From posh resort enclaves to historic sites and surreal landscapes, experience the diverse world of the California desert.
Trip Time: 4-5 days
Total Distance: 392mi/629km
Palm Springs. Start with a healthy breakfast made from local, seasonal ingredients at Cheeky’s . Ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway into the San Jacinto Mountains for high country hiking. INFO 800/347-7746; visitpalmsprings.com .
Palm Desert (20mi/32km; 35min). Browse along El Paseo —dubbed “the Rodeo Drive of the desert.” Play golf at Shadow Ridge Golf Club , a course that earned certification as a sanctuary from Audubon International. INFO 800/873-2428; palm-desert.org .
Yucca Valley (43mi/70km; 53min). Explore surprising desert marshes at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve , a birding hotspot. Refuel with organic coffees and house-baked muffins at artsy Ma Rouge Coffee House . Gather information at the California Welcome Center Yucca Valley . INFO 760/365-5464; visitcwc.com/YuccaValley .
Barstow (80mi/128km; 1hr26min). Cruise over to the Route 66 Mother Road Museum’s mother lode of historic artifacts and photographs. Keep it old school and catch a movie—Route 66-style— at Skyline Drive-In (31175 State Highway 58; 760-256-3333). INFO 760/253-4782; visitcwc.com/Barstow .
Yermo (13mi/20km; 20min). Relive authentic Old West history—with a touch of theme park kitsch—at Calico Ghost Town . Site of California’s biggest silver strike, it’s home to a museum, train ride, and restaurants. INFO 760/253-4782; visitcwc.com/Barstow .
Baker (56mi/90km; 1hr). Speaking of kitsch, stock up on jerky, nuts, and extraterrestrial souvenirs at Alien Jerky . INFO 760/253-4782; visitcwc.com/Barstow .
Kelso (35mi/56km; 1hr3min). Drive down Kelbaker Road into Mojave National Preserve and pass volcanic landscapes at Cinder Cones National Natural Landmark. Refresh with ice cream at The Beanery , a lunch counter to its original 1924 style in the Kelso Depot Visitor Center. INFO 760/253-4782; visitcwc.com/Barstow .
Goffs (62mi/100km; 1hr16min). Learn about area history in a restored 1914 schoolhouse at the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association’s museum (call for appointment). Take a drive along the original alignment of Route 66 on National Old Trails Road. INFO 760/253-4782; visitcwc.com/Barstow .
Joshua Tree National Park (83mi/133km; 2hr12min). Explore a native palm grove at 49 Palms Oasis . Take a ranger-led tour at historic Keys Ranch . INFO 760/366-3723; joshuatreechamber.org .