The rugged rock formations and otherworldly yucca trees in Southern California get a run for their money, with these hipster-ready motels, art-lined desert hideaways and cucumber-cool hotels. Book your stay now with Culture Trip.
Creative types from Los Angeles and other California cities come to Joshua Tree National Park – a swath of protected desert with rock formations and Dr Seuss-like Joshua trees – searching for wide, open space and serenity. There are the towns just north of the park, where travelers can take sound baths and pop into vintage shops, or the glamorous mid-century modernist haven of Palm Springs, where chic poolside scenes and designer shopping are found in spades. Whatever your preference, there’s a stylish base camp to suit you.
Originally built as a film set for Westerns in the 1940s, the 19-room Pioneertown Motel, just 10 miles (16km) from the Joshua Tree Visitor Center, is set up like an 1870s-style town with a “Mane” Street, corrals, stables and saloons. Hipster-ready rooms have locally crafted furniture by Dan Anderson, art from Wilder California and indoor desert cacti. Guests might pop into the restored Red Dog Saloon for stiff drinks and saucy tacos or reserve a spot at Pappy & Harriet’s for BBQ fare and live music to complete the Wild West fantasy.
Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s characters in 1953’s The Long, Long Trailer would have felt right at home at the vintagey Joshua Tree Ranch House. The hotel has a red barn-like exterior with original dutch doors and eight drive-up rooms with knotty pine-paneled walls, 1940s-style furnishings and typewriters. Take a dip in the aquamarine-hued pool, or walk to the Joshua Tree Saloon for a sundowner and to feel worlds away from the big city.
While it’s just a mile (1.6km) to Joshua Tree’s West Entrance, Sacred Sands feels off the grid. The Mojave Desert surrounds the small luxury inn’s modern earthen structures, and guest rooms use the setting to their advantage by incorporating indoor-outdoor living. In addition to a California king-size bed and moroccan lamps, the Jade room has an outdoor soaking tub and an outdoor bed for sleeping under an inky night sky stitched with stars.
As the name suggests, Sunnyvale Garden Suites is an all-suite property. Guest rooms have kitchens stocked with everything you need for an independent adventure, including full-size refrigerators, microwaves, coffeemakers and silverware. The hotel, infringed by desert-garden landscaping, has also done away with typical hotel communal areas in favor of larger rooms with private patios and, in most cases, living and dining rooms. Its location in a quiet neighborhood, near the center of Twentynine Palms (home to the park’s North Entrance and gateway to the 1.6m-acre/0.6ha Mojave Trails National Monument of lava flows and sand dunes), means Sunnyvale feels tranquil but connected to all the action.
This 28-room hotel near downtown Palm Springs was originally built in 1951, and the refresh by architect Mark D Sikes stays true to that era while adding a bit of whimsy. Italian architect Gio Ponti inspired the geometric tilework at the bar, and visitors can find fabulous pieces by David Hockney and Roy Liechtenstein throughout, too. Sikes’s custom blue floral textiles add personality to the guest rooms. Indeed, the color blue, blue, electric blue is a prominent theme throughout Holiday House, from a Ziggy-era print of David Bowie and the shimmery floor in the lobby lounge to the navy umbrellas around the pool.
It’s impossible not to smile when you enter the rainbow-hued Saguaro Hotel. Do you prefer purple, orange or canary yellow? There’s a color and a room for you. Guest rooms, decorated with art and sculptures by Southern California artists, all come in different schemes, as well as balconies or patios that sport pool or mountain views. Speaking of which, the pool at the Saguaro brings the party on weekends. For more calm, head to the bocce-ball area behind the deck or the covered patio at the hotel’s excellent Mexican restaurant, El Jefe, which serves delicious spicy margaritas and citrusy ceviche.
The Ace Hotel’s Palm Springs outpost opened in 2009, but it seems just as contemporary today. There are cinematic dining and drinking venues, including the dimly lit Amigo Room and the roadside diner-inspired King’s Highway. Outdoor fireplaces are tucked into different spots around the property, and guest rooms have dark denim headboards, macramé wall hangings and vintage furniture. We recommend ordering chilaquiles tortilla chips while sitting on the patio beneath a wooden pergola in the morning, when the pool scene is quiet and the San Jacinto Mountains have a pinkish glow.
The historic 29 Palms Inn’s most attractive feature may be the 1,000-year-old Oasis of Mara. It’s the last remaining pond in Twentynine Palms and gives the hotel – where mission-style adobe bungalows and wooden cabins dot 70 acres (28ha) – a lush, almost tropical feel. Located right next to the national park, guests have easy access to hiking trails and rock scrambling, plus the comforts of a swimming pool, all-season rooms with wood-burning fireplaces and sun patios, and a farm-to-table restaurant to return to.
Minimalist and modern, Mojave Sands Motel is one of the chicest places to stay in the High Desert in California. You’ll want to book in advance, as the five rooms (two suites and three standard rooms) are nearly always booked up. Each has a private patio, a tiled shower, a raw-edge walnut-wood bed frame and a record player. We particularly love the desert garden with its koi pond – a communal area that looks like it could be found in Marrakech.