Monterey will always hold a special place in my heart. I went to Cal State University, Monterey Bay and lived in Seaside, CA for a little over 4 years. Visiting here again recently brought back so many of my favorite college memories and we were able to squeeze in so many stops at my favorite local eateries. In this blog, I want to share my personal perspective on some of the must-visit places to eat and drink in Monterey County. Keep in mind, I was a cheap college kid who only went out to “nicer restaurants” when my parents were in town and would take me. Anyway, let’s dig in!
Coffee Mia is one of my favorites anywhere, not just in Monterey. It’s a delightful coffee shop and breakfast/lunch spot in Marina serving classic Italian food like panini’s. I love their pour over drip coffee and pastries, also be sure to try the Volcano. While their food is delicious, what I love most about this place though, is the family that runs it. Every single time I’ve eaten there the owner, Horace Mercurio has been the one to take my order and prepare my coffee with an energetic, lively mood that you just don’t see very often. His father, Frank Mercurio passed away back in 2016 and was always the one to bring out my food to me with such a warm smile on his face.
Located on the historic Alvarado Street in Monterey, this family-owned diner embodies the essence of comfort food. From their hearty pasta dishes to their legendary homemade pies & cakes, Rosine’s offers a delightful, a filling meal. The warm and friendly atmosphere here makes it the perfect spot to start or end your day.
This place was just a pop up stand at various locations when I was in school. Now, five years in they have their own coffee shop in Monterey that offers a cozy place to work and is the ideal stop to get your caffeine fix.
No trip to Monterey is complete without a Papa Chevo’s bacon breakfast burrito. My favorite breakfast burrito of all time. Papa Chevo’s is just a little drive through shack in Marina and probably the only place in town open 24 hours. Needless to say, it was a go-to.
For those craving Asian cuisine with a modern twist, Noodle Bar in Marina is an absolute must-visit. Their menu is a delightful fusion of Vietnamese flavors, featuring a variety of noodle dishes and boba smoothies. This was always our go to after softball games.
Alvarado Street Brewery in downtown Monterey stands as a testament to the craft beer culture. With inventive brews and a welcoming ambiance, it’s a great location to an enjoy an afternoon of casual sipping with tasty bites. Their beer selection is also largely IPA’s.
Fieldwork Brewing Company is a craft brewery originally founded in Berkeley. They have a location in downtown Monterey and it’s always a favorite stop. I love their outdoor patio and chill atmosphere. They also have a great, seasonally changing rotation of craft brews.
From Scratch Restaurant in Carmel offers a delicious breakfast experience in the Barnyard Shopping Village in Carmel. Their breakfast menu is filled with homemade dishes made from fresh, local ingredients. Whether you prefer savory omelets or sweet treats like pancakes and pastries, they have something for everyone. When you dine here, you can enjoy a relaxing meal in a cozy setting, complete with great coffee and tasty food that will start your day on a high note. My personal favorite is their homemade biscuits and gravy. *chefs kiss*
Phil’s is my dad (and many others) favorite seafood place. I don’t even like seafood but I know everyone raves about it and Jordan loves oysters. I was so sad to discover they actually moved locations from their original place opened since 1982 to a new spot in Castroville, not too far from Moss Landing. The seafood was still incredible (or so I heard) and I was pleasantly surprised to see new menu items including more pasta options without seafood in it and a variety of different kinds of baked artichokes because Castroville is the Artichoke Capital of the World. The flavor we tried was so good!
Red’s Donuts is a local donut shop in Seaside and Monterey. They are known for crafting fresh, hand-made donuts daily and have proudly upheld this tradition since 1950.
Mountain Mike’s Pizza is a chain of pizzerias mainly along the West Coast but was new to me in Monterey. It was another great spot to got to after softball games for good pizza and salads.
Pizza My Heart is another chain of pizzeria restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area but again, it was new to me and oh so good. The one in Monterey is located in the Del Monte Shopping Center.
I have only eaten here once but the food and atmosphere was great. I went with my coworkers from when I worked at Gold’s Gym. They were all locals having grown up in Monterey Bay and this was definitely a spot for the regulars and the locals. It’s located up in Carmel Valley.
