Palm Springs is a dependable escape from the urban grind, but it’s more than just sparkling swimming pools and great vintage shopping. In surrounding desert areas, including the Coachella Valley, Yucca Valley and Mojave Desert, there are pockets of cool artists and the artwork they produce. A short hop in the car from one another, these outdoor art installations, earthworks and sculptures include important historical work and cutting-edge projects from established and emerging artists. TL;DR: Here are eight interesting stops to make between poolside naps.
Go East: Your Arty Road Trip to the Palm Springs Desert
1. Feel Rejuvenated In The Integratron
Lie back and relax as you have the sound bath to end all sound baths at the Integratron. Located in Landers, California, 20 miles north of Joshua Tree National Park, it was built in the 1950s by the late George Van Tassel, who said he based the design on Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and extraterrestrials’ telepathic instruction. The 38-foot-high, 55-foot-diameter wooden dome was designed to be an electrostatic generator for the purpose of rejuvenation and time travel, since it’s said to be built on a natural geomagnetic intersection. So...all that sounds super interesting. All we know is that it’s really soothing to listen to crystal bowls pulsating through the chamber in the hour-long aural session.
2. Stay In A Starchitect Hotel
The Lautner is a reimagining of a motel prototype built in 1947 by accomplished Modernist architect John Lautner. Glass walls overlooking patio plantings, long rectilinear planes of concrete walls and skylights, and a firepit shared with the other occupants of the four units makes this a private little oasis of cool (starting at $200 per night) in a quiet area of Desert Hot Springs. There’s a teakettle, cooktop and mini fridge but no restaurant, so you’ll have to take a quick drive into town for dinner—but that only makes coming back to the sweet isolation under the starts that much sweeter.
3. Tour High Desert Test Sites
Artist Andrea Zittel is a brainiac survivalist with a spiritual side. In 2000, she bought desert property in Joshua Tree that she has fashioned into a huge artwork encompassing a house, studio, guest cabin and shipping container compound. A-Z West, as it’s called, is her life project, devoted to core questions of “How to live?” and “What gives life meaning?” through an examination of social norms, values and hierarchies, as well as the creation of new systems and structures for living. Sign up for a monthly tour, or stay in the compound twice a year in fall and spring.
4. Shop For Vintage On A Movie Set
Pioneertown is a former movie set built in the 1940s that has become a mecca for young creatives searching for affordable housing in a like-minded community. The actual set is a couple blocks long and has working businesses next to fake storefronts that say things like “Bank” and “Post Office.” The Pioneertown General Store stocks a carefully edited selection of vintage clothes and jewelry, as well as locally made apothecary items.
5. Eat A Healthy Meal At The Frontier Cafe
Artists sell their work and put on ever-changing installations at this little breakfast and lunch spot in the Yucca Valley. It’s the kind of place where you can get into a conversation about art with a fellow patron, or ask for directions from the server, all while noshing on the tuna melt of your dreams, beet salad or avocado tartine.
6. Stroll The Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum
Ten acres of junked materials fashioned into art is what you’ll find at this fascinating Joshua Tree site. From sunrise to sunset, you can look at the sui generis creations of the late Noah Purifoy, an artist who turned a charred hunk of neon sign from the Watts riots into an artwork and spent the next decades using found objects as readymades like Duchamp before him, but with a social activist edge. When you arrive at Purifoy’s desert site, where he lived and worked for the last 15 years of his life, stop at the welcome desk for a self-guided tour brochure.
7. Walk The Stones Of An Earthwork
Why just make outdoor art when you can make outdoor art that’s big enough to be seen from space? That’s the takeaway from Andrew Rogers’ giant geoglyph Rhythms of Life in Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree National Park. It’s difficult to make out the whole shape when you are standing next to it, but walking the stones warmed by the desert sun can be its own arty meditation.
8. See Spectral Statues Dotting The Landscape
Desert Christ Park is a collection of 40 snowy-white statues depicting scenes from the life of Christ. They are scattered across the desert landscape as a sort of ghostly presence, the legacy of a 1950s desert-based parson who teamed with an Inglewood sculptor to make a sort of Christian theme park. The statues have been restored over the years by volunteers, who also brought in birdhouses to hang from the Joshua trees in the 3.5-acre park.