Pioneertown Motel: the best rest in the west


Pioneertown Motel: the best rest in the west

Broadcaster Kate Hutchinson rides into town post-Coachella for some (attempted) desert downtime. Oh, and a new hat…

Kate Hutchinson

BY Kate Hutchinson18 August 2022

Joshua Tree, California. It’s been called the weird wild west; a place where rebels meet the road; a vortex of magic, myth and really quite excellent margaritas. If crystals and mindfulness are your thing, you may buy into the legend that this tiny town in the Mojave is where a number of energy currents converge and have a psychic party, making it the perfect place for some spiritual rejuvenation. If music and mezcal is your thing, you’re not short of a decent saloon. And if all these things are your thing, and you don’t mind the howl of a coyote at night, you’ll have the time of your life.

We’re heading to Pioneertown Motel after Coachella for some desert downtime and – as I can’t be trusted to relax and the Integratron is booked out months in advance – more dancing under the stars.

Pioneertown motel bedroom | Mr & Mrs Smith

The motel – more of an upmarket collection of 19 achingly cool rooms, really – is a stone’s throw away from the legendary restaurant, bar and live music venue Pappy & Harriet‘s, where everyone from Paul McCartney to Lizzo has played secret gigs, and the titular Pioneertown, a former movie set built in 1946 and a great way to spend half a day recreating your own personal western.

We spend hours checking out the old post office, the various wooden buildings now converted into cute shops, the museum dedicated to all the movies that have been filmed there, and work our way through the drinks menu at the new Red Dog Saloon, which was once frequented by western star Roy Rogers and his horse, Trigger.

Interiors of Pioneertown motel, California | Mr & Mrs Smith

Back at the motel, the rodeo performer Gene Autry would apparently play poker until sunrise in room nine. No wonder he couldn’t tear himself away: the rooms and cabins, though obviously overhauled by now, are kitted out with classy leather and industrial touches, cacti and Navajo soft furnishings (very sexy cowboy) with plenty of rustic shelves on which to place your hats (more on that later). Our room even has a desk, should we want to finish sending some important emails (well we could have).

There’s also a small communal room at the end of the block stocked with coffee, books and the local pamphlet, The Pioneertown Gazette, and a gift shop behind the front desk where you can buy merch like candles, caps and sage hand lotion. You’re not short of things to do beyond the front door, either.

Interior of Pioneertown Motel, California | Mr & Mrs Smith

Across the way, the retro bowling alley the Pioneer Bowl is open (also host to an annual film festival) and there’s a twice-monthly Wild West show to enjoy, too. The motel feels like a dusty hideout where the desert is your back garden and the porch is great for stargazing and a post-walk wind-down, or pre-party warm-up, on the canvas camping chairs.

Hiking is a big draw in these parts but after a weekend traipsing back and forth across a festival site, dodging the selfies of a thousand influencers, it’s the last thing on our minds. What is: vintage shopping, offbeat art and soaking up the hippie atmosphere, dude. A car is an absolute must and road-tripping through the parched scenery, essential.

Bedroom and terrace at Pioneertown Motel, California | Mr & Mrs Smith

The closest strip is in Yucca Valley where you can drive and find hipster shops and high-end supplies. Café Frontier is an ideal spot for brunch, lunch and coffee, and we’re lured by the snacks and the ambery natural wines at posh tuck shop Desierto Alto to take back to camp. I can’t resist purchasing some ‘yoni dust’ at a shop called Funky Desert Vintage, either, which sells clothing, hats and homewares.

Ah yes, hats. If you’re in the market for headgear that Clint Eastwood would be proud of then Joshua Tree is the right place. Seek out Recapitate Headwear, a high-end and totally superb line by the musician Todd Fink of band the Faint, whose artisanal fedoras can be found at Mojave Flea Trading Post: a 10,000sqft homeware shop filled with talismans and trinkets. Pick up an embroidered duster coat at well-loved vintage shop the End. And then put it all on for that perfect surrealist shot at the Desert Christ Park, an abandoned collection of plaster-white Jesus statues that have been arranged in front of some Greek columns.

Desert landscape near Pioneertown Motel | Mr & Mrs Smith

On the road again and my fellow Brit-abroad Mrs Smith who knows more Californian music trivia than any American, points out the Joshua Tree Inn as we cruise past – a rustic hotel where country music legend Gram Parsons died in 1973.

Down the Twentynine Palms Highway and we arrive at another place with Parsons on its mind – and the wall murals – the brilliant Out There Bar, which has superb selectors behind the decks til 2am Thursday–Sunday. We while away the hours there and grab some great takeaway food at the nearby Kitchen in the Desert, which serves Caribbean and New American fare.

Bedroom details at Pioneertown Motel | Mr & Mrs Smith

Then all roads lead back to Pappy & Harriet’s, where the tables have been cleared to make way for DJ sets from Floating Points and Jamie xx, with help from Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa. The outdoor area is twinkly and great for catching up with other festival-goers passing the time between the Coachella weekends.

The cocktails come in tankards. There are more hats on the dancefloor than I had ever seen before. And the best bit? It’s only a short stumble back to the comfort of our room afterwards.

Kate Hutchinson is veritable musical authority. As Time Out’s nightlife editor, she charted the birth of grime and dubstep and accidentally gave rise to London’s short-lived trend of ‘micro-clubbing’. As deputy editor at The Guardian‘s Guide, she made cover stars of Four Tet, Anohni, Mica Levi and others, and hosted the newspaper’s first ever Facebook Live series. She continues to contribute regularly to The Guardian, The Observer, Dazed, Vice, Mixmag and has made several front pages on The New York Times. She DJs regularly, hosts her own show on Worldwide FM, and launched, with her all-female team, the widely acclaimed podcast the Last Bohemians, which won silver at the British Podcast Awards in 2020. Season four, all recorded in LA, is out now.