Revival’s opened up on Alvarado Street when I was a sophomore in college. It’s a cute little shop that serves ice cream made with organic and local ingredients, handcrafted in small batches.
This is a wine bar in downtown Monterey that my roommate worked at for a while so we’d go there often. We even participated in one of their paint nights and had a great time.
If you’re looking for great sandwiches, this is the place. Compagno’s itself is nothing to look at, it just looks like a run down old corner convenience store. It’s truly a “dive”. Bennet, the owner is awesome and if you have the in with him, he’ll serve you a fresh, giant slice of cake with your sandwich. The sandwiches are fantastic and MASSIVE.
I’ve only been here once and it was on our most recent trip. This Italian restaurant is located in Carmel-by-the-Sea and we enjoyed delicious pizza and wine.
So, the next time you find yourself in Monterey, be sure to embark on your own culinary adventure, and let me know what other hidden gems I need to add to my list. I love you Monterey Bay, ’till next time!
As always, travel on my friends.
I was raised in La Quinta, California and didn’t even know where the little town of Morongo Valley was. Now, 3 years in, I’m officially a “Morogan” and have actually loved calling the swanky Hi-Desert home. The Hi-Desert is an informal designation applied to areas of the Mojave Desert in Southern California, which includes cities like Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms found along Highway 62. Besides hiking, camping and off-roading, there isn’t a whole lot to do, which is a big part of why I love it out here. It’s open air, beautiful desert landscapes and a place where you can actually see the stars at night. Since moving here 3 years ago I have found a few fun hidden gems and we now have a few regular spots we frequent so I’ve decided to compile a list of all there is to see and do in the Hi-Desert region. Happy reading!
- Big Morongo Valley Preserve – Located in Morongo Valley, the preserve is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and serves as an essential habitat for both resident and migrating bird species, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.
- Coyote Cone – This is a fairly new ice cream and coffee shop in Morongo Valley. They serve rite-aid ice cream and make date shakes as well as serve coffee they brew themselves called, Desert Dog.
- Cactus Mart – A well-known nursery and garden center located in Morongo Valley.
- Dillion’s Burgers & Beer – Dillion’s is a local restaurant and bar in the desert with two locations, one in Desert Hot Springs and one in Morongo Valley. It’s definitely a dive bar with an interesting atmosphere but I actually really like their food and recommend trying their jalapeño poppers.
- Coyote Ride Stable – Located in Morongo Valley, this ranch offers guided horseback riding tours.
- Crazy Horse Ranch – This is another location in Morongo Valley that offers horseback riding tours.
- Cottonwood Canyon Ranch – This is yet another ranch in Morongo Valley offering horseback riding tours and lessons. Seeing a theme here?
- Sand to Snow Monument Bar & Grill – Another dive bar in Morongo Valley with a pool table and cheap drinks. I don’t care for their food all that much but it’s the only place offering any sort of nightlife if you’re looking to go out for a couple of drinks and a round or two of pool.
- Morongo Valley Cafe – A little diner offering breakfast and lunch in Morongo Valley. I actually really like the food here as well.
- Spaghetti Western – A new restaurant serving dinner in Morongo Valley with open mic night every Sunday. It’s a bit pricy for what they offer in my opinion but hey, it’s nice to actually have one restaurant in town that serves steak and potatoes.
- Yucca Bowl – This is the local bowling alley in Yucca Valley that we’ve been to far too many times for my liking.
- Frontier Café – A cozy cafe known for its breakfast items, sandwiches, and coffee drinks in Yucca Valley.
- Mojave Flea Trading Post – Explore an assortment of antiques, collectibles, and unique treasures from various eras at this flea market in Yucca Valley.
- Pappy + Harriets – A legendary desert roadhouse with live music, delicious barbecue, and a rustic, outdoor concert venue.
- Pioneertown – A western-style movie set turned tourist attraction. You can enjoy mock gunfights, explore the shops, and even catch a meal at the famous Pappy & Harriet’s.
- Pioneertown Motel – This iconic motel captures the essence of the Old West while providing modern amenities. It’s located in Pioneertown and offers comfortable rooms with a vintage vibe.
