Family Travel: Joshua Tree National Park

I remember the first time Jason and I visited Joshua Tree. It was in 2010, the year we moved to Southern California.  As we drove through the park full of Joshua trees and boulders, we marvelled at the unique and otherworldly landscape.  We looked at each other and both remarked how this was a place unlike anywhere either of us had ever seen before.

photo by Galaxie Andrews
photo by Galaxie Andrews

We have returned to Joshua Tree several times since, and have brought friends, extended family, and our boys.  We love it so much, we always say we’d like to go more than once a year. But with our busy schedules and so many other places on our wanderlust list, we generally make it back about once a year. The fall and spring are our favorite times to visit, when the weather is mild and comfortable. This is the desert, after all.

There’s so much I could share about Joshua Tree, but in this post I’m going to share our family’s strategy for visiting the park, including our favorite family friendly spots,  our favorite places to eat, and our favorite airBnBs.   We generally spend 2-3 days in Joshua Tree, as we tend to visit over long weekends.

Favorite spots in the park: 

Because we live about 2 hours from the park, return often, and have young kids, we tend to head into the park without much planned.  Pre-kids, we would make it a point to visit the visitor’s center, get the guide, and do hikes/ and see certain scenic points in the park (ie. sunset at Keys View). But with kids, we take it easy, and focus on only 1 or 2 hikes, mixed in with a couple of “get out of the car to stretch our legs” stops.  There are many pull outs and parking lots with trails throughout the park, and piles of boulders that the boys enjoy climbing on.

Our favorite family hike is Hidden Valley.  There are a few reasons why we love this spot so much. 1) This is a great picnic area with picnic tables and some shade, 2) Near the start of the hike (if you do a clockwise loop), there is a section of boulders that our kids love to climb – Brian’s been scrambling on them, with assistance, since he was two years old! 3) it is an easy 1 mile hike that our kids have been able to do on their own since they were two.

Another stop we love and visit nearly every time is the Cholla Cactus Garden because it is so different and unique. We always bring new visitors here!  There is a well maintained 1/3 mile trail that it is very important to stay on, because these cactus are also nicknamed “jumping cactus”.  If you accidentally brush against one, you will find painful spines stuck in your shoes, clothes and skin.  The last two visits, we have seen people trying to remove a painful barb, and it’s not easy – often requiring tweezers.  Despite this potential peril, we love this easy trail, and our boys do too.  We just watch them like hawks, and remind them constantly not to run.

Cholla Catcus Garden, fall 2016
Cholla Cactus Garden Spring 2019, photo by our 6 year old son Alex

Other spots we like exploring, but don’t get to every time include: Barker Dam, Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rocks Area.  

During our most recent visit (Spring 2019), we finally found the Arch Rock! Here is a link to a guide describing how to find it, and about the 0.5 mile hike in the White Tanks Campground.

Favorite spots to EAT in or near Joshua Tree:

Most of the time we visit Joshua Tree, we’ve stayed in an airbnb where we cook many of our own meals.  Although the park is vast and there are no food establishments within the park, Joshua Tree is actually very close to civilization and there are plenty of places to eat in Joshua Tree, as well as access to large supermarkets like Stater Brothers and Vons.

  1. Mojave Monaco Chefs for Hire, Chef Merilee Kuchon and Rosa Ficara, 201-988-0080.  Mojave.Merilee@gmail.com   Our absolute favorite things to eat in Joshua Tree is anything catered by Merilee. With little kids (and sometimes we travel with 1-2 other families), it’s super nice to be able to dine at home after a long day at the park. We’ve hired Merilee several times, and everything she has prepared for us – whether a sit down meal or reheat meal – has been incredibly delicious. Her Moroccan meal is probably one of my favorite dinners ever, and that says a lot, because I’m a serious foodie.
  2. Pie for the People: A pizzeria in downtown Joshua Tree that offers authentic and delicious New York pizza.

