Too many crowds in Joshua Tree? Try this otherworldly desert trip

A boy holds a camera to take a picture from a ridge at Trona Pinnacles.
A boy takes a picture of the Mojave Desert landscape at Trona Pinnacles.
(Dana Neibert / Getty Images)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, Golden State travelers. More Californians are receiving long-awaited vaccines and venturing out — perhaps for the first time in more than a year — to dine in restaurants, visit shops and explore new destinations.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find close-to-home and far-flung trips to take in California — as well as creative standins for beloved European vacation spots. As always, let me know if you have a destination you’d like to share with fellow readers.


🏰 Euro-kitsch is all over Southern California — if you know where to look

Do you miss plane trips across the pond? Southern California travelers don’t need to go far to find Europe-influenced destinations — as long as they don’t mind the kitsch.

Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds recently outlined 21 nearby destinations where Californians can get their continental fix. Care to cozy up in an English pub? Grab a seat at Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica. Longing for a trip to Venice, Italy? Take a gondola ride in Long Beach. Craving castles? Southern California has those too — if you don’t mind paying to see Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland or Hogwarts’ façade at Universal Studios Hollywood

Read Reynolds’ full story here.

A couple kisses in a gondola.
A couple takes a romantic gondola cruise around Naples Island in Long Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🏜️ Joshua Tree too crowded? Try this otherworldly desert escape

The Trona Pinnacles are bizarre, awe-inspiring rock spires reminiscent of Arrakis, Tatooine and other legendary science fiction settings. But visitors don’t need to travel galactic lengths to visit the Pinnacles. They can be found off California 178, about 20 miles east of Ridgecrest, a prime detour on your way to or from Mammoth.

I came across a photo on Reddit this week of the Trona Pinnacles at sunrise and went searching for the best way to visit the towering formations. The California Wilderness Coalition recommends a half-mile hiking trail that takes visitors to the center of the 500-plus formations. Visitors can also camp at the Bureau of Land Management site.

Be prepared to drive the last five miles to the pinnacles on a dirt road and beware of sky-high summer temperatures.

Can’t get enough of the desert? Here are 14 desert hikes in Southern California from Times assistant travel editor Mary Forgione.

A visitor walks in Trona Pinnacles Natural National Landmark.
Heading to Mammoth? Take a detour to visit Trona Pinnacles Natural National Landmark.
(Prisma by Dukas / Universal Images Group via Getty; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🏠 Need a place to stay? Consider booking a tiny house

Tiny houses are a huge trend in the vacation rental market, Times contributor Rosemary McClure reports. And reserving a tiny house is more than a chic choice: They’re often an affordable alternative . They’re also a great way to avoid getting too close at inns and hotels that cater to groups of travelers.

McClure compiled a list of eight tiny homes in California you might consider for your next weekend escape. They typically range from 300 to 500 square feet and vary in style from a sleek, modern abode in Joshua Tree to a woodsy two-story cabin in Crestline.

Do you have a favorite vacation rental? Send me an email if you’d like me to feature your find in a future edition of Escapes.

A child plays in front of a cabin's front porch.
The Little Bear Cabin, in Crestline, has an upper story accessed by ladder.
(Jim Edwards; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🌕 A lunar escape in L.A. County

Looking for a close-to-home escape? Sign up for a full moon forest bathing session at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.

Times feature writer Jeanette Marantos reports that visitors will be able to take a guided moonlight walk when the arboretum is closed to the public. Inspired by the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, “Forest Bathing also offers us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with the natural world,” the organizers write in the program description. “By slowing down and carefully observing with all our senses, we may begin to notice incredible things that may have eluded us for our whole lives.”

If you’re interested, move fast — only one session is still available in May. Tickets cost $25 for Arboretum members and $35 for non-members.

Illustration of the moon and a tree.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • The Real ID deadline has been pushed back again, Associated Press reports.
  • President Biden asked people to share their favorite national park memories. Andrea Romano compiled some of the best responses in Travel + Leisure.
  • An Arizona town made famous by “Nomadland” is getting ready for an influx of tourists, Richard Ruelas reports in the Arizona Republic.
Frances McDormand holds a lantern while walking.
Frances McDormand in the movie “Nomadland.”
(TIFF; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times

  • Love goat cheese? You’ll want to read this SFGATE story by Shoshi Park about a small farm in Sebastopol that helped popularize goat cheese in the U.S.
  • The Sarayaku people of Ecuador are fighting to secure legal protection for Amazonian plants and animals, Emily Laber-Warren reports in Sapiens.
  • Traveling to a “blue space” is the stress reliever you need right now, Karen Gardiner writes in the Washington Post.

💻 Can’t adventure IRL? Here’s one way to expand your horizons

What is it like to drive the storied Route 66? Although many of us have spotted the “End of the Trail” sign on the Santa Monica Pier, fewer will get the opportunity to drive the 2,400-mile road from the Pacific to Chicago.

Google Earth offers a virtual look at the journey with “Preserve Route 66,” in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The experience takes viewers to iconic stops along the road, including the Blue Whale of Catoosa in Oklahoma and the Blue Swallow Motel in New Mexico.

Toward the end of the virtual adventure, you’ll spot a familiar destination on the route: Clifton’s Republic in downtown L.A.

A group of people walk near a sign
People visit the Santa Monica Pier and the Route 66 sign in December 2020.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

Visitors on Morro Rock Jetty Beach.
Visitors enjoy a quiet moment on Morro Rock Jetty Beach.
(Danna Dykstra Coy / Morro Bay Tourism)

🎸 Road song

“Beep-beep, is that my bestie in a Tessie?”

“Best Friend” by Saweetie featuring Doja Cat is an anthem for road-trip pals everywhere. Safe and happy travels this weekend ✌️

Saweetie performs at Parq nightclub in 2019.
Take this as your sign to grab your bestie and hop in your Tessie (or other mode of transportation) and jam to “Best Friend” by Saweetie featuring Doja Cat.
(Isiah Jones/ )