- Warren Peak Trail – Hike to the top of Warren Peak for panoramic views of the Hi-Desert region. This is an out & back hike in Yucca Valley that is 5.6 miles total with 1,105 feet elevation gain.
- Pie for the People – Enjoy a variety of creative and classic pizzas with fresh ingredients in a relaxed atmosphere.
- Cactus Wren Book Exchange – For bookworms and literary explorers, the Cactus Wren Book Exchange is a little used bookstore in Yucca Valley! Browse through shelves filled with carefully curated titles spanning various genres.
- Hoof & The Horn – A boutique shop offering a curated selection of clothing, accessories, home goods, and gifts with a bohemian and desert-inspired vibe.
- BKB Ceramics – This studio and gallery features handcrafted ceramics by local artist Brianna Berbenuik. Explore beautifully crafted pottery pieces that reflect the spirit of the desert.
- La Palapa Mexican Cuisine – This family-owned Mexican restaurant serves authentic dishes and great drinks. This is always our go to spot. Enjoy a warm and welcoming atmosphere while indulging in traditional flavors.
- Hi-Desert Nature Museum – Learn about the unique natural and cultural history of the Hi-Desert region at the Hi-Desert Nature Museum. The museum offers exhibits, workshops, and educational programs for all ages.
- Hi-View Nature Trail -This is a 1 & 1/2 mile loop trail in Yucca Valley. It is rated moderate and has a 325 elevation gain.
- Crossroads Café – A local favorite in Joshua Tree, Crossroads Café offers a diverse menu featuring breakfast, lunch, and dinner options made with locally sourced ingredients. The menu includes comfort foods, sandwiches, salads, and vegetarian choices.
- Natural Sisters Café – Known for its healthy and vegetarian-friendly menu, offering salads, wraps, and smoothies. I love this place personally!
- Joshua Tree Farmers Market – If you’re visiting on a Saturday, check out the farmers market for fresh produce, artisanal goods, and a taste of the local community.
- Joshua Tree Coffee Company – If you’re looking for a cozy spot to enjoy a cup of coffee, this café is the place to be. They roast their own beans and make great, traditional coffee drinks and a very strong cold brew. This place is another one of my favorites…obviously.
- Joshua Tree Saloon – A classic desert watering hole serving pub-style food, burgers, and hosting live music events.
- Coyote Corner – A gift shop that captures the essence of the desert with a range of southwestern-inspired goods, including jewelry, clothing, home decor, and more.
- Joshua Tree Dry Lake Bed – The Joshua Tree Dry Lake Bed is a large, flat expanse of dry lake bed located in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. It’s free dispersed camping where many venture out to go off-roading.
- Joshua Tree National Park – This is the main attraction. Hike among the iconic Joshua trees, marvel at stunning rock formations, and take in breathtaking desert vistas.
- Joshua Tree Music Festival – If your visit coincides with this annual event, immerse yourself in the sounds of diverse musicians, from indie to world music. Enjoy live performances against the backdrop of the desert landscape.
- Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum – Wander through a unique sculpture garden featuring art installations made from recycled materials.
- World Famous Crochet Museum – Discover the quirky Crochet Museum in Joshua Tree, featuring crochet art installations. You’ve probably seen pictures of the little green shop in Instagram photos.
- Giant Rock – This is the largest freestanding boulder in North America. It’s located in Joshua Tree and many locals consider the area to be sacred. Today, people like to go here for off-roading, bon fires and camping.
- Sky’s The Limit Observatory and Nature Center – Explore the night sky at this observatory in Twentynine Palms that offers stargazing events, educational programs, and telescope viewing.
- Twentynine Palms Historical Society – Discover the town’s history through exhibits, artifacts, and memorabilia. Learn about the Native American heritage, early settlers, and the marine base’s impact on the community.
- City of 29 Palms Visitor Center – Get information about the area’s attractions, trails, and activities at the Twentynine Palms Visitor Center. It’s a great starting point for your desert adventure.
- 29 Palms Creative Center and Gallery – Immerse yourself in the local art scene at this creative hub. Participate in workshops, view exhibitions, and engage with artists from the community.
