We keep telling you that it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. But with the exception that when you arrive, you start another journey… That of the Coachella festival. So, if you plan to land at LAX and go to the desert for Coachella, you can get there in two hours (well, four hours with traffic).
But if you have a little more time, you can turn that two-hour punishment into a few days’ road trip through dynamic, awe-inspiring landscapes while visiting some of the biggest attractions in the United States. From the mountains to the desert, from the sea to the awesome In-N-Out Burger, you can visit it all on your way to America’s biggest festival, from Los Angeles to Indio…
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DAY 1 – LOS ANGELES
You may be itching to get out of the big city and into the desert, but there’s nothing wrong with getting one last taste of city life before heading out for a week in a tent. Most of you have probably visited L.A. before, but allow me to please those who haven’t. Los Angeles is not your usual metropolis. You can spend your time visiting the sites…for about an hour and then you’re off to the popular centralized locations to take photos. Make it an hour and a half if you fit in a studio tour. Los Angeles is best sampled room by room, neighborhood by neighborhood. Does your hip ex-girlfriend have a recurring role on the hit show right now? Then, spend time in Los Feliz or Silverlake, the Brooklyn of the West. If you can’t stay long enough to visit all the neighborhoods you want, you can always come back. While visiting L.A. is different for everyone, there are two things you’ll do like everyone else: Have brunch and hike Runyon Canyon.
Must Stop At: The Getty Museum
Address: 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los Angeles
Los Angeles has a bad reputation for its lack of culture. Although there are fewer museums than in New York, what LA lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. LACMA and The Getty are two of Los Angeles’ great underrated treasures. At the Getty, you have your Van Goghs and you have your Monets, but you also have the building itself. You can compare The Getty to The Met all day; but when it comes to best view, the Getty definitely wins.
DAY 2 – THE STATE PARKS OF MALIBU
Just half an hour from L.A. (in the opposite direction of your final destination), there are a few parks that are often left out of the conversation with Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Big Bear, and Yosemite so close. But the state parks in the Malibu area: Point Mugu, Malibu Creek, Lee Carillo, and Topanga are beautiful. Before heading into the desert, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the lush green hills and pristine waterfront. All four parks offer their fair share of natural beauty, so do a little research and pick the park that’s right for you. Whichever you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
Must Stop At: In-N-Out Burger
Address: All over the West Coast
Those of you travelling from the East Coast or the Midwest must be sick of hearing about In-N-Out. You’ve got Shake Shack, Five Guys, and the rest of your go-to burger spots. But, there’s a reason for the cult of In-N-Out; once you have In-N-Out, you won’t want to go back. In-N-Out’s menu is sparse, but every item is top-notch. The day some people consider themselves a true West Coaster is when they can drive by an In-N-Out without stopping. Their secret menu is no longer (and maybe never has been) much of a secret, but it is good to brush up on your options before you go so that you don’t hold up the always busy line. You’ll likely eat at In-N-Out numerous times on your journey. If you want to make each trip unique, study up with this breakdown of the In-N-Out “Secret Menu” courtesy of Serious Eats. Many have tried to outline the entirety of In-N-Out’s special menu. This may be the only document that actually comes close.
DAY 3 – BEACH DAY
There are so many beaches to choose from in Southern California: Manhattan Beach, Laguna Beach, Hermosa Beach, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach all have their partisans. Venice Beach is cool too, just not after dark. Whether you want to complement your swimming with the outdoor beauty, quaint cafes, or potential celebrity sightings, there is a perfect beach for you in Southern California.
Must Stop At: Mendocino Farms
Address: Seven locations in and around L.A.
After In-N-Out, Mendocino Farms might be the most popular chain in the Los Angeles metro area. Think of Mendocino Farms as the Chipotle of sandwiches. Whether you descend on a Kurobuta Pork Belly Banh Mi or the “Not So Fried” Chicken, you won’t regret stopping at any of their seven locations.
DAY 4 – DISNEYLAND
Let’s not be a snob, Disneyworld here is to do. Whether you have children or not. I assure you that it is an experience that is worth it, the atmosphere is unique to the Disney brand. If you end up earning your mouse ears, hang around until dark. The fireworks and the World of Color are worth the wait. If you have any doubts, remember that you will have plenty of time at Coachella to do very adult things. Might as well reserve a day for your soul child.
Must Stop At: Flight Deck Combat Center
Address: 1650 S. Sinclair St., Anaheim
If you’ve always wanted to fly a military jet, but it’s too late for you to begin Top Gun training, you might want to swing by the Flight Deck Combat Center on your away out of Anaheim. You can pick from seven different jets for your simulation; or if you’re super lame, you can choose to try out a Boeing 747 instead. As with most awesome things, the Flight Deck Combat Center recommends that you make reservations ahead of time.