  1. Joshua Tree Coffee Roasters:  The coffee here is delicious. One of the airBnB’s we stayed at left a small bag of roasted beans and I loved the coffee.  I bought couple bags of the First Roast to bring back home, and was going to gift one – but ended up keeping it to enjoy myself 🙂   It’s right next to Pie for the People.
  2. Joshua Tree Park Rock Café: This spot is right next to the Visitor Center near the West Entrance. We often pick up picnic lunches here since it’s convenient.  The box lunch special includes a sandwich, fruit, cookie, chips and drink for $11.95.
  3. Pappy and Harriets: 760-365-5956.  This is not in Joshua Tree, but is close by in Pioneertown, and worth a visit because it’s so cool and the food is solid if you like burgers, BBQ and Tex Mex.  Pappy and Harriet’s is a restaurant and music venue, so it is best to check the schedule in advance and make a reservation if you want to dine there.  It is family friendly and they have a kids menu.
  4. On my foodie wish list:  La Copine – I’ve heard incredible things about this place. I don’t know that it’s kids friendly, but one of these days I will dine there!

Favorite Places to STAY in or near Joshua Tree:

One of the other reasons why we love visiting Joshua tree so much is that there are so many super cool design homes in the area to stay at!  We often spend as much time relaxing in these homes, as we do being active and exploring the park.  I have so many places saved on my Joshua Tree wishlist, and every time I check, more cool homes keep on getting added to AirBnb.  The following places are our favorites, and as much as I want to keep them to ourselves, if you can stay at one – I’d highly recommend it.

Joshua Tree House : This one is instafamous, and for good reason. Sara and Rich Coombs have designed several homes in Joshua tree – they live in the Hacienda, and rent out the Casita and House. As described in the listing, “The Joshua Tree House is a two bed two bath 1949 hacienda located 10 minutes from the west entrance of Joshua Tree National Park in Joshua Tree, CA.  This is a place for dreamers to reset, reflect, and create. Designed with a”slow” pace in mind, our hope is that you enjoy every aspect of your stay; from making local coffee by drip in the morning, choosing the perfect record to put on as the sun sets, or by relaxing in the hot tub surrounded by over 100 Joshua trees and a starry night sky” . These listings are super popular.  If you want to stay here, it’s best to book many months in advance.

Homestead Modern :   As described in the listing, “Homestead Modern No. 1 is the prototype for the pre-designed homes offered by Homestead Modern throughout the High Desert. This modern-style compound sits on 2 1/2 acres of mostly open desert with dead-on vistas of spectacular desert buttes and is just blocks from Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown.”  There is also a casita, and a RV – we visited here with friends and had a great time.

Acido Dorado:  This golden house in Joshua Tree, is amongst our favorite places to stay ever.

I won’t make it too easy though –  if you’re interested in learning more, you can do a quick search for more information and details.  The architect, Robert Stone, does require an application to book, and I will forewarn you that while we love this space, it isn’t for everyone. We’re always sharing the space with beetles, and on one occasion, a tarantula 🙂  I think this excerpt from an Apartment Therapy post describes it well, “Acido Dorado sn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a pampered boutique hotel experience, a few notable amenities are available (a relaxing jacuzzi and outdoor fire pit both make for wonderful evening relaxation spots and a powerful heating system keeps the desert chill at bay), but overall one is left with a sense that he or she is here to shed away the trappings of luxury to find comfort in the simple.  The furnishings are spartan in layout, but none uncomfortable (I slept better and deeper than I’ve anywhere in the last several years, thanks to the new bed, bedding and absolute quiet); a stocked kitchen provided us with all the tools to cook our own dinners each evening. If you’re squeamish about flora and fauna or find the elements intrusive, you’re best served detouring over to Palm Springs where plenty of resorts can accommodate that vacation style. But if you’re looking for architecture as a reflection of place and feeling, Acido Dorado may easily become your new favorite secret desert getaway destination as it has immediately become for us.”

I hope this guide is helpful! I’d love to hear about your favorite places to visit in Joshua Tree or places to eat or stay! Please leave any questions or comments below.  Happy Travels! 

Please note: This post is NOT sponsored.  All opinions shared and expressed are our own.

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I am a mom, wife, daughter, sister, doctor, adventure enthusiast, food lover, and photographer. I spend a lot of time researching fun things for my family to do, explore and eat - so I created this space to share some information that might be helpful to others.

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