- Smith’s Ranch Drive-In Theater – Experience a slice of nostalgia by catching a movie at this classic drive-in theater. Enjoy a film under the stars from the comfort of your car.
- 29 Palms Inn – This historic inn provides a charming atmosphere and is a great spot for dining. Enjoy a meal with a view of the oasis, or explore the property’s gardens and art installations.
- Rock Climbing – Joshua Tree is a world-renowned rock climbing destination, offering challenges for climbers of all skill levels.
- Stargazing: The clear desert skies make Joshua Tree an excellent spot for stargazing. Consider bringing a telescope or joining a local astronomy event.
- Off-roading – Off-roading is also a huge activity for locals in the hi-desert and even those visiting. There’s miles and miles off trails to explore with stunning views.
- Camping – Camping is another huge activity to enjoy. Aside from Joshua Tree National Park, there’s also a handful of other dispersed camping areas people enjoy.
- Vacation Rentals – The VRBO’s and AirBNB’s available to rent are a huge reason why people flock to the Hi-Desert. These placess to stay offer a unique, quiet and remote desert retreat.
- Photography – Film fanatics also tend to flock to the Hi-Desert to capture the breathtaking scenery and snag incredible shots of the stars and the infamous Joshua Trees scattered about.
- Scenic Drives – Take a scenic drive through the surrounding desert landscapes to experience the vastness and beauty of the Mojave Desert.
- Biking – Enjoy mountain biking on designated trails that offer a mix of challenges and stunning desert views.
- Horseback Riding – Experience the desert from a different perspective by going horseback riding on guided trail rides.
- Sunrise and Sunset Viewing – Wake up early to witness the stunning sunrise over the desert horizon, or capture the vibrant colors of the sunset in the evening. Hi-Desert sunrises and sunsets are some of the best I’ve seen.
So, how many things on this list can you successfully cross off? As always, travel on my friends.
While its name may sound intimidating, Death Valley is home to some of the most scenic and beautiful landscapes and hiking trails that promise an unforgettable adventure for every visitor. From how to plan ahead to what to see and do, here is your ultimate first-timers guide to visiting Death Valley in Eastern California.
Planning Your Trip
Before setting off on your adventure, be sure to plan your trip meticulously. Death Valley gets its name due to the extreme heat during the summer months. It is highly recommended to visit during fall and spring. Be sure to check the park’s website for the most up-to-date information on weather conditions, road closures, and events happening in and around the area. Also be sure to book your accommodations well in advance, as lodging options are limited within and around the park. Off road vehicles or four-wheel drive is not needed to access most trails and landmarks, but be prepared to drive on dirt roads and pavements in most areas.
Death Valley is a vast desert region located in Eastern California. It is situated within the Mojave Desert and stretches across Inyo County and San Bernardino County. Visitors can access Death Valley from various directions, including from the east via Nevada and Las Vegas or from the west through California, near the town of Lone Pine. If you’re planning to fly into the destination, the two closest airports to the park are Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The drive from LAS is around 2h 30m and the drive from LAX is about 4h 30m. The Palm Springs International Airport is another excellent option; it’s about 5 hours by car and the scenic drive is beautiful.
Badwater Basin: Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, sitting at an elevation of 282 feet below sea level. It’s a vast salt flat, stretching over 200 square miles made up of evaporated remnants of a large lake. The pathway itself extends about 5 miles so most people don’t walk all the way out. But, helpful tip, the further you walk, the prettier it gets!
Devil’s Golf Course: Prepare to be amazed by this otherworldly landscape. Devil’s Golf Course a vast terrain made of evaporated salt crystals formed over thousands of years that create a seemingly endless expanse of jagged textures and serrated surfaces.
Zabriskie Point: This is one of the most photographed locations in Death Valley National Park and it offers spectacular views of eroded badlands painted in vibrant hues. It was apparently named after one of the first 49ers (gold rush pioneers) to visit the area, Christian Zabriskie.
