also known as the Joshua Retreat Center, offers basic accommodation for New Age travelers looking to achieve an elevated state of conscious. The principles of “Mentalphysics” are based on a combination of mediation and breathing techniques that claim to offer practitioners a glimpse into their inner selves. In spite of the cultish-sounding premise, the building was designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright and his son; the center has dormitories and a campsite and also offers mediation and yoga retreats.

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The World Famous Crochet Museum

In a luminous green disused photo processing booth five minutes from the National Park is the World Famous Crochet Museum. The tiny museum is the creation of artist and musician Shari Elf, and is stuffed with crocheted cuties she’s collected over the years including poodles, alligators, and unicorns. It’s open all year round; even if Elf isn’t there, the door is kept unlocked and visitors are free to drop by and take a peep at the cuddlies on display.

PHOTO: Jacob Avanzato Photography
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Joshua Tree Music Festival

Twice a year, in May and October, the three-day Joshua Tree Music Festival takes place just outside the gates of the National Park. The family-friendly event in the lakeside campgrounds boasts glorious views of the park and an eclectic lineup that focuses on up-and-coming artists rather than big name headliners. As well as music, the programming includes meditation workshops, yoga, and a packed kids schedule.

PHOTO: Pappy and Harriet's
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Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown

Pappy and Harriet’s is a barbecue restaurant and music venue in Pioneertown, a former western film set. Big stars have graced the saloon’s tiny stage, including Paul McCartney and Arctic Monkeys. Walk-ins are very welcome, but if you’re set on eating dinner there, it’s advisable to make a reservation up to three weeks in advance. If you visit Pappy and Harriet’s in the daytime, take a moment to walk around Pioneertown, built in the 1940s as a set for spaghetti westerns. It was designed for film crews to live there, complete with real storefronts and dwellings.

PHOTO: Eames Demetrios
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Krblin Jihn Kabin

Out of the way and down a dirt track is the Krblin Jihn Kabin, a bizarre installation by the artist Eames Demetrios. Grandson of renowned furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames, Demetrios is the creator of a parallel universe known as Kcymaerxthaere that is supposed to co-exist in our world. The project features markers in the form of installations dotted around the world that are supposed to form a connection between our world and that of Kcymaerxthaere. Krblin Jihn Kabin is one of the markers, said to be the home of the fictional character Krblin Jihn.

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La Copine

Head to La Copine in Flamingo Heights for a late lunch in a laidback former diner on Highway 247. The eatery pulls in locals and visitors alike who come for delicacies like fried chicken with celery root and parsnip mash, beef short rib sandwich with fig jam and horseradish fondue, and the chocolate panna cotta. The hours are minimal, 2 p.m.- 7 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday and there are no reservations.

PHOTO: Breanne Dusastre
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29 Palms Inn

The town of Twentynine Palms is the on the main thoroughfare between Joshua Tree and Las Vegas. There’s also an entrance to the National Park at Twentynine Palms, making it a popular stop over point after a day of hiking (or driving) through the desert. At the 29 Palms Inn, you’ll find family and pet-friendly accommodation in their purple bungalows. For those just making a pit stop, sit outside on the kitsch terrace overlooking the pool and sip on their signature seasonal cocktails.