Some people don't like the desert. The bleak landscape and barren rocks just don't strike their souls with the quiet solitude and universal oneness that it does with others who gaze across the jutting landscape rubbing against the sky and say a silent prayer of gratitude for the human experience.
I'm not one of those people. I happen to love the desert and feel lucky that I live in a place where I can be at the beach in fifteen minutes or the desert in an hour and a half. There's something about the desert that simply can't be replicated anywhere else; I think one of the perversely weird reasons that I enjoy it is that we have only been able to fully relax in the desert for the blink of an eye in earth's overall history. The desert is not made to relax in, and the only reason we can now is that we've created a false safety net with indoor plumbing and REI. As Edward Abbey says, "There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be."
That being said, I'm going to enjoy the hell out of the desert while I still can, and there just happens to be a world-class national park about three hours from San Diego. Joshua Tree isn't exactly a new kid on the block, but based on the uptick of Instagrams coming out there, it's only getting hotter (and I'm not talking about global warming, although that's totally a real thing and deniers are... well, name calling isn't nice).
Whether you prefer to camp beneath the unique foliage of Joshua Tree's yucca brevifolia or snuggle up in a desert outpost with a roof, there's no wrong way to enjoy all that the park and surrounding town of Yucca Valley have to offer. However, since this is primarily a food + beer blog, let's talk about where to eat!
Of course, you can always opt for the camping stove road, but if you're in town for the weekend or an extended period of time, it would be a shame to ignore the culinary gems sprinkled across the Mojave Desert towns. I'm sure I haven't even begun to tap in to the best local spots around, but here are a couple quick picks from my few trips to this California gem:
Even Anthony Bourdain felt it was a worthy stop during his desert spirit quest, because nothing follows a psychic earth experience like omelettes and diner coffee. On weekends it seems like the entire population of Yucca Valley descends to this single-digit table eatery, so if you're hungry, go early.
61768 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree
Pappy & Harriet's
Desperados and hipsters alike will feel right at home in this honky-tonky inspired venue boasting some of the best barbeque in the region. Go for the tunes and cheap beer, stay for the ribs.
53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown
Ma Rouge's Coffee House
If you're on your way out of town and don't want to stop for a bite at one of the seemingly endless yellow-and-red chain restaurants devoid of hospitality or flavor, do yourself a favor and stop by Ma Rouge's for some organic coffee and pastries. You're likely to run into some quintessential desert folks topped with handmade wool beanies shaking dust from their boots, but to me, it's a welcome change from the many (not all) stark, soulless coffee shops of San Diego.
55844 Twentynine Palms Highway, Yucca Valley
Pie for the People
Since I haven't actually been there yet, I am completely judging this one by its looks. I flippin' love pizza and the exterior looks exactly like my type of place, so I'll most likely give them a pass on their promise of "authentic New York pizza" since I've yet to have my socks knocked off by any place on the West Coast with the same promise. When you're in the desert, I'll take whatever pie I can get, and hey! They deliver!
61740 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree
With a surprisingly good website and hours open daily, this casual-cool eatery is perfect for locals and travelers alike. Like all good places in J-Tree, it's on the small side, so don't bring a gaggle of gawkers — just your sweet self will do.
61715 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree
As more people discover the magical energy of Joshua Tree, it's likely to become overrun with SoCal expats looking for inspiration and escape. I can't say I blame anyone, and who knows? Maybe I'll be among the exodus one day. Until then, I'll enjoy the relatively untarnished roadhouses and greasy spoons every chance I get.