Artist’s Palette: Artist Palette is another well known location for photographers. This landscape bursts with an incredible mix of colors. See hills of deep purples, rich reds, bright yellows, and soft greens created by minerals and oxidation.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: These sandy hills offer a surreal landscape that seems straight out of a dream. They’re towering sand dunes that have been shaped by the winds to create a constantly changing canvas of ripples and patterns. While there isn’t an actual trail here, the tallest dune is about 2 miles round-trip and the views from the top are incredible. The best time to experience these shifting hills of sand is either at sunrise or sunset.
Father Crowley Overlook: Father Crowley Overlook is located near the western end of the park. This vista point is a famous spot for fighter jets to practice going through a narrow canyon and the area is actually an official military “low altitude flight training area”. Yes, like Top Gun.
Natural Bridge: Natural Bridge is a 2 mile, out & back hike leading you through a stunning orange rock canyon to a natural rock bridge. Just past the Natural Bridge is what is referred to as a dry waterfall, which is just a sheer cliff where a waterfall once flowed.
Mosaic Canyon: This hike is 3.4 miles, out & back and it leads you through narrow, marble looking canyon walls to another dry waterfall. As you venture into the canyon, you’ll be greeted by stunning rock formations, resembling a mosaic masterpiece.
Darwin Falls: At around 18 feet tall, Darwin Falls is one of the only year-round flowing waterfalls in Death Valley National Park. It’s a 1.9 mile, out & back trail that leads you through a lush canyon, lined with vibrant vegetation that thrives near this rare flowing water.
Ubehebe to Little Hebe: Pronounced YOU-bee-HEE-bee, this is a 1.8 mile trail that takes you around the Ubehebe Crater; a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. About half way through the loop, there is a sign that reads “Little Hebe” which will direct you over to a second, smaller (and likely younger) crater.
Flora & Fauna
Death Valley, despite its seemingly harsh and inhospitable environment, is home to a surprising array of unique flora and fauna, each adapted to thrive in this extreme desert landscape. In fact, this desert is actually home to over 1,000 plant species and spring wildflower blooms are a popular attraction and a reason visitors flock to the region each year. Be sure to practice responsible tourism and leave no trace behind. Respect the fragile desert ecosystem by staying on marked trails, not disturbing wildlife, and properly disposing of your waste. Help preserve this natural wonder for future generations to enjoy!
Where to Stay & Eat
Dining and lodging options are relatively limited within and around the park. Furnace Creek is the main hub for lodging and dining where you’ll find the historic Furnace Creek Inn, which offers a luxurious stay with stunning views and upscale dining options. Additionally, there’s the Furnace Creek Ranch, providing more affordable accommodations along with family-friendly dining options at the Wrangler Steakhouse and the Forty Niner Cafe.On the western side of Death Valley, Stovepipe Wells Village offers more rustic and budget-friendly stays, with motel-style rooms and RV camping, and the Toll Road Restaurant, which serves comfort food against the backdrop of nearby sand dunes. Venture outside the park to Panamint Springs Resort for a quieter and secluded experience, with beautiful views of the Panamint Valley and a restaurant serving tasty meals. If you venture a bit further outside the park, you can also find a plethora of vacation rental options to stay at as well. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual traveler, Death Valley promises an unforgettable experience that will leave you with lasting memories from this otherworldly destination. So, pack your bags, hit the road, and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime in Death Valley National Park!
Summer 2018 was the year my cousin got married in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. My moms side of the family all flew in and a handful of us went in on an Airbnb together where we stayed for a week. The entire experience was unforgettable.
First, the rehearsal dinner was actually at the top of Rendezvous Mountain! We were greeted at the gondola with wine glasses we could drink on the way up and more wine and appetizers served on fancy spoons as we got off at the top. The view was beautiful and the evening was memorable.
The actual wedding ceremony had stunning, picturesque views of the Grand Tetons in the background with horses grazing on the green pasture. We were taken there on a bus and they had a make your own trail mix stand where we could fill up a bag to snack on on the way back from the ceremony. I remember the exact moment my cousin and his wife said ‘I do’ because white horses were released and galloped by in the background. I remember I accidentally said out loud under my breath, “are you kidding me”. It was straight out of a movie and incredibly beautiful.
