Desert Destinations Beyond Palm Springs Offer Vacation Inspiration

Watch a beautiful sunset or sunrise at Joshua Tree National Park. Photograph by William Foley

Even if you’re not a climber or a photographer, Joshua Tree National Park beckons with its one-of-a-kind scenery and the intriguing trees. The Mojave and Colorado deserts come together here with amazing results. Dark skies for stargazing, intriguing pathways for hikes, and never-ending piles of boulders invite visitors of every age to indulge their curious spirit. Buy a vehicle pass online ($30), arrive early to avoid a line at the entrance, and be sure to bring lots of water.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens showcases desert habitats around the world ($26 and up). The latest addition to the sprawling property is the Rhino Savanna, which opened in March. The Australian Adventures section keeps you on your toes steering clear of wallabies. A variety of big cats, birds, foxes, giraffes, and zebras make for a surprisingly diverse and fun outing. There are also nature trails and a San Andreas Fault exhibit. The enormous model train display near the exit offers a delightful farewell.

Soak up the sun at Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa. Photograph Courtesy of Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa

For those who want to stay put, finish a book on a lounge chair, and soak in the pool, Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa is for you ($384 and up). The enormous pool area is the centerpiece of the resort and features a walk-in sand beach, cabanas, two hot tubs, waterfalls, and a poolside bar and grill. There’s no deep end and the water is warm, making this the ideal spot for the whole family to park for the day. In the evening, take in the modern and inviting lobby bar, The Place, where you’ll find inventive cocktails, delicious small bites for dinner, and even sushi on specific nights. There are plenty of places to people-watch and chat with your group. Outdoor fire pits, Ping Pong tables, corn hole, and foosball will keep little ones busy.

AutoCamp is an upscale option for travelers near Joshua Tree National Park. Airstream Photograph by Josh Franer, Courtesy of AutoCamp

Open since January, the newest location of AutoCamp is an upscale option for travelers who want the novelty of staying in a 31-foot Airstream without hauling it around on the drive. No shared walls, a firepit for s’mores, and luxury linens with spa-like bath options make for a delightful stay, just 10 minutes from the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. Start your day with the sunrise and complimentary coffee and WiFi at one of the 47 Airstreams ($249 and up). The Quonset hut style clubhouse offers a fireplace, general store, free granola in the mornings, and 24-hour customer service. On-site activities include a pool, yoga on the weekends, stargazing, live music around the communal fire pit, plus bikes and lawn games. Wine tasting, art tours, rock climbing, and more are available for add-on experiences.

Have a spa day at La Quinta Resort and Club. Spa Photograph Courtesy of La Quinta Resort and Club

Approaching its 100th anniversary, La Quinta Resort and Club is a sprawling property at the base of the Santa Rosa mountains. Villas, suites, and casitas ($411 and up) are spread across the resort in small groups, making it feel like a community as you’ll meet neighbors in the pool outside your door. There are 41 pools, and the large main swimming area includes a wading pool for little ones, cabanas, and a bar and grill. The resort is pet friendly and ideal for extended families or fitness enthusiasts who want to spend days biking, hiking, golfing, and playing tennis or pickleball. Meander across the well-groomed grounds to relish the fragrance of orange blossoms and the sound of water fountains. Daily fitness classes and yoga in addition to the spa ensure you won’t want to leave.

Mark your calendar: May 27 through 29 Pioneertown International Film Festival celebrates Westerns and independent movies with screenings, live music, classes, and more. $259 and up.

Tip from a local: “To just chill, I like Vue Grille and Bar in Indian Wells (at the Indian Wells Golf Resort). It has beautiful views. An obvious non-secret: Be good to staff and they will be good to you.” – Timothy Dunn, former O.C. resident who now lives in Palm Springs

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