Our 14-day California desert vacation itinerary was packed with hiking, museums, food, wine, a tourist attraction or two, and weird desert oddities you shouldn’t miss.
California Desert Vacation Itinerary
If someone asks you, “Would you like to visit Death Valley National Park?” Just say, “Yes, please. When do we leave?” Chuck could tell when he suggested we visit Death Valley I was ambivalent. I’m sorry my dear for my reluctance. It was a life-changing experience and my reluctance nearly caused me to miss it.
But there are a few things about this trip I would do differently.
For starters, we flew in and out of San Diego. If your primary destination is Death Valley, I recommend flying in and out of Las Vegas. Unless, of course, if you’ve got lovely friends in Escondido, California you want to visit, then definitely spend a few days there. Just know the drive to Death Valley is a white-knuckle grind.
Second I would spend more time in Lone Pine, California. We stopped for breakfast, snapped a few pictures, and zoomed away. You could spend several days exploring this delightful area.
At the last minute, we hastily swapped Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park for LaQuinta, California. I was sad about the decision but Sequoia was burning down at the time and it felt like a prudent decision. La Quinta is a lovely oasis outside of Palm Springs. It’s a perfect destination to warm up. Chuck found a long list of quirky desert oddities and nice hikes to fill our days. Plus it had the added attraction of Joshua Tree National Park.
Listed below are the highlights with links to posts detailing our adventures.
We barely scratched the surface of what the area has to offer. You could easily spend several weeks just in San Diego. We had two full days with large chunks of our days devoted to family. We corralled all the fun details in our post “Weekend in Escondido California.”
Here are links to the main destinations we hit:
Death Valley National Park
“Death Valley is a land of extremes” is an understatement. The National Park Service’s website also boasts it is “scorching hot” during the Summer. I believe the words “scorching hot” were the main source of my reluctance to visit. Swirling in my head were visions of sweating buckets and leaving with dry, leathery lizard skin. It was not scorching hot during our visit in November. The weather was perfect. Pleasantly warm with beautiful blue skies.
My other worry was Death Valley would be an endless brown desert with sun-bleached skulls poking up between the tumbleweeds and scorpions scurrying underfoot. Most important, the trails would be identical. Again, not the case. Each trail was distinctly different and shockingly beautiful. I spotted not a single bleached skull or scorpion but we did look for rattlesnakes in the dunes.
We had 3 full days in Death Valley. I was ready to leave but would love to go back. Check out our post packed with recommendations and tips covering: safety precautions, what to pack, hiking, suggestions, and the must-see sights.
If you are looking for links to the hikes, here is a list:
Lone Pine, California
My one regret is we didn’t spend more time in Lone Pine, California. If you watched westerns growing up as I did, you will recognize it.
La Quinta, California
As I mentioned, visiting La Quinta was not our first choice but our AirBnB was lovely and our itinerary was packed with all sorts of curiosities. We have a post coming detailing the hikes and tourist attractions plus a bonus post about desert oddities you shouldn’t miss.
We didn’t see a single mountain lion while hiking but we did see a family with their children on leashes.
Here is a list of links for the hikes we completed:
- Art Smith
- Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
- Thousand Palms Oasis
- Joshua Tree National Park’s Barker Dam and Skull Rock
We found the world’s first cactarium!
Here is a list of the tourist attractions we explored:
Desert Oddities You Shouldn’t Miss
Chuck really outdid himself with the desert oddities he packed into the itinerary.
Here are the links to all the oddities he found:
- Salton Sea
- Salvation Mountain
- Cabazon Dinosaurs
- Glass Outhouse Art Gallery
- Love Signs
- Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum
- Integratron aka a Sound Bath
- Pioneertown and food at Pappy and Harriet’s
We’ve got a bunch of pictures in our gallery! Check them out and then let us know what you think by leaving a comment. Then go share this post on social media because sharing is caring.
- Escondido – USS Midway, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and Temecula wine country
- Death Valley National Park and Lone Pine
- La Quinta – Joshua Tree National Park, area trails, and tourist attractions
- Desert Oddities
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