The reception was just as grand as the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. There was a whiskey bar, a coffee bar, a s’mores bar, and a telescope out to look up at the stars. We ate, we danced and we had such a great time. They even brought out a late night snack bar with pizza and chips for when you started to get the munchies after drinking and dancing for so long. They really thought of everything. Never again will I get to attend a wedding so grand.
After the wedding, we stayed a few extra days to explore and hike around Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park. My aunt who now actually lives inside Yellowstone National Park serving at one of the cabins during season, was our official tour guide that trip.
At Yellowstone, we got to see Old Faithful, a geyser erupt many times. We also ventured out to see the Grand Prismatic spring, which is the most photographed landmark in Yellowstone. It’s one of the largest hot springs in the United States, deeper than a 10-story building and is most well known for its bright bands of orange, yellow, and green rings surrounding the deep blue waters in the spring time. I can’t remember exactly what other location we explored but I think we saw the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone because I remember seeing a huge waterfall. We also say buffalo at some point during this day but I can’t remember where they were camped out.
The next day we headed to Grand Teton National Park. The only thing I remember about this day was hiking around Jenny Lake, it may have been our only stop. It was beautiful with the mountains in the background and the water was so blue.
And that concludes Summer 2018! Yellowstone National Park? Check. Grand Teton National Park? Check. Amazing family memories? Check!
Six summers ago my family and I planned our hiking trip to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park! My dads side of the family all rented a big house where we stayed for five days. I remember my brother and I drove up together on our own and I have such fun memories of us making funny snapchats together singing in the car and being our weird selfs.
There was a flowing river right in our backyard that we all jumped in after hiking one day. We’d let the river take us down stream, get out and walk back up and do it all over again.
So much fun. I can’t remember all the hikes and locations we did honestly, but I do remember seeing lots of beautiful sequoias, seeing General Sherman (the worlds tallest tree), exploring through a dark cave, and jumping into Tokopah Falls while my cousin snagged the greatest shot of it.
I also remember I got a new GoPro and let my brother use it on one of our hikes. He put it in his pocket and accidentally took over 10,000 Timelapse photos of his pocket.
Summer 2017 was another one to remember!
When I was little my family took summer trips all the time. Disneyland, Yosemite, San When I was little my family took summer trips all the time. Disneyland, Yosemite, San Francisco, Catalina Island. But, as I got older, softball became more serious. I played competitive travel ball and any trips and traveling during the summer became centered around softball. I went on to play at the collegiate level and summer after Freshman year, I realized that besides working out and practicing on my own, I’d actually have time off. My mom had (and still has) a bucket list of hikes and places she wanted to cross off and at the top of that list was Zion National Park. So we did just that. We enjoyed an incredible 5 day trip exploring Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. And ever since that first summer, like the Morgan Wallen song, “7 Summers,” we’ve crossed off some pretty spectacular places every summer since 7 summer ago.
Zion National Park & Bryce Canyon National Park
This was our first big hiking excursion 7 summers ago. We drove into Kanab, Utah on a Thursday. Friday we hiked Angel’s Landing, which some consider one of the scariest hikes in America. I thought it was incredible.
The trail starts with a moderate hike, offering glimpses of towering sandstone cliffs. As you progress, the path becomes more demanding, with steep switchbacks. Like really crazy steep switchbacks. The final stretch is the most exhilarating, requiring the use of chains to navigate the exposed ridge. However, the effort is rewarded with awe-inspiring panoramic views of the vast canyon, overlooking the Virgin River, and the majestic red rock formations that define Zion National Park.
Saturday we headed down in the canyon of Zion National Park to hike The Narrows. The Narrows hike is considered easy-to-moderate. because there are no steep inclines or declines, and since it is an out-and-back hike, it can be as long or as short as you want it to be. But, the further in you go the deeper the water gets and harder it becomes to hike through. As you venture into the canyon, the towering walls of red sandstone rise above you, creating a dramatic and narrow pathway carved by the Virgin River. It was so vastly different than hiking Angels Landing the day before but equally incredible.
Sunday we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park. I can’t remember exactly what trail we did but it took us through a scenic route of a lot of the park. I remember climbing down these switch backs into a red rock amphitheater, seeing the hoodoos, and the bright orange coloration all around us. It was a third stop that was again so very different from Angels Landing and The Narrows but equally incredible.
