A California Road Trip: From LA to Joshua Tree

Hit the road and take to the desert en route to the Joshua Tree National Park
Hit the road and take to the desert en route to the Joshua Tree National Park | © Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lucy Thackray
29 March 2021

Head out on the highway with our hit list of highlights, taking you from Los Angeles to desert experiences in Joshua Tree National Park and a destination hotel.

“LA is the ideal starting point for a classic California road trip,” says Ronnie Danelian of vintage ride specialists Legends Car Rentals. “Your options are limitless. Even if you head out without a specific destination in mind, you’re sure to see some iconic, world-famous locations.” As arguably California’s most famous city, Los Angeles has one of the most-served airports on the West Coast, making it a flexible entry and exit point, and you can factor in a few days to see Tinseltown’s sights, not to mention the city’s world-class restaurants and hotels, before heading out of town, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by soul-stirring nature.

Just beyond this coastal city are bucket-list drives featuring plunging cliffs, pounding surf, Wild West desert and giant redwood trees. Check out the windswept Pacific Coast Highway route up to San Francisco; drive through the glorious Napa Valley wine country, stopping at gourmet hotels; or weave through rugged national parks like Yosemite. Still not set? Here we’ve steered your sat-nav straight for Joshua Tree, with a destination hotel in the desert and classic experiences such as hiking, scavenger-hunting and rock climbing, all bookable on Culture Trip.

View of Palm Springs from the Araby Hiking Trail, in Palm Springs, California
A hiker in Joshua Tree National Park, California. (Model released)
Joshua Tree National Park crosses two deserts, the Colorado and the Mojave | © Cedric Letsch / Unsplash.com Head out to Palm Springs for a relaxing Californian retreat | © Jon Bilous / Alamy Stock Photo Book a guided hike through Joshua Tree National Park | © Ron Niebrugge / Alamy Stock Photo

Where to Stay: the Hotel

Aqua Soleil Hotel and Mineral Water Spa

Spa Hotel
4/5 (1161 Reviews)
Aqua Soleil Hotel & Mineral Water Spa
Courtesy of Aqua Soleil Hotel and Mineral Water Spa / Expedia.com

If you want a taste of old-school Californian glamour beyond LA, hit the gas and head towards Palm Springs. This desert enclave, on the western edge of Joshua Tree National Park, is made up of modernist millionaire mansions and slick art museums, where stars of the Hollywood Golden Age came to escape and indulge in some R&R. You can still visit Frank Sinatra’s and Elvis’s sharply suited pads, among others. But why not stay in your own at Aqua Soleil Hotel & Spa, for a side-serving of serenity and pampering in the desert. Its candy-striped decor and retro pool terrace will transport you back to the Palm Springs heyday, while the spa doles out nourishing aromatherapy massages and immune-boosting treatments, with mineral-rich pools for a post-drive pitstop.

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What to Do: the Experiences

ToursFull Day Hike in Joshua Tree National Park
From $275 per person
9 hours 45 minutes

You’ll be in safe hands on this guided hike in the heart of Joshua Tree National Park. Your licensed and local guide has lived in the area for 20 years, tracking the most scenic walking routes, building knowledge of the landscape and ecosystems, and leading tours for a living. On this particular tour, you’ll encounter desert-dwelling plants and animals, spectacular rock features and pristine 360-degree scenery that’ll leave you awestruck. The pace of the hike will be tapered to the group – so there’s no need to worry about having to keep up or wait for others.

ActivitiesCreative Soul of Joshua Tree, Hidden Valley, Scavenger Hunt
From $31 per person
2 hours

This two-hour, immersive scavenger hunt aims to be an original and thrilling way to see the Joshua Tree Hidden Valley. Interacting with you via WhatsApp, your guide will send video, picture and learning clues to help you discover the landscape, like a desert detective. Along the way, you’ll uncover some magical, near-mystical landscapes, including otherworldly rock formations, visionary vistas and cactus-plotted plains.

ActivitiesBeginner Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park
From $179 per person
4 hours

Curious about rock climbing? Joshua Tree is a great place to learn the ropes. As well as a spectrum of natural climbing walls, you’ll be dizzied by Mission Impossible-style views of sheer cliff faces and curious rock faces, as well as vast blue skies overhead. On this tour, experienced climber guides will help you get up to a heady height, providing pro equipment as well as snacks and water, for a thrilling adventure in the desert.

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