Desert Destinations Beyond Palm Springs Offer Vacation Inspiration

Photograph by William Foley

Even if you’re not a climber or photographer, Joshua Tree National Park beckons with its unique landscapes and intriguing trees. The Mojave and Colorado deserts come together here with amazing results. Dark skies for stargazing, intriguing trails for hiking, and endless rock piles invite visitors of all ages to indulge their inquisitive minds. Purchase a vehicle pass online ($30), arrive early to skip the entrance line, and be sure to bring plenty of water.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens features desert habitats from 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 as you avoid 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 an exhibit on the San Andreas Fault. The huge display of model trains near the exit offers a delightful farewell.

Photograph courtesy of Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa

For those who want to stay put, finish a book on a lounge chair, and take a dip in the pool, the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa is for you ($384 and up). The enormous pool 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 is no depth and the water is warm, making it the perfect place for the whole family to park for the day. In the evening, head to the modern and welcoming lobby bar, The Place, where you’ll find inventive cocktails, delicious small bites for dinner and even sushi on some nights. There are plenty of places to people watch and chat with your group. Outdoor fire pits, ping-pong tables, a corn hole and table football will keep the little ones busy.

Airstream photography by Josh Franer, courtesy of AutoCamp

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

Spa photography 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 around the resort in small clusters, 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 splash pool for the little ones, cabanas, and a bar and grill. The resort is pet-friendly and ideal for extended families or fitness enthusiasts looking to spend days biking, hiking, golfing and playing tennis or pickleball. Stroll through the manicured gardens to savor the scent of orange blossoms and the sound of water fountains. Daily fitness and yoga classes plus the spa ensure you won’t want to leave.

Mark your calendar: From May 27-29, the Pioneertown International Film Festival celebrates westerns and independent films with screenings, live music, classes and more. $259 and up.

Tip from a local: “To relax, I like Vue Grille and Bar in Indian Wells (at the Indian Wells Golf Resort). It has beautiful views. An obvious no-secret: be good to the staff and they will be good to you. – Timothy Dunn, former OC resident who now lives in Palm Springs

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