After Bryce we headed home and that completed our first National Park excursion! And ever since that first summer, 7 summers ago we’ve planning adventurous family trips each year.
We got so many questions about why on earth we’d want to vacation in Death Valley this spring. But the truth is, it’s such an underrated National Park and the different landscapes and hiking trails were incredible. We managed to pack in so much in just three days. From vast sand dunes, expansive salt flats, dramatic canyons, and dry (and real) towering waterfalls, below is a look at the 11 different stops/hikes we explored during our time in Death Valley National Park.
Golden Canyon/Red Cathedral
This was a 3 miles/out & back hike that takes you through incredible yellow colored canyon walls, through a slot canyon and out to a red rock amphitheater overlooking the golden hills.
Devil’s Golf Course
This is a location where you can park and see, no hiking required. Devil’s Golf Course is a vast landscape of jagged, crystalline salt formations that cover the ground. We even tasted the salt for ourselves. It was named “Devil’s Golf Course” after a 1934 Death Valley guidebook said, “only the devil could play golf” on this harsh terrain, and the name stuck.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, sitting at an elevation of 282 feet below sea level. It’s a vast salt flat, stretching over 200 square miles made up of evaporated remnants of a large lake. The pathway itself extends about 5 miles so most people don’t walk all the way out. BUT, the further you walk, the prettier it gets!
Natural Bridge is a 2 miles, out & back hike leading you to this natural rock bridge through a stunning orange rock canyon. Just past the Natural Bridge is what was referred to as a dry waterfall, which was a sheer cliff where a waterfall once flowed.
This spectacular view is Zabriskie Point, one of the most photographed locations in Death Valley National Park. It was apparently named after one of the first 49ers (gold rush pioneers) to visit the area, Christian Zabriskie.
Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. This was our 2nd stop on day 2 our hiking adventures in Death Valley and another location where my pictures really don’t do the incredible view a justice. It was also SO windy here!
Artist Palette is one of the most well known locations for photographers. This landscape bursts with an insane mix of colors. Deep purples, rich reds, bright yellows, and soft greens created by minerals and oxidation.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Mesquite Flats was definitely one of my favorite stops of the trip and my pictures really don’t to it a justice. It was so pretty. There isn’t an actual trail here, you just park and walk out into the dunes as far as you want to go. The tallest dune (which is where we decided to go) is about 2 miles round-trip and definitely kicks your butt. Walking uphill in sand is HARD. And running down the mountain for funzies afterwards also kicks your butt, but is so worth it.
This hike is 3.4 miles, out & back and it leads you through narrow, marble looking canyon walls to another dry waterfall. As you venture into the canyon, you’ll be greeted by stunning rock formations, resembling a mosaic masterpiece.
Father Crowley Overlook
Father Crowley Overlook is located near the western end of park. This vista point is a famous spot for fighter jets to practice going through a narrow canyon and the area is actually an official military “low altitude flight training area”. Think Top Gun.
At around 18 feet tall, Darwin Falls is one of the only year-round flowing waterfalls in Death Valley National Park. It was a 1.9 mile, put & back hike and so green along the way. Crazy how we were hiking through a desert canyon that morning and then a lush oasis later that same day.
Ready to plan your own Death Valley excursion now? Yeah, we know.
Hopefully this gave you a little insight on some of the most mesmerizing places to visit inside the park!
As always, travel on my friends.
Looking to take a drive through Joshua Tree National Park? Here are my must-stop locations that don’t involve much hiking. The park has three different entrances so be sure to do your research on where each of these stops are located so that you can map out the best route.
You can reach this iconic site by embarking on a moderate half-mile hike. The trail offers picturesque views of hundreds of Joshua Trees, diverse flora and large rock formations leading to the awe-inspiring rock formation characterized by a natural arch.
Located in the same area as Arch Rock, Heart Rock can be found with just a half mile walk from where you park your car. The trail will lead you do a sign with one direction pointing towards Arch Rock and the opposite direction pointing towards Heart Rock.
