California deserts are anything but predictable, with sites as bizarre as they are beautiful. So it’s no surprise that these dramatic landscapes offer some weirdly wonderful places to bed down for the night.
You can go retro-cool in luxed-up Airstream trailers near Joshua Tree National Park, tuck into a teepee in the Mojave Desert, or stay in a TV mogul’s over-the-top casbah near Palm Springs. Here are some of the state’s most memorable desert lodgings.
1. Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa, Desert Hot Springs
While there’s a full fleet of mud baths, massages, clay wraps, and salt rubs at this spa resort, Two Bunch Palms—located on 77 palm-shaded acres near Palm Springs—is also known for its alternative therapies. Sign up for a shamanic healing session, take a “sound bath” with gongs and Tibetan singing bowls, or feel the beat with drum-circle therapy. Then head to the Grotto, where Desert Hot Springs’ famous mineral water rushes out of the ground at more than 150°F and flows into a massive rock-lined pool. The 70 elegantly appointed rooms and suites range from vintage-hip to ultra-chic, and include the Capone Suite, named after onetime patron Al Capone. (More: Two Bunch Palms Resort & Spa)
2. Harmony Motel, Twentynine Palms
The Harmony Motel was made famous by the band U2, who stayed at the retro-cool spot while recording their iconic 1986 album The Joshua Tree. The lobby features U2 photos and memorabilia, while rooms offer colorfully painted walls, open-beam ceilings and some kitchenettes. Lounge by the pool or relax on your own private patio for memorable views south into Joshua Tree National Park. (More: Harmony Motel)
3. 29 Palms Inn
Art and nature thrive at the family-owned 29 Palms Inn, a resort of thick-walled adobe bungalows and wood-frame cabins on 70 acres within Joshua Tree’s Oasis of Mara (two of the cabins date back to the 1920s). There’s no lodging closer to the 29 Palms Visitor Center, and no place that better captures the artistic essence of J-Tree. The relaxed grounds include a two-acre organic farm, a boho-style restaurant, an enclosed gazebo sheltering a hot tub, and a sprinkling of hammocks. Walk the property and you’ll discover hand-carved signs that deliver both practical and quixotic messages. (More: 29 Palms Inn)
4. Kate’s Lazy Desert, Landers
For a stroll down retro-chic memory lane, stay at this kitschy compound of tricked-out vintage Airstreams. Located about 15 miles from the town of Joshua Tree, Kate’s Lazy Desert is owned by B-52s lead singer Kate Pierson and her partner Monica Coleman. Sleep in the artistic equivalent of a tubular lava lamp in “Hot Lava,” or get your groove on while sipping cocktails in the mid-century-inspired “Tiki.” Each trailer sleeps two and has its own bathroom and small kitchenette, plus A/C for summer and heat for winter. While you’re in Landers, check out the Integratron, a giant white dome that offers a healing “sound bath”— one of the trippiest experiences you'll ever have. (More: Kate’s Lazy Desert)
5. Merv Griffin Estate, La Quinta
Got an extra $24K? Or maybe a dozen or so friends who want to split the tab? Book a three-night stay (the minimum) at this Moroccan-themed estate, where the legendary entertainer and creator of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune lived large. The 5,400-square-foot Merv Griffin Estate features 13 palatial bedrooms spread out among the main house, guesthouses, and pod-like guest casitas. Play bocce ball, check out the 16-stall horse barn, or just sip cocktails next to the massive infinity pool. The compound sits on 39 acres, so there’s room to stroll around, or even go for a paddleboat cruise on Lake Merveilleux (“Lake Marvelous”), the 2.5-acre lagoon.
6. Hicksville Trailer Palace, Yucca Valley
This wacky collection of souped-up third wheels and other campers offers something to fit every personality. Consider the Western-themed “The Pioneer,” with cowboy-print curtains, or the hot-pink “Fifi,” designed by the owners of a New Orleans wig store. The circus-style “Pee-Wee” even served as a prop in the 1988 film Big Top Pee-wee. Hicksville Trailer Palace attracts an artsy, meet-and-mingle crowd. You and your trailer neighbors might gather on the fake-grass lawn to enjoy a few cold ones or roast s’mores at the fire pit. There’s a solar-heated saltwater swimming pool, a rooftop hot tub, and games such as archery, ping-pong, and a no-coins-required jukebox. Dogs are welcome and get their own special pool. (More: Hicksville Trailer Palace)
7. Cynthia’s, Tecopa
Most people visit Tecopa for a quick soak in the old mining town’s artesian mineral waters, but now there’s a reason to linger: one of three luxury canvas teepees at Cynthia’s. Owner Cynthia Keinitz, a former head of a successful design firm, set up three guest teepees near a circa-1920 cottage in the Amargosa Canyon, 38 miles south of Death Valley Junction; at the Ranch House, as she calls the cottage, guests swap stories over breakfast. The teepees, meanwhile, are fabulous: each one is 22 feet wide and sleeps four, outfitted with Turkish rugs, plush linens, and heated mattress pads. While coyotes howl in the distance and desert winds blow, you’ll be snug as bugs inside. (More: Cynthia's)
8. Panamint Springs Resort, Darwin
Kick back in this rustic roadside refuge on the west end of the park Death Valley National Park, where you can choose from more than 100 varieties of icy cold bottled and draft beer. While most folks just pull up to wet their whistle after exploring nearby Darwin Falls, you can book a night here too. Choose from Panamint Springs Resort’s14 basic motel rooms, a cottage, a handful of barebones tent cabins, or simple camping and RV sites. Panamint Springs is far from fancy, but it’s usually 10 degrees cooler here than at Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells, thanks to the site’s 2,000-foot elevation. (More: Panamint Springs Resort)
9. The Ranch at Death Valley
It may be the driest spot in North America, but Death Valley has its secret pockets of water—like the all-natural pool, heated by warm underground springs, at this low-key resort on the south end of the national park. Don’t confuse The Ranch with the similarly named—and much more luxurious—Inn at Death Valley, one mile away. The Ranch is Death Valley’s economy lodging, but the 224-room, Western-themed resort has easy access to a post office, general store, two restaurants, tennis courts, and a saloon—and is walking distance from the excellent Furnace Creek Visitor Center. (More: The Ranch at Death Valley)