Joshua Tree vs Joshua Tree National Park
If it’s your first time visiting Joshua Tree, you might have a bit of confusion distinguishing Joshua Tree from Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Tree is an unincorporated community in the High Desert, full of interesting terrain, quirky small businesses, and unique places to visit and stay. This community is notoriously an artist enclave and it lies just outside of the national park.
On the other hand, Joshua Tree National Park is a ~791-thousand-acre preserve, with tons of gorgeous areas to explore and enjoy. You can spend a month here and never discover the entire area.
Hundreds of articles online are dedicated to educating folks about the Joshua Tree National Park, which deserves the praise and popularity by all means, but there’s no need to repeat that information here.
Instead, less attention is given to the surrounding desert communities — sometimes mistaken for Joshua Tree itself — but each of which offers unique and interesting experiences, just outside of the park.
There are quite a few of these communities, such as:
Now let’s dive into them to see where to go in Joshua Tree.
Pioneertown has arguably the most unique history of any of the communities around Joshua Tree.
The town originally started in the 1940s as an 1800s themed living movie studio. Dick Curtis, the creator, envisioned a movie set themed like an Old Western town, where folks actually lived on set, and provided a lively atmosphere for movie studios filming on location.
Since then, the movie set has been preserved and utilized by private uses, while still holding onto the original character.
One of the most famous businesses here is Pappy & Harriet’s, a longtime club and restaurant serving some of the best barbecue in California. Noteworthy artists even trek out to Pappy’s to perform, such as Led Zeppelin, Eric Burdon, and Paul McCartney.
For a cherry on top, the car ride out to Pioneertown is an experience alone.
The 4 mile route leading from Yucca Valley to Pioneertown has been designated a California Scenic Route, and it’s sure to leave you speechless.
If you’re looking for more interesting drives, then take a trip just north of Pioneertown to an area called Gamma Gulch. This enclave is covered with boulders and features some of the most popular Airbnbs in the region, like Sol to Soul House.
Where To Go
Looking for a place to stay? Check out Whisper Rock Ranch in Pioneertown. The home is entirely off grid and features 2 bedrooms, a pool, and some incredible architectural design. Click here to learn more.
As one of the northernmost areas of the Joshua Tree region, Landers is sparsely populated and full of expansive views and unique experiences.
One of which is the Integratron — a 38 foot tall dome-like structure built in 1968 by George Van Tassel. Van Tassel was a ufologist and contactee, who claimed the Integratron was capable of rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel.
Nowadays, the Integratron is used for sound baths and meditation, where the design of the structure is said to provide some of the highest quality acoustics for audiences.
After aligning your energy at Integratron, swing on over to the sacred Native American spiritual site, Giant Rock.
Giant Rock is the largest freestanding boulder in North America. Measuring seven stories high and 6,000 square feet, the boulder is absolutely massive.
Unfortunately, since it’s previous use as a sacred Native American spiritual site, the grounds have become more urbanized. At one point, there was even a small shop, gas station, restaurant, and air strip located next to Giant Rock. It has also accumulated some graffiti over the years.
In the early 2000s, a large chunk of the rock mysteriously broke off, lending even more curiosity to its mystical background.
Where To Go
Joshua Tree is an artist’s paradise.
Full of eclectic creations and notorious for the bohemian, unorthodox, and spiritual amenities that bring the town to fame. The whole area is brimming with a cultural flux between a storied old western history and a more avant-garde future.
And just like how every great day should start, on your first morning in Joshua Tree, you should spend it with a cup of coffee — none other than from Joshua Tree Coffee Company.
Here, you may just taste what could be the best coffee, roasted by a passionate team, and served fresh each day.
Looking for more than just a cup of joe?
No problem. Head on over to Crossroads Cafe for a hearty meal.
This diner offers creative spins on American classics, as well as vegan options, that are served in a laidback, quirky setting. They’re notable for exceptional breakfasts, which oftentimes leads to a line of folks waiting to be seated.
Come here for a well-priced meal, a kind staff, and a delicious beginning to your day.
Then, as morning turns into evening, the mood might call for a visit to the Joshua Tree Saloon, an establishment decorated in weathered corrugated metal, offering music and drinks up to midnight.
As with most places in Joshua Tree, you’ll find yourself enamored in Old West vintage buildings, but teeming with a modern spin on bohemian culture.
Best of all, after spending some time perusing the town, you’ll still have an entirely new area to explore — the Joshua Tree National Park.
Where To Go
- Crossroads Cafe
- Joshua Tree Saloon
- Coyote Corner
- Joshua Tree Certified Farmers’ Market
- Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum
Isolation. Expansiveness. Complete solitude.
The name itself encapsulates exactly what this area offers — a valley of wonder.
Wonder Valley is about as far east as you can go while still remaining in the Joshua Tree region. Sparsely populated, you’ll find nothing but sweeping views, run-down homestead cabins, and the occasional residence or two.
But mixed into this area is a legendary place, The Palms Restaurant.
Since 1996, The Palms Restaurant has been serving tasty food, for a great price, in a truly eclectic venue. It’s more of an experience, rather than simply a place to eat.
This restaurant serves as a gathering place for the local community, a must-stop for any tourist, and a roadhouse that everybody falls in love with. Take a trip here for delicious meals, a fun place to grab a drink, and lively entertainment.
Where To Go
Most people heading into Joshua Tree do so in order to escape the city, reconnect with nature, or gain a break from reality.
And on your way out to the desert, Yucca Valley will be the last reminder of reality before you head into the expanses of wilderness.
Yucca Valley is basically the downtown area of the Joshua Tree region. You can find stereotypical national chains there, like Walmart, McDonald’s, CVS, and more. And if you forget something on your way to the desert, there’s no need to panic, as Yucca Valley likely has it.
The area is teeming with Joshua Trees, too — and to see these plants contrasted against familiar structures, like a Starbucks or Chase Bank, is quite interesting.
It’s almost a symbolic representation of your familiar world transitioning into something totally different out in the high desert.
When heading into Joshua Tree National Park for a few days, or going to an Airbnb far from town, Yucca Valley will provide some of the best options for grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, you name it.
Where To Go
Twentynine Palms can trace its origins back to the 1800s, when a surveyor named it for the palm trees he discovered while plotting the territory.
And in 1927, the town gained a post office. In 1936, Joshua Tree National Park became a designated a national monument.
Fun fact, that means the post office in Twentynine Palms was designated before Joshua Tree National Park.
Knowledge is power!
Moving along here, Twentynine Palms gained a military base in the 1940s during World War II. Pilots would often train in this area prior to shipping overseas to fight in combat.
Then, in the 1950s, the training field at Twentynine Palms was officially incorporated into a military base — which is now one of the largest in the United States.
If you camp outside near Twentynine Palms (in areas like Wonder Valley, too), you’ll hear very faint noises from live-fire exercises and bombs exploding. These are from the soldiers training over at the military base.
The area is interesting for its military history, but similar to Yucca Valley, it features a more urban footprint, with familiar hotels, restaurants, and amenities dotting the town.
Where To Go
Wrapping It All Up
In the end, where to go in Joshua Tree depends totally on what you’re looking for.
Each community offers something unique and exciting to explore.
If you want a taste of the desert, but still enjoy the comforts of a more urban area, then Yucca Valley, the center of Joshua Tree, or Twentynine Palms might be a better choice.
If seclusion and isolation are your vibe, Wonder Valley, Landers, and areas away from the heart of Pioneertown and Joshua Tree might be more ideal options for you.
Ultimately, whether you’re looking for amenities, or looking for nothing at all, you’ll be able to find it out in Joshua Tree.