Cholla Cactus Garden
Cholla Cactus Garden is located in the park’s Pinto Basin and showcases a dense congregation of cholla cacti. You can explore the garden via a short quarter-mile walk.
At an elevation of 5,185 feet, Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park offers a breathtaking panoramic vista of the surrounding Coachella Valley. Accessible by a short drive from the park’s entrance, this iconic viewpoint provides visitors with a spectacular overlook of the desert landscape, including the Salton Sea, San Andreas Fault, and the distant peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.
Skull Rock is a unique rock formation that resembles a skull. The rock’s distinctive shape was carved by wind and erosion.
Jumbo Rocks is an area with massive granite boulders. The towering rock formations create a playground for climbers, while hikers can venture through the maze-like formations, and campers can witness stunning sunsets and star-filled night skies.
Barker Dam is a historical and scenic site that offers a glimpse into the region’s past. This small reservoir was constructed by early cattle ranchers and homesteaders in the late 19th century. Today, visitors can embark on a short hike to reach the dam and explore its surroundings.
Wall Street Mill
Wall Street Mill is also a fascinating historical site.. Accessible via a moderately easy hike, this well-preserved mill stands as a testament to the region’s gold mining era in the early 20th century.
Hidden Valley is a picturesque and secluded area within Joshua Tree National Park. Tucked away from the main road, Hidden Valley is accessible via a short walk from the parking area. This enclosed area is surrounded by towering rock formations, creating a natural amphitheater. Hidden Valley is also a popular spot for rock climbing and bouldering
I hope this blog provided some insight on quick stops for an afternoon exploring Joshua Tree National Park. As always, travel on my friends.
Last weekend my parents and I spent the day in Joshua Tree and here’s what we did.
We met at Joshua Tree Coffee Company at 10 a.m. because every trip to Joshua Tree National Park must begin with a cold brew from JTree Coffee Co. It was packed there that morning (maybe due to Coachella Fest) and my cold brew took quite a while to make. I didn’t have much of a breakfast that morning and noticed a pop-up shop next to the coffee shop serving fresh quiches and wow, best decision. I wish I knew the name of the little place next door but I will say, if they’re always there, go. Run!
My cold brew was fantastic too, of course.
We then drove into the park via the West Entrance, which is about 10 miles east from the city of Yucca Valley. We were there on a Saturday and thought it was going to take a while to get in but the wait was quick. I also bought a new National Park Pass, which I renew every year. If you’re a frequent hiker/traveler, I would highly recommend getting the pass! It’s $80 and most day passes into parks are $30-$40. We live close to Joshua Tree National Park and usually plan a trip to at least one other park each year, making the pass so worth it. It also gets you access to a lot of other state parks and landmarks!
Once inside the Park we headed toward Ryan Mountain, which is located in the central part of the park. We actually had never hiked this trail before and it was tougher and steeper than we thought it was going to be. Ryan Mountain is definitely one of the most rewarding hikes within Joshua Tree National Park though, offering stunning views of the desert landscape from its summit. The trail, which is 3 miles round trip, is clearly marked and easy to follow. It has a total elevation gain of 1,050 feet and the elevation at the top is 5,457 feet. Although the ascent is steep in parts, hikers of all levels can complete the journey. Once at the top, you can take in the awe-inspiring panoramic views of the surrounding desert. We were shocked at how green the landscape looked due to the amount of rain we had this spring. We could also clearly see three snowcapped mountains in the distance: San Jacinto, Big Bear and what we think was San Gorgonio.
After hiking Ryan Mountain, we planned to stop and see two more landmarks within the park (Arch Rock & Heart Rock), which I thought I remembered being in locations where you just park your car, get out and see them…but, I was a bit off unfortunately. We were quite tired from our hike and it was a very sunny day and Arch Rock/Heart Rock ended up being another 1.4 miles out & back. It was an easy route that took another 30 minutes to complete. It sure was pretty though! My parents had never been to Arch Rock and we all hadn’t seen the Heart Rock before.
We ended the afternoon with a celebratory, post hike beer on the patio at Joshua Tree Saloon. We were surprised with beautiful weather and fun live music and delicious iced cold beer.
What a great day! Thanks for reading along.
As always, travel on my friends.