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DAY 5 – BEAR LAKE
OK OK, the skiing ends in March, but Big Bear has a lot to offer besides powder. Sure, you can hike, fish, camp, and bike, but Big Bear also offers less strenuous activities like theater, a farmer’s market, and spas. For the action sports enthusiasts among you, ziplining, parasailing, and alpine slide are on the line. If you decide to stay the night, you can pitch the tent or rent a cabana. One good thing about the offseason is that chances are there will be cabins available for last minute campers.
Must Stop At: Wolf Mountain Sanctuary
Address: Lucerne Valley
Wolf Mountain Sanctuary is exactly what you hope it is. At this spot a little north of Big Bear, you can make like a Stark and hang out with wolves. WMS is a place where you can get up close and personal with rescued wolves. Tonya, the owner of WMS, puts far more time into caring for wolves than updating her website, but Yelp! assures us that the WMS is alive, well, and amazing.
DAY 6 – PALM SPRING
One of the most surprising discoveries of moving to L.A. is that Palm Springs isn’t just for old people. Palm Springs is working to inspire young people to spend their money without children.
Palm Springs can be your relaxing oasis between living on the road and at the campsites. If golf, casinos, relaxation and nightlife appeal to you more than the great outdoors, Palm Springs will be a great place. From the botanical gardens to the streetcar, Palm Springs does everything in its power to get you off the highway.
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Must Stop At: Desert Hot Springs
If your hometown had a spa, you were a lucky kid. Desert Hot Springs has over a dozen hot spring destinations. You can have an all-natural spa experience (okay, most of the time) by soaking in the mineral springs that are heated by geothermal forces thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface. Like any great spa experience, desert hot springs enhance Mother Nature a little. You can add salt scrubs, spice massages, aromatherapy and more to your spa game as you wish. All you have to do is tell them how you want to relax.
DAY 7 – JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
There is enough going on in Joshua Tree to take up a few days of your time if you’re the outdoorsy type, but the well-designed park is also great for a quick nature drive-by. You’re lucky that you’re hitting Joshua Tree in April. Any later and the hot (but tolerable) temperatures in the low 80s give way to blistering 100-plus degree heat. If you’re looking to do some overnight backpacking, there’s the California Trail (35 mi.) and Boy Scout Trail (16 mi. round-trip). If you’re looing for a lighter day trip, there are a number of shorter trails to choose from.
A few of my favorites are Ryan Mountain (3 mi.), Barker Dam (1.3 mi.) and Hidden Valley (1 mi.). It’s worth it to walk a few different trails, as the Joshua Tree’s ecosystem is incredibly varied thanks to the two different types of desert that intersect in the park. One thing you likely won’t find in the park is an open camp site. This is Joshua Tree’s busy season and even first-come, first-serve sites fill up quick. Nearby sites that cater to overflow campers like Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground are probably a better bet.
Must Stop At: Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Museum
Address: Blair Lane, Joshua Tree
Follow a dirt road just outside of Joshua Tree National Park marked only by a hand painted sign that reads “Blair Lane” and you’ll find the late Noah Purifoy’s sculpture museum. Spread out over ten acres in the middle of the desert, there is a collection of environmental sculptures that Purifoy created between 1989 and 2004. Of course, the novelty of towering works wrought from discarded metal, wood, bicycles, and televisions is a strange sight to behold in the Mojave, but Purifoy’s work is far more resonant than a mere tourist trap. As a committed social activist and founder of the Watts Towers Arts Center, Purifoy was interested in what found art could say about humanity and decay. For the last fifteen years of his life, Purifoy lived near Joshua Tree creating his sculptures; the Noah Purifoy Foundation is dedicated to maintaining his work for future generations to enjoy.
LIGHT ON COACHELLA
Here we are among 300,000 people, among international travelers, for the festival now synonymous with April in California: the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Coachella’s massive horde of annual attendees needs a lot of space. So the festival takes place in Indio, in the heart of the California desert, totally isolated from city life and virtually inaccessible to those without a car. Although there are shuttles and public transportation, even the festival officials make fun of its location by suggesting the famous “Carpoolchella” (carpooling). Loyal Coachella attendees travel to the desert valley year after year, the event itself is a micro-trip in itself, of course, in a much larger overall California adventure.
Everyone has their own opinion of Coachella. For me, coming to Coachella is also discovering this region of the United States where without a car, you can’t do anything, so it’s a good land for a road trip.
Coachella is the pinnacle of music, fashion and all things California. But decidedly, the best part of a trip to Coachella would be the ride.
Coachella Festival from APR 14-16 & 21-23, Coachella.com