This artsy desert town delivers beauty and fun for tourists and residents alike — without the Palm Springs price tag.
It’s no secret that Palm Springs is a white-hot vacation destination. Its glamorous history, poolside party culture and outrageous mid century architecture make it a go-to spot for weekend getaways, especially for couples and groups of friends. But all that high life (not to mention those high balls) can come with a high price tag to match.
Looking for some similar desert magic at a more affordable price? We’ve got two words for you: Yucca Valley.
Nestled between Joshua Tree National Park and a winding highway just begging for road trips, Yucca Valley is a short 45-minute drive from the Palm Springs airport. What’s to gain by trading the glitter of Palm Springs for the gentle grit of Yucca Valley? For starters, it’s a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, and whether you opt to visit or settle down and make a home here, your bank account will thank you.
1. It’s more chill (literally).
Because Yucca Valley is high desert, temperatures are not as blisteringly hot as the human-made low desert oasis that is Palm Springs. In fact, Yucca Valley averages about 10 degrees cooler than Palm Springs on any given day of the year, a difference you can really feel when the mercury starts climbing.
As evening approaches, there’s another kind of chill to be had. No matter the atmospheric conditions, your night will be one to remember. Since Yucca Valley lacks the sky glow and light pollution of larger cities, on a clear night, looking up at the stars is a show in itself. Grab a blanket and lay down on your rental cabin’s porch (watch out for errant cholla cactus needles!) before your neck gets sore from looking up for so long at the Milky Way. If it’s too cloudy for stargazing, no problem – the sunset is where it’s at. Under the right conditions, thunderhead clouds mixed with the dust kicked up from the roads washes the sky in an unforgettable watercolor of pinks and purples at least a couple of nights a week.
2. More breathing space.
Sometimes you need a break from the party and the fast pace of the city. Yucca Valley is right next door to the famous Joshua Tree National Park, a protected land full of rock formations, unique vegetation and landscapes straight out of a science fiction movie. While an alien encounter is unlikely, you may come upon a tortoise, roadrunner, jackrabbit or other desert creatures during a hike, so keep your eyes open.
Want to quiet your mind in a different way? Head north to the Integratron, a fascinating all-wood circular structure billed as the only acoustically-perfect sound chamber in the United States. Inside the domed ceiling (you have to climb a ladder to get in) is a loft where sound baths occur several times a week. This is the kind of bath where your clothes stay on and your body lays down on soft blankets to relax. The combination of quartz bowls being played along with the geometry of the domed wood building washes the recipients in soothing sounds. After this one-hour experience, many say they feel remarkably refreshed.
3. The food is amazing (and unpretentious).
Hungry? Good. While Yucca Valley lacks the fancy steakhouses you’ll find Palm Springs, the food scene here is its own kind of wonderful (and you don’t have to buy a new outfit or tip the valet to enjoy it). Drive up Old Woman Springs Road to the Flamingo Heights neighborhood (yep, that’s its real name) and settle in at hip and friendly La Copine for delicious New American cuisine. Or, if burgers and onion rings are more your speed, take things a few miles east and grab a table at JT Saloon, near the Joshua Tree park entrance. Want some lighter fare? Natural Sisters Cafe is the best vegetarian place for miles, and their Eggless Salad sandwich is a real winner. For mellow coffee shop vibes with abundant sandwiches and pastries (try the sea salt chocolate chip cookies – you’ll thank me later), visit Frontier Cafe out on Highway 62.
4. Art and music galore.
Many artists and musicians live in and around Yucca Valley, drawn to the area by the inspiring, quiet landscape and the lower cost of living, which allows them to live a more creative life away from the rat race of the big city. Check out the Joshua Tree Art Walk on the second Saturday of every month in downtown Joshua Tree, where galleries open their doors to anyone who wants to stop by. And when October rolls around, not only are the hottest summer days behind you, but Open Studio Art Tours begin. These self-guided tours of the 80+ art studios in the Morongo Basin allow visitors to speak directly to the artists about their work and creative process in their own spaces.
For another “only in the high desertâ€ excursion, make your way over to Blaire Lane. Situated on ten acres of flat open land is an outdoor art museum showcasing a sprawling body of work by visual artist and sculptor Noah Purifoy. This free walk-through experience contains over 100 works of art, including large scale environmental sculptures and installations created by Purifoy beginning in 1989 until his death in 2004.
Arguably the most popular music venue for miles, Pappy and Harriet’s mesquite barbeque is more than a legendary roadhouse. Enjoy margaritas, guacamole and tri-tip at this former biker bar and stay for the live music that happens almost every night. Performers vary far beyond crooning cowboys (although on open mic nights, you’ll see a few of them too), from up-and-coming LA bands to superstars like Paul McCartney and Lorde.
5. It’s much more wallet-friendly.
Southern California is expensive enough already, but when it comes to the popular vacation spots here, some take full advantage of their popularity and hike up prices even more. Yucca Valley puts on no such airs, with a come-as-you-are attitude that welcomes anyone with a taste for